More Salt Spring voices wanted for climate plan survey

Online platform lets respondents create custom plan

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Almost 500 Salt Spring Islanders have completed the Climate Action Plan online survey since it was launched a month ago, but organizers hope to get even more input.

Bryan Young and Tarah Stafford are key members of the Transition Salt Spring committee steering the massive process of updating the island’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Young says it might be a bit of “stretch goal” to be aiming for 1,000 responses, but he and Stafford say getting opinions from as broad a range of residents as possible is critically important.

“We do not under any circumstances just want people who are already in the choir to be talking about this,” said Stafford. “It needs to be everybody.”

The survey — using an Ethelo.net platform and accessible at on the Salt Spring Climate Action Plan website — asks for opinions on topics ranging from transportation to food and agriculture to forests and waste reduction. With the goal of reducing local greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent of 2007 levels by 2030 and a net-zero basis by 2050, the survey site asks “What do you think we can and should prioritize in the next 10 years to reach our goals?”

As respondents work their way through the questions and develop a custom climate action plan as they go, the program indicates whether or not their plan is workable and rates its difficulty level at the same time.  

Stafford points to a question in the transportation section about increasing the number of electric vehicles on the island as an interesting example. Replacing 50 per cent of current gasoline-fuelled vehicles with electric ones by 2030 is rated five out of 10 in difficulty but “workable.” Dropping that level to 25 per cent in the same period gets a difficulty rating of “four” and 75 per cent is a “six.” 

But Stafford stresses reality has a big part to play in climate change planning.

“We’re not going to say we all have to get electric cars,” said Stafford. “There’s a whole bunch of people who can’t afford or don’t want or can’t do it because of their work or something. Trying to find ways for everything to be fair for everyone is a tricky balance. Working that out is the main thing we need to do because everybody needs to be included in this.” 

Stafford said the biggest climate-change concern expressed by respondents so far is wildfire. 

“That might seem obvious, but it’s not obvious to everybody,” she said. “It can really inform what we do about policy.”

That could mean creating a workforce that can clean up forest fire fuel, or purchasing a community wood chipper to deal with the collected debris.

Young said, “One of the things that is becoming clear is that forests feel like they are the lynchpin in the whole thing and not because they are the prettiest thing that we want to see kept . . . but everything comes back to forests in terms of climate-change mitigation.”

Landowners could also be incentivized through tax breaks or other means to maintain their forested acreages rather than selling their trees for their timber value.

In addition to the current online survey, the draft 80-page Climate Action Plan, containing some 250 recommendations, has been sent to more than 100 groups for their feedback.

“This consultation rivals, in scale and breadth and input, many local government types of consultation,” said Young. 

He noted that except for some administrative work required, everything is being done by volunteers. Some 30 people have been involved in writing various plan sections as part of working groups. As well, Catherine Griffiths and Nicholas Courtier have created a series of high-level climate-change maps.

Only $20,000 of local government funding was acquired: $15,000 in gas tax funding through CRD director Gary Holman and $5,000 from the Islands Trust to create the maps, which will then be given to the Trust.

Use of the Ethelo platform has been donated by Stafford’s sister company eDemocracy. 

“Tarah is the chief architect of this whole amazing process,” said Young.

A handful of other communities across Canada have also benefitted from the Ethelo service, which has been supported by some national foundation funding. 

While the level of survey response received to date is high, the committee still hopes to push the response number closer to 1,000. They feel a maximum of 7,000 people would be able to do the survey, so a 14 per cent response rate would feel extremely solid.

“We want to be able to show Peter [Grove] and Laura [Patrick] and Gary [Holman] — ‘Look, do it. You have people on your side,’” said Young.

They also want more younger people to take the survey. At present, only five per cent of respondents are under 30. 

“We really do want everyone’s opinion,” stressed Stafford. “It’s so important that we are all in this together.” 

The initial deadline for survey responses was June 20, but Young said an extension to June 30 is being considered. 

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