By Alison Taylor
A sobering presentation to council spelled the end of Whistler’s way of life in no uncertain terms Tuesday night.
Glaciers are shrinking, the world is getting warmer and the effects of climate change will be felt for the next 50 years — even if the world stopped producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions today.
That was the message from Jaime Webbe of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Her presentation came on the heels of the United Nations Environmental Program’s just released Global Outlook for Ice and Snow report.
Webbe delivered statistics about ice cover shrinking, permafrost melting, species dying and our way of life changing.
“From a skier’s standpoint you’re likely to have more bad years,” she said.
Council took the message to heart.
Mayor Ken Melamed said Whistler needs to be thinking about the end of skiing, just as pulp mill towns need to think about their mills closing and mining towns their mines shutting.
“We should be planning for the end of skiing,” said Melamed. “It may not end but it won’t be what it is today.”
He spoke candidly about his “great embarrassment” that he will not leave the planet in as good condition for his kids as he inherited it from his parents.
“All of us need to take responsibility,” he said.
Webbe’s presentation came on World Environment Day — June 5.
The UN report reveals new analysis of the changes in ice and snow covered regions and the worldwide consequences of these changes.
Climate change in the Arctic, said Webbe, is not just an Arctic problem.
“We’re always trying to increase public awareness and that’s why we do things like this,” she said of her presentation to council.
She also spoke of synergies with Whistler in 2010 when it welcomes the world for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
That’s the same year governments around the world have committed to achieve a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biodiversity.
Groups call for plastic bag ban
Council is considering a plea from environmental groups to ban plastic bags in Whistler.
“This is a proactive measure to reduce our waste,” said Tracey Saxby, co-founder of Greener Footprints, an organization calling on all Canadians to help reduce plastic bag use.
“We’d really like to have a plastic bag-free Olympics.”
Saxby issued her plea on behalf of Greener Footprints and local environmental group, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE).
She asked council to endorse the initiative, collaborate with Pemberton and Squamish, which have committed to reduce plastic bags, and ultimately pass a bylaw banning the bags.
“It’s a focal point,” said Saxby, providing examples of how plastic bags clog waterways and affect marine life. “It’s something that people can do right now to reduce their waste.”
But council expressed reservations, particularly after a letter from the Canadian Plastics Association.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler asked staff to do a Natural Step systems analysis on the topic.
“Let’s run it through The Natural Step and 2020,” he said.
Council also said they would like to see community feedback on the issue.
In April Leaf Rapids in northern Manitoba became Canada’s first plastic-shopping-bag-free zone. Lawyers and the plastics industry are questioning whether the ban can withstand the legal challenge.
Council kicks in funding from H.O.M.E.
Council will pitch in $18,000 for a new project designed to help house seasonal employees next winter.
The Seasonal Housing Matching Program will link businesses to available beds where they can house their employees.
“We know we can’t build ourselves out of this housing crisis in the next three years,” said Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority.
Zucht presented the project to council Tuesday night, along with Chamber of Commerce president Louise Lundy.
They asked the municipality to help with funding one-third of the project. The money will go toward administrating the program.
The goal of the program is to secure a minimum of 100 seasonal beds, to be rented for $450-$500 including utilities.
The project flows out of recommendations from the H.O.M.E. committee (Housing Our Many Employees).