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LETTER: At election time, beware 'greenwashing' by politicians

There's plenty of talk at all levels of government about the importance of protecting our environment, but action is what's needed, reader says
USED 2021-06-29 Good Morning Orillia 5
Lake Simcoe is shown in this file photo.

MidlandToday welcomes letters to the editor at a[email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter, from a retired local forester, encourages people to do their homework before voting.
Dear Editor,

Many of you are planning on planting a tree this year, maybe with your kids, maybe as part of an environmental activity. And that’s a good thing. Trees store carbon, intercept airborne particles and can produce hundreds of pounds of oxygen each year. They provide shade and beauty — birds love them; dogs love them. Great stuff.

The federal government and Ontario’s Liberal and NDP parties all promise to plant billions of trees as cornerstones to their plans to deal with climate change. Simcoe County has a great tree planting program underway this spring and the Simcoe County Forest is a testament to the value of tree planting.

At the local or municipal level, groups and families are planning outings based on tree planting.

In our battle with climate change, we can do many things — like reducing our consumption of gas or making our homes more energy efficient. Tree planting is another way to make a contribution but be aware that tree planting programs are not the only nor the best land-based climate mitigation tools.

The fact is that we can make quick and significant progress towards our battle with climate change by protecting our forests and wetlands, followed by improved management of these natural resources. According to researchers, restoration of our forest environments through tree planting ranks third in terms of effectiveness when talking about land-based climate solutions.

And what a deal that is for the taxpayer. Protect what we have now and you get significant health benefits, cost-effective protection from flooding, and lots of recreational and educational benefits. Ontario, Canada, indeed the world needs natural climate solutions to protect our future.

It’s fair to say that over the last 70 years or so Ontario and Canada were moving in the right direction in terms of progressive approaches to forest and natural heritage protection and management. However, during that time our impact on the natural environment that holds the key to life itself has become so severe that we are creating a dim future for the next generation.

But somehow of late we have lost our way. These days we usually do not get plans to protect and improve our forests, lakes, rivers and wetlands. We get greenwash. We get it from all levels of government.

First, we have the federal government fairy tale. According to Julia Levin of Environmental Defence, 2021 was a horrific year for climate disasters in Canada and around the world.

Yet even as communities across the country were fleeing their homes — because of heat domes, atmospheric rivers, wildfires, droughts, and floods — the Government of Canada provided $8.6 billion in subsidies and supports to the (oil) industry at the root of this crisis. Sadly, our federal climate plan is a sham and the proposed carbon-capture solution is a red herring.

Next there is the Ontario government with its wholesale commitment to treat the protection of our precious forests and wetlands as red tape to please their developer and aggregate donors.

A partial list of attacks on the protection of the environment includes: use of MZOs to destroy important natural heritage sites; planning to build a highway over the greenbelt that will open the greenbelt to further exploitation; cancelling wind farms; promoting unproven and expensive modular nuclear reactors, cancelling rebates for electric vehicles while allowing developers to build condos that are not equipped to handle electric vehicles; promoting a useless climate plan that, according to the auditor general, will not work; allowing GHG emissions to trend upward instead of down; exempting forestry activities from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act; and changing the rules to weaken the protection of endangered species.

No previous government in Ontario has brought about this kind of carnage to our natural environment.

And then we have municipal governments who like to talk about their climate plans but do little to protect the important natural resources and wetlands within their jurisdictions. A future built on “sprawl” economics is no future at all.

But you can make a big difference this year. Get out and vote for the provincial candidate that commits to protecting the forests and wetlands in your area. It’s a safe bet that if they won’t commit to it or talk about it — they are the wrong person for the job. And this fall, during the municipal election process, be sure to vote for the politician that will make it a priority to protect natural heritage values in your area.

And if you get a chance, plant a tree — a symbol of your commitment to a sustainable future.

Phil Brennan
Severn Township