Thanks to funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Perth County recently hired the area’s first-ever Climate Change Coordinator.
The coordinator will develop and implement community-wide greenhouse gas emission reduction plans as well as necessary operational and institutional changes to more efficiently reduce emissions.
Just recently hired, Rebecca Garlick is excited to take on this new full-time two-year contract. The position is managed by a Project Oversight Team through the Municipality of North Perth, in partnership with the Municipality of West Perth, Township of Perth East, Township of Perth South, County of Perth, City of Stratford, and the Town of St. Marys.
Garlick’s interest in the environment is deeply rooted. When she was in Grade 4 she learned about CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and what they do to the atmosphere and the ozone layer. Since then the environment has been her passion.
She graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Waterloo’s climate change programme and now she’s eager to apply what she knows to each Perth County municipality, as well as Stratford and St. Marys.
Rebecca Garlick, Climate Change Coordinator (Photo by Laura Cudworth)
“I’m really excited about it,” she said. “I’m really satisfied with the work that we’re doing.”
Garlick works out of North Perth and with one month behind her on the job she’s already becoming well acquainted with the needs and unique opportunities in each municipality.
Garlick wants to accomplish as much as she can in the two years funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities grant. By next year she will have a community-based plan to present to municipal councils.
The second year will be spent creating implementation plans that can be used by city staff to fulfill municipal climate goals, even if her position is no longer funded.
While the global outlook for climate change isn’t always encouraging, for Garlick the big picture is at the municipal level and she is optimistic about the impact that can be made. For example, North Perth has a solar panel on the Steve Kerr Memorial Complex and a plug-in hybrid vehicle has been added to the municipality’s fleet.
“I’d like to see other municipalities look for those projects to implement, whether it’s solar panels or geothermal energy—whatever makes the most sense for each municipality and their budget.”
If she could dream big, she would love to see green bins implemented in Perth County.
During her time on the job, Garlick has been looking into the habits of Perth County and its residents. Based on census information she has discovered most residents drive to work alone, and many are driving just five to 10 minutes away from home.
However, she noted there is a transportation plan in place to connect the municipalities. The county is working on transportation service between Stratford, St. Marys, Mitchell, Sebringville, Monkton, Atwood, Milverton, Listowel and Millbank. There are also plans for inter-regional public transportation between London, St. Marys, Stratford, Kitchener, and between Listowel and Kitchener.
This is just the kind of action that could make a big difference.
Based on carbon projections from Climate Atlas of Canada, between 2021-2050 Stratford could see an average of 22.5 days above 30C compared to 5.5 days the city averaged between 1976-2005.
“For farming that’s pretty significant,” Garlick said.
In addition to her work with municipal leaders and staff, Garlick will be reaching out to grassroots groups and individuals to hear ideas at public events. Her experience with Climate Change Action Waterloo Region will be a big help at the grassroots level. She wants to make sure she can engage as many people as possible including people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a town hall-type meeting.
“At the end of the day, small actions we do collectively that bring us together are the most impactful,” she said. “We can’t expect everybody to change overnight, we have to start making small changes now, like reducing waste or turning the lights off, or turning your computer off at the end of the day. It’s really grasping that low-hanging fruit to get people more motivated to make bigger changes in their lifestyles.”
Another way to get started is to look at what we’re consuming and how it’s packaged.
“I know waste isn’t a huge emitter in the grand scheme of things but the resources used to create the wasteful packaging, those have a greater impact, so the bigger picture is that emissions will be reduced if we rethink what we’re purchasing, and how the things we’re purchasing are packaged as well.”
For instance, it’s easy to opt out of buying grocery store fruits and vegetables that come in plastic containers or bags. To make an even bigger impact buy local and seasonal to reduce emissions, Garlick added.
Having a dedicated expert working on climate change is new ground for Perth County. There’s no path carved out for Garlick or municipal leaders, so the next two years promise to be exciting.