In 1989, in my second term on city council, I moved a motion that launched the Task Force on Atmospheric Change – thankfully renamed Clouds of Change.

The origin of that report is now 30 years old.

It was, I believe, the first report on climate change by a North American municipality.  Its main achievement was to set the City on a course that we now call sustainability.  It was the first of a dozen plans and initiatives that led to the city we have today.

Did Clouds of Change lead to a reduction of greenhouse gases, did it in a modest way help fight climate change?  Modestly, yes.  But in those thirty years, this happened:

… from 1989 to 2019.

… more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the last three decades.  Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since (Clouds of Change!) than in all the centuries – all the millennia – that came before.

Given that we’re on track to do that again, only worse, in the next 30 years, it makes sense to call this phase of our awareness The Climate Emergency‘ and to accelerate our progress, amp up our targets, shorten our timeframes.

Which is what this report does, and which Council started to consider last Tuesday. They began with delegations.  I was one – as well as Peter Ladner, also a former councillor.

Approve the report, I asked, since it builds on the initiatives and work that proceeded it – and we as a city are getting pretty good at meeting ambitious targets and setting an inspiring example for others.  There’s good people on your staff wanting to take this on: give them your support for the Big Moves.


But there’s one big thing missing in the plan (as there is in almost everything I read about the climate emergency.)

Responding to a climate emergency is not the same thing as dealing with climate emergencies.

You know, the kind of emergencies we are already experiencing: ‘serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situations requiring immediate action.’

Floods, fires, heat waves, torrential rain.  Hurricanes.  Droughts.  Abnormal weather and catastrophic events.  What we now expect, and expect to get worse.

This report and strategy doesn’t deal with that kind of emergency.  You can tell by checking the list of departments involved in the preparation of the response:

The internal engagement included meetings and workshops with staff from

Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability;


Development, Buildings and Licensing;

Real Estate and Facilities Management;

Social Policy;

Park Board;

Legal Services;


Intergovernmental Relations.

Not emergency services.  Not police or fire.  Not the first responders.

There’s a Climate and Equity Working Group proposed, but not an Emergency Planning and Response working group.

And the next step is more of the same.

Staff will integrate the six Big Moves in this report into the development of the City-wide Plan which will address a broad diversity of policy areas including:

land-use, transportation, economy, social, environment, parks, culture, sustainability, climate change, infrastructure, place-making/urban design with lenses of reconciliation, resiliency and equity.

No mention of actual emergencies.

This is not semantics.  It’s not just  about degree.  It’s about a whole different way of thinking about climate change and how we respond when resources and power are allocated to those charged with facing an existential threat.

The usual metaphor is war.  When the fight is seen to be for survival, we charge those whom we believe are up for the fight, and we give them effectively unlimited resources for the battle.  They are our generals.*  And we’ll be needing generals to take on both the immediate climate emergencies and, in the longer run, the causes of the climate emergency.

When I suggest we need generals, the reaction is mixed.  Many hope we won’t need generals since we will avoid having the war.  Which sounds like denialism to me.  As Philip Dick wrote: reality is that which, even if you don’t believe it, doesn’t go away.  When the threat is existential, we won’t want the generals missing before action.

Indeed, I’d be looking around today for generals to get good advice.  If we don’t have enough or the right ones, I’d start training the kind of generals we need, and start thinking what power and resources we’ll need to give them.

I’d begin by including the police, the fire and emergency services departments of the City of Vancouver when we plan for the climate emergency. And emergencies



*Generals in the climate emergency don’t just come from the military.  Take for example, C.D. Howe – as described by Seth Klein in this PriceTalks.


  1. I support your moves, but I fear that it will never be enough to tip the balance in favour of doing what needs to be done.
    We are all too complacent in the lifestyles we have come to accept as normal.

    1. Yes, but not young people. Those under 30 have known nothing else in their lives but the looming threat that despicable lazy old farts have done everything possible to avoid dealing with. Thankfully we’ve now had three decades of old people dying off. If only a lot of them had gone sooner – a lot sooner. Maybe we can begin making some progress now.

      1. When I saw your comment I laughed. That’s what I keep telling the old farts who are contemporaries of mine’
        Then I thought of this comment by George Monbiot of The Guardian

        If you are middle class, they call you a champagne socialist
        If you are working class, they say it’s the politics of envy
        If you wear leather shoes, they call you a hypocrite
        If you don’t, they call you a hippy.
        Everyone, apparently, is disqualified from challenging the system.

  2. Overall it is a great document and plan. If I were to find a place for improvement under accelerated action 3a: “…modest density bonuses for a wider range of green buildings, including zero emissions commercial and institutional buildings…”

    Should be “maximum” not “modest” to reflect a true emergency response.

  3. The report states:

    ‘Vancouver’s efforts to fight climate change have focused on addressing the sources of carbon
    pollution the City has the greatest influence over: residential and commercial buildings, the
    vehicles on our roads, and our landfill.’

    The concept found in the report concerning construction and demolition waste is in my view quite wrong: ‘Explore the business case of producing a biofuel from waste construction and
    demolition materials received at the Vancouver landfill, which could potentially be used to replace coal for the local production of cement’.

    The first questions that we should ask is why do we have so much waste construction and demolition materials in the first place? Should we accept this practice without question? Have we created this problem because of our land use policies? I their something wrong with our urban belief system that results in all this waste? Is continuous densification good for us?

    The next questions we should ask are: How clean is the process for biofuel production? How do we account for the emissions caused by adopting this strategy? Are we creating yet one more source of emissions? Can we really produce the energy density required for cement production? Are we better off switching from coal to natural gas for cement production? Should we encourage wood technologies and discourage concrete technologies?

    The next questions are; Why should we do a business case study? Do we have the cart before the donkey?

    The Big Moves are all otherwise good as far as they go and they should be supported. And we should all be thankful for Gordon getting the ball rolling way back when and continuing these efforts on the PriceTags platform. I for one am thankful for his efforts at education and dialogue.

    We do need to go much farther than these moves. “Consumption emissions” (a measure of emissions based on everything used including imports) in the UK for example are one and a half times territorial emissions. Both measures are likely higher in Canada due to the fact that our territory is much larger.

    We need to recognise that our municipality is a tiny place.
    We do not count emissions from international aviation to and from Vancouver.
    We do not count emissions from international export shipping.
    We do not count emissions from our military complex protecting our costal lands and waters.

    By all means send in the Generals. Educate them and send them across the planet (by sea).

  4. Truly a seminal and visionary document, for which the NPA-majority) Council and staff of the day can justly be proud. It is important to recognize the COVs history, unlike the “erasure” Vision era.

  5. Meanwhile we buy loads and loads of Chinese goods as they are cheaper and export our emissions footprint abroad. But hey, we feel so clean, so green when we use the China made e-bike, or the China made sneakers, or the China made yoga pants or the China made kayak or kitchen counter top or soon, electric vehicle !!

    Coal .. baby .. coal .. that is what we are burning .. feeling so very green

    1. So the message would be: “It’s all so useless”? The message delivered dutifully by Thomas the Purveyor of all things Climate Denial, this time compliments of the folks at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) the United Kingdom’s most high-profile climate denier group opposing actions to mitigate climate change.

    2. You are correct on the fact we export our emissions profile abroad. See comment below.

  6. Canada’s carbon economy exports carbon to the tune of 550-580 kg per barrel of oil sands bitumen, ~400 kg of which are released through the end-of-life-cycle combustion in the consuming country. This is why it is not accurate to profile Canada as producing less than 2% of world emissions from its domestic economy without accounting for all life-cycle costs, including from exports of stuff like diluted raw bitumen and from the embedded emissions of imported products and materials. With this math the entire world emissions scenario changes. Canada’s role ain’t pretty.

    Putting this into perspective, the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project is anticipated to export 800% more raw, diluted, unprocessed bitumen than today. Aframax tankers are relatively small vessels in the tanker world, but they are the largest tankers allowed in the narrow and in parts shallow Burrard Inlet. Even so, they will still only be allowed to carry 80% of their max capacity due to the concern about grounding and the confines of the two narrows, especially passing between the abutments of the railway bridge parallel to Ironworker’s.

    There has been a significant effort to minimize the concern about oil spills into the ocean, including on the above diminished capacity, by proponents who routinely dismiss the idea of commissioning a professional, independent risk assessment or posting large enough bonds to cover clean up costs and damages. Bonds are common practice in most public tenders.

    The fact is, an 800% increase in tanker traffic translates into an additional 220 million barrels of oil (35 billion litres) transiting the Salish Sea every year, and another ~200 million barrels of finished petroleum products imported on the return trip, mostly the condensate used to dilute the bitumen which is piped back to Alberta.

    In terms of liquid petroleum fuel carrying capacity, one tanker carries the equivalent of the fuel aboard 174 Spirit Class ferries, or 20 large cruise ships. One tanker arguably will carry more liquid petroleum than all other ships on BC’s South Coast combined at the time of sailing. That changes the definition of risk dramatically.

    In terms of emissions, TMX will export 88 million tonnes of embedded GHGs to be released during combustion in the consuming country. That’s on top of the 40 million tonnes already released in Canada from mining, processing and shipping the oil sands product. [Source: Natural Resources Canada data.]

    On an emissions per capita basis just within our domestic economy, we are one of the top three hogs of the world with only the U.S. and Australia exceeding us. The critique that Canada is too cold and vast to get that down is put to bed when compared to Scandinavia with an equally cold climate and large distances to cover between cities. Norway rings in at half our per capita emissions, and it is also a major producer and exporter of unconventional expensive oil. Sweden comes in at 1/3. The differences have everything to do with more compact cities with far fewer sprawling suburbs (one of Canada’s biggest GHG generators), and more electricity in their domestic economy, including powering Sweden’s emerging relatively high-speed intercity rail network. Canadians have a much more bloated sense of consumer entitlement, for example big penis-envy trucks like Ford Expeditions and 350s pulling gargantuan trailers, yachts, fleets of ATVs and what have you. Land freight by diesel trucks is a pretty big contributor too.

    A sustainable Canada in a world that hopefully will eventually deal with climate change in good faith will not include such outdated economic losers as extraction and export of raw resources with little value-added measures, and climate busters as TMX. It will not excuse exporting even more carbon by instituting contradictory carbon taxes concurrently, and will fully realize that there are alternatives to Canada’s fossil fuels which all together account for only 8% of the nation’s annual GDP. It will enact policies to build transit and compact cities and electrify railways and expand renewables, and base it all on science with as little political interference and incoherence as possible.

    That is, unless we continue to elect dolts, ideologues and vacuous politicians who have a hard time with basic math.

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