Blog Contributor: Noah Nickel
A few weeks ago, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Town Council voted to ban single-use plastics from their town facilities. While this is a newer trend in the Niagara Region, it simply can’t be ignored. This ground breaking decision to come from a sleepy farm town like Niagara-on-the-Lake speaks to how the lived impacts of the climate emergency are reaching people where they are at, wherever that may be, and how its sparking real institutional change.
The increasing regularity of flooding is one of the key reasons cited by town councillor Norm Arsenault as to why he brought this motion forward. Having lived in the Niagara Region my entire, albeit short, life, I had not once seen any considerable long-term flooding since I could remember. However, now just within the last 3 years, we have had two seasons of record high water levels in Lake Ontario, resulting in weeks-long floods. This flooding has not been without consequence either, as many lakefront properties and public spaces such as Lakeside Park, for example, have not been able to open for the summer season on schedule, to the detriment of thousands of St. Catharines and Niagara residents.
While perhaps it may seem too abstract to some, as the correlation between rising water levels and banning single-use plastics may seem extraneous at best, the fact of the matter is that due to the scale of the climate crisis as we see it today, any and all institutional actions that reduce waste, encourage and facilitate greater levels of recycling, and commit to using renewable and low carbon energy sources are all great examples of the bold institutional initiatives that need to be implemented if we want to change course for the better.
As Councillor Arsenault noted in his report on single use plastics, an estimated 4,000 plastic bags and about 20,000 plastic straws are used daily in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which should not be taken lightly. While a ban of single-use plastics at town facilities won’t eliminate this waste entirely, it is a crucial first step in changing the conversation and culture around single-use plastics amongst residents and tourists; this is why this type of change is so important.
If there is any hope of changing the course of our climate emergency for the better, we will have to attempt to change our institutions from within in order to truly impact the communal, national, and international conversation on climate change, and this decision is a great example of that. Similarly, the recent announcement by the federal government to commit to similarly banning single use plastics on a federal level by as early as 2021 is another great example of this, albeit on a national scale.
While attempting to live a more sustainable life as an individual is a worthwhile thing to do, it is essentially like putting the cart before the horse. This is because not only is making any and all drastic lifestyle changes as a lone actor incredibly difficult, it will not have the cultural or environmental effect that we need it to in order to spark greater action on this issue.
However, when we are able to change our governments, our laws, our public spaces, and business practices to make more sustainable choices and to promote sustainability, this has a knock-on effect on our culture – and thus the lives of individual people – as we can focus the community, national, and international conversation on the climate crisis, and how we as individuals can do our part by leading more sustainable lives.
In other words, we can’t only be the change that we want to see in the world, we have to fight for it, too.