A couple of young men from Cumberland are trying to get their community to sign on to a ‘Green New Deal.’
The concept of looking at ways to promote new ways of economic growth, social responsibility and environmental sustainability has been catching on in recent years. Notably, in the U.S. some newer members of Congress such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been advocating for a Green New Deal.
Lister de Vitré, a Cumberland student who graduated from Georges P. Vanier Secondary last year and is taking a gap year, first came across the concept in a book, On Fire, by Naomi Klein. At first, the ideas seemed ambitious but when he got some information from the Council of Canadians about how to adapt the concepts locally, he started thinking about applying it to his community.
He contacted his friend Ben Mason, who’s also from Cumberland and now in his last year at Vanier. Mason had taken a class dealing with the environment and social justice issues, so he was primed for the project.
“We’ve known each other for a long, long time,” de Vitré says.
The two sat down to work, refining a presentation about how the community can take steps to implement Green New Deal ideas. The biggest target is reducing greenhouse emissions in half by 2030, with the aim of going net-zero by 2050, a goal they admit is ambitious but that becomes more achievable as green technology becomes more cost-effective. Locally, they would like to see the Village of Cumberland cut emissions 25 per cent by 2025.
“I think that would be a huge step in the right direction,” de Vitré says.
They also call for resolutions around low-carbon jobs, Indigenous rights, anti-racism and equity plans, housing, reducing corporate influence on elected officials, greater public transit infrastructure, more installations of renewable energy sources, water protection, food security, urban green space, accessible health and social services and progressive tax revenue policies.
“We totally acknowledge that it is a long list and that some of these things are more on the lofty side,” de Vitré says.
In addition to the many global issues, the two point to the challenges already visible in the community, such as threats to the Queenesh Glacier and rising sea levels.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Mason adds.
Through the late fall and early winter, they worked and delivered talks to local Rotary Club members and the parent advisory council at Cumberland Community School. In January, they followed this up appearing before council at a committee meeting. There, they rolled out their proposal to enact as many of the Green New Deal ideas as possible.
Members of council were impressed and commended them on their work. Coun. Vickey Brown suggested the village could consider the list of ideas as part of council’s annual strategic priority planning, while Coun. Sean Sullivan added the community will be undertaking a review of its official community plan, probably in the next year. Mayor Leslie Baird suggested staff could come back with a report on implementation of some of the ideas.
The pair have been working alongside other young people on the region’s youth climate committee, and they believe Cumberland is well positioned to move forward, as the community has already latched on to proposals for environmental protection and social procurement at the local government level.
“Cumberland’s definitely done that before,” Mason says. “It doesn’t have to be this huge thing. We can definitely do it.”
The hope is that they can bring this concept to other councils and the regional district, with Cumberland setting an example for other places.
“We just want to inspire the communities to listen,” he adds.