Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie has proclaimed April as Earth Month in Toronto and highlighted the city’s environmental plans and initiatives.
“I’m proud to proclaim April as Earth Month in Toronto. I am also proud of the City of Toronto’s ambitious action plan to get us to net zero and fight climate change,” McKelvie said during the March 31 announcement. “Urgent action is needed to address the climate emergency and everyone has a role to play.”
The announcement comes at a time when the world faces a series of environmental issues due to increasing carbon emissions and climate change.
But what does having Earth Month mean for the city? What is Toronto really doing for the environment? And what can you as a citizen do?
What is Earth Month?
According to the City of Toronto, “Earth Month is a globally recognized month in support of climate action.”
It is a month to reflect on environmental issues and on how citizens can contribute to the environmental cause, similar to Earth Day, which is annually celebrated on April 22 across the globe.
According to National Today, a U.S.-based website that analyzes different holidays and moments around the world, Earth Month is rooted in 1970, a year after a major oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., inspired Sen. Gaylord Nelson to redirect students’ passion toward ecological activism. A group of activists then decided to raise awareness about the environment and how citizens could add to the cause. The initiative was named Earth Day and then expanded for the rest of the month given that one day wasn’t enough.
The initiative has since been adopted by other countries and is now celebrated globally.
“I think it’s important to highlight in April our need to take care of and relate in a better way to Mother Nature,” said Dr. Stephen Scharper a professor at the Department of Anthropology and School of the Environment at the University of Toronto in a Zoom interview.
“I think that’s a good thing. It can be improved upon in the following years and maybe more initiatives can be launched, and more awareness activities, and more public events that be sponsored by the city to talk about ways that we can make this a more sustainable and livable city.”
What has Toronto been doing for the environment?
In 2021, Toronto adopted “one of the most ambitious net zero targets in North America.” The TransformTO Net Zero Climate Strategy aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city to zero by 2040 through a series of environmental initiatives.
They include the Cycling Network Plan and Missing Link Sidewalk Program, which aim to improve the cycling network and sidewalks in the city and encourage people to find alternatives to driving. They also have plans to introduce more electric vehicle chargers around the city, and a plan that predicts 30 per cent of cars in Toronto to be electric by 2030.
The city is also offering training for citizens to take action around their own neighbourhoods to reduce climate change through the Neighbourhood Climate Action Champions and Women4Climate Toronto Mentorship Program.
The Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), an organization that has been around for over 30 years, advocates for the environment and acts as a watchdog for the city's progress.
Sarah Buchanan, TEA’s campaign director, says that Toronto’s net zero plan is achievable but that the city still needs to do more, and actively follow the steps highlighted in the plan.
“They needed to be started back in 2021 and 2022 when the plan came out," she said. "They needed to be started at 100 per cent, not at 10 per cent of what they suggested.”
Scharper agrees that the plan is achievable and that the city is committed, but says that they still need more support from the federal government.
“The federal government has never met any of its promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the past 30 years, he said. "We need leadership that prioritizes ecological integrity and social well-being front and centre.”
What can Torontonians do for the environment?
There are lots of ways residents can get involved.
Apart from Neighbourhood Climate Action and Women4Climate, Toronto encourages citizen participation through initiatives such as the annual spring cleanup that will happen from April 21 to 23. People can volunteer to clean up public spaces throughout the city.
There are also a number of environmental organizations based in Toronto, such as the Toronto Green Community, that outline other ways that citizens can contribute to the environment.
“On the personal front, people can obviously look at how their own ecological footprint is impacting the environment,” Scharper said. “So, there is a whole slew of directives and ideas on using non-polluting chemicals in the home, on using rain barrels to collect rainwater, on composting, or not buying plastic, etc.”
The City of Toronto has a page dedicated to supporting citizens through “greener living,” including funding for net zero homes, tips on how to sustainably do groceries, how to reduce the use of road salt for less water and wildlife pollution, and more.
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On the other hand, Buchanan said that there is a limit to what citizens can do personally without government support. “Let's say you live in Scarborough, and you need to get downtown every day. If you don't have access to good, reliable transit … or you don't have access to good safe bike lanes to get downtown, it's going to be harder for you to ditch your car.”
Meanwhile, Scharper says that personal actions do not have a major impact, given that most environmental damage comes from large corporations and municipalities. He also said that citizens can take action by demanding that institutions and governments become more sustainable and invest in the environment.
“Putting pressure on both corporate and governmental authorities to change radically the way we’re doing business is key,” he said.