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No. 12: Climate optimism in times of crisis
Climate promises from mayoral hopefuls & policy recommendations. The Right to Be Cool campaign (max temperature by-laws and cooling spaces). 😎
Hip hip hello!
It’s been a tumultuous end of spring/early summer. News of wildfires from coast to coast (431 wildfires today as of June 14). Smoke in our cities, smog, haze, startling air quality warnings. Climate grief and anxiety for many. However, I’ve never been one for climate doom, as scaring people into action is not effective.
“To contend with environmental crises and make life better for everyone, we need the right kind of optimists: those who recognize that the world will only improve if we fight for it.” (Hannah Ritchie, Vox, May 2023)
With the rain and the air clearing, we can’t continue to push the climate crisis aside — we have to take action.
That’s what this edition of Dwell & Drizzle is about: climate optimism in times of crisis. Toronto has declared a state of housing and homelessness emergency this year, and it declared a climate emergency back in 2019 (although you probably couldn’t tell unless you are/were paid to pay attention to the climate actions of the city haha).
We’ll start with what the Toronto mayoral candidates have pledged regarding climate action and recommendations and analysis from local climate organizations.
Then I’ll dive into an emerging priority issue — a maximum temperature by-law for residential buildings. In particular, Climate Justice Toronto has launched the “Right to Be Cool” campaign (full transparency, I’m extremely involved in this organization and this campaign in particular) to realize this need to protect tenants and all residents from overheating this summer, in the future, and during heatwaves.
activism, politics, whatever else
You know things in Toronto are a bit strange right now; it’s like there’s something in the air (no, not the wildfire smoke…) — something that feels like cautious optimism.
As I’ve said before, elections don’t change things overnight and Toronto won’t magically become a happier, more equitable city — but all odds point to a mayor (*cough* OC) that wants a create a more caring city and will spend the money to make it happen. A municipal government that fights back against austerity is one I’d be really encouraged to see. We’re running out of time for something big to shift, with less than two weeks to June 26 (Toronto mayoral election day).
Over a month ago, I focused on some candidates’ housing platforms. Now, it’s time to assess their climate promises.
Explore TO Mayoral Candidates’ Climate Promises:
This Narwhal article gives a really great overview of the climate policies of the top mayoral candidates (as of June 13). However, it notes that Mitzie Hunter is focused on mitigation, not emission reductions. I think they mean that she’s focused on adaptation- as it goes on to explain how she has a flooding policy, which is definitely needed.
John Lorinc writes this on May 30, and while a lot of it is still accurate, it has improved a bit since then with more climate and sustainability platforms from candidates
And here are some actual candidates’ platforms that I could find (in no particular order):
And… No climate-specific platform from Ana Bailão, but here’s her platform if you want to see what she does prioritize
And THIS is what I looked for and would look for from a climate justice oriented mayor.
“Implementing the net zero existing building strategy— including its cornerstone existing building performance standards” (TAF)
This is a job-creation opportunity! It can make housing healthier and more affordable, but only if good tenant protections are in place!
“Allocating the funds for deep energy retrofits in city properties”, like Toronto Community Housing. (TAF)
This would be a huge WIN, especially if it results in more money going into the capital budget and work happens simultaneously to the repairs that tenants need for safer, healthier, and more environmentally-friendly buildings.
Recommend priority actions such as increasing TTC frequency and service, improving reliability in identified priority corridors, ending fare increases and expanding access to riders with low incomes, and accelerating the timeline for zero-emission TTC fleets.” (TEA & TAF)
For more information, see how mayoral candidates answered the TTCrider’s survey on their position on TTC service cuts, Wheels-Trans, and the Scarborough RT.
“Find the money to back up their climate action promises at budget time through new funding sources like a commercial parking levy” (TEA)"
And lastly, climate resilience policy recommendations below from TEA:
“Protect all Toronto residents during escalating heatwaves and floods, especially those most vulnerable to extreme weather
Support tenants with a maximum safe temperature for rental units
Work with communities to expand access to parks, green spaces, ravines, and shade, prioritizing neighbourhoods where people have less access to tree canopy and green spaces
Fund flood-proofing and stormwater reduction by fairly charging those most responsible for flooding, e.g. owners of large paved properties”
HOUSING & CLIMATE JUSTICE
The Right To Be Cool (a Climate Justice Toronto campaign)
To build on one of TEA’s above climate resilience policy recommendations, I’ve spent many months working on this grassroots, volunteer-run campaign with the housing pod of Climate Justice Toronto. I’m so proud to share this here to spark a discussion about moving this from idea to implementation.
A Right to Be Cool is not just about installing AC’s everywhere. It can be about passive cooling and heat pumps, green infrastructure, green space, and more tree canopies particularly in urban low-income racialized neighbourhoods that suffer more from extreme heat.
The climate crisis is making our summers hotter, and we know that it's working people who will bear the brunt of that heat. Already, parts of the city without cooling systems are most affected - in the towers of St. James Town, Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. This is because landlords know they can neglect us and let us roast unprepared in the summer heat.
But it doesn't have to be this way: just over in Hamilton, a recent bylaw was enacted to set a maximum temperature of 26C in rental buildings. Toronto can do this too! That's why Climate Justice Toronto is launching this campaign, with these demands:
Implement a maximum temperature of 26C in residential buildings ❗
Expand the # of, and hours for, cooling centres city-wide, and create cooling spaces in each apartment building ❗
If we want cooling in this city, we need to build power to win. We believe that the key to housing power runs through powerful working-class tenant unions who are united against the neglect and profit-motives of landlords and property companies. Let's organize against overheating and other tenant issues together as tenants, and take back power from landlords and building management. (Climate Justice Toronto, June 2023)
Great timing for our campaign, as City Council* is set to discuss a motion this week: Request to Implement an Adequate Temperature By-law - by Councillor Shelley Carroll, seconded by Councillor Amber Morley.
*Note: This motion could get referred to Planning and Housing Committee, which would give us an opportunity to speak and depute to the committee, but this would also delay action on getting a staff report.
Part of this motion looks to get an update on the actions that City divisions were meant to take on from a 2018 Council discussion, and otherwise has a report on whether a maximum temperature by-law is feasible by the end of 2023. It is unclear if then, the next step would be to immediately implement the by-law so it can be in effect by summer 2024. That would be the goal of our campaign — action as fast as possible, as tenants have been struggling for too long and local climate impacts will only worsen over time. I’ll watch what happens, but there is a real need for our campaign to raise awareness about this issue as a priority for tenants.
But in the meanwhile, we do need to consider how to adapt when the heatwaves come and our apartments are at unbearable temperatures. When I was doing my Master’s, a renter in Boulder told me that he went camping in the mountains when his home got too hot and he couldn’t ask his landlord for AC in fear of a rent increase. But, alas, this isn’t possible for many of us for a lot of different reasons, so what can we do instead?
I’d reach out to FMTA after consulting their resource on heat/vital services (including the information below) and contact your City Councillor.
“Tenants wishing to install an air conditioner do not require a landlords approval, however due to falling hazards, they must be able to prove that the air conditioning unit is installed safely and properly.
Additionally, tenants who pay for Air Conditioning through their rent can not be forced to start paying new Air Conditioning charges or seasonal charges (ex: $200 a month).” (FMTA — Your Rights, Heat & Vital Services)
According to Councillor Shelley Carroll’s summer tenant guide (also screenshot below), she’s recommending that you call 311 to have the City investigate overheating/cooling issues in your unit. If you have a broken AC, she notes you could file a T2 application to the landlord tenant board as it is a violation of the residential tenancies act insofar as it withholds and/or interferes with vital services.
That’s all for now!
June is debatably the best month. Pride. National Indigenous Peoples Day. Summer Solstice (approx. the same time as my birthday). I hope you’re living it up and finding time to soak in the sun (when the air quality is ok outside). We deserve joy and love and hope.
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Stay cool this summer,