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Sustainable Infrastructure in the Face of the Climate Crisis: Community Spotlight

Written by Sydney Whiting

· General

Sydney Whiting is an environmental activist, Grade 12 student, and a leader within the Climate Hub of Southern Alberta (@climatehubsa). She cares about the intersection of government, youth, and environmental action, prompting her to pursue studies in political science in the fall.

Despite the modest dip in greenhouse emissions due to the pandemic, Canadian communities 一 and our media channels 一 have been grappling with an endless stream of wildfires, floods, and other extreme weather events in recent weeks. For many of us, feelings of climate anxiety have only intensified as a result of the environmental reports predicting an increasing frequency of extreme weather events in the coming years.

A small town in British Columbia, famed for their historically high summer temperatures, serves as a microcosm for these disastrous effects of the climate crisis. Mere days after breaking their own record for the hottest temperatures in Canada, the Village of Lytton was devastated by a raging wildfire on July 1st. With the majority of their community infrastructure destroyed, questions are being raised as to how soon 一 and how sustainable 一 the village can be rebuilt.

Building back better

We are all familiar with the need to “build back better” in a post-pandemic world, recognizing that transformational social change is needed to mend the inequities exposed over the past sixteen months. But in a very literal sense, the sustainability and resilience of our infrastructure must also be built and retrofitted to combat the climate crisis.

At a Special Council Meeting following the wildfire, the Village of Lytton stated that “Council considers climate change to be a contributing factor in relation to the tragic fire…” and that "infrastructure and services … [and] the reborn Village can serve (after the rebuild) as a model zero emissions/living community to show the world what every community should demonstrate by the year 2050.”

This small community 一 led by the commitments of their municipal government 一 are innovating in the face of crisis. With the building sector contributing 38% to energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, sustainable infrastructure and aggressive civic policy can support our federal emission-reduction targets. Lytton is an unfortunate example of climate disaster and the need for resiliency, but their commitment to net-zero infrastructure development sends a strong message to the world as we aim to mobilize for a post-pandemic green recovery.

Retrofitting: to build or not to build

Sustainable infrastructure refers to development which considers the environmental impacts of its energy generation, its water and land management, and the sustainable sourcing of its building materials. In some viewpoints, it is even a holistic approach to development 一 valuing environmental stewardship at its core. Under this model, buildings are repurposed, retrofitted, repaired, and rehabilitated. It forces our development industry 一 and our community mindset 一 towards the principles of a circular economy.

Researchers agree that Lytton can be a strong role model as they plan their complete rebuild. Other Canadian communities can use preventative measures, i.e. climate-adaptation development and policy approaches, to retrofit their pre-existing infrastructure and support community climate resilience. Both approaches are needed, and both can help mitigate the effects of the changing climate in years to come.

Within our own communities, we can push for the same commitments as Lytton, B.C., before disaster strikes. We can be proactive by retrofitting our infrastructure, generating community engagement, and committing to net-zero targets.

We can 一 quite literally 一 build back better.