Kingston councillor talks the climate crisis

Jim Neill talks climate emergency declaration, public transportation

City councillor Jim Neill talks climate crisis.
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Since Kingston declared a climate emergency in March, the City is focusing on improving transportation sustainability, and passed a motion to ban shops from keeping doors and windows open while air conditioning is running.
 
On March 5, Kingston became the third municipality in Canada, and the first in Ontario, to declare a climate emergency. Moved by Councillors Jim Neill and Robert Kiley, the motion passed unanimously. 
 
The Journal spoke with Jim Neill, who represents Kingston’s Williamsville district, about what actions the City has taken since the declaration and what it’s hoping to accomplish.
 
“Climate change is an emergency,” Neill said. “We need to take timely action. We need to lead by example.”
 
Neill said the City established a Climate Emergency Working Group as well as a Climate Action Committee, which is slated to publish a report with recommendations in October.
 
One of the central initiatives the City has pursued since the declaration is making different modes of transportation in Kingston more sustainable. 
 
Neill said a motion was passed in August that will ask the City to ban people from leaving vehicles idling. Neill also emphasized the importance of switching from gas-powered cars to hybrid or electric. 
 
“People don’t want to give up their SUVs, trucks, and other vehicles that aren’t sustainable, but we need to convince them buying a new, shiny gas-guzzler isn’t the way for their children or grandchildren to survive,” he said.
 
The public transit system is now not only included in student fees for Queen’s and St. Lawrence students, but free for all school-aged children, which Neill said creates an alternative to cars. 
 
According to Neill, in an effort to make public transit a more appealing option for Kingstonians, parking charges in some parts of the City now cost more than a bus pass. 
 
He also mentioned a plan to replace the entire bus fleet with electric vehicles, and said the first electric buses have been ordered.
 
Following constituent complaints, Neill returned to an initiative proposing a law that would put a stop to shops keeping doors and windows open with air conditioning running.
 
“Some stores turn air conditioning on high, open the doors, and put a fan blowing onto the sidewalk with the rationale that it entices people into their store,” he said.
 
Neill believes this practice, which he called a “huge waste of energy,” needs to stop.
 
Neill’s first motion seeking to impose this bylaw in 2011 failed, but it was passed after Neill brought a similar motion to Council in August. He credits this to the “most progressive” council he’s worked with over his five elected terms.
 
Neill said there are many parallels between Queen’s and the City of Kingston. 
 
“There is a challenge for Queen’s, just as there is for the City, with old infrastructure and heritage buildings,” he said. 
 
Neill said he thinks Queen’s has been doing a better job with sustainability, but would recommend “an ambitious plan to plant trees and maintain 
green space.”
 
“Climate change is a crisis that’s been ignored far too long, but there’s not a light switch we can flip on and say ‘there, we’ve done it’,” he said. “It’s an ongoing crisis, and we need an ongoing plan to address that crisis.”
 

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