Winnipeg is a city that was built on the expectation of cheap and unlimited fuel and land spreading out over the prairie landscapes. The public has become dependent on automobiles to get around this sprawling city.
Governments around the world have acknowledged the connection between climate change and the emission of greenhouse gases and its implications to how we live on this planet. Winnipeg itself is responsible for 5,300,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The transportation sector is responsible for a large percentage of these emissions.
There is no doubt that Winnipeg is a car-dominated city. Public transit is underfunded and poorly designed. The infrastructure for active transportation is fragmented or non-existent.
Even if Winnipeggers want to reduce automobile dependence, alternatives are often more expensive, inconvenient and less safe. Strong investments in the transit sector could reduce emissions by as much as 575,000 tons over the next 30 years. Making transit more convenient and reducing fares may encourage ridership and reduce trips by single-occupancy vehicles.
The City of Winnipeg could increase parking costs in congested areas or limit driving altogether. But these regulations will also need to be accompanied by a radical shift in public attitudes and behaviours.
The City could put into place top-down regulations encouraging Winnipeggers to live lower-carbon lifestyles. But if those regulations were removed, most people would quickly fall back into old behaviours.
When behavioural changes are enforced by regulating bodies, the public is quick to fight against them, and the externally motivated outcomes often do not last. How then can a city so dependent on cars be convinced to change how they get around the urban landscape?
The motivation to change must be internal, coming from within every individual, if it is to have a lasting impact.
Grassroots organizations are much more able to engage with communities and build personal relationships than government bodies. Bringing people together to learn and share knowledge fosters a sense of community and commitment. Grassroots organizations encourage individuals to participate in the decision-making processes, because the more involved people are, the more likely it is that they will adopt these decisions in their everyday lives.
Governments and grassroots organizations both have important roles to play in the fight to mitigate climate change.
By engaging the public and involving them in the decision-making process, grassroots organizations are more able to encourage the public to change their attitudes and behaviours. By working together, community groups involving all concerned citizens can spread knowledge and increase people's commitment to making the necessary changes that the regulations are trying to enforce.
The City of Winnipeg is currently developing a Climate Change Action Plan to reduce emissions. If they truly hope to make a difference with this plan they will need to make an effort to include the participation of grassroots organizations and all concerned citizens.
Avery Letkemann is an environmental studies student and the environmental ethics director for the University of Winnipeg Students' Association. She has experience organizing with Divest UWinnipeg and has held an advisory position with the city developing Winnipeg's Climate Change Action Plan.