Former Toronto mayor shares ideas on climate action

A map pointer with the image of a church
 on September 1, 2021
David Miller
David Miller

David Miller, Toronto’s former mayor and author of Solved: How the World’s Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis, discussed the themes of his book with more than 100 participants in a Zoom meeting in May. St. Aidan, Toronto’s eco-spirituality committee and Beach United Church’s environmental action program co-sponsored the meeting. 

The core idea of Solved, in Mr. Miller’s words, is that “by replicating the best and most effective ideas already implemented … we can make a significant leap forward in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and put the world on a path to 1.5 degrees. The ideas discussed in this book have all been implemented somewhere.”

Allan Baker from Beach United moderated the evening and introduced Mr. Miller, who began by saying, “We’re in a crisis. We need to act. Extreme events are already occurring. Some predictions say 100 million people will be on the move because of drought and lack of food if we don’t act.”

He then noted that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. This percentage will grow to two thirds by 2050, making cities the focus of needed changes. He gave examples of cities that have used different financial and regulatory tools to address climate change in four main areas: electrical generation; transportation; building, heating and cooling; and waste management.

The Rev. Canon Lucy Reid, incumbent at St. Aidan’s, and Grace Rockett, a parishioner and a member of the Toronto Climate Action Network, interviewed Mr. Miller on his work. 

Canon Reid asked about the affordability of some of Mr. Miller’s proposals, to which he responded that the cost of doing nothing is higher. He elaborated by talking about Shenzhen, China, which bought 16,000 electric buses and created the world’s largest electric-bus manufacturing facility. The benefits are not just cleaner air but jobs and better health.

Ms. Rockett asked him about his reference to the “15-minute city.” Mr. Miller credited Jane Jacobs, the urban theorist and environmentalist, with the idea of using cities’ powers to build neighbourhoods where people can live, work, recreate and go to school or church within an easy 15-minute walk. 

After the Q&A time, the Rev. Karen Dale from Beach United reflected on eco-spirituality as a form of justice. “Climate action is a justice issue that requires cooperation based on our relational, interconnected lives, the way we live with one another and with creation,” she said. “If we link the issue of climate action to those who need to be lifted up, and if we care for one another, we will change the way we live with the whole planet.” 

As the discussion had focused on the role of cities in addressing climate change, the organizers had invited Brad Bradford, the area’s city councillor and a member of both the city’s budget committee and the Toronto Transit Commission board, to comment on Mr. Miller’s ideas. He said he’d been a fan of the former mayor since he’d been studying urban planning in graduate school and Mr. Miller had visited. He also said he had taken notes and would be looking at how to implement them.

Mr. Miller answered a few questions from the chat. One of the first had to do with priorities. Mr. Miller said that if the city required the 1,000 inefficient apartment towers in Toronto to get exterior cladding, it would reduce emissions by 45 per cent. “We’ve got to move beyond voluntary programs,” he said.

As I wrapped up the evening, I noted that Mr. Miller had agreed to speak without any fee but had said that we could, if we wished, contribute an honorarium to the Mrs. Joan H. Miller Scholarship Fund. The fund, named for Mr. Miller’s mother and administered by the Toronto Foundation, supports people seeking a second chance to return to school. The two churches made a contribution.  

The immediate reaction to the evening was positive, judging from the emails, text messages and coffee-hour chat the following Sunday.


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