How local government and community can work together to preserve the environment
Author Barbara Bobo
Tuesday, Aug 7, 2018
How local government and  community can work together to preserve the environment

As a youth Karen Farbridge announced she would be studying big carnivorous cats in Africa.
Instead, she went from studying toxic salmon in polluted streams in her home province to
studying toxic carnivorous characters in local politics!
In fact, she tamed both citizens and city councillors using careful strategies of listening,
humility, understanding priorities and setting goals where all could prosper.
Farbridge, former mayor of Guelph, was guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Bruce
Peninsula Environment Group in Lion’s Head on Aug. 1. Her topic: How local government and
community can work together to preserve the environment.
Guelph activists inspired Farbridge, who has a doctorate in biology, to leave the research lab in
1993 and work on local issues. When she approached city council with an allotted five-minute
presentation on conservation, she was met with a boisterous reprimand from one member of
council who said she was wasting their time. This only strengthened her resolve. She was 10
years ahead of her time with her conservation plan, she reckons, but she could see that the
slogan, Think Globally, Act Locally, was the right path for her and her city. Working with
engaged citizens and community leaders on issues of social justice and sustainability, she
quickly realized the status quo works very hard to “do it the way it has always been done” to
protect its self interest.
She had to convince community leaders that water conservation, protecting farmland and
groundwater, waste management through composting, protecting natural heritage sites, and
other sustainability programs would benefit everyone. Having studied the issues she was
proposing and having examples of communities that had involved themselves in these
programs helped.
She noted that a local reporter came up with this line about her plans: “The government may
have no business in your bedroom, but it does want to know what you do in the bathroom.”
Dealing with libertarians, conservatives, evangelicals, tax fighters, contrarians, and others of
various stripes is the stu
of city council meetings. Finding common ground is key. The city of
Guelph managed to construct an eight-point plan for sustainability that would serve all of the
people. Toilet and washing machine rebates, grey water systems, built-in rain water collection
systems pitched to developers would mean more growth for their business if the taxes
remained reasonable to new home builders. Leaving streams open for enjoyment instead of
enclosing them was an ecological as well as economical move.
With four political campaigns and three terms as mayor, her advice, “Be clear about your
values, be humble about what you don’t know, listen with empathy, and be open to change.”
She believes a democracy should reflect a balance of gender and ethnic diversity on all
government levels.
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