Responsible for the future

Communities around Nova Scotia are awakening to the growing climate crisis, and a growing army of experts are helping them prepare and adapt, drawing on a wide variety of experiences. One of those people is Omar Bhimji in Wolfville, whose passion and commitment point the way forward for the whole province.

In May 2019, the Town of Wolfville hired Bhimji as its climate change mitigation coordinator. He works to advance the town’s position in the Partners for Climate Protection program, including updating its greenhouse gas emissions inventory, setting an emissions reduction target, and developing a climate change mitigation plan.

Bhimji has always been passionate about the environment, but birth of his son pushed him to want to do more. “Learning about climate change and feeling responsible for the future of this little creature and other people… got me focused on trying to figure out how to become a part of the fight against climate change,” he says.

The main thrust of his job is developing a plan for climate change mitigation action over the next 20 to 30 years. The 42-year-old is an avid cyclist, which led to his involvement in cycling advocacy during his previous job in British Columbia.

“From there I branched out from cycling into other areas to get people away from cars and into more sustainable and active modes of transportation,” he says.

He managed a series of small-scale transportation planning projects as part of a workers’ cooperative, collaborating with 14 communities to develop small-scale neighbourhood transportation plans around schools, libraries, and other community hubs.

For Wolfville, Bhimji is focused on facilitating mobility more broadly across the town, investigating non-vehicle transportation options like separated bike lanes and community transit services. During the summer of 2020, the town added three new electric bikes to the BookBike lending program in partnership with the Wolfville branch of the Annapolis Valley Regional Library.

The addition of the new electric bikes was the idea of a local resident, who Bhimji helped secure a grant from the provincial government’s Connect2 funding program. Connect2 is based on all trips under two kilometres to key destinations in Nova Scotia communities that can be made using clean modes of transportation. “We need to encourage and enable people from all parts of Wolfville to get out of their cars,” he says.

Bhimji will be working with Bicycle Nova Scotia on a community-led design for an upgraded bike network in town, a network of all-ages-and-abilities bike paths through Wolfville that will connect many residential areas and key destinations. The town will also be working on a feasibility study for a community transit program.

“[We] are trying to figure out the feasibility of high frequency, hopefully electric, convenient local transit service… especially in the winter,” says Bhimji. The idea is to give people safe, convenient, and sustainable options, to “rebalance the scales so we aren’t such a driving-oriented community where driving is the only logical way to get around.”

For Bhimji, connecting and helping people realize there are actions they can take to reduce their emissions that are important and impactful, is key to making them a part of a solution, to help them appreciate the scale of the climate change problem and their role in fixing it.

“There are concrete steps people can take in their daily lives that can have a really big impact in their personal or collective emissions,” he says.

This article was provided by Quest, a non-government organization working to accelerate the adoption of efficient and integrated community-scale energy systems in Canada.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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