By Suzanne Chew and Roger Gagne
Calgarians rallied resoundingly to the call to come together in Marda Loop to talk about climate, with over 130 people gathered on the balmy evening of Thursday, March 21st.
Citizens, community groups and local businesses came together in the large, welcoming hall of the Marda Loop Communities Association to share their own experiences and get to know each other over fresh local foods and home-baked cookies.
Many came to learn about just what they could do to take action, and how they might start having these tough conversations with friend and family.
“We are initiating a new kind of climate event. Not one to educate, cajole, or change policy. But a conversation.
Here we have an existential crisis facing us, the possible loss of civilization, and we have very few venues to talk about this. So, we’ve created a safe space for discussion.”
-Dr. Joe Vipond, Emergency Physician at Foothills Hospital, Chair of the Calgary Climate Hub, Board member of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
With these community climate conversations, the Calgary Climate Hub is creating a new kind of gathering – one in which people can come together to learn and talk about the tough topic of climate change, whether it’s the science, the solutions, or the powerful act of sharing our stories that give heart to so many of us, to know that many others have the same questions and worries as we do.
More and more people turned up as the event got going – volunteers kept running to bring out more chairs, as the speakers pitched their table topics, from renewable energy solutions, electric car performance, urban planning for great cities to live in, to local youth rising to take action, and how faith can steel our courage to act.
Vipond shared, “Mozambique and the US Midwest are underwater, we’ve seen fires ravaging BC and California, we’ve seen hurricanes hitting our coastlines harder than ever. It really feels like we are reaching a kind of tipping point, a geophysical and chemical one, more rapidly that we ever imagined.”
“Yet at the same time, we see youth rising up, we see a Green New Deal being discussed in the United States, and we see our own city of Calgary beefing up the climate resilience plan because ‘major insurance companies were threatening not to insure the city in the future without a better plan in place.’ This tipping point is equally real, and equally big.”
Very Rev. Bill Phipps, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada (1997-2000) and International President of World Conference of Religions for Peace (1999 to 2006), shared this sense of a tipping point being reached.
“Climate change is the embracing reality of our time. It’s not one issue among many. It’s the defining challenge in which we live.”
– Very Rev. Bill Phipps.
He said, “It’s fundamentally a deeply spiritual question; climate change challenges humanity to ask who are we, and how are we to live in Creation? Who speaks for the insects, birds, fish, or wildlife, that humankind shares the Earth with? Their existence is worth no less than our own.”
It’s a sense that Priya Lu, a 15-year-old student, shares.
When Priya talks about climate change with her friends, they wonder whether they’ll even want to have children, in the kind of world they are now growing up in.
Eco-anxiety is something that worries them.
For Priya, action is the antidote. “I found that, really, the only way to cope with that is through environmental activism and volunteering”, she said.
Priya joined over 150 school kids in the School Strike for Climate at City Hall on March 15th. She set up the Calgary Earth Guardians, the first crew in Alberta, and one of 264 crews worldwide, over 54 countries, of the global Earth Guardians non-profit organization.
Frustrated at having to act to safeguard her future and that of young people everywhere, but with a steely determination to step up to the challenge, she reminds youth that they still have a choice:
“Remember when you were a teenager and you thought that the adults were taking care of the world and all the problems? And then you realized they weren’t? That you actually could have taken action earlier? Why wait until we’re adults?”
Priya believes that the only way to solve the climate crisis is through intergenerational teamwork and local grassroots projects.
“Youth may be a small portion of the population, but we are 100% of this planets future.”
“I will still be too young to vote for 3 more years, but that doesn’t mean my voice and millions of others should be silenced. Climate change is happening every minute of every day so we need to talk about how we can all be engaged. We do not have time to wait.”
– Priya Lu, 15-year-old student and Founder of Calgary Earth Guardians.
These feelings were echoed by 24-year-old Sam Holder, who spoke about his love for the “boundless prairie sky and for clouds sculpted by the wind”.
“Climate change is something I can’t just not think about anymore. I understand why people suffer from eco-anxiety – I do, because I’m going to inherit the world of climate change projections made real.”
“It pains me to see the oil sands as the only political game in town and I’m here looking for something I can do as an individual.”
– Sam Holder, 24 years old.
Beyond the places we love, climate change is also affecting our health.
Dr. Stephen Wilton, a doctor in cardiovascular health and specialist in clinical epidemiology, talked about last year’s heavy smoke from BC wildfires, which led to people experiencing respiratory distress and even heart attacks.
He observed how many more people simply stayed inside, even though summer is the best time of year for many Albertans to enjoy the outdoors.
“As part of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), myself and other doctors in Alberta have been working to increase awareness about the health impacts of the climate crisis – both the ones that are happening now and those we can anticipate with ongoing climate change.
– Dr. Stephen Wilton, cardiac electrophysiologist and clinical scientist, Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta.
Dr. Laura Coristine teaches in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Calgary. With two young sons, she was serious and earnest as she spoke about her concerns for the future.
Several Canadian Cities have declared climate emergencies, in part because 100-year storms are now becoming 30-year storms.
“While global temperatures have risen 1.2°, Canada -as a northern country - has risen at twice that rate. Many cities, such as Calgary have seen even greater temperature increases, which means more frequent heat waves and shorter winters.”
“We have choices to make about technological solutions, food choices, changing our means of travel, using green roofs or light-colour building materials in our cities, planting trees that will absorb and store CO2, as well as to cool our cities.”
“We are 7.7 billion people on the planet and we are all part of the solution.”
– Dr. Laura Coristine
Harpreet Matharu, Community Coordinator with Empower Me, talked about how one-fifth of Albertans pay twice the national average in utility bills.
“The choices of energy suppliers and systems can be overwhelming. There’s no manual to understanding our unique energy needs and choices in Alberta.”
– Harpreet Matharu, Community Coordinator with Empower Me
For new Canadians especially, this means that a little knowledge goes a long way.
She shared her own experiences with clients: “Some people new to Alberta have never used a thermostat, have never seen insulation or needed a furnace, heating or an air conditioning system. In many diverse communities, this means families are living with high energy bills, damp or drafty homes, and even mould, mildew or leaking gas.”
How might this be changed? Free workshops and home visits to share best practices in energy saving behaviours and efficiency upgrades, amongst others, held in various languages, by members of the community, to help folks understand energy bills and choices, save energy, save money and increase the comfort and safety of their homes.
Gary Millard, President of Bike Calgary, counted off his reasons for cycling. Fitness, saving money, mental health, saving time travelling through congested areas, and a low environmental footprint.
“I’ve never made a friend while driving my car, but through cycling, I’ve found my community and people I am proud to call friends.”
– Gary Millard, President, Bike Calgary
Millard also highlights the improvements in health that come with biking regularly, helping us all to lead more enjoyable lives. “Cycling can create independence in youth, and support healthy aging for seniors.”
Connecting over conversation
Over ten tables buzzed with shared stories and flowing conversation, with many Calgarians keen to learn what they can do tackle climate change.
At the table on renewable energy, people shared stories and lessons about installing solar panels and better insulation, switching to a clean energy provider, and more ambitious community projects.
“By supporting renewable energy, Calgarians are not only tackling climate change – they are also actively contributing to the diversification of the economy, creating local jobs, and improving the health of Albertans by reducing air pollution coming from coal plants.”
– Vincent Morales, Analyst, Pembina Institute
The urban planning table pored over visions of walkable, dense neighbourhoods, with cycling infrastructure and vibrant communities.
“The most effective way to reduce household greenhouse gas is to design walkable and transit-oriented communities, and I get really excited about that!
We hear that in order to fight climate change, our quality of life will be reduced. But this is a strategy that has nothing but benefits: it improves public health, mental health, the environment, the economy, social equity. It addresses our most pressing health crises, and the challenge of an aging population.
On top of that, the changes we co-design with communities look and feel great! If we’re going to create positive solutions to climate change, we need to dig in now.”
– Celia Raven Lee, Director of the Active Neighbourhoods Program, Sustainable Calgary
Outside in the warm, balmy evening, many of us gathered around the parking lot to play with three electric vehicles, including a sturdy Ford Transit van filled with toolboxes and contracting equipment at the back. As the night grew darker, excited questions filled the air, together with live demonstrations.
This was also an evening of beautiful art. Meghan Lewick, local teacher, artist, and mentor to youth, shared her talent and spoke about what her art means to her, and why she paints social justice champions and changemakers.
“Art is a different kind of voice. It can make people pause to reflect, it can shock, inform, cause new questions to fly across the mind.”
– Meghan Lewick
These community climate conversations are paving the way for citizens to learn from each other, and how to start talking about climate change.
At the open mic slot at the end, Bernie Amell, a citizen using the humorous persona of a quirky scientist in the style of Doc Brown from Back to the Future, urged the crowd to find authentic, fun ways to connect.
“Budget your earnestness. Find other ways of communicating with new groups of people. Try to use humour when possible. And when you’re getting together with other climate activists, leave the earnestness at the door and take those opportunities, those moments, to care for each other.”
– Bernie Amell, concerned citizen
Coming out to these community climate conversations are also about sustaining hope. Participants shared:
“It was encouraging to see so many people engaged in lively conversation. As someone who has been involved in these challenges for decades, I am inspired by the next generations giving such impassioned and informed leadership.”
“I’m so glad Climate Conversations is providing a space for more of us to get involved, get excited and get creative.”
“What inspired me most about the event was the sheer variety of organizations and approaches that are gaining momentum to combat climate change.”
“What an excellent and informative event you put on. The round table discussions made a very useful format. Everyone got to cooperate and to communicate and to learn.”
“I feel so much better just feeling the energy and excitement of tonight, to know that I’m not alone when things feel like they’re too much for me to even think about. This makes me want to do so much more.”
The time to act is now
Getting engaged, Vipond said, means many things, including political action.
“The decision we make on April 16th will not only define Alberta’s future, but Canada’s. This is the time to get engaged. Tell people how much this matters to you. Support the parties, either with time, or money, that represent your values.”
As the evening drew to a close, Vipond – father to two young children, husband and doctor – reminded the room why we were all there.
“It’s all about who we love, what we love. This is why we do what we do. Because we can’t afford not to.”
Dr. Joe Vipond, father, husband, doctor.
What you can do!
New! First come, first served! Designed by our members, drop us an email to pick a sign up from one of our fantastic volunteers!
The Hub revolves around our amazingly talented, smart and absolutely fantastic members! We love ’em. Whatever your passion and skills, find or join a group of driven and fun volunteers to change your community for the better. Join us on Facebook and Twitter, and help share the message that action is the antidote!
Live in the Loop? The committee is doing work to bring change from the ground-up, from encouraging energy conservation, using renewable energy, and minimizing waste, especially plastics, to offering support, training and recognition to local businesses for sustainable business practices. Join them!
Thank you to all our beautiful volunteers from the Calgary Climate Hub, and to all our wonderful partners and speakers who made this evening of coming together in community possible: Sustainable Calgary, Bike Calgary, Calgary Earth Guardians, Empower Me, Canadian Red Cross, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Pembina Institute, Calgary Permaculture Guild, Forage Foods, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta, Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, and many more!