By Colleen Smith, photos by Suzanne Chew
Calgarians are on the move to make sure that when it comes to climate change, all changes made are going to be for the better.
Even though the city was plunged in a deep freeze on the evening of Tuesday, February 5th, over 150 people braved the cold to gather together with the Calgary Climate Hub to “Talk About the Climate Crisis”, where citizens could address the challenges of climate advocacy and change in the intimacy of a warm and friendly space.
The hall of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association was packed to the rafters. Every seat was filled, every aisle crammed with avid listeners: concerned folk of all ages and all walks of life who came to hear what the experts had to say.
The Climate Hub’s interim chair, Dr. Joe Vipond, facilitated the evening. His warm opening words focused on the need for folk to come together in conversation, to gather and support each other to build the kind of community we want.
“It affects everything,” Vipond said.
“Increasingly, we are seeing dire stories come out of the scientific world.”
“It really feels like we are reaching a kind of tipping point, a geophysical and chemical one, more rapidly that we ever imagined.”
“But balancing this is another tipping point, a wave that seems like it cresting and is about to crash down. Youth rising up around the world marching in the streets. The city of Calgary in an article today said it had to create a climate resiliency plan or the city wouldn’t be able to purchase insurance. People gathering at a community hall on a frosty February night in the heart of oil country to discuss climate change. This tipping point is equally real, and equally big.”
“But we have to acknowledge that many find action on the climate crisis threatening. Especially in this province. Especially in this town. We’ve become very wealthy, as a city, producing energy that ultimately ends up in the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. Our wealth, even our identity, is threatened. And so there is push-back.”
“We’re 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, and we have very few venues to talk about this.”
“Who wants to discuss ecological collapse at a dinner party? So we’ve created a safe space for discussion.”
“Maybe you want to know more about the science? Maybe you’re gripped with eco-anxiety and don’t know where to turn. Maybe you want to get more engaged politically? Maybe you want to do more in your own space?”
“Maybe you need to take these conversations, and start moving them outside these walls, to friends and family.”
– Dr. Joe Vipond, Chair of the Calgary Climate Hub
The event showcased an impressive array of speakers from all disciplines: politicians, doctors, engineers, local green farmers, cyclists, novelists, professors and permaculturalists all came together to share their stories, perceptions and knowledge.
The breadth and depth of topics discussed covered core issues such as public transit, local food sustainability, energy efficiency, renewables and political perceptions, as well as contemporary, emerging issues, such as climate science literacy, health advocacy and eco-anxiety.
Dr. Andrea Hull, part of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, specializes in community health.
“There are many reasons to care about climate change,” Hull said, “but few are more intimate and tangible than our health.”
“There are physical and mental health impacts from climate change. In fact, it has been named the greatest public health threat of our time, but also our greatest opportunity.”
The issues surrounding eco-anxiety, Hull says, is one of the newest and most contemporary issues surrounding climate change.
“It is the 2 a.m. feeling of lying awake in the fetal position. It can cause a sense of paralysis, hopelessness and a sense of denial.”
– Dr. Andrea Hull
“No one is immune to these effects, but health is a really strong motivator for change. There are so many exciting synergies between improved health outcomes and strong climate action: walking and biking, active transportation.”
“Cleaner air from increased renewable energy production and increased urban greening. Safer water and decreased depression and anxiety from exposure to natural environments. The list goes on. We need to start bringing in decision making tools that reflect the health value of nature.”
“As healthcare providers, we need to speak up about these benefits. Our health is inextricably linked to the health of our planet.”
The evening started with speakers at the podium, but quickly shifted to vibrant small groups at tables facilitated by each expert.
Conor Tapp, Executive Director of Green Calgary, moderated the packed table on climate conversations. Calgarians shared the critical conversations they were having with their loved ones, and how many of them found it easier to start with the “why”. People shared their values and passions, and invited others to share what mattered to them, in return.
“Imagine a world where something you hold dear is more scarce, or maybe it’s completely gone – how does that impact you?”, Tapp asked. Many view climate change as a scientific matter, but it impacts our lives, our minds, and our hearts.”
“Common ground exists, and sometimes we need to work to find it. We can all agree on that.”
– Conor Tapp, Executive Director, Green Calgary
Darren Anderson, CEO, Ventures Green Inc, shared that over the previous 9 years, solar costs have come down by 88%, while wind energy costs have reduced by 69%.
“Solar energy potential in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan are the best in Canada, and are, in fact, better than many countries like Germany. Wind energy potential is also strong in Alberta.”
– Darren Anderson, CEO, Ventures Green Inc.
Anderson facilitated the vibrant table on renewable energy, which talked about the Alberta Solar PV rebate, community solar projects and other renewable energy options, training and jobs.
Barend Dronkers, Analyst, Energy Efficiency Alberta, shared that energy efficiency is an investment in Alberta’s future that returns $2 – $3 in cost savings and economic growth. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta doesn’t have to cost money: in fact, it has the opportunity to save $125 per tonne of carbon emissions reduced.
“Efficiencies are available to everyone. They can be found in your home’s attic, your corner store’s weather sealing, and the pumps and motors in our industries. All helping cut costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
– Barend Dronkers, Analyst, Energy Efficiency Alberta
Conversation was invigorating in its inclusiveness and openness – with people across ages, ethnicity, and society sharing their experiences and worries, and learning from each other.
MLA David Swann, together with Bob Hawkesworth, facilitated the table on political engagement. He shared that inclusive, authentic and real conversation is exactly the right way forwards.
“Climate change is known as a wicked problem. It affects multiple sectors. All age groups, industry and public. It has long term impacts and it’s difficult to make decisions when it’s across the globe. It’s difficult to get consensus and real action on climate change. But public policy only comes from public pressure. The role of citizens is absolutely fundamental.”
“A citizen needs to do two things: Turn on the light – share what you’re concerned about and want action on. And then hold their feet to the fire.
We’re nice Canadians. We don’t like to turn up the heat on people. But we need to do it in order to get things done. That’s why there needs to be a real discussion.”
– MLA David Swann
And there was discussion. There were passionate conversations at the podium and quiet chats over a cup of coffee, hummus, bread and chocolate cookies courtesy of Avi Fried from Sidewalk Citizen. In the wood-panelled hall of the community association, with a judo class for kids being held just next door, there was a comforting sense of strength from unity, of coming together, of community.
The Calgary Climate Hub, a volunteer-led nonprofit, is working to bring these big issues to the table in a new way. When we talk about climate change with our friends, colleagues, children and mentors, something magical happens – it transforms from a global issue to a much more personal matter – one that, with people we love at our side, we have the means to tackle together.
There were deep conversations, but there were also a lot of smiles, laughter and warm embraces. The mix of emotions which flowed from audience members who chose to speak during the open mic slot at the end, only highlights how inextricably our own happiness is tied to our community, our places of nature, and the spaces we love. It is in moments like these where we can seize victory in small but certain steps.
Dr. Vipond is no stranger to hard-won successes. Awarded the City of Calgary’s Environmental Achievement Award in 2016, he was part of a small group of individuals which accelerated the phase-out of Alberta coal-fired electricity, resulting in the closure of all 18 plants by 2030.
“I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s fun. Really fun, to win.”
“And it really helps to decrease the anxiety that comes along with the inside knowledge of what’s to come.”
“We’re doing great things, but we can be even better with you on our side. We need more wins.”
– Dr. Joe Vipond
Starting the climate conversation is hard, but with each step, we move forwards, together.
The Calgary Climate Hub is a volunteer-led organization, and plans to hold further Community Conversations. The next one is planned for the community of Marda Loop, in late March. The Hub is seeking volunteers, funding and support to continue the momentum of conversations across Calgary.
Active since 2017, the Hub is only able to progress through the tireless work of its volunteers and support from strategic partners. Join the Hub on Facebook, Twitter, and on our dedicated community platform on Mobilize, or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to join us as a member, to start making the kind of community you want to be part of.