When Jessica McIlroy, Regional Organizer of the Community Climate Hubs for BC’s Lower Mainland, asked me to write a post about forming the Maple Ridge Climate Hub, I told her I’d love to share my story if it could help other Climate Hubs move forward faster.
Then I retreated into full-on imposter syndrome mode, neatly packaged as an impressive attack of procrast-inaction (new word for the day).
I have zero environmental credentials. No training, no education, no impressive history of advocacy. Up until the fall of 2018, yes, I was concerned about the apparent mess the climate was in, but I wasn’t at all certain what I could do about it.
Sure, I recycled and tried to use less plastic and cooked from scratch and ate less meat and took transit rather than driving whenever possible. But I wasn’t sure that my efforts were making any difference, and truthfully, I was waiting for someone with authority and power to set us on course for climate salvation.
The pole-in-the-face effect
Then, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their report warning that the world needs to limit climate warming to 1.5o C above pre-industrial levels or… or we’ll cook, apparently, in a self-made hell complete with apocalyptic storms, floods, drought, pandemics, mass starvation, mass extinction, etc., etc., etc. And that this limit was not achievable given current trends.
I was shocked. Luckily, we had municipal elections coming up and I looked forward to rousing debates between the candidates about who had the best plans to solve the climate crisis.
Have you ever been walking down the street, maybe not paying quite as much attention as necessary, and run full-faced into a pole? It’s a sharp, painful (not to say embarrassing) reminder that no one is going to run ahead of you removing poles in the sidewalk so you don’t clonk yourself. That you’re going to have to pay attention and take action yourself to avoid disaster.
Well, there were no rousing debates about climate change at election time, and that was the smack in the face I needed to realize that if I expected action, certainly at the local level, I had better be prepared to get involved.
Strengths, meet needs
I still didn’t know what I could do. But I felt that waiting around for someone else to set the agenda was no longer an option. I took stock of what I had to offer. I’m a communications practitioner with business and change management experience. I started to analyze the situation from that perspective.
I realized that responding to climate change is a huge problem that requires massive change in the ways people think and behave. And to be successful, those involved (namely everyone) need to be part of the journey.
First off, people need information – they need to know what they’re up against, and they need to believe there are credible solutions. They need to see a vision for the future.
They need to hear the same messages through different channels, consistently and over time. And it helps if they can see that they are not alone… that everyone is on the same journey, and some are even further along. That there are successes and they can be successful too.
They need ways to participate. They need to be involved and engaged in planning for the future. They need to be heard and responded to. They need to know how issues affect them, and how they fit into the solutions.
They also need carrots and sticks; carrots such as cash incentives for energy retrofits, and sticks like a moratorium on new gas-powered cars.
I knew I couldn’t do much about carrots and sticks, but I thought it was possible to provide information, build different channels for networking and communication, convey a hopeful vision, and amplify the many ways ordinary citizens can engage and participate in creating our future.
The run-up to the Climate Hub
I started a local chapter of Green Drinks, where residents with a commitment to sustainability meet informally to connect, learn and socialize. At my first meeting, the leader of almost every environmental group in the area turned up. This gave me a much-needed introduction to people who have been fighting local climate battles for many years. Later many of these same people became founding members of the Maple Ridge Climate Hub. They’ve been an invaluable resource, providing support and insights into the sustainability movement in Maple Ridge.
I also joined the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee as their communications coordinator. This gave me the opportunity to meet with the public at farmers’ markets and other community events to share information about the work the city was doing as well as learn what concerns our residents had.
And I started writing a monthly column for our local newspaper.
Last fall, just after the school strikes for climate were held, I began investigating the Community Climate Hub concept, and we officially formed the Maple Ridge Climate Hub toward the end of the year.
Presenting to Council
The most pressing issue at the outset was to get our city council on board with taking action to reduce GHG emissions across the municipality. Council had voted down formal requests to declare a climate emergency on four occasions, while many other cities across the Lower Mainland had declared a climate emergency and launched ambitious plans to achieve GHG reduction targets.
What we heard at those unsuccessful attempts was that Council preferred action to words. So we began a campaign that ended with a presentation to Council asking for specific actions: to update their GHG emissions reductions targets to align with the IPCC recommendations; create an action plan to meet the targets; and monitor and report on progress.
Throughout the campaign we treated council members as people, who have the same needs for information, communication and involvement that everyone on this journey needs. We contacted each councillor – and met with those who were willing – to share our ideas, gather feedback, and adjust our approach. We met with city staff, to learn where the major opportunities lay. We circulated a petition and started a letter-writing campaign, so council members would understand we spoke for the broader community.
When we finally presented to Council in May they were fully aware of what we were asking for, and were well-versed in the actions being taken across the region. At that meeting Council asked staff for a report on the pros and cons of what we were proposing. When they received the report on July 14, Council voted unanimously for staff to return in September with recommendations for an action plan to fight – and adapt to – climate change.
The whole environmental stewardship community is cheering at this tangible sign of progress.
Now that Council is considering our request to take action, we can turn our attention to the future of the Climate Hub. Our vision is “To help Maple Ridge move to a low-carbon economy through advocacy, communication, education and action.”
Projects and programs that ran independently in the past, such as education (Green Drinks) and action (election debates), can now comfortably fall under the umbrella of the Climate Hub.
We are beginning an outreach program to connect with communities throughout the city, such as faith communities, health care practitioners, business, agriculture, education, and others. We believe that everyone has a reason to care about our environment, and everyone deserves a voice in how we plan our future.
We have no shortage of great ideas. But it’s been challenging to carry them out with a very small core team of volunteers. I’ve been blessed with the right people at the right time when I needed help setting up our website, planning and creating our social channels, meeting with Council members, and cooking up our outreach program.
Hopefully, as we broaden our reach, we’ll be able to attract more people to help expand the impact of the Climate Hub.
Every community’s Climate Hub will be as unique as the individuals who form it. My advice to anyone in the early stages of starting a Climate Hub is to consider what special strengths and skills you have that will help your community embrace the challenges that lie ahead.
It will often feel like you’re pushing a very large rock up a very steep hill. And you are. But look around. There are many of us out here pushing too – people like you who know things must change and want to help make that happen. And our numbers are growing.
The more we share the load – by relying on Community Climate Hub resources and networking with each other – the more momentum we’ll build, until that rock of inertia takes off and we can ride it on the downslope of this crucial decade of change.