Although concerns over COVID-19 and emerging variants continue to make headlines, climate anxiety is prevalent in the news as well.
With the heat dome hitting the Lower Mainland, massive wildfires burning out of control in much of B.C. over the summer, and other extreme weather plaguing the province, British Columbians are feeling more distressed than ever, studies show.
This past summer, UBC researchers and partners with other universities interviewed rural BC community residents about the impacts of climate change and the pandemic on their mental health, recognizing that levels of anxiety are high even among those not traumatized by wildfire evacuations.
The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced a “Code Red for Humanity”. A recent global survey on eco-anxiety, involving 10 countries and thousands of children and youth, showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents felt “worried” or “very worried”.
In speaking with media and the public over the summer, Professor Emeritus Stephen Sheppard of the UBC Faculty of Forestry said that the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) research group has been working with communities for two decades but has never seen so much concern and demand from individuals to learn what they can do about climate change.
“When it comes to dealing with climate change, people often feel helpless and alone,” says Sheppard. “Your choices are to ignore it, worry about it, or actually do something about it. We have found that people want to know what they can do to tackle the Climate Emergency.”
Sheppard says CALP has developed strategies for vulnerable neighbourhoods to be able to take positive local climate action that will have a noticeable impact in years to come: inspiring others on the urgent need to cut carbon footprints in half by 2030 and climate-proof their homes and backyards, all while having fun and building bonds with friends and neighbours.
CALP Communications and Engagement Coordinator Cheryl Ng adds: “Climate action on the ground helps people feel more empowered. It allows them to say: ‘I am proactively tackling climate change. I am making a difference, on things I can control or influence.”
“One of the most encouraging pieces of feedback we’ve gotten is from a local climate champion who said our 2020 workshop program was the ‘best thing they’d heard about climate change in a long time,” says Ng. “They told us that our workshops made climate solutions seem more tangible and achievable, and helped them feel a lot more hopeful and optimistic about the impacts of climate change.”
Becoming a Climate Champion
The group’s unique Cool ‘Hood Champs 2021 initiative is one example of how CALP’s approach is empowering people right in their own neighbourhoods. Designed for residents of all ages who do not have a background in climate science, the training is free and highly interactive. Hands-on workshops and outdoor climate tours show residents and youth how to identify and plan for climate impacts and solutions on their blocks or around their schools. A key takeaway for residents is creating their own climate action plan, which they can bring home and implement with friends and family.
Neighbourhood in-person and online workshops are being launched this fall in several Vancouver-area community centres. Registration has just opened but there are still some spaces available.
Ng says “We’re encouraging anyone 16 and older to sign up, learn how they can become climate champions and be part of the solution. Our question is: what if every Community Centre and school across Canada offered a local climate action program like this?”
To register for these upcoming workshops, visit this page.
The Cool ‘Hood Champs workshops are sponsored by the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City grant program, Trout Lake Community Centre Association, and Kitsilano Community Centre Association.
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