Rory Filer’s climate action started with a handful of chestnuts in a yellow yogurt pot.After B.C.’s sweltering heat dome in June showed him how tall trees can cool the air around neighboring homes, making neighborhoods more resilient to global warming and heat waves, he wanted to take action in his neighborhood of Kitsilano in Vancouver.
A few months later, a tree began to grow – and with it, his desire to do more.
“I was like, ‘What can I start doing about climate change to try to change the situation?’ “, did he declare.
That’s a question posed by Filer and other participants taking part in a unique workshop on climate change in neighborhoods led by researchers at the University of British Columbia.
The Cool ‘Hoods Champs program was created to bridge the knowledge gap between climate science and ordinary people – bringing solutions where they live, said lead researcher Cheryl Ng.
The program’s organizers said that while the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow helps set the tone and strategy for reducing carbon emissions around the world, it also clearly leaves ordinary people out of the conversation.
“There are a lot of Canadians who care a lot about climate change, but they don’t know what to do about it,” Ng said.
“What better way to start than to go see people where they live and talk to them about how they can choose solutions with their family, friends and neighbors in the neighborhood? “
The Cool ‘Hood Champs philosophy is to start small, but the organizers have high hopes of expanding the program to other cities in Canada and even bringing it to the COP26 conference as part of the university’s delegation to Glasgow.
The program consists of three practical workshops that take place over a month. After a well-received pilot project last year, this fall marks the first time the program has been delivered with participants from three Vancouver neighborhoods.
Jumping squirrels and counting trees
It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and a trail of people wearing raincoats and holding notepads follow UBC Faculty of Forestry Professor Emeritus Stephen Sheppard on a tour of their own neighborhood in the suburb of Vancouver.
“Can you see any roofs that would be suitable for solar panels? ” He asked.
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“Think how paved this alley is,” he said, pointing to the runoff from the rain collecting on the road.
The visit is one of the program’s workshops, designed to identify hyper-local problems and solutions, Sheppard said.
As Canada experiences the effects of climate change, such as warmer temperatures, extreme weather, flooding, erosion and more, it will affect cities, towns and especially neighborhoods.
One of the exercises Sheppard uses is to have residents think of a squirrel jumping from tree to tree. If a squirrel has to descend to the ground of a tree to continue along the street, then that area needs more canopy cover, he said.
The activity aims to highlight how additional tree cover on suburban streets means more robust habitat for squirrels and humans.
More green, less gray
Actions such as strategically planting trees in the courtyards of south-facing buildings and homes, as well as generally increasing tree cover, can help naturally cool neighborhoods, Sheppard said.
Similarly, encouraging more green space and less asphalt makes an area less vulnerable to flash floods, he said, allowing water to seep into the soil rather than build up on roads and to be discharged into the sewers.
” It’s here that [individuals] can make the difference; they can’t impact Florida or Bangladesh or, you know, glaciers, but you can impact your yard, your driveway, your driveway, you know, your water system, your energy system – all of those things, you have some control, ”Sheppard says.
Back in a nearby community center, the organizers of another workshop interview a room full of people – of different ages and backgrounds – about their collective climate concerns. Responses range from ‘wanting to feel more empowered’ to ‘wanting to learn practical tools for sustainability’ or ‘learning to do small but impactful things’.
Steph Troughton has enrolled eight of her family on the UBC program, saying the urge to do more about climate change has been gnawing at her for months.
“Finding out more about my carbon footprint is actually very scary and trying to do something about it is a bit awkward – but we want to do it. ”
His 11-year-old son, Jamie, said that while he thought climate change was a very complex threat, he felt a strong desire to learn what he could do to be prepared for its impacts.
Imagine the future
Climate anxiety is a recurring sentiment for many Cool ‘Hood Champs workshop participants.
The Canadian Psychological Association defines climate anxiety as a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of the current and future state of the natural environment. The emotion can also be linked to a perceived lack of action on climate change on the part of different levels of government.
Sheppard said it can be cathartic to take those emotions and turn them into change that the community can benefit from.
“The well-being of people involves taking responsibility and getting involved in something,” he said. “If it’s fun and positive and makes a difference and makes something visible on the pitch. ”
Once participants have completed their neighborhood tour, they have the opportunity to sketch their ideas on photographs of their own streets.
Additions like bike lanes to reduce traffic are popular, as are solar panels to promote the use of renewable energy. Participants also often incorporate the idea that asphalt is an underutilized space, quickly replacing it with community rain gardens and a common shaded space, with lots of trees.
Other minor changes are also suggested: replacing dark roofs with lighter roofs, which reflect sunlight and heat, and adding benches so people can escape hot homes during a heat wave.
Plant a seed
Sheppard said it makes sense to involve neighborhoods more in the climate conversation, as Canada will need buy-in from households and blocs to reduce their carbon emissions.
Climatologists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have warned that time is running out to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C, and the world will likely reach that level of warming between 2030 and 2052 .
“We have a few years to launch this thing – and I think every community should do it,” Ng said.
As for Rory Filer’s chestnut tree, it is now two feet tall. While his collection of nuts was largely stolen by squirrels a few months ago, the tree – which he named Walter – is getting bigger every day.
Soon, he says, he will plant it somewhere in his neighborhood. And maybe one day it will be like the other 100-foot trees that frame the neighborhood, providing a shady respite for future British Columbians in their warming climate.