'People really do care about environment'

Research finds strong undercurrent of concern and activism around climate, disasters and sustainable development

It was Mark Twain who famously wrote, "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it."

The same has been said about climate change - all talk, little action.

Julie Drolet doesn't see it that way and she has done extensive research in the B.C. Interior to demonstrate that climate action is far from an abstract concept.

"That's the message heard in the larger media," she said of what is sometimes regarded as general
detachment from an issue of utmost importance.

"What we find, actually, is that people really do care about the environment."

An associate professor in TRU's school of social work and human service, Drolet is the principal investigator in research focused on community-level adaptation to climate change, disasters and sustainable development.

Social workers are often called upon to do short-term work in disaster response, but her research examines emerging social challenges on a much greater timeline.

"It's really at a local level where people are experiencing direct impacts," Drolet said.

"People are reporting impacts already happening and those impacts are different from community to community. So we have to look at how to better prepare social workers for some of the challenges ahead."

Her research is aimed at improving awareness of natural disasters in B.C., to reduce risk, facilitate networking and community resilience and develop an electronic toolkit to support climate action.

Drolet's focus began with her visit to a social-work school in India in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and has since expanded into four different projects.

The projects include public outreach that continues in Kamloops, Merritt, Clearwater and communities in the central Interior in collaboration with the Kamloops Women's Resource Group Society and student researchers.

"Among the people we spoke to, we find there are some community actions taking place now. What they're looking for is efforts to deal with longer-term concerns."

According to her survey findings, 87 per cent of those polled either agreed or strongly agreed that climate change is taking place in their communities.

Ninety per cent agreed or strongly agreed that climate change is a threat to their future wellbeing or safety. Ninety-nine per cent agreed or strongly agreed that human activity is a significant cause.

And they're not sitting back, sipping cappuccinos: 94 per cent said they are making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint locally. The strength of those responses challenges common assumptions about climate change indifference.

"It was surprising to us, also," Drolet said.

The local chapter of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association and the Kamloops Food Policy Council exemplify this grassroots activism.

"Some of the ways they're engaged is creating sustainable development plans, curbing greenhouse gases and mitigating issues around climate change, food and food security."

Cheryl Kabloona, chairwoman of the BCSEA chapter, said many of their activities are aimed at public engagement and education.

"We kind of help people to understand that we can affect climate change," she said.

"We're worried about the world young people will inherit from us and we're trying to make a difference in the community."

Kabloona got involved when she retired and wanted to devote her time to a worthy cause. She couldn't think of a worthier one.

"It's the passion of my life," she said. "It's probably the most important issue of our generation. We have to solve this or we'll have big problems."

With a dozen-member steering committee, the chapter reaches out to the public with activities such as the 2012 Solar Laundry Project, a contest that gave away 80 outdoor clotheslines.

"The message is that we can all conserve energy by not using dryers so much. We can use solar power and wind."

The contest, which will continue this year, is directed at incremental change with a measure of gentle persuasion, a little fun.

"It helps people realize that becoming more sustainable doesn't always involve new hardships." It also attracted new interest: 400 names were added to the chapter's email list.

The chapter also engages with various levels of government in conjunction with policy measures.

A few examples: current consideration of City plans for transportation, air shed and a community energy plan.

As well, in the run-up to May's provincial election, they will post candidate positions on sustainable energy so readers can better understand party platforms and formulate their own questions. The chapter's website is bcsea.org/kamloops.

"I would say that there is interest in the community and a lot of people care about this," Kabloona said. "The trick is to convince people we can make a difference in the world and in our personal lives as well."

Next month, the group is partnering with Canadian Homebuilders for a sustainable building forum.

"What's really lacking is better leadership on a federal level, so that we as a nation can mobilize to try to do something about this," she said.

Kamloops350 is another climate action group, one in the process of re-activating after its Great Green Transportation Tune-up of 2011. Gisela

Ruckert said the group plans to step up its involvement this year to invigorate existing events, such as Clean Air Day, Car-Free Day and Earth Day.

For more about Drolet's research, see juliedrolet.sites.tru.ca.


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