An inconvenient column: Local climate change educators walk the talk

By Jamie Morris

An inconvenient column: Local climate change educators walk the talk
Deborah Pearson, left, Ginny Colling, right. Ardent environmentalists who think globally and act locally.

When I meet with Deborah Pearson and Ginny Colling it’s over herbal tea and Mickael’s day-olds, and their only pressing deadline is a sleep yoga workshop, starting in an hour-and-a-half.

So, after busy professional careers — for Deborah 30 years of elementary school teaching (mostly with the Trillium Board, but also in Canada’s sub-arctic and in Europe), and for Ginny 29 years teaching Journalism and Public Relations at Durham College  — this is the retirement lifestyle that fills their days?

An inconvenient column: Local climate change educators walk the talk
Columnist Jamie Morris.

The answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ Sure, they make time for family (Deborah, for example, is a doting grandmother and routinely adds to her wall-mounted, month-by-month photo timeline tracing her granddaughter’s development) and for friends.

But much of their time goes to volunteering within the community. Ginny is a team leader helping a Syrian family settle in; Deborah is a long-time volunteer for Amnesty International, and volunteers at the Olde Gaol Museum in its education program for schools.

The lion’s share of the volunteer time is  environmental work. Both sit on the City of Kawartha Lakes Environmental Advisory Committee and Healthy Environment Plan Working Group; Ginny is a member of David Suzuki’s ‘Blue Dot Movement.’

Above all though, right now their days are shaped by a commitment to address what is arguably the greatest threat facing the planet:  climate change.

The Training

Both Ginny and Deborah have completed former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership training program. In March 2017 Ginny joined 972 people from 32 countries for the workshops in Denver; in October that year Deb travelled to Pittsburgh to join 1,400 from 40 countries. (Over time the program numbers have steadily increased.

The first, held just after the release of Gore’s award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth, had 50 participants and took place in Gore’s barn). For the training, Ginny and Deborah covered their own costs, but the workshops were free.

Over the three days they participated in lectures, seminars and panel discussions given by climate scientists from the U.S., Australia and Britain, as well as health professionals and politicians. Gore himself was omnipresent.

Many of the facts they learned — and facts uncovered as Deborah and Ginny scan the news and rigorously track climate science and environmental agency websites — are startling. A few of these (drawn from NASA and National Geographic):

  • 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001
  • world-wide, the number of climate-related disasters has more than tripled since 1980.

But there are hopeful facts to build on as well:

  • 97 per cent of scientists agree that human activity is likely the cause
  • renewables, the fastest growing energy source, are projected to triple by 2040.

They both came back energized and motivated, ready to get the word out about the reality of climate change and ways it can be addressed. They had officially become part of a grassroots movement that required them, as workshop participants, to think globally and return home to act locally.

Deb talks of another motivation, too: “After the training, when I returned to Ontario to learn that our Provincial government had been taking climate change very seriously and had already developed a Climate Change Action Plan I felt even more inspired to get the message out.”

Taking Action 

Since completing the training they’ve been taking every opportunity to share information. There was a Q & A after a showing of An Inconvenient Sequel at the Roxy Theatre in Uxbridge, presentations to the Durham Naturalists and North Durham Nature Groups, and to Rotary and Optimist Clubs.

The theme for World Day of Prayer was ‘Caring for the Environment,’ so they carried the message to the churches. They’ve even taken it to an animal rights group (climate change is affecting the range and even survival of many animals).

Clearly, they can marshal their facts and talk the talk. But have they applied what they’ve learned to their own lives? Are they walking the walk?

Absolutely. For their presentations, they’ve developed a hand-out entitled “A Dozen Ways to Fight Climate Change.” It could double as a checklist of steps both Ginny and Deb have taken. For examples:

#2. Be energy efficient.  In winter set thermostats to 20 degrees (17 at night) and avoid energy-consuming clothes dryers, using clotheslines in the summer. All of their bulbs are LED (and turned off when not needed).

#8. Green your commute. In addition to walking and riding her bike around town on a regular basis to minimize driving, next month, Deb will be taking delivery of a fully-electric vehicle — the only GM Bolt allotted for 2018 for an area stretching from Bancroft to Pickering. (Advocate readers can look forward to a series of columns Deb will be preparing on the challenges and rewards of going electric – -the working title ‘Me and my EV.’) Ginny, who drives an energy-efficient FIT hopes to follow suit in a couple of years.

#10. Fly less. This is a hard one for Deb (whose daughter and granddaughter are in San Francisco) but when she flies she buys carbon offset credits through the United Nations.

Both, by the way, go further than offsets for flights. It’s an uncomfortable fact that the average Canadian produces 29 tonnes of emissions just with daily living for a year.

Ginny and Deb have each calculated their annual climate footprint and purchased credits that support worthwhile environmental projects around the world. The money Ginny pays, for example, goes to a project that puts low-carbon cook stoves in the hands of families in developing countries.

Next Steps (for them, for you, for me) 

For Deb and Ginny staying abreast of developments is part of the commitment. Just a few weeks ago they attended a student-organized session at Ryerson . (Al Gore, who waived his fee to attend, made a public statement that Ontario is a model for the rest of the world in its Climate Adaptation Plan). And since our discussion, they’ve been exploring a valuable new compendium and tool, The Climate Atlas of Canada.

The free presentations will continue. Three are scheduled in April for the Lindsay, Bobcaygeon and Scugog Shores libraries (the Lindsay library branch workshop is 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 21st, the day before Earth Day). Entitled ‘Climate Change Action Plan’ the presentation will help us “learn about the basic science, what the near future has in store, what is being done to mitigate the causes and also how we can adapt to changes that we are already experiencing.”

The next step for you? If you’d like to learn more, plan to attend one of the three Climate Change presentations. You could also watch Gore’s 2017 film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power or National Geographic’s Before the Flood, both now screening on Netflix Canada, or read books such as David Suzuki’s Just Cool It or Earth by Bill McKibben. For a handy guide to steps you can take to help the climate change cause, print off the “Dozen Ways” handout and stick it on your Energy-star-compliant fridge.

For me? Some more herbal tea. Frankly, writing about two ardent environmentalists is exhausting. The day after our conversation, shamed by the example set by Deb and Ginny, I researched the carbon footprint of a coming flight to Helsinki using the United Nation Climate Footprint Calculator. I was just choosing from among the carbon offset projects to fund, when an email from Deborah arrived with no fewer than six links to additional reliable web resources; and the “Dozen Ways to Fight Climate Change” handout.

Kermit said it best: “It’s not easy being green.” He had no choice, of course, but — in a different kind of way — neither do we, since 15,000 scientists have issued a second warning of dire consequences should we not address climate change.

We’ll all find our own motivation, but let’s give the last word to Deb: “I think of the world I want for my daughter, and for my granddaughter.”

1 Comment

  1. Joli says:

    Your stories are so interesting Jamie. Thank you for letting us “get to know” so many wonderful people in our community.

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