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'Green Your Campbell Cash' Draws Big Response

More than 50 'cool' projects seek votes, support, with weeks still to go.

Colleen Kimmett 25 Jun

Colleen Kimmett is a reporter for The Tyee.

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Website showcases creative climate change efforts.

A journalism professor once declared that all news stories could be summed up this way: people doing something for a reason.

If, so a lot of news is being made on the Tyee's Green Your Campbell Cash website, which invites people to submit projects that collectively tackle climate change, and offers everyone a chance to vote for their favourites, or even help fund them.

It all starts with the question: What will you do with your $100? That would be the $100 rebate every B.C. citizen will soon receive in order to make Premier Gordon Campbell's carbon tax "revenue neutral." Taken together, that's well over $400 million returning to our pockets.

There's power in pooling such resources, and Green Your Campbell Cash aims to tap it.

Two weeks after the launch of the website, groups so far have posted more than 50 grassroots projects seeking support, and the site has received about 24,000 page views, an "overwhelming" response, says Tyee marketing co-ordinator Lisa Manfield.

Harvest of great ideas

In the process, the Green Your Campbell Cash site has gathered stories about British Columbians taking action now to limit greenhouse gas emissions and environmental damage in their lives and communities.

Stories like that of the Bairds, a family in Victoria turning their zero-waste home into a model of sustainable building; or the residents of tiny Cumberland, who want to purchase and protect a community forest; or Maple Ridge council's plan to outfit its fire hall with a geothermal system.

Most projects posted to the site "are through established organizations that may be already working towards these ends," says Manfield.

"But there are also groups of individuals saying 'enough is enough, we're going to take things into our hands and get things done.'"

A small sampling:

Students at Emily Carr University want to design a "high performance electric car."

The Vancouver Fruit Tree project wants to harvest and distribute tons of fresh fruit that goes to waste in people's backyards.

The Go Beyond Youth Action Gathering wants to train the next generation of climate change problem solvers and activists.

The B.C. Sustainable Energy Association wants to support green landlords in retrofitting their properties for energy and carbon efficiency.

Rail for the Valley is advocating for a passenger rail line through the Fraser Valley.

More projects can be submitted by going to the website up until July 15, and visitors there will be able to vote for two more weeks after that.

'Positive way to spend this money'

The Green Your Campbell Cash campaign was developed by The Tyee, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute. The partners do not endorse or vouch for any of the groups or projects posted on the site.

Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, says people want to see the millions in tax refunds spent on climate action – but some would rather fund big, civic projects like transit.

Others feel there are more urgent issues, like homelessness, that could better use that money.

Generally "people are excited about the chance to have a positive way to spend this money," he says.

Gagan Leekha and friends formed Random Acts of Rebates after attending a house-cooling party ("like a climate change support group," says Leekha) last February.

"We were talking about how [the rebate] could be a waste of tax dollars," says Leekha.

They decided to pool their cheques instead, and are now canvassing friends, family and anybody else who wants to donate. The money will be spent on such random acts as installing clothes lines, purchasing car share co-op memberships and organic food delivery service for people in their community.

"A lot of the climate change messaging can be a burden or overwhelming," says Leekha. "We're trying to create something that is fun and creative."

On track for change

Washburn also says there can be a tendency to despair in the face of climate change warnings.

"Or some people just hunker down and do their own thing individually," he says. "But collective action is what's going to solve this."

Can collective action, from the ground up, solve our carbon-intensive transportation issues? Can it push governments to give public transit priority over highway expansions?

John Buker, founder of Rail for the Valley, thinks so. His group is focused on getting the idea of inter-urban rail for the Fraser Valley into public – and political – consciousness.

"Just recently, someone petitioned to get a bus from Abbotsford to Alderville," says Buker. "This type of thing does happen."

Buker says when his campaign got off the ground, he discovered other groups in the valley also advocating for passenger rail. So far, he says he has "flooded" the editorial pages of local papers and held several well-attended rallies and public forums.

Again, it all started with a conversation.

"It goes back to a trip I took to Europe where I saw the train system and how good it was... I started wondering why there aren't any passenger trains here. It was often a topic of discussion with me and my friend."

Buker says donations will be used to ramp up the campaign for the municipal elections this fall.

Building a new way of living

Near Victoria, one family wants to change the way British Columbia builds.

Our homes collectively represent one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, but Ann and Gord Baird live in a house that is totally carbon-neutral -- right down to the food in the fridge.

The house itself is made of clay, cob, sand and straw. It's solar-powered but dishwasher-free, with a composting toilet and a living roof that acts as a catchement for rain water, which is purified for household use, then recycled to water their vegetable garden.

"The main thing that makes it sustainable is that the whole house is not viewed separately from the land that it sits on," says Ann Baird.

What's more, the Bairds have accomplished all this and managed to abide by the B.C. building code, largely written with safety but not efficiency in mind. That meant spending $30,000 on an unused septic system in order to legally use their recycled, or grey, water system, says Baird, but staying legit was very important to them.

"If we tried to fight the rules, we wouldn't make progress towards positive change in the building code," she says, adding that building code policy makers and architects, along with a local green building chapter, have already toured the home.

Now they are looking for money to bring school kids on tours of the house, and teach them about the building and living methods they've adopted.

"The age groups that we're targeting is the Grade 5, 6, 7 age... they get really excited by this type of building," says Baird.

"Education is big, it's the way we can shape the future."

Baird adds they have had trouble finding funding so far because they are not a "property developer, business, non-profit, school or community group."

They're just a family, opening up their own home, in order to inspire others to live more sustainably.

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