by Jen Gobby, E4A PhD student
During the spring and summer of 2015 I did an internship with E4A partner the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). They are an environmental NGO that “collaborates with Canadians from all walks of life, including government and business, to conserve our environment and find solutions that will create a sustainable Canada through science-based research, education and policy work”. Their mission is to “protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future and their vision is that within a generation, Canadians act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature” (http://www.davidsuzuki.org/about/). David Suzuki is a hero of mine and has long inspired both my academic and activist paths and it was very exciting to be able to work for his Foundation.
In June 2015 David and his team went on a tour of communities in Coastal BC, to talk to communities about climate change and other environmental issues of concern to coastal residents. This was a “Listening Tour” aimed at gathering stories and thoughts and feelings that would then be consolidated in a report to present to provincial and federal governments and to the United Nations to amplify the voices of Coastal BC residents and to advocate for their needs and rights. This was the project that I was working on. The work I did involved community research before the tour began but most of my time there I spent on post-tour data processing and data analysis of the stories gathered on the tour. The data analysis report that I wrote has been since used to inform the final report going to the BC and federal government and the United Nations.
While working with these stories, I learned much about the challenges, feelings and concerns of BC coastal residents. This has relevance to my dissertation research on Indigenous resistance to pipelines in Canada as many of the coastal residents represented were Indigenous. Furthermore the concern about pipelines, tankers, LNG and other fossil fuels development was a major concern that people repeatedly mentioned in the stories told. I learned a lot about the issues faced by Indigenous people on the BC coast and about what they are thinking with regards to the problems and solutions they envision. The themes that emerged from the stories in general were: 1) a deep love of the coastal environment, 2) bearing witness to the changes over time in climate and ecosystem, 3) a concern for the well-being of future generations, 4) identification of poor governance as a root problem and 5) the rights of nature and people’s rights to a clean environment.
As an E4A PhD student, this internship was a fantastic opportunity for me to get outside the academy and engage with influential agents of change on the ground. The major highlights included working with DSF communications specialist Panos Grames and DSF ecological economist Michelle Molnar. With both of them I had very inspiring conversations about the kind of change that is needed in the world right now and how to actively engage people in this crucial transformation. They had valuable insight about balancing both activism and scientific rigor.
Above all it was an honour to spend weeks immersed in the videos, audio recordings and written stories of Coastal residents. Indeed, I had the immense pleasure of hearing what it is they value most about where they live, the things that concern them and what they want done. This was such heartening evidence of deep human caring about the natural world of which we are part. Suzuki and his team elicited and collected the stories and I got to do my part by translating this deep human caring into ‘data’.