During the week of September 20-27th, 2019, the world saw 7.6 million people take to the streets for “the biggest climate mobilization in history.” Following this impactful event, HeartPress is excited to highlight Sierra Club BC, a Victoria-based non-profit focused on defending nature and confronting climate change. We spoke with Elisabeth Hazell, the Manager of Donor Support and Engagement, about their participation in the climate strikes and the scope of their work here in BC.
Sierra Club BC — Nature, Energy, People
Enjoy our conversation with Elisabeth Hazell of Sierra Club BC!
How was Sierra Club BC involved with the 2019 Global Climate Strikes?
It was important for us to put the youth front and centre and not to take any credit for this movement that they are leading. Our role is to educate and to amplify their voices to the greatest extent possible. Our education team provided climate strike resources for teachers, including a “teach-in” that we held during the week of climate action. Our staff also attended the strikes across BC and documented some amazing messages from the strikers. We will be releasing a video of some incredible mic-dropping statements made by youth attending that day in Victoria. We are so impressed and so grateful for their energy which is urgently needed given the climate crisis.
How did you get involved with Sierra Club BC?
I started working at Sierra Club BC in 2016 after working for a National Historic Site for 4 years. Prior to that, I had been at a small land trust and environmental advocacy group on Nantucket Island…all the way on the East Coast of Massachusetts. Coming to Sierra Club BC felt like home because working on climate change and environmental issues is my real passion.
Describe your team and all those involved with Sierra Club BC?
Sierra Club BC’s main office is in Victoria, BC but our staff and Board live all over the province. We currently have 16 staff and 13 Board Members. Our Board is especially young and progressive with a number of Indigenous members and visible minorities who bring a unique intersectional perspective to the environmental movement. We are supported by over 36,000 supporters and 2,000 dues-paying members, but we want to grow even more!
Rose Harbour Forest in Haida Gawii, BC. Photo credit: Andrew S. Wright
What is a current project your team is working on?
We are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, with the first group of Sierra Club BC members meeting during the summer of ’69. It’s actually a really funny story – someone stole some Sierra Club USA letterhead and launched a campaign to protect the Nitinat Triangle. By the time the Sierra Club US found out that the campaign had been won in their name! Today, we are once again fighting old growth logging on Vancouver Island. Most people don’t know this, but Vancouver Island is losing its biggest, oldest trees – the ones that are the most valuable in the face of climate change – at a percentage rate faster than the Amazon or Asia. It’s really scary.
What challenges have you and your team overcome?
One of our greatest challenges that we overcame was the process of moving from conflict to collaboration in the Great Bear Rainforest. The campaign took over 20 years of bringing together Indigenous groups, the Forest Industry, local communities, various levels of governments including sovereign First Nations, as well as other Environmental groups. In 2016, we signed the largest conservation agreement in BC’s history to protect 3.1 million hectares from logging. We hope to apply the lessons learned in that campaign to our work on Vancouver Island now.
The Kermode Bear, also known as the Spirit Bear, spotted in Great Bear Rainforest. Photo Credit: Andrew S. Wright
What has been the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced working with Sierra Club BC?
Personally, the most rewarding moment was coming to realize the full extent of what Sierra Club BC has accomplished in the last 50 years. Our province would be unrecognizable without Pacific Spirit Park, Clayoquot Sound, Cypress Bowl, Gwaii Haanas, and Carmanah Walbran. Of course, we also recognize the stewardship that Indigenous people held with these places well before Sierra Club BC came along. Today our campaigns are more holistic and I am rewarded almost every day with new ideas about how to approach conservation in a changing climate. I cannot think of anything more rewarding than working on climate change – I think that it is the defining challenge facing humanity today and I’m so honoured to work with such intelligent and wise human beings.
How can others contribute to the organization’s work?
Sierra Club BC always needs funding and volunteers, but we are also very interested in partnering with like-minded organizations. We know that businesses choose British Columbia as a place to operate because of the quality of life afforded to employees. Access to nature, clean air, and progressive communities are part of what attracts so many people to this place. Sometimes we take these things for granted and it isn’t until the smoke of massive forest fires threatens us personally that we realize that more needs to be done. Climate change is real, and British Columbians hold a global responsibility as stewards of more carbon-rich trees than anywhere else. It really is up to us to protect what we love.
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