Natasha Edmunds is changing policy by listening with her heart.

As the organizing director for the West Kootenay EcoSociety and Neighbours United, she leads teams that have already persuaded 13 regional municipalities to set climate pollution reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

Her magic ingredient? Listening.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

EcoSociety and Neighbours United volunteers showing up for climate action. That's Natasha kneeling in the beige coat. Photo by Anna Dulisse

Tell us about the project.

Many Canadians are concerned about climate change but feel powerless. Our team of amazing volunteers are the first Canadians using “deep canvassing” to listen to and respect our neighbours’ day-to-day concerns. People tell us they are worried about climate change but find it too heavy to engage and have too much else on their plates. We share stories of life, practise compassionate curiosity, and help connect the dots so effectively that one in three people we call see how they can make a difference by supporting local decision-makers to choose a clean energy transition.

How might a conversation go?

We call or door-knock asking how people feel about more government action on climate change.

One person said they don't really think about climate change or renewable energy because they were preoccupied with their grief over their brother’s death and their own health challenges. I sat with him, acknowledging everyone has different capacities to engage. I shared how hard it was for me to have to delay returning home for a month after a trip last summer because of the wildfire smoke. I talked about how sad I was missing my home and knowing the people there whom I love felt unsafe and unable to do many of the things they wanted.

Natasha Edmunds is changing policy by listening with her heart. #YouthClimateVoices #DeepCanvassing

He talked about another time he worried about how his mother was coping during a major flood in town. We readily agreed that both these weather events were connected to climate change. Then it was easy for him to want his municipal council to do its part in reducing carbon pollution and to make clean energy choices. It was our understanding of each other as caring family members in the same community that moved him to act.

Another time I knocked on the door of a busy mom who told me how happy she was that the smelter company in town had replaced the topsoil in her yard after its lead levels were found to be unsafe for her children. We agreed we placed high value on clean earth and air for children and she connected the dots between their health and government support for clean energy and signed on.

Natasha Edmunds exploring the Purcell Mountains. Photo by Evan Lavine

What impacts are you having?

We know we cannot win the fight to stabilize our climate and shift to clean energy unless we include those who work in resource extraction or live in rural communities.

We are winning! The smelter town of Trail has just come on board!

We have just released a toolkit for other organizations that want to benefit from our success.

When we ask volunteers to listen and to share their own stories, they feel valued as human beings, as do those we talk to. We are building community as we go.

Canoeing on Kootenay Lake. Photo courtesy Natasha Edmunds

How did you get into this work?

I spent my childhood with my brother and sister on the shores of a pristine lake in Quebec with turtles, snakes, salamanders and wild birds. My family are all scientists but I knew my mind and heart were happier with politics and humanities so I decided to study social sciences. After university, I moved to the mountains where I feel calmer. I volunteered for a while and when a job came open, I applied.

In 2020, I went to Los Angeles to learn about deep canvassing with Standing up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which was working on police reform. In our debrief, canvassers shared emotional stories of experiences with voters at the door. People cried and so did I. I was deeply moved and excited to bring this tactic back to the Kootenays. One-thousand conversations later, we are really moving the needle.

What makes your work hard?

Compassion fatigue combined with my own sense of powerlessness in the face of real climate grief and fear might threaten my ability to motivate others. But our volunteers are so determined and have such fun and are from such diverse backgrounds. They never fail to lift me up.

Natasha Edmunds exploring cityscapes in Chile. Photo courtesy Natasha Edmunds

What would you like to say to other young people?

The scale of change we need will come when we take collective responsibility for motivating decision-makers to end carbon and methane pollution. Write that letter or join us in having conversations with your neighbours — in person or online! Deep canvassing has truly changed my life. The skills I have learned help me navigate a politically polarized world and led me to pursue a conflict management and mediation certificate program at the University of Waterloo.

How about older readers?

I sometimes hear older people saying things like “We’ve totally messed things up, haven’t we?” I ask that you stop spending energy on guilt. We are where we are. It is what it is. What matters is that today we make the shift into hope and solidarity. Together we can do this.

Keep reading

Deep listening sounds very effective when there are so many views and voices. We must honour the inner child/adult who has been traumatized by the structural violence of inequality, misogyny and racism.