These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Andrea Careless is spending her retirement cooling our planet one neighbourhood at a time.

This Oak Bay-based musician, mother and grandmother is spending her retirement from the public service working with her neighbours to reduce their carbon footprints and adapt to climate impacts.

Andrea Careless with her newly planted Coolkit tree in Oak Bay, B.C. Photo courtesy Andrea Careless

Tell us about your work.

Just before the pandemic, I was having a conversation with my son on a local Facebook page about climate change. Several people chimed in to deny it was real and provoked a lot of conflict.

Rather than fighting about it on social media, my son and I set up a new page called Oak Bay Climate Force to allow concerned community members to inform and support each other. Sixty people joined overnight and we are now over 350.

I became aware that much of the change we need is at the local level, so I gathered a few others to ask our municipal government to help us begin on our own streets. They provided us with a program designed specifically for this by the University of British Columbia called Citizen's Coolkit.

My husband is a Block Watch captain. We hosted a Neighbourhood Watch party where I talked about how action on climate change is all about keeping each other safe. I invited my neighbours to come to a meeting about Coolkit. I was a bit nervous that no one would show, but 19 people turned up!

Andrea Careless of Oak Bay, B.C., is spending her retirement from the public service working with her neighbours to reduce their carbon footprints and adapt to climate impacts. #ClimateAction
A Coolkit neighbourhood group meeting at Andrea’s house. Photo courtesy Andrea Careless

We began by walking around our neighbourhood assessing its climate resilience and asking what we might do to reduce emissions. For example, we used Coolkit’s “Squirrel Test”, mapping a squirrel’s ability to remain in the tree canopy around us, and realized we have lost too many trees. The municipality agreed to plant one tree per participant and advised us which trees are more resistant to drought, heat and extreme weather.

Using our cars less will happen faster if there are real benefits, so we are exploring ways to make our neighbourhood safer for cyclists and people walking.

We also learned flooding is less likely if driveways are permeable and that light-coloured roofs reflect heat and keep buildings cooler in the summer. These are not changes most of us can make immediately, but it is now on our radar. One of my neighbours has chosen to replace her roof with light grey tiles rather than the more fashionable black.

We are examining energy use in our homes. Some are installing heat pumps and others are replacing gas stoves with healthier induction heat.

There are other Coolkit groups in our municipality and together we are making a difference in the resilience of our entire community. Although we are among the first in B.C., we hope others will be inspired by the fun we are having, the friends we are making, the neighbourhood engagement we are seeing and the agency we are feeling to set up the program where they live.

Having engaged neighbours has helped make the activists in the Oak Bay Climate Force a more effective lobby. We campaigned to ask the municipality to phase out gas leaf blowers and they responded by phasing out all gas-powered garden tools. We did not expect that and it shows decision-makers will do the right thing if they know people support it. Having neighbours who are worried enough about climate to make changes themselves is powerfully persuasive.

Oak Bay Climate Force founders Andrea Careless and her son Dylan Kelk. They were involved in urging Oak Bay council to phase out gas-powered landscaping tools, including leaf blowers. Photo courtesy Andrea Careless

How did you get engaged in climate change work?

When I retired, I was looking forward to making music and spending time with my grandchildren. I thought, “At last, I will have time to have a life!” But I am really scared about a horrific future with business-as-usual. For example, we live near a beautiful wooded park, which might burn down. On the spur of the moment, one day I decided to attend a climate action meeting and I realized that was what I wanted to be doing. I jumped in!

What do you see if we get this right?

I am very hopeful about our future if we act together. My grandchildren could be free of wildfire smoke, drought and extreme weather, and they could enjoy the natural beauty around us. Other neighbours have started rewilding a local creek and bringing salmon back. That ecosystem has a fighting chance if we work together and act now.

Andrea Careless enjoys a walk in a nearby park. Photo courtesy Andrea Careless

Do you have anything to say to younger readers?

We need your creativity and energy and ideas! We must stay involved, but it is your future and it will be better if you help design it.

What about people your age?

Taking part in addressing the climate crisis will keep you young at heart by adding huge meaning to your life, along with new friends and fun. When your grandchildren ask what you did to help, you will be proud of your answer. Yes, we will lose sometimes, but acting is still the right and most powerful thing to do.