These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Jane Devonshire retired from her career as a dancer to make the world safe for her daughters.
One of her latest projects was helping found the West Coast Climate Action Network (WE-CAN), a British Columbia-wide network of 236 climate groups.
Tell us about WE-CAN.
We share projects and help member groups connect. For example, with encouragement from the BC Assembly of First Nations, and in partnership with Métis/Cree entrepreneur Sharon Marshall, WE-CAN launched the Indigenous Climate Action Data Quilt Project to map Indigenous climate initiatives in B.C. In partnership with RAVEN Trust, we are hosting a webinar series on Indigenous perspectives on climate action.
Our member groups made sure that climate change was a hot issue in the October 2022 municipal elections and 159 climate champions were elected.
What people are reading
Once the provincial government releases its planned Carbon Pollution Standards building code changes, our members will encourage their municipalities to implement them.
We gather provincewide at least three times a year to learn from and support each other. For example, in one assembly, I met the people organizing climate action hubs in both the Okanagan and East Kootenay regions and we are now working together to press the government to ban fossil gas in new buildings.
WE-CAN publishes a weekly newsletter detailing campaigns, events of interest, learning opportunities and a menu of actions people and organizations can take to allow them to engage with the climate crisis.
How did you get involved?
Thousands of British Columbians like me are worried about climate change. We work in small and large groups but often in silos. When Guy Dauncey hosted an online conference of climate groups in 2019, I asked whether we could help each other by working together. He invited me to help roll out a provincewide climate action network.
Tell us how you moved from a career in dance and theatre to becoming a climate organizer?
I was born and raised in Lethbridge, Alta., and had a wonderful dance teacher who encouraged me to make a career out of dancing. I trained in London, England, and my career took me to Peru, Spain and eventually to a major role in Cats back in London. While we were there, we experienced a hurricane. Bob Geldof commented that the U.K. doesn’t have hurricanes and pointed out that this was an example of the changing climate.
My husband, who is also a dancer, and I decided to use Victoria, B.C. as our base for whatever came next. When my daughters were born, I remembered Geldof’s words and knew I had to do everything I could to make sure their futures were safe. My attention shifted away from dance and towards climate awareness. But how could one person make a difference?
I saw a Times Colonist article showing the route Enbridge planned for its Northern Gateway pipeline across B.C. and thought, “Not on my watch!” In the article was a place to sign a petition, which linked me to Dogwood BC and I began volunteering to bring my neighbours into the conversation. Then I got groups from this region together and now I am active across the province.
Is there something in your background that has been pivotal in where you are now?
My grandfather rescued the son of the mayor of his small town In China who was kidnapped by bandits. This put his life at risk, so the local people quickly raised enough money to send him to Canada. He worked on the railroad and set up a drycleaning business in Lethbridge. He showed me one person can make a difference if they are prepared to do the right thing and work hard and that in times of great danger, the community will rally around.
In high school, I led and won a campaign to allow girls to wear pants to school. I learned if I organized around an issue that resonated, people would join me.
What makes this work hard?
It all feels urgent and greenhouse gas emissions keep going up. Burnout can be a real problem. I try to focus now only on campaigns where I feel I can make a real contribution. I have learned to step away from those that are already in good hands.
What gives you hope?
Young people are smart, determined and they are not giving up. There is so much good work being done by so many people from so many different perspectives.
What do you see if we get this right?
A livable planet for everyone.
Do you have anything you would like to say to younger people?
We retirees want to help but don’t always know how best to do that. Don’t try to carry this all on your own.
What about older readers?
It is never too late to get engaged. One of my local team leaders is 89. Making the future safe for our children and grandchildren is worth the effort and doing the work will bring you joy.