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

Conor Curtis reminds us that a bad day never stopped oil and gas industry lobbyists, and we shouldn’t let one stop us either. As the head of communications for Sierra Club Canada, this 30-year-old supports environmental activists. He urges us to take a long view while celebrating markers along the way.

Tell us about your work.

Sierra Club Canada has teams in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and the Prairies and a nationwide youth team. We support local efforts to protect communities and when these are of national importance, help raise the profile across the country. On any given day, I might help the Edmonton group provide a webinar on bison conservation, support the Quebec chapter publicizing Indigenous “Two-Eyed Seeing” to advance marine conservation or assist the youth chapter with their blog. I might issue a press release on a development in our emissions-cap legislation campaign or meet partners to stop Ontario’s Line 5. I might coach an Ottawa clean air campaigner for a media interview and share it on social media. I might publicize our “Wildchild” program, getting children outside. There is no shortage of variety and the people I meet are so inspiring!

What makes your work hard?

The industry-sponsored disinformation filtering into people’s media has an impact. A small group is dedicated to persuading Canadians to ignore the health, well-being and economic impacts of global warming and look the other way. When everyone worries about the cost of living, industry lies — telling us proposed policies will make things worse — are harder for decision-makers to support. We do our best to tell the truth that life after oil and gas can be so much better, but we do not have their resources.

How did you get into this work?

I mostly just fell into it. I was raised in a union-friendly home and was active in Amnesty International and labour rights in university in Corner Brook, N.L. I got active in the campaign to stop gas fracking, writing for a small local media outlet, The 4'OClock Whistle. I watched communities make the links between social justice and rising global emissions and saw the power of their stories. Plus, it was fun!

That led to communications work in Yukon before I was laid off during COVID-19. I was volunteering at the Whitehorse Food Bank when paramedics, who were, of course, masked, came to the help of an unhoused patron suffering heat stroke. Climate change, food insecurity and human health were all connected. When Sierra Club Canada offered me this role, it felt like a great fit.

As the head of #communications for Sierra Club Canada, 30-year-old Conor Curtis supports #environmental #activists. He reminds us that a bad day never stopped #oil and #gas industry #lobbyists, and we shouldn’t let one stop us. #youth

You have a big set of problems to contend with. What makes for a good day?

Mentors taught me that writing a good press release is not a useful metric. It is the impact that matters. It’s a good day when I can see my work helps someone on the ground have more traction. We haven’t stopped Equinor’s Bay du Nord project yet. But the day it was paused was a good day.

However, that was not an uncomplicated victory. Many of my friends and neighbours in Newfoundland viewed the project as economic security. So, it was an even better day when Equinor was forced to tell some of the truth about the lack of a sound business plan.

Conor Curtis and his mother. Photo supplied by Conor Curtis

What gives you hope?

So many of the positions standing in the way of the kind of world we need are absurd. Seeing companies lying to us about the economics of a project, generating pressure on decision-makers to approve the huge subsidies needed to make it viable, allows me some distance. Sometimes they win. We just carry on doing our part to protect the people and places we love.

What keeps you awake at night?

My brain loves problem-solving. My job allows for plenty of that!

What do you see if we get this right?

Public money brings us the clean air, drinkable water, food for all, decent work, safe, affordable shelter and effective transportation that we all deserve. It will no longer be spent to subsidize killing us for profit.

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Don’t dismiss a strategy or tactic because you didn’t see an immediate result. It may have worked in ways you cannot see. It might work in another context. Writing letters to your MP might work the next time. We will never be told that a decision was taken because of a protest. Sometimes, they do work.

Creativity is terrific, but don’t wait for the perfect new idea. There are lots of great campaigns that need volunteers — including at Sierra Club Canada, and we often win! Bring your energy. The ideas will come.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Thank you for your support. The most important thing is to talk to your neighbours and friends about climate change. This is the proven way to counter disinformation, but begin with the things that are bothering them. Find common ground. It works and will make you feel good!