‘I’m gonna choose hope:’ Climate change fighter calls on Barrie residents to get involved

If Barrie had thousands more like Andee Pelan, the city would be that much closer to meeting its lofty goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But with many residents throwing up their hands in frustration in the face of the climate crisis or denying it’s even a problem, convincing everyone to do their part can be a monumental challenge.

“When people say, ‘It’s too big; it’s China’s problem; it’s the government of Canada’s problem,’ then you lose hope in having any control,” Pelan said. “Given the option, I’m gonna choose hope. I’m leaving my daughter a world that I don’t think is going to be as good as the world I was left, and I want her to know that at least her mom did what she could.”

Pelan, director of the non-profit , was watering fruit trees she and other volunteers planted near Edgehill Drive when she paused to be interviewed for this story.

Planting trees is one of the projects Living Green has taken on to battle climate change at the grassroots level.

It’s a positive step, but Pelan knows it will take much more to help the city reduce greenhouse gases created by residents.

According to for its greenhouse gas emission reduction plan, the big culprits are residential homes heated by natural gas and private vehicles powered with gasoline.

About 55 per cent of emissions in the city are spewed by vehicles, while another 27 per cent come from homes.

Living Green is working alongside the city to persuade drivers to go electric and homeowners to switch to solar or an electric furnace.

Both options require hefty upfront costs but come with significant savings in the long run.

“We’re in an instant-gratification, the lowest-price-is-the-law, kind of community,” she said. “In the long run, going green is cheaper. But it’s hard to explain that to people in 30 words or less.”

A virtual public meeting on greenhouse gas emissions in April pointed to the same dilemma. Minutes from the meeting show speakers called on the city to educate citizens on the need for change.

“Education is critical; people do not like change, and messaging that focuses on increasing their understanding of how climate change affects them or their future grandchildren may help,” one quote reads.

Some residents may want to retrofit their homes, knowing it will save money and reduce greenhouse gases, but can’t afford the upfront costs.

Mayor Jeff Lehman recognizes that challenge and offered a solution earlier this year.

He favours a program setup where a company, organization or philanthropist covers the cost of major home retrofits. They could then collect a fee based on a percentage of the property’s monthly energy cost savings.

“The average homeowner won’t want to drop $100,000 on a comprehensive package of upgrades,” he said. “But if somebody came to them and said, ‘We’ll provide the upgrades and take some of the upside benefit, and you’ll pay for it that way,’ that’s a very powerful way of doing things. You split the savings. There’s a real model here.”

Pelan supports the city’s work on greenhouse gas emissions but adds that courageous leadership and serious funding is needed from Ottawa.

“You think of anything that’s happened of any significance in human history, and it’s because somebody took a bold move that was outside of what all the naysayers said.”

That said, Pelan never underestimates the power of doing the little things, like the young volunteers who pitched in to help care for the fruit trees.

“The two little kids that were out there, they’re seeing their parents model a behaviour,” she said. “That is going to be everything for who they become in the future.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: With the effects of climate change becoming more evident, reporter Rick Vanderlinde decided to find someone who could inspire individuals and offer hope.

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