(From an email I wrote to Tyrone from Murray Rankin's office on August 20th, 2019)
The climate crisis speaks to everything it means to be human, which is to say, part of nature. It's undoubtedly a crisis, but it's also an opportunity. I think if we can detach the 21st-century lens of "economy, policy, and linear problem solving" from it and take a more nuanced view of climate change, more meaning will reveal itself, and with it solutions. Nothing in nature is ever made with built-in straight lines or PowerPoint presentations. Rivers and mountains all function perfectly, but the topography is a bit more wibbly-wobbly. The problem isn't as clear cut as carbon emissions. I believe it runs a lot deeper into our cultures' fundamental disconnect with nature and the attitudes society at large has with concepts like the "individual vs. the network." We're very focused on the pursuit of individual happiness, but fail to recognize our wellbeing has a positive effect on the entire social network. We're so busy on our Netflix, as you say, we don't even realize we're part of a massive network. The argument "Why reduce our emissions if China isn't doing it?" has the same narrow-minded basis. In nature, everything is a network. There are no borders, yet the arctic air flows affect the temperature in the rainforest. Everything works together.
Even though a lot of the feedback I got was: "Don't stop!", Tyrone going so far as saying: "Please, for the love of god, don't stop this campaign" I'm not planning on continuing this project in the immediate future. Approaching strangers is hecka scary. If I do it again, it will look slightly different. Using the feedback I received and lessons I learned this is what I would do differently:
1) Get more people involved. People power is powerful. I'd recruit local photographers from different ridings to work with me. More people= more creativity and more involvement. Also, having a photo buddy would cut anxiety in half.
2) Advertise more, and get the photos seen. There's no shame is self-promotion. Especially when I'm not just promoting myself, I'm promoting an idea. This is something I could still do later. I think the photos are colourful and cool to look at. I submitted an application to display these pictures in an art show at Concordia: Art Matters, but unfortunately, it wasn't selected. That's okay. BC would be a better space anyways for BC photographs.
3) Target sticklers in the climate movement. Namely Conservative politicians. Ken Hardie, and I'm pretty sure a few more MPs I communicated with suggested this. As opposed to "preaching to the converted". If I could take photos from people specifically from the conservative politician's riding, I might help things move along in the house of commons or get a better understanding.
4) Reach out to more politicians. I had an opportunity to meet up with a politician but didn't reply until much later. Talking with MP's and MLA's is always a fun experience. They can give you insider information, advice, perspective and assistance on pretty much any local or federal issue. They're also really fun to interview because most politicians have a guard up. Gaining the trust of someone who works in the public sector is incredibly rewarding. Colour me Slytherin.
I'm working on completing a documentary about the British Properties in West Vancouver for the time being.
It's going to be a scandalous one. Catch me next time! In a doc festival, or in a lawsuit! Heck yeah!
People I'd like to thank.
1) If I want something done, I have to do it.
It's so easy to just gaze off into the future (be it five minutes or five years) all misty-eyed, and think about how I'll be so much more motivated and prepared at a later date, how there will be much less procrastination and reluctance. Well tough. There will always be discomfort. The discomfort passes when you do the thing and come out on the other side.
Another way to think about this is: If I want to "do it"- I can take it slow. If I want to "get it done," do it all at once. It's like language immersion.
Sure, I can study Mandarin on Duolingo, all I like. Three years of that won't get me half as confident as a year in China.
Sure we can "gradually" transition to a carbon-neutral civilization, but that won't get there half as quickly than if we just get all our bags together and "leap" as Naiomi Klien suggests.
Sure, I can take a photo when the mood strikes me, or sit down and stamp when it's convenient. But I wouldn't have gotten it done.
2) Publicity, publicity, publicity, baby.
Someone or someone(s) had suggested to me pretty early on that I try to get more followers and publicity for my project. They told me it wouldn't be much good unless people knew about it.
Me, with my ever-present faith in an all-knowing, interwoven consciousness, was like: "Meh. Just by doing it I'll make an impact."
I may have been right, but so were they.
I felt like a fraud when I sent out a press release for my project, and bit of a diva when I got my picture in the North Shore News. After all, I had asked for this publicity! It's not like during some overcast evening I was wandering around Ambleside begging for photos like a 1900's orphan, when some winsome and jaded reporter, down on his luck and hungry for a story spotted me down the dirt road and schmoozed over to get the scoop.
But! Because of forthright request for a little bit spotlight, I ended up getting a sponsor for all the stamps I ended up needing.
People need to be seen and heard to get messages out. It's like with Neurotransmitters. Our brains are made up of 100 trillion synapses. Each synapse is made with some key components. You've got your Axon (The idea) and Dendrite (The audience.) The Axon might have some really neat stuff that they want to say to the Dendrite, but they won't be able to get their message across without the Neurotransmitters (The media.) The Neurotransmitters "get the scoop" from the Axon and bounce across to the Dendrite, they bounce back and forth a few times before they're finally absorbed by the Dendrite.
Here's a very scientific and accurate chart:
But do you know what happens if you don't have enough Neurotransmitters? Or the Neurotransmitters are absorbed too soon?
Don't subject yourself to expression depression. Go find some way to publicize the stuff you make today!
That's just good business sense.
3) Find a way to record consent
I realized that my memory would fail me when it came to things people said. Or I would write down a quote, but forget who gave it to me.
Eventually, I established a system on the notes app on my phone. I would write down the identity the person put on their sign, and put next to it "CIP" which means consent to Instagram and postcard. If they only consented to one or the other I would omit the I or the P.
4) Most people care about climate change.
I couldn't tell you how often I was able to get a photo. It depended on the day. I approached anywhere from 3-20 people. Sometimes it would be 50%. Sometimes it would be 30%. On a good day, it would miraculously be 100%. Everyone would say yes.
But when people said no, it was usually because they were busy or uninterested. Occasionally I would get someone who raised their nose, and look at my sign with obvious disapproval.
Sometimes it would happen, but it was rare. I felt that most people cared about climate change, though like me, they wouldn't talk about it on the day to day.
Some Tips for Approaching People
1) You don't know who will say no, and you don't know who will say yes.
When it came to taking the photos, the easiest person for me (a white young woman) to approach was other white young women. But the aim of the project wasn't to display a spectrum of gentrification. It was to demonstrate a rainbow of people from different backgrounds. People who might not normally speak to each other, or assume the other doesn't really care about climate change at all. I wanted everyone to see themselves reflected. So- I had to go out of my comfort zone. I approached people young, old, disabled, homeless, university students, tattoo artists, people of colour, immigrants and visitors.
The funny thing was that I might appraise an intimidating man walking down the street and think, "No way will he stop talking to me." But he would take a photo, no problem. A friendly looking couple would be walking along and brush me off. I could make a guess but really couldn't tell. One trend I noticed, though, was important-looking men in suits around business districts were very difficult to stop.
2) Go to them, because they won't come to you.
Y'know those annoying canvassers who standstill at a fixed spot? I found I was way more successful if I wasn't that person.
It's a lot more compelling to be singled out, just sitting on a bench, or walking along, by someone approaching and saying:
"Hey. I like your outfit. You look cool, can I use you in a project?"
Then standing still on a street corner screaming:
"EXCUSE ME, MISS? MISS? WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP ME WITH A THING?!"
I think approaching people and forming a connection gave me a unique advantage in that I was deviating from the norm in soliciting. The still person within a moving flow on the street trying to make eye-contact and holding something says one thing very clearly: "I want your money or I want your time."
I wanted people's time, but by gently approaching and opening, it also became clear I also wanted to give respect and establish a relationship.
3) Master your pitch.
"Excuse me would you help me with a photo project I'm doing?"
"You would? Great! Basically, I'm taking pictures of people holding this sign. The blank is filled in with your profession or identity. Here are the markers."
"Great. And why do you care about climate change?"
"Amazing. Let's stand here."
"Okay. One more photo!"
"So I'm posting these photos on Instagram, but I'm also turning some of them into postcards and sending them to politicians. Are you okay with that?
Fantastic! Thank you have a great day!"
That is the script that got me through like 50% of photographs. I approached over 350 people, so I got a lot of practice when it came to refining it.
It didn't start smoothly. The biggest blunder was not always asking for consent when it came to things. I had a bunch of great photos at the beginning that I didn't ask consent if I could turn them into a postcard. Miraculously, I ran into one of the people later and asked for his consent.
I didn't ask consent to use their quotes all of the time, I think near the end of my journey, I began to work it into my pitch. Mostly I assumed that it was fine or accepted that I caption the photo with their words. If I were doing it again, I would've made it more clear. Consent is very important!
I also found people were less willing to give publishing consent if I asked before I took the photo.
I think it's the "foot-in-the-door" technique. If I take a photo first, something like consent seems a bit easier to give. Muhaha?
4) Be efficient.
As important as it is to have a quick pitch, it's equally important to have everything ready to take a quick photo. The more time I spent setting up, the more frustrated people got.
After I took photos, most people wanted to go and didn't want to stay to discuss climate change. Sandwiching discussion just before taking the pictures while people were holding their sign gave them a chance to reflect. The answers I got by doing this were less rushed and more thoughtful. I think it was also a lot more fun and enjoyable for both parties.
I carried around a bag with me that had the posters, (laminated of course, for easy writing and wiping) markers, and a cloth. I hung my camera around my neck, at the ready. Because my camera bag was heavy, I could also wrap my camera up in the towel at the end of the day, or drop my lens cap in the bag when I was ready to shoot.
5) The open-from-afar technique.
If I needed to stand still for some reason, I discovered a secret technique for getting someone to stop and talk to you: Start talking to the person when they're still far away (like 3-5 meters or so)! It's a little sneaky, but if I did this, I found people were way more likely to slow down as they approached, speak to me or take a photo.
Next up, Thank you's and lessons learned.
If I forgot to record the quote I wouldn't get to include it, and if I forgot to record consent I wouldn't get to post it at all!
Funny story= The man on my first postcard (start of the slideshow on the home page) was one of the first people I took photos of. It wasn't til later I realized I wanted to include him in my postcard set. I thought that was that, I'd never see him again. Until one day, I did, not far from the original location we met. His response when I asked if it was okay was just like "Yeah. Whatever do what you want. I don't care.
Next up: lessons learned, thanks given, what's next?
So, Emily, you've toiled and travelled and licked stamps. So? How much of an impact did you actually make?
What were my original goals?
On the back of my first postcard to politicians I wrote: "You’ll receive a new postcard each week. Hopefully, the photos and quotes included on the back will both delight and drive you to create rapid, meaningful change.
You’re in a position of power and responsibility, including the responsibility to listen to those around you. This project intends to make one thing loud and clear: We all care about climate change."
In my synopsis of the project I stated
"I wanted to demonstrate that the demographic who cares about climate change is not limited to granola chewing, parachute pant wearing, sign-waving, activists. I wanted the term "environmentalist" like "feminist" to be universally applicable."
In the North Shore News article (which documents somethings even I forgot about. You can read it here: https://www.nsnews.com/community/climate-change-activist-spamming-politicians-for-a-better-tomorrow-1.23505076 ) it states...
"But there is a widespread “silent discontent with the status quo,” Kelsall says.
Kelsall sees herself giving voice to that silent majority and hopefully starting a conversation.
“In an ideal world, I think I would like to be able to plant the seed of change in the politicians’ subconscious,” she says. “Sort of like Inception.”"
Fun fact: The article even starts with this quote:
“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient . . . highly contagious.”
– Inception, 2010"
I wanted people to look at my photos, and then go back on the bus, look around and think: "I'm not alone. All these people care." I wanted people to be able to feel the silent discontent and be aware that we could revolt at any time. The power is behind us, there's no need to be complacent. The world's got your back.
So, put in simple terms my goal had 2 parts that I'll discuss below.
Demonstrate the variety of people who care about climate change. Discrediting the idea that it's a divided issue. And empowering people to believe this is an issue that's worth talking about and not scary or radical to fighting for.
The photos I collected demonstrated the variety of people who care about climate change effectively. I've got everyone from a placenta encapsulator- to aging rockstar. Beekeepers, financially dominant feminist, sonographers, TV write, and goths. I photographed people that identify as Muslim, Thai, Korean, nuu chah nulth/sto:lo, Indian and Quebecois. The oldest person I photographed was at least 70. The youngest was no older than 2.
My instagram has a modest 300 followers. I haven't been active on it for over a year though. When I was posting regularly, I was getting followers regularly. A photo would garner anywhere from 30-300 likes, Most clocked in around around 50 likes with 2 comments each.
I got good at maximizing hashtags.
Below is my most popular photo. 524 likes.
When it comes to changing people's mindsets, I'm partial to think the conversations I had with people I was photographing (and people I was trying to convince to be photographed) were the most impactful. I had a lot of conversations with people on the street about climate change. Somewhere between 350-400 conversations in fact. These conversations were the best kind because I wasn't preaching my beliefs on climate change, I was giving people a chance to voice their opinions. As an interviewer I have to be a very active listener to draw out honest and interesting perspectives. Climate change can be a scary topic to approach. I hope the conversations I had with all these strangers helped open the door for them, find grounding in their beliefs, and place a seed of action in their consciousness.
When it comes to how many people saw my photos, and how many I spoke to the number is relatively insignificant.
I hold stock in the "butterfly effect" , the idea that small changes can make a big difference.
I also look to the idea of "social acupuncture" a theory which was introduced to me during my time at Concordia. Darren O'Donnell is a theatre artist who maintains that art and theatre which engages the public is necessary for social change. Small acts of theatre (or in my case photography) act as acupuncture needles. Tiny, but powerful for triggering healing.
Show Members of Parliament their constituents, much more than they may assume, care about climate change. Therefore, driving them to create change.
Justin Trudeau was re-elected during my project, but with a minority government. At the throne speech this year, Julie Payette the Governor-General said: "A clear majority of Canadians voted for ambitious climate action now. And that is what the Government will deliver."
The goals the government has brought forward for this term include :
I can't claim my postcards did all that. But, out of the 156 liberal members in the house of commons, I did mail 7% of them all year. And 12% of the total members. I did It's nice to think they contributed a little.
But these are intangible results. And there can only be so much room for wishy washy-ness in Emily's social justice kitchen.
On August 12th, 2019,
I began to send the following email to every MP in BC, plus Justin Trudeau because I didn't want him to feel left out.
Dear MP (Fill in the blank here),
My name is Emily Kelsall, I'm a 21 year old from West Vancouver and for the past 40 weeks I've been sending you postcards featuring a diverse range of British Columbians holding a sign saying: "I am a _______ who cares about Climate Change". The blank is filled in by the individual's respective job or identity. On the back is a quote I've taken from the subject or a fact that's relevant to the blank they filed in.
I'm over halfway through all the postcards and I'd like to evaluate the impact they've had. I'm hoping to use this information to understand how to best connect with people and affect change.
When you've got a moment in between country running and policymaking, I'd deeply appreciate it if you'd take a moment to answer any of my five questions.
1. Has receiving these postcards made you more aware of the range of people that care about Climate Change?
2. Has the weekly delivery of postcards increased their impact or made them redundant?
3. Do you take the time to read the quotes on the back of the postcards?
4. What have you done this year to take action on the climate crisis?
5. Do you have any other thoughts or opinions about my project?
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, providing your honest answers, and for all your work province and nationwide.
Out of the 43 emails I sent I got 16 replies.
Of those, 16 replies. 6 of the offices provided some responses to my questions or feedback: Johnathon Wilkinson, Gordie Hogg, Murray Rankin, Gord Johns, Ken Hardie and Carla Qualtrough.
3 offices provided a general response about their stance on climate change: Joyce Murray, Pam Goldsmith-Jones, and Jenny Kwan.
The remaining 7 sent me an automatic reply: Jody Wilson Raybould, Wayne Statski, Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May**, Alistair Mac Gregor, Peter Julian, and Ed Fast.
Here's a really cool pie -chart: BC MP's Survey Response for 2019
**I know what you're thinking. E May?! How could you not respond! You're totally about this thing! Well, I'm pretty sure that MP May did send me a card in the mail. I say "pretty sure" because while I hazy memory and a betting level of certainty, I don't have any photographic or physical evidence.
I do have a photo of Pam Goldsmith-Jones's card to me:
I eAnyways, here are the responses:
In terms of feedback, here's what I got.
Direct Responses to questions came from Johnathan Wilkonson, Gordie Hogg Gord Johns, Murray Rankin (Answered by his Assistant Tyrone Lehmkuhl)
It's important to note that the people receiving these postcards wouldn't be MP's initially. It would be their staff. Thank you for all those who took the time to run them by the desk of their MP.
1. Has receiving these postcards made you more aware of the range of people that care about Climate Change?
Johnathan Wilkinson: Yes - as a general indicator of concern.
Gordie Hogg: Yes
Gord Johns: Yes
Murray Rankin: Your postcards most definitely highlight the beautiful diversity of people concerned about climate change, especially as a white male desperately trying to get privileged heteronormative white guys to give up their power so more qualified people than us can take on this crisis privileged hetero white guys pretty much created (and largely perpetuate presently) in the first place.
2. Has the weekly delivery of postcards increased their impact or made them redundant?
Johnathan Wilkinson: This is a tough question. Given the sheer volume of correspondence that I get as your MP combined with my work as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, I rely heavily on my Constituency Director to provide regular updates on what constituents are telling us - via letters, postcards, email, phone calls and drop-in visits. I think the first batch of post cards are certainly effective in ensuring the issue is on my radar. And as climate change has long been a high priority for me, it helps to reinforce for me that this is clearly a priority for my constituents. I don't think weekly deliveries of your postcards are redundant. They are reassuring but will likely get less of my personal attention.
Gordie Hogg: Increased their impact.
Gord Johns: Somewhat redundant.
Murray Rankin: The weekly delivery certainly creates impact, as the notice board noticeably grows with each new addition (pun unintended, I swear). At first, with only 2 or 3 cards on the board, few people if any stopped to look at them. Now, many do. I also posted the Canada Day postcard with that wonderfully happy family under our Canadian flag in the front window facing the sidewalk, which probably got a lot of attention (we were closed for Canada Day so I couldn’t gauge impact otherwise).
3. Do you take the time to read the quotes on the back of the postcards?
Johnathan Wilkinson: My North Vancouver staff are a big fan of post cards. They are usually in my weekly correspondence binder. If the volume is very high, my staff will usually prepare a note summarizing the issue, the total number received and include samples. I wish I could read them all but sometimes that is just not possible.
Gordie Hogg: Yes.
Gord Johns: Some of them, as the MP doesn't always have time.
Murray Rankin: I read every quote. Every. Single. One.
4. What have you done this year to take action on the climate crisis?
Johnathan Wilkinson: I think we have done a lot this year and over the past four years. So I have a lot to say. Will move onto your next question and come back to this after. (He gave me a good summary of his actions including being closely involved in the development of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change supporting minister Mackenna's motion to declare a climate emergency. From what I've read he seems sincerely involved.)
Gordie Hogg: Our current plans to put a price on pollution are the cornerstone of our climate policies. We'll have to see if they stand the test of the October 21st federal election. (Note: Gordie Hogg is a Liberal MP. I received Hogg's answers on August 12th, 2019.)
Gord Johns: My motion, M-151: A National Strategy to Combat Plastic Pollution, passed unanimously in the House of Commons on December 5th, 2018. Based on a report from the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre, it made seven recommendations to address marine plastic pollution. They include making producers more responsible for what they create, along with regulating single-use plastics like bags, cups and straws. I am thrilled to have received unanimous support from my colleagues in the House of Commons, and I'll continue urging the government to take action on the recommendations.
My private member's bill, C-312: An Act to establish a national cycling strategy, was about supporting a sustainable transportation solution that is low cost, environmentally friendly, and encourages healthy living. It earned endorsements from major cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Victoria, and widespread support from many other small communities. I'm proud to have helped influence the NDP's platform on addressing climate change, which now includes the creation of a national cycling strategy.
Murray Rankin: I’ve switched to a plant-based diet (Murray has too), almost all of the staff bikes or walks to work, we compost/recycle, and our household mailouts to constituents are all on recycled paper. We also got the NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to endorse the Zero Waste Emporium, which sells groceries and household essentials that are sustainable and plastic-free. Murray specifically was instrumental in working with the University of Victoria in negotiating with the Liberal government to get the plastics ban put into law, he helped stall the Trans Mountain pipeline (although it’s sadly back on now), constantly advocates for the critically endangered southern resident orcas and has strongly supported other NDP colleagues’ efforts like Nathan Cullen’s oil tanker ban up north, as well as Linda Duncan’s environmental bill of rights (which sadly did not get passed by the current government).
5. Do you have any other thoughts or opinions about my project?
Johnathan Wilkinson: I hope this is not the end of your project. You have now built a foundation and network for further action. And I hope you continue to engage in getting citizens, businesses and governments to take action.
Gordie Hogg: Keep going!
Gord Johns: It's a cool idea! It might be better aimed at politicians who aren't already very passionate about addressing climate change.
Murray Rankin's office didn't respond directly to this question, but gave a huge amount of feedback. (Read more below)
The emails that didn't answer my questions but provided feedback came from Carla Quarlthrough and Ken Hardie, and Murray Rankin
Quarlthrough's office reported that my postcards weren't connected initially as an ongoing campaign, but soon that became apparent. The cards became more relevant the more they received and found the idea creative and innovative. Julie Stevens, my respondent, said she enjoyed sharing the postcards with Quarlthrough.
Ken Hardie took the time to write an email. He thought I was the first postcard was great, and apparently posted it on his facebook. He also wrote....
"Of course, what any MP would want to know is whether or not the people portrayed on the cards are ‘actual’ people who personally subscribe to the message. If they are, their sentiments are worthy of note and comment."
I suppose I should've made that more clear?
In regards to work he's already done, he cited this article: https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/06/21/opinion/serious-70-billion-climate-plan-youve-heard-nothing-about
Mr. Hardie also said that the 35% of Canadians who form the conservative voting "base" have been putting a formidable block in getting critical progress through.
He suggested I target conservative politicians. And let me off with "keep up the good fight."
As for Murray Rankin... all correspondence was between me and his assistant Tyrone Lehmukl. It was a love fest. He loved my postcards and I loved his enthusiasm.
Here are some highlights from his emails:
I personally get pretty stoked each week to receive these postcards, and put as many of them up as I possibly can on our notice board right by the front door when people walk in (see attached photos).
Our constituency has a large portion of seniors...because of your campaign, they frequently ask me about what my generation thinks/does about climate change
So your postcards definitely have an impact, and are a beautifully simple, non-confrontational, diverse and inclusionary conversation starter. Both our constituents and myself usually leave those conversations with the impression that climate change does matter to people, lots of people.
Please, for the love of god, don’t stop this campaign and definitely don’t stop sending these postcards to us :)
The lengthy email correspondence continues, Tyrone talks about how he feels his generation is jaded and how the postcards are a welcome refresher. He also gives me some wonderful encouragement.
I think this is what I mean when I'm talking about the butterfly effect. The postcards did have a profound, and hopeful effect on Mr. Lehmukl. He put them up in the office for constituents to see, thus spreading the message. If my work can impact someone that much, (and perhaps the elderly constituents/change makers) it's worth it.
I signed one of my postcards to Rankin's office with "Your assistant Tyrone is Awesome!"
In the last email he sent me, he said that tomorrow was their last day in the office, but he just found out he gets to keep all the postcards.
"Gonna make a wicked climate change collage at home - first time I’ve ever collaged to be honest. Maybe I’ll start a career in collaging if the NDP doesn’t get elected here on Monday..."
The fabulous Mr. Rankin did retire, but I'm happy to report the NDP was re-elected in Victoria.
Below are some photos that Tyrone sent me. They made me the happiest postcard activist in the world.
Final Thoughts: This project was a great first step on the road of finding what works, how much work is required, and the potential pay off.
My goals, the second one especially, were a little intangible. But for the first swing at a mega project, I think I did swimmingly.
Coming up: Challenges Faced!
I was 19 years old when it all started. At the time I was living in Vancouver after taking a break from University to recover from an eating disorder. My recovery was going well, leaving plenty of room in my mind to devote attention to what I really care about—like creatively combatting climate change. And alliteration. Thus, this project was born!
I wanted to demonstrate that the demographic who cares about climate change is not limited to granola chewing, parachute pant wearing, sign-waving, activists. I think the assumption that is is what an evironmentalist "looks like" is limiting other people from embracing the movement and making it their own.
My original idea was was to get together a bunch of professionals and get them to all hold a sign saying, for example, "Orthodontists care about climate change". But gathering a dozen busy working people was difficult. A friend suggested I take to the streets and take portraits. One at a time.
The original idea was to photograph 100 people holding a sign that said: "I am a ___ who cares about climate change." The blank is filled in by the profession of each person.
I started taking photos and posting them almost three years ago. That's a little crazy to write. My first photo, featuring my dad, was posted on my Instagram (instragam.com/wacacc) on October 17th, 2017.
I tried my best to post once a day, every day.
I soon began recording quotes from the subjects and posting them as captions. This was very much inspired by the perspective-shifting work of Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York.
It soon became apparent that I had enough photo-taking momentum to triple my original goal. I chose the target of 350 photos—each photo representing one part per million of carbon dioxide that should be in the atmosphere. In 2018 the average ppm of co2 was 407.4 ppm. That's higher than any point in the last 800,000 years. (https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide)
Around November of 2017, someone suggested that I turn the photos into postcards and mail them to politicians. I don't know who that person was. There's a slim chance it was me. In any case, I thank them.
I fiddled around with who I should send them too. I could send the postcards to every member in the Canadian parliament, but if I wanted to send a postcard once a week in a spam-like rhythm (338 MP's x 52 weeks a year) I'd have to print 17,576 postcards. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH. How is this pro-environment again?
Ultimately I decided to send only BC MP's the postcards. And Justin Trudeau. Blessed be. (43 MP's x 52 = 2236). It made a lot of sense since BC has 12% of the seats. That's the third-highest amount next to Ontario and Quebec. Also, because all the photos I took were in BC, mainly Vancouver, it wouldn't make sense to send the photos of BC constituents across the nation.
The only thing that was holding me back was cost. Postage for 2000 postcards? That's cocobanazas. Then, one crisp winter day, strolling outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, my dear Aunt Paula reminded me that it was our Canadian right to write any MP postage free. I was saved.
The Thing About Postcards...
On Sunday, January 14th, 2018, at precisely 7:37 PM, I sent West End Print an email inquiring about the logistics of printing 42 (I forgot to include Justin Trudeau in the count) copies of 52 postcards. Each of those 52 has a unique front, which is cropped to fit the postcard format (4.1 x 6.1):
And the back, which included quotes, return address, a SICK logo in the place of stamps, link to my instagram and occasionally, sourced environmental facts.
On Sunday, January 14th, 2018, at precisely 7:37 PM, I sent West End Print an email inquiring about the logistics of printing 42 (I forgot to include Justin Trudeau in the count) copies of 52 postcards. Each of those 52 has a unique front (photo) and back (quotes+ occasionally environmental facts).
On Thursday, January 18th, 2018, at precisely 1:49 PM, I got a response from Matt saying he supported the cause, and to do each postcard double-sided would cost $415+Tax.
Huzzah! I could do that.
I asked Matt how I should format them. He said JPEG or PDF was fine.
I then proceeded not to respond to him for seven months.
During those seven months, I took a bunch more photos; and one very motivated day I filmed a video for my Go Fund Me page: Postcards for Climate Justice!
What a thumbnail! Can I say... The more emojis you add the more confident you look. Way to go me.
I'm very proud of myself but also can only envision my little brother cringing and shaking his head when the Backstreet Boys part happens.
My original GoFundMe goal was $600, which I met quickly. I soon realized I needed more money to counteract the Go Fund Me fees, so I bumped it up to $775, which I reached just as quickly. Thanks, everyone.
I got the last of my donations in May, 2018. I still had no templates to send to Matt. Having funding behind you is a wonderful thing. You think:
"Maybe I should stop this. Maybe this whole postcard part will be too much work." But then you think: "Goddamn it. Someone named Megan Bourassa donated to the cause. I don't believe I know this Megan, and she, willingly, donated to the cause. What am I supposed to do about this?! I can't let this Megan down. That would be an atrocity. To take her money and do nothing...why! That would be a crime!"
And so- One day, and then another day, and then another day, I sat down and made the postcard templates. Photos, quotes, facts to back up the quotes, logo and all. And on Monday, October 1st, 2018, at 8:22 PM I some samples off to Matt at West End and soon had them in print.
I had over 350 photos to pull from. I wanted to use images that represented a wide variety of people. Not only that, but I wanted my subjects in the photos to stagger so I didn't send, say, 3 university students in a row. I was hoping it would make the stream of photos more interesting to look at and drive home the point about the diversity of constituents that care about the crisis. Finally, because I took the pictures throughout the year, I thought it would be cool to mail them in order so the portraits fit with each season. With these three input points in mind, I created this organizational spreadsheet:
Up next, am I treating human beings as data points? Read all about it in "The Problems I Faced Section."
On October 14th, I sent my first batch of postcards.
Around November 14th, postcards began to be returned.
Blog post: November 14th, 2018
Yesterday I went to my local Canada Post office to see about a problem that's been plaguing my mailbox: The postcards have been returning with them is a big yellow sticker that says, "Return to sender. Postage Due."
What the dickens?!
From my understanding, it's every Canadians right to write their friendly neighbourhood MP postage free, but apparently here in Canada-land, there are some kinks in the system, not even a Zamboni can gloss over.
As the gentleman at Canada post explained, it's free to write your MP at the House of Commons in Ottawa, but if you want to give any politician a holler at their constituency office back home in BC, you've got to pay up and slap a stamp on the sucker.
So my current task revolves around analyzing this wee .jpg here:
This pixel powered treasure trove tells me when politicians are at the House of Commons (green) and when they're back home in BC (white). The image above is for the year of 2019. Since this project is a year-round affair, I want to send the postcards consistently wherever the MPs are. This means I might have to dole out the dough and purchase some postage. (About $1000 worth)
If anyone has a huge stamp collection, they want to get rid of, let me know!
Finally, a word of advice to all fellow MP writers: to avoid undue returns, make sure to write your address with "MP" on it clearly. Apparently, all Canada Post workers don't have all MPs memorized by name. My bad."
November 14th, 2018 was also the day I posted my last photo on my WACACC Instagram account. I had reached the summit of my picture taking in the summer of 2018, and was cruising through my content till I reached 350 photos. There are still a few photos I have that I believe I've never posted. Here's a bonus never-before-seen photo just for reading this far:
"We are people who live on the earth so we should care for it. That's that."
I found this one... thought provoking enough for me to omit it from my main page. But for my end of project synopsis. I'll throw it in!
Getting Into The Stamp of Things
Shortly after I figured out how to spend postcards year-round, I sent out a press release on November 18th, 2019: "Local Activist Spams Politicians for an Entire Year"
Luckily enough, the Northshore news picked it up! (https://www.nsnews.com/community/climate-change-activist-spamming-politicians-for-a-better-tomorrow-1.23505076)It was put together by Jeremy Shepard and Cindy Goodman. The same team that covered my campaign to put climate change warning labels on gas pumps in 2014.
And it turns out someone did have a huge stamp collection they wanted to get rid of. After reading the article, a 14-year-old boy named Gabriel reached out to me. His grandfather recently passed away and left behind a stamp collection. Gabriel was willing to donate $1000 worth of postage.
It was a miracle. Thank you so much, Gabriel! The stamps were cool and retro. One thing about retro stamps is they don't come sticky. This means that if you're going to send 43 postcards a week, your tongue better be ready to do some manual labour. The stamps ranged in value as well. Some were worth 95 cents, while others were worth as little as 5 cents and most falling in between. To send a postcard in Canada, you need $1 worth of postage. Meaning I had to get smart with my stamp combinations. Some postcards had stamps that took up half the surface area, obstructing my nifty logo. While postcards successfully met the $1 mark with two little stamps placed along the margin.
Armed with the knowledge of when and where to send the postcards and my stamp licking prowess, I successfully sent them off. Luckily the licking was often split up among my friends, my siblings and me. Most often, my friends would be coming over to just hang out, and I would loop them into some work for the cause. Thanks, guys.
Somewhere along the line, I had a conversation with someone about the odious amount of stamp licking required.
"You're really licking all those stamps?" she said, "I just use a sponge to get them wet."
"Oh." I said.
The wet-cloth-in-bowl technique became my go-to the method from getting the 80+ stamps on the 43 postcards each week.
A few months went by, and the postcard returns became rarer and rarer. I slowly began to settle into a schedule. Sticker, stamp, send. Sticker, stamp, send. Sticker, procrastinate on stamping, miss a send deadline, feel bad, stamp ASAP, send. This predictable cadence cleared up a bit of room for other things. Like considering post-secondary.
A Long Bit About Visiting Parliament
While feeling destitute late one night, lying on the couch downstairs and impulsively typing my insecurities into Google, I came across a program called "Performance Creation" at Concordia University in Montreal. It was everything I wanted. Writing, directing, acting, all bundled up into one. I was so excited. I called my friend Taylor and yelled about it for one hour. I then applied and bought my plane ticket for my audition in Montreal on March 16th, 2019.
After I finished my audition, I hopped aboard a train feeling blissed out. Feeling confident and happy, I shared the story of the audition to the lovely lady I was sitting next to. She woke me up when we arrived in Ottawa. I stayed for a few days with my Aunt, Uncle, and sister, who was living with them. I was here to chillax with the fam, but also to take names, deliver postcards and talk about climate change.
Quoting a bit from my March 1st 2019 blog post:
"I sent 11 emails (requesting to meet) to 10 different MPs and one Justin Trudeau. I heard back from 5 of them, and after all, was scheduling and rescheduling was said and done, ended up meeting with three of them.
Nathan Cullen "
I think being in the Confederation Building (The building where the MPs had their offices) was one of the coolest experiences of my life. In the way, a six-year-old might think a trip to Chuck E' Cheese is the coolest experience of their life. To some, it might just be another slimy institution And yet. It was really cool. The elevator was old and cool. And I got a really cool nametag. I felt like I was a guest in someplace, really important. I suppose in a way I was.
From blog post: April 1st 2019:
"I made the observation that the security at the front of the confederation building is probably the nicest security ever. They’re constantly smiling and eager to answer questions. Like there’s a switch in their back that’s flipped to “Make feel at ease.” I think there are a few options for why that is. Maybe I just visited on a specific day where the stars were aligned so that all the really lovely security guards were there. Perhaps one of them is really nice, and their mannerisms have rubbed off on their colleagues. Maybe they’re paid really well. The first idea that came to my mind was that they’ve learned to be so nice because every visitor to the confederation building is extremely nervous because they’re meeting a fancy member of Parliament."
I felt pretty darn nervous as well. Like if staff caught me poking around anywhere I shouldn't be, they'd give me the great Canadian "snow-boot." My name tag even had the room number of the MP I was supposed to be visiting, Richard Cannings.
I remember Mr. Cannings seemed a bit tired. No doubt from the daily strife of shaping Canada's destiny. Also, in my blog, I mentioned he was sick. I explained my project to him, and he explained carbon taxes and cap and trade systems to me. I can only remember the gist of how it all works now, and I hope he remembers the gist of my project.
Then I visited Pam Goldsmith-Jones. Since she is my local MP, her and I go way back.
To go over the rest of the experience, I'm going to re-post an edited version of my blog post. I think it taps into the experience's crux more neatly than I possibly could, more than a year later. (Ps: If you do read one blog post in its entirety, I recommend my April 1st one. It's an iddle biddle hilarious at times.)
"...I arrived at Pam Goldsmith-Jones's office, which smells fantastic. I don't know what it is. Perfume, fragrant air freshener, or a righteous battle against fish farms.
Our meeting was short, but it was delightful. Especially because she had the postcards fanned out to greet me. Oh, and she said she'd give my deliver the postcard for Justin Trudeau."
One thing I asked all the MP's I met was "What's holding Canada back when it comes to taking necessary action on climate change?"
When I look back on the answers I received, I can't remember anything clearly from the first two MP's I met. Which is understandable. Cannings was sick, and Goldsmith-Jones was rushed. All I can recall is a hazed blur of money, Alberta, and change; nothing that seemed to give me the clear answer I was looking for.
I was to meet Nathan Cullen in the Left Wing of Parliament. I had to go through another checkpoint and get another pass. Which I did. At this point, I was dubious Nathan Cullen would still be there. I then traversed the underground tunnels of parliament which are a fantastic experience. It's like a really classy bomb shelter. Coat check included.
With the help of more friendly security guards I found the elevator that leads me to the Left Wing. I was standing outside the House of Commons. Big wooden doors were blocking the way in. Security personnel and media were waiting outside as portraits of prime ministers past (a bunch of noble looking white dudes) looked onwards.
I had to fill out a slip of paper requesting a visit with Mr. Cullen and then gave it to a young female attendant who slipped inside the wooden doors. Behind them, I saw more doors and windows that glanced into the house. After a few minutes, a man came out. I shook his hand assuming he was Mr. Cullen. He explained that he was a member of the party and wanted to know what I wanted to talk to Mr. Cullen about.
"Um. I have a postcard."
He went back inside. A few more minutes later the real-life Nathan Cullen emerged. He listened carefully to what I had to say and asked questions. He told me he was there when the Paris climate agreement was fashioned, but when he asked what Canada's plan was actually to meet the targets, there was none.
This struck me. I've heard over and over again that to tackle climate change humanity will "require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society." That quote is straight from the UN ladies and gentlemen. The keyword here is "unprecedented." If we're not noticing the change daily, it's not happening fast enough. Which makes me wonder, what plan does Canada have to meet these targets?
The following are a few tidbits we agreed to that I've pulled from a summary by the Globe and Mail.
1. Canada has pledged to, by 2030, cut its emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels.
2. The federal government will now have to develop a climate strategy with the provinces while also moving on a North American plan.
3. Countries are urged to save their remaining intact forests and leave fossil fuels in the ground.
From the skimming of articles I've done, it seems that Canada is kind of working on a plan for the country and has reached out to Mexico and the US Yet everything seems wishy-washy. We know the general idea of where we're going, but I'd personally like to see a report that says: You want to cut emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030? Okay- here's exactly what that would look like- Color by numbers to save humanity. A step by step recipe for success.
I could be wrong, I've just been skimming, but it seems that right now Canada's just throwing a couple eggs into a bowl (a price on carbon) and hoping a cake comes out of it.
By the way, Canada's policies are still leading to 4-degree warming. Read all about it here: https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada/
Mr. Cullen also recommended I do research on what made other movements work in the past. Besides just protesting. What was the grunt work behind it all? What connections and strategies did people use to make changes?
He brought up the example of lobbying, which he told me is a term which came from the practice of African Americans waiting in lobbies of hotels to try to persuade visiting Politicians to adopt a progressive policy.
He encouraged me to reach out to other young people when I go to University. I know for a fact, change cannot be made alone.
Overall, it was a thought-provoking and empowering meeting. I forgot to take a photo, though. So I drew an artistic impression instead:
Re-reading about my experience, especially with Nathan Cullen tugs at my heart a little bit. I really appreciate the time he took to listen and ask questions. I remember how he very plainly told me that doing this by myself is good, but imagine if there were 10, 20, or 30 of us. It was kind of humbling, as someone who tends to avoid collectivism and default to individualism (the modern-day status quo.) From what I've read and thought about, it seems that turning away from our dominant individualistic culture is what the world will need to overcome the root causes of climate change.
The whole experience was also very affirming. I can do this. I'm interested in it. I want to make a difference. In order to make the biggest difference I can, I'll need to work on myself, specifically my hankering to do things alone, as well as working out in the field.
As it turns out, I did get accepted into my program of choice in Concordia. While I was in Montreal this year the protests and rail blockades involving the Wet 'suwet' en people and Coastal Gaslink were in full swing.
I remember standing on the platform for Lionel-Groulx, waiting with my friend. I was feeling completely overwhelmed about what was happening. I was so mad that I was in school while something so important was taking place.
Since then, I've felt a strong draw to come back home and learn more. Now that I'm back in BC, I've been coordinating with camps on Wet 'suwet' en territory so that I can come up and volunteer sometime soon.
Incredibly, Nathan Cullen has been appointed by the BC government as a liaison working between BC and the Wet 'su'weten hereditary chiefs.
I'm going to shoot him an email. Hopefully, he remembers me.
Edit: I have done so, perhaps he does not remember me. I'll try again.
The Final Steps...
After the parliament hill experience, I hopped on a plane (RIP environment) and flew back to Vancouver. Before attending Concordia, I worked over the summer. Then I flew back to Montreal (RIP environment again) taking the last of my postcards with me.
I had aimed to send my final postcard on October 7th, 2019. After all, the delays and skipped weeks were said and done, I ended up sending it sometime in the third week of October. If it was October 17th, it would've been exactly 2 years after I took my first photo.
I have no specific memory of sending it, and I'm not sure why I didn't post anything.
I can say for certain that I walked along the sidewalk on Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. The old Loyola campus to my right. A cloudy day. Another day. But something kind cool took place.
I mailed the following postcard!
That- was the final piece of my project. Aside from this of course, the summary.
This "postcard project" has been long, arduous, but incredibly rewarding. There aren't enough words to express how meaningful it's been for me to finish something this big, that's tested my weaknesses (commitment, patience, especially when paired with a long and difficult task) Luckily there's four more sections to do some explaining!
That was the story of how I got things done.
Now make way for differences made, challenges faced, lessons learned, thanks given, and what's next!
My second to last postcard! I’m a bit sad. This project has been so huge for me, especially by taking photos. Unfortunately I got a little behind while mailing them (two weeks) which has taught me that unless something is felt with a violent urgency and accountability, it seldom gets done.
Action is on the horizon- I can feel it. My generation cares about climate change with one foot in the present, and one foot in the dismissive: “Ah- we’re going to die any way.” “Boo. Capitalism.” The challenge will be to transform irony into action.
I’m in Ottawa right now for Thanksgiving. In this photo is my aunt Paula, me, my cousin Thomas, his girlfriend Cassandra (tragically cut off) and of course postcard #51: Queer Commie with AIDS
The quote of which is: "We're here! Let's rise up! We have nothing to fear!"
I think, if we quiet our minds and listen to our hearts; I believe it to be true.
Today I rode my bike to the library and dropped three different packages of postcards off at three different mailboxes.
As well as two misc postcards that got returned to me from Mr. Cannings, because he went and changed his office address. You can't run that easily Mr. Cannings.
The two postcards below are very cool. #42 is one of my favourites. It's a fantastic coincidence that #42 is the meaning of the universe, and the subject of it's respective postcards takes a very universal point of view. I was a bit nervous approaching this man, and was prepared for a flippant answer to "Why do you care about climate change?" But instead I got something thought provoking that I hadn't been expecting.
#43 is awesome because it features a diverse family and it's full of P R I D E !
Be sure to celebrate this weekend!
#42- Earthling “Have you heard about the great filter theory? Scientists are baffled that there are no traces of intelligent alien life, even though there should be based on the vastness and properties of the universe. This is where the great filter theory comes in. If a civilization evolves towards industry and greed at a rampant pace it will destroy its planet and therefore its self, and not leave a trace in the universe. Or the civilization can grow to become apart of the planet and because of that never need to leave its home and therefore never leave a trace. What path are we going down? Humans are going towards the first road I think. “
#43- Awesome Unicorns
“It won’t affect me, in twenty years I’ll be gone. I have them to worry about.”
“You should have seen the drawing my kid did for me. It’s in my office. Its this beautiful ocean with trees and it has oil running through it.”
“Because we’re unicorns!”
...Is do not procrastinate. Or maybe better put, stay on top of things. I've been behind three weeks on postcards and as a result I spent a good 90 minutes from 10pm-12pm putting stamps on 86 postcards. Each postcard gets 3 stamps- that's 258 stamps...around 3 stamps a minute. Here's what the edges of 258 stamps worth of stamp sheets look like:
It wasn't all that bad. I had a relaxing evening of listening to a podcast called "The Adventure Zone" and achieving my goals.
I've sent 3 surveys out so far, to Mr. Arnold, Mr. Aldag, and Mr. Albas. No response. But! I've only sent three surveys. I'll send some more tonight, and then I rest!