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Castlegar seniors respond to the call to talk about climate change

West Kootenay Climate Hub joins IRIS Lunch and Learn event.
Deb Wandler (standing) with IRIS seniors at a recent Lunch and Learn focused on talking about climate change. Photo: Sandi McCreight

Submitted by West Kootenay Climate Hub

Along with money and religion as topics to avoid in a group setting, climate change is right at the top. Why? Often people believe there is nothing they can do. This feeling of hopelessness can lead to fear and keep people isolated.

“Three things changed all this for me,” says Deb Wandler, a retired instructor in social work at Selkirk College who is actively involved in Castlegar’s IRIS program for seniors.

“The horror and devastation of a heat dome, a fire just outside of the city of Castlegar and an atmospheric river closing off the lower mainland from the rest of the province.”

“In response, I wrote an essay, (Let’s Talk: Recovering from Feelings of Helplessness in the Time of Climate Crisis), which was published in the Black Bear Review. One of the seniors in my IRIS chair yoga class suggested I come to talk about my essay at a monthly IRIS Lunch and Learn event.”

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Wandler reached out to a couple other community members – Laura Sacks and Carol Andrews – to help her organize a successful event on Nov. 17 focused on talking about the climate crisis. More than 35 seniors filled the event space. The program went for 2.5 hours, continuing after lunch, with fruitful discussions and attendees committing to have at least one conversation around climate change as follow up.

She shared the time with Sacks, of the West Kootenay Climate Hub, and Andrews, a recently retired forestry instructor from Selkirk College and a board member for Columbia Basin Trust. They worked together to bring a balance of hard facts, hope, poetry, and lots of time for group discussions.

“We provided space for people to talk, and they did,” says Wandler.

“What was really energizing to me was the amount of engagement from the seniors who attended the event,” says Sacks. “They all had stories of how the climate crisis is impacting them personally, but many had not shared them before. If we don’t talk about something, how can we ever expect to work on solutions?”

“By the end, they were ready to have more conversations with family and friends,” added Wandler. “And a group was even organizing to form a delegation to talk to Castlegar City Council.”

Wandler ended her essay and the event with a quote from Canadian climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe:

“Hope is that faint, small, bright light at the end of the dark tunnel that we head for with all our might and all our strength. And when we get dragged down, when we get discouraged, when we get anxious and depressed … we take a breath, we fix our eyes on that hope … and then we pick ourselves up, and we keep on going because what is at stake is too valuable to lose. It’s not our planet itself: it will orbit the sun long after we’re gone. What’s at stake is literally us.”