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Young councillors more open to green ideas: Turner

(Editor's note: Kimmett is blogging about From the Ground Up, a conference on sustainable communities, hosted by the Columbia Institute last week in Harrison. This is her first entry.)

You could practically hear the whimpers of desire from delegates when keynote speaker Chris Turner delivered his address at the Columbia Institute's conference on sustainable communities, From the Ground Up, this weekend.

He flipped through photos of stylish, uber-efficient apartment buildings in Germany and sheep grazing alongside solar panel arrays in Denmark. To municipal leaders and community activists here in British Columbia, for whom enacting a pesticide ban can prove to be an onerous and politically risky task, it's enviable stuff.

Enviable, but not optional, said Turner.

"Climate change is not an issue the way other environmental issues are," he told delegates. "It's the sea in which all issues swim. We need to re-calibrate our collective way of talking about it."

However, in a conversation with The Tyee, he warned against trying to import ready-made solutions, be they solar panels or sheep, from Europeans.

"Really, all you want to import are a couple of basic principles," he said. "The traditional approach in Canada is to figure out a thing we need to do then build the political capital we need to do it. We should build the people power first, then figure out what needs to be done."

He pointed to the 1,000 Friends of Oregon as an example of effective people-powered movement, and said that getting more young people involved in municipal politics is "hugely important" to advancing sustainability.

"There is something to be said for leadership and experience," he said. "But in my experience, the younger you are, the more fully your life has been lived in the shadow of the climate problem and related environmental problems. They already get it. You can get past a lot of this inertia."

Silas White was just 27 when he was first elected as a Sunshine Coast school board trustee, the youngest of his peers by at least 13 years. Now 31 and serving his second term, he said it seems more elected official on the Sunshine Coast are younger -- and he thinks that's a good thing.

In terms of sustainability, youth "seem to instinctively understand it," he said. "It's the world they've been brought up in. Learning is required for older generations that we take for granted."

Sarah Blyth, elected to the Vancouver parks board in the last election, advocated for skateboarders' rights for a decade in this city before running for office.

"One of the main reasons I ran was because I felt that we needed more of a youth voice in Vancouver. With our parks and recreation, I see a lot of stuff for little children but not enough for young people. Getting young people active is key to having a healthy city."

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