On May 12 Climate Reality Canada celebrated its 10th anniversary and used the occasion to congratulate two Climate Reality Leaders with the "Desjardins Award for Citizen Engagement on Climate". One of those awardees was Ms. Catherine Orlando from Sudbury Ontario. Ms. Orlando was recognized for her longstanding dedication to the organization and her leadership of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada, but her environmentalism goes far beyond that. Read our conversation below about the role of family, mental health, and hope in climate related work...
You have mentioned in interviews that the birth of your third child was a personal wake up call for taking climate action. Now that your children are older, in what ways do you include your children in your environmentalism?
I am a mom of three girls born in 1996, 1997 and 2007. In 2009, I became vegan and now my eldest daughter (21) is stringently vegan, my middle daughter (19) is mostly vegan, and my youngest daughter (10) is mostly vegetarian. Reducing consumption of meat and cheese, especially factory-farmed animals, has a huge impact on one’s personal carbon footprint. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Even my husband has reduced his meat and dairy consumption down to 1/4 of what it was in 2008.
My middle child Salina, when she was 11-14, was my assistant for many of my Climate Reality presentations, and in 2013 at age 15 she was trained by Mr. Gore in Chicago. Salina has lead rallies and written numerous letters to the editor:
In September 2014, our two youngest daughters joined us in New York City for the largest march for climate action. It was our middle daughter's 18th birthday. And she remarked at her birthday dinner, "I took part in history today. This is as big as the Civil Rights in the 1960s".
Sophia has also lobbied Parliament and Congress. My favorite quote from her is this: "Lobbying is like protesting except you are nice and there are no police in the room."
What are the most rewarding and discouraging parts of being a climate leader?
The most rewarding part is empowering others to act.
In 2008, the first ever presentation I gave in a school, was at the First Nations Alternative School. Two young women came up to me afterwards and said they had found what that are going to do with the rest of their lives - fight to protect the earth. Fast-forward to 2011 before the election was called. Sudbury had a town hall with Jack Layton. I was given permission to ask him a question. I asked one of these young indigenous women, Shannon, to ask a question in my place: "what will the NDP do about fossil subsidies." She got on stage. Spoke from her heart, introduced herself, factually said fossil fuels were causing cancer rates to soar among First Nations out west and asked the question. Jack answered her. The room was on fire. Shannon was transformed. It was like watching a baby be born. Transformative for everyone!
The most discouraging part is the burnout among some climate activists. They seem to get too overwhelmed by fear and become negative and traumatized. There have been a couple occasions over the years, where I worried about the mental well-being of climate activists I worked with.
Savouring the planet comes before saving the planet.
I cheer on those who take vacations from climate activism.
How do you handle people's doubts about the science of climate change?
I don't let doubts of people get to me; I try to figure out why they have doubts. If they are true contrarians, I avoid them. Some people are too full of themselves and you will never change their minds. (It is an illness.) However, if they are open but missing key facts, I try to help.
Do you recommend that leaders attend multiple training sessions?
I recommend leaders find ways of connecting regularly to their "tribe" of climate activists because we need to for our own health. Activism can be lonely, there is no money and action takes a lot of hard work.
How has your knowledge and understanding of the project deepened?
Since 2008, I can safely say I know a lot more about the economics of climate change than I ever thought possible. Everywhere I look I see climate change; I can make the connections. I have learned how to shut it off, so that I can just live and enjoy the moments.
As an experienced CRL, what advice do you have for new trainees?
Follow your passions. If you love children - present to children and let them teach you how to talk to them. Alternatively, the same could be said for any demographic group. Focus on one thing you can impact and stay focused. Trust that this is all meant to be. Know that there are many people working on this issue. Know that humanity is always evolving.
How do you balance “the cheerleader and cynic” in you?
I talk things through with lots of people and try to stay real. I focus on peer-reviewed and consensus science. I exercise, get lot of fresh air and have good advisors. I truly believe in a Higher Power and that I am just Her/His hands on Earth.
What climate action are you most excited about for the future?
Citizens' Climate Lobby's Fourth Annual Conference and Lobbying Days October 21-24.
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