Three generations of Batemans reflect on climate change

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SUBMITTED BY TRANSITION SALT SPRING

We often talk about the impacts of climate change falling disproportionately on the shoulders of future generations. One way to make the need for action real is to think of it in the context of our loving ties with family across generations. Who amongst us wants to see our children, and their children, suffer as a result of the decisions we made today?  

It’s this level of intergenerational urgency that inspired this interview with three generations of Batemans. With the release of Salt Spring’s Climate Action Plan in March, Transition Salt Spring chair Bryan Young sat down virtually with world-renowned painter and naturalist Robert Bateman, his daughter Sarah Bateman, and her daughter Ruby Barnard.  

Robert Bateman has dedicated his life to expressing the beauty of our natural world in his painting and environmental advocacy. His daughter Sarah has made environmental education the focus of her teaching at Salt Spring Middle School. Sarah’s daughter Ruby, who is studying architecture at the University of British Columbia, fuses her twin passions for social equity and a livable future into her work towards climate justice.  

Bryan: When we talk about “climate action,” there are so many balancing acts required if we are to do the “right thing.” Starting with you, Ruby, what risks do you feel we need to avoid in undertaking bold action on the climate crisis? 

Ruby: Well, I worry that some people will get left out. I mean climate action has uneven effects on different people, communities and ecosystems. Often those who are most affected are from marginalized communities. We need to make sure that bold climate action considers its impacts on all members of our community — on Salt Spring, and in the wider global community.

Sarah: Yes, I agree. I’m concerned about how the richest countries — and we on Salt Spring are certainly in that category — are still benefiting from the legacies of a racist colonial capitalist system that’s been defined by its exploitation of people and the natural world. These inequities must be addressed at the same time as we’re addressing climate issues. They’re completely intertwined.

Ruby: I also think that settlers and their institutions need to make room for First Nations in whatever climate action we take. Any initiatives, even Transition’s Climate Action Plan, have to make Indigenous voices, needs and priorities central — and those initiatives might need to be adjusted to reflect this collaboration.  

Robert: One area where we need to take care is in the transition away from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. There will be temporary pain — like job losses  and we need to account for that. 

Sarah: This is a big concern of mine. We risk dividing or alienating people while we transition away from industries or ways of doing things that are not sustainable. I think of logging, for example. But this transition also has so much positive potential for meaningful work that helps heal the planet. We need ecosystem restoration, sustainable forestry, permaculture-based farming — all of which can benefit people and the natural world. 

Bryan: This brings me to the question about the roles for individual action, collective action, and actions taken by governments and large corporations. What’s the role of each in tackling the climate crisis? 

Sarah: I think our governments have to show more courage and leadership. We have been so lucky to have leaders like Elizabeth May and Adam Olsen who are not afraid of doing what is right, even if it may be unpopular. Because of our economic system, people putting pressure on corporations will probably be the main way that the corporations choose doing the right thing over just making the most profit. Individuals can make choices every day that support climate action, and they need to be educated about the choices so that they can make informed decisions.

Robert: Maybe so, but I think individual action is almost meaningless unless it can be scaled up to actions led by the government. Individual actions might get you to heaven, but I don’t think they make a difference on their own. All of that needs to be led by legislation. I also don’t think that people are going to take action just because it is the “right thing to do.” We need to raise taxes on bad things, like the use of fossil fuels and cutting down forests, and lower taxes on things that will help.  

Bryan: People can often feel overwhelmed by what to do about climate change. If you were our guides on this journey, where would you take us? 

Robert: It’s true that this can be overwhelming, but even having a small but workable example of positive action can get the ball rolling for people. The mere exercise of preparing your Climate Action Plan and engaging fellow Salt Springers initiates thought processes that can take us to action. Looking to other parts of the world for examples of a positive direction can be very useful, too. In my view, Scandinavia and Holland are shining examples. It is impressive to see that Holland has a tax on new cars to cover the recycling of that car when its job is done. The Salt Spring community also has a chance to be a shining example that could spread to other communities. But it’s urgent that we act now.  

Sarah: I think it’s time to be brave and make some sacrifices — and work together. I honestly believe that this shift in priorities will not only benefit the planet but also our communities. And I think the Climate Action Plan is headed in the right direction. I’m excited by the idea of First Nations communities being a big part of the work we can do storing carbon in our forests and oceans.  

Bryan: Ruby, as the youngest member of the Bateman clan with us today, the last words are yours.  

Ruby: Well, I think collaboration is key. And I think the Climate Action Plan is clear on that, but like my mom said, I think this big transition to a sustainable carbon neutral future can be — and needs to be — fun and fulfilling.  

The Salt Spring Climate Action Plan was created by Transition Salt Spring volunteers.  To download it, to make a donation, or to become a member go to https://transitionsaltspring.com. TSS thanks Birgit Bateman for transcribing her husband Robert’s words, and Robert, Sarah and Ruby for their participation in this virtual discussion.  

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