Nanaimo Climate Pledge wants residents to know their actions can make an outsized difference

The new pilot project aims to motivate Nanaimo residents to take action to address the climate crisis while studying how communication translates to action.
A rear view of people with placards and posters on global strike for climate change.
“Every action we take matters, and we can do it. It’s not too late,” says Nanaimo Climate Pledge’s Whelm King. Photo by Halfpoint/IStock

It can be hard to rationalize how one person can address the global climate crisis when institutions continue to fund fossil fuel extraction and industry carbon footprints dwarf personal emissions.

But a new project wants residents to embrace the power of individual action.

The Nanaimo Climate Pledge aims to help residents determine what tangible actions they can take to collectively reach climate targets, and motivate them to follow through.

A survey form walks participants through a total of 13 climate actions, from voting for local politicians committed to urgent climate action to boarding fewer flights, and has them either pledge to take action or skip. 

Your Nanaimo newsletter

When you subscribe, you’ll get Nanaimo This Week straight to your inbox every Thursday — giving you the first peek at our latest investigations, local news updates, upcoming events and ways to get involved in our community.

Pledgers state their level of commitment to each action, from already taking that action to simply being ready to learn more.

With each climate action is a calculation of its carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), used to calculate the warming effect of combined greenhouse gasses tied to the climate crisis including carbon and methane.

The initiative was developed by the Nanaimo Climate Action Hub (NCAH), a grassroots non-profit working to support climate action in Nanaimo and the surrounding areas through local initiatives and collaboration. 

A few hundred carbon dioxide equivalents may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to global emissions, but Nanaimo Climate Pledge program manager Whelm King says every effort counts. “Every action we take matters, because every kilogram of carbon or carbon equivalent that we put into the atmosphere is taking us in a direction of greatly magnifying effects.”

On average, the world is currently 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, King says, a figure that is set to rise to two to three degrees by the end of the century, or more. 

“When it was five degrees colder, the world was under ice. What’s it going to be if we were five degrees hotter? The goal is not to win. The goal is to prevent as much of the negative effects as possible. Every action we take matters, and we can do it. It’s not too late.”

Beyond this, King stresses that no large scale action can take place without personal action. “The government is not some other entity that exists outside of the individuals. We vote for governments. Business doesn’t exist for its own purpose. We buy the stuff, we use the stuff, we use the services and products,” he says.

“The only way that the larger group will move is when enough individuals determine that they are willing to make those efforts and those changes.”

Residents from Ladysmith to Qualicum Beach, Port Alberni to Gabriola Island are invited to pledge lower beef and dairy consumption, bank with climate friendly financial institutions or buy fewer new clothes. 

Although the carbon impact of each pledge varies depending on a person’s lifestyle, one of the highest impact pledges for local residents, according to NCAH, is switching to an electric vehicle.

“In Nanaimo we’ve calculated that 56 per cent of total emissions come from personal vehicles,” King explains.

“For most people in Nanaimo, driving less or switching to an electric vehicle would be the single biggest action in reducing carbon emissions.”

Phase one of the project is funded with support from the City of Nanaimo, the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors Program as well as research partners at United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Arts and University of British Columbia’s Sustainability Scholars program.

With data collected from participants, research partners with the University of British Columbia (UBC) aim to better understand how different methods of communication can translate to action and which actions community members are most interested in taking. 

Applicant pledges will be shared with the UBC Sustainability Scholars program and Michelle Hak Hepburn, a PhD candidate in anthropology specializing in surveying and data analysis. 

The data analysis will explore how personal factors such as age or economic status, previous climate action and pledge results drive action on climate change.

NCAH will reach out periodically to various pledgers to see how actions are going, with that data serving as a key indicator for which demographics are sticking to their pledge. 

The importance of the data provided is highlighted on the website and during the pledge process. 

For King, the focus isn’t on those who are already taking action or those who outright refuse, but the quieter majority who might feel overwhelmed with where to start.

“They have some level of awareness that it’s probably going to get worse,” King says. “But crucially are not taking action. The goal of the Nanaimo Climate Pledge is to figure out how we can motivate this middle majority to start taking actions.”

A section of the pledge asks how the individual heard about the project and what possible community connections encouraged them to participate. 

“Is someone more likely to take climate action if they are approached through a group or club they belong to,” King asks. “Or from a friend or colleague, or through their children?”

He also hopes the accessibility of the survey will help reach people who are not taking action on climate change. The potential impact of each pledge is described in very clear, simple terms.

Other climate pledges can feel overwhelming to an individual not versed in the science of calculating one’s carbon footprint, King explains. But it’s something Canadians in particular have a moral obligation to understand.

“Each individual action that we take has the most outsized impact that any individual in the world can take. And historically, Canada has a hugely disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions on a national level,” he says.

A 2019 report from Hot or Cool Institute, a public interest think tank, calculated the average Canadian produces roughly 14.2 tonnes of CO2e, as compared to the United Kingdom’s 8.5 tonnes.

A graph from the Hot or Cool Institute showing the carbon footprint breakdown of select countries with Canada as the largest contributor.
“Historically, Canada has a hugely disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions on a national level,” Nanaimo Climate Pledge program manager Whelm King says. Graphic by the Hot or Cool Institute

The average Canadian consumes much more meat on average per year, according to the report.

Reducing beef and dairy consumption as an example of a high impact action along with reducing new clothing purchases.

“Food production, that’s about 26 per cent of global CO2e emissions. Beef production alone is  six per cent of global emissions. If you can reduce your milk, your dairy, your beef consumption by half, you don’t even need to eliminate it, that’s a big improvement.”

When asked about engaging with Indigenous community members and leadership in coming up with climate pledges that respect and uphold their rights, King says they are not quite at this stage yet. 

In coming years, their goal is to take what they learn about individual climate action to develop a province-wide pledge. If and when that happens, engagement with local Indigenous nations and stewards will be necessary, he says.

To those who feel materially discouraged from taking action by the rising cost of everything, King says many of the climate pledges are totally free. “There are even money saving [actions] that we put in there. Write letters and be communicative with your elected leaders… join a climate organization. Completely free and so rewarding.”

Learn more about Nanaimo Climate Pledge on the website.

Editor’s note, Feb. 23, 2023: This article was edited to remove specific figures cited in the Hot or Cool Institute report related to average annual meat consumption per person in Canada as a representative from the institute told The Discourse they are currently updating these figures.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top