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Bridging the Generational Gap: An Interview with Lead Mentor Judy Fainstein

By Sofia Vedechkina

Judy Fainstein became a Climate Reality Leader in the first Canadian training and has a wide range of experience in both the public and private sectors. Since 2013, she’s been the Director of Operations for Andrew Weaver, Member of the Legislative Assembly of BC, and a Lead Author of the IPCC reports. Judy is passionate about providing leadership opportunities for youth and creating platforms to have their voices heard on issues that matter to them.

We sat down with Judy to discuss her latest work as Lead Mentor for British Columbia: organizing an event for Climate Reality Leaders leading up to 24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action.

Judy, how did you get interested in fighting climate change and The Climate Reality Project Canada?

I first got started with The Climate Reality Project when I found out about the first training in Montreal in 2008, just before the deadline to apply—two days before. I had found out about it because I had already been very active in climate change, particularly in working with young people. I’d started a non-profit organization called yesBC, and the reason I did it is because I’d learned about climate change, and the more I found out about it, the more I realized that what was really important was to engage youth and empower them as environmental leaders. So, that set me on a path to create this non-profit and start working with youth. I then heard about the training in Montreal, so I put my application in and thought: “Oh, I’ll never get that.” But I gave it a try! And then, a couple of days later, I found out I was selected to go. There were 200 Canadians who were selected—a much small training than they have now become.

Since being trained in 2008, I’ve been to seven trainings where I’ve been a mentor. I became mentor for B.C. shortly after I was trained. And I just love that so much—I love that role so much. I’ve now been able to be mentor to hundreds of people that have been trained in B.C., and over the past eleven years, organized events for our B.C. presenters to attend and done a lot of mentoring. I find it so rewarding. I’ve also been able to encourage young people to come to the trainings and most of my presentations (I’ve given over a hundred) have been given to young audiences. I’ve been really excited to be able to encourage young people to get trained by Al Gore. For me, that’s been really, really satisfying.

So, why do you think the role of Lead Mentor fits your personality so well?

I think it’s because I love to be a bridge between generations. I’m a baby boomer, and I really feel that we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with young people, not just pass off the problem that’s been, in a large way, created by my generation. It’s important to empower young people as leaders, stand with them, and support them to meet the challenges ahead. So, I think that sort of bridging role is what has become a purpose for me and, certainly, a passion. I get so much back from it and I learn so much from young people. I just find it’s what suits me.

Now let’s delve a bit deeper into the event you organized on November 2nd, leading up to 24 Hours of Reality. Could you tell me a little more about that?

The event was an opportunity for the B.C. Climate Reality Leaders to come together, to share experiences, to hear from some amazing speakers, and to learn from each other. Part of that was to talk about how the Community Hubs are developing in different parts of the province and exploring ways to get more engagement on that.

We also talked about the upcoming event on November 20th and 21st24 Hours of Reality. Some time was used to discuss how to get a presentation going and how to take that opportunity to join in on this big effort that’s going on around the world. What I shared with the group was how I was planning to do an event on the 20th, to, hopefully, give some tips and ideas on how to get an event set up. And, in particular, how to engage youth.

What were your motivations behind organizing such an event?

For the last ten years that I’ve been the Lead Mentor for B.C., I’ve organized these events at least annually. Most of them have been in Vancouver because that’s the center of our population base; Climate Leaders do come from other areas and those who are not able to be present are offered the opportunity to attend remotely.

This event has become something for the Climate Leaders to look forward to. What we try to do is host it within about three months of the summer training, so that it’s still fresh for people that have been trained, who are quite eager to meet more of the Climate Leaders. I try to reach out to Climate Leaders that were trained several years ago but haven’t been participating very much—maybe we haven’t heard from them at all for a year or more. And I try to bring them back into the fold because our motto is: “Once a Climate Leader, always a Climate Leader.” They may well be doing great climate work but not necessarily presentations or Acts of Leadership. I make an effort to draw them back in: it’s wonderful to have those shared experiences from people that have been to trainings before, have given presentations, or have done other types of Acts of Leadership. We want to reengage them and keep them engaged.

Were there any highlights from the event that you could tell me about?

Our Keynote speaker was Jim Hoggan, who is very tied in with Climate Reality. He’s a former board chair of Climate Reality Canada and chair of the David Suzuki Foundation. He owns a public relations company in Vancouver and has written several books around the climate denial industry. He’s a wonderful speaker and storyteller. Jim was wonderful and the discussion that followed was excellent—people are always wondering how to respond to those who are still in denial mode and how we approach the discussion around climate change.

The other real highlight was a young speaker who is from a group called Sustanabiliteens. They are the youth group that are organizing the climate strikes in Vancouver—on September 27th, they organized an event one hundred thousand people attended. The lead organizer of that event, Lilah Williamson, whose dad is a trained Climate Leader, was really interested in Climate Reality. Because she was getting engaged herself and really trying to engage other students in her school and elsewhere, she came and talked to the group. She made a presentation on her engagement with Sustainabiliteens, the work that they’re doing, and how we can bridge the generational gap when it comes to climate action.

Judy with climate activist Lilah Williamson.

Judy with climate activist Lilah Williamson.

Keynote speaker Jim Hoggan.

Keynote speaker Jim Hoggan.

What has been your experience with 24 Hours of Reality?

The first 24 Hours of Reality event I organized—I think it was in 2011—was the local event for the Pacific Time Zone. It was held here in Victoria, at the University of Victoria. I’ve been very involved every subsequent year—always watching it online and participating online.

For this year, what I think is particularly important is that it’s really giving the Climate Leaders all around the globe a chance to do something very much on the ground and to feel very much a part of this global effort. I really like the way they’ve changed the format to do that—to highlight the presentations. It feels like being part of something that matters and that’s significant. It makes me feel very proud to be a part of it.

What will you be doing on November 20th?

I’m glad you asked that. I am co-presenting with a brand new Climate Reality Leader from Victoria—Stefan Jonsson. It’s his first presentation since being trained in Minneapolis! The event will at Oak Bay High School, and is being hosted by the environment club of the school, so students are hosting the event. They’re doing a large amount of organizing and making sure that everything is set up as it needs to be. There are students that will be MCing the event and speaking at the event. The presentation is also going to be followed by a panel—we’ll have two of the young climate strike leaders from Victoria here, both high school students. Andrew Weaver, one of the top climate scientists in the world, has also agreed to sit on the panel with these two students.

In preparing this event, I’ve helped the students organize and find out what matters to them—how they would like it to be set up, who they would like to have on a panel, that sort of thing. The preparation work has involved engaging the youth in a way that gives them ownership of the event. Interestingly, what I’ve learned from them is that what they would really like to know more about is how to take direct action—which is why the two students on the panel will be very helpful. They’ll be able to relate their experiences and give the young people in the audience a way to connect with the work that they are doing and find a path—their entry—into more engagement. I think a lot of young people would like to take action, but they’re just not too sure how to! So, we wanted to give them as much information and opportunities as possible about how they can personally make a difference and feel empowered.

How can people get involved on November 20th and 21st with 24 Hours of Reality?

Well, they can certainly attend a presentation and engage online on the various social media platforms! Get into the website and find out how to easily sign up to attend a presentation and have a tree planted as a result. Also, they can get more involved in their communities—find out what’s happening and how to better inform themselves.

Finally, how do you believe people can make a difference in their day-to-day lives to fight climate change? What kinds of initiatives can they take part in?

There are a few things. We can learn as much as possible about what’s happening and get ourselves informed so that we can talk to others, to our families, to our friends—to have this conversation with people. Another really important thing is to engage in our democracy—to know that politicians need to listen to the public and to people’s concerns about climate change. People, as individuals, can reach out to their elected officials and let them know that they will support them if they are taking action on climate change. And voting, of course. I think that type of political engagement is important—not in a partisan way. We can be involved in our democracy, seek those answers from the people that represent us or want to represent us, and find out where they stand on these issues.

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