Oak Bay residents get training to become on-the-ground 'climate champions'

As climate-related heat waves, fires and floods become more extreme and overwhelming, participants of Oak Bay's Coolkit program have decided to focus on changes they can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

Coolkit program teaches residents to make change in their own stratas or neighbourhood blocks

Jean and Tom Newton, left and middle, and Andrea Careless, right, are participants in Oak Bay's Coolkit program. (Rohit Joseph/CBC News)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of Our Changing Planeta CBC News initiative to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

Neighbour to neighbour. Block by block.

That's how residents of Oak Bay, B.C., plan to tackle the challenges of climate change.

As climate-related heat waves, fires and floods become more extreme and overwhelming, participants of Oak Bay's Coolkit program have decided to focus on the on-the-ground changes they can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

Their most recent success was pressuring the District of Oak Bay to phase out gas powered lawn tools in the next three years.

"Which is huge because those gas powered tools [produce] a fair amount of greenhouse gases as well as air pollution and being quite noisy," said Andrea Careless, a member of the Coolkit program. "It's not perfect, but we really do have a council that's basically onside and is looking at their actions through a climate lens."

A group of people are gathered around a table, with paper and pens on it.
Participants in Oak Bay's Coolkit program are learning ways they can tackle climate change in their own backyards, and neighbourhoods. (Rohit Joseph/CBC News)

The Coolkit program is the result of a partnership between experts from the University of British Columbia and the District of Oak Bay. They created a program to train residents to become "climate champions," implementing climate solutions in their homes, apartment buildings and neighbourhood blocks.

"It's a do-it-yourself guide to climate action in your home, on your block," explained Stephen Shepherd, one of Coolkit's creators.

The recently retired UBC professor in climate change planning and former landscape architect says the program is unique because it gives advice about how groups can take collective climate action. 

"There are other great books out on what individuals can do or even what families can do," he said.

Participants in the Oak Bay program each have their own area of interest.

Tom Newton was inspired to action when he learned that dark-coloured roofs absorb more heat than white or reflective surfaces. 

The roof of a single-family home, which is grey in colour.
Tom Newton recently learned that a white or reflective roof will reduce the heat in a building by up to 80 per cent. (Rohit Joseph/CBC News)

"A white or reflective roof will reduce the heat in a building by 80 per cent, which could really help during a heat wave," he said.

Now that Newton has convinced his own strata council, he believes more property owners can be convinced to follow suit.

"I would like to get information together in an understandable way that people could say, 'Well, why don't we do that when we have to replace our roof?'" he said. "It's just people haven't been aware of it. I wasn't aware of it."

Program's goal is cultural shift

Newton's wife Jean's main goal is to get people out of their cars by making neighbourhoods safer to walk in.

"I've been on walks with several neighbours who've pointed out to me places where they're not able to go down the sidewalk on their scooter," she said. "I've had people show me where the tip of a cane goes directly into a storm drain at the corner where they're supposed to be crossing, where it slants down into a storm drain."

Two people walk along a pavement. One with a grey jacket is holding a trolley.
Jean Newton wants the District of Oak Bay to make sidewalks more accessible for people with reduced mobility. (Rohit Joseph/CBC News)

She says it's important for the municipality to know how these obstacles prevent people from walking around Oak Bay safely.

Meanwhile, Andrea Careless has the ambitious goal of convincing homeowners in her neighborhood to switch from fossil fuel heating to electric heat pumps.

"For me, it's not going to be, 'OK, by September, let's do this,'" she said. "It could take three years for them to change to heat pumps. But that's good. We're starting now and we're raising awareness."

Shepherd says that kind of cultural shift is not only happening in more affluent neighbourhoods like Oak Bay, which is home to a large number of civically-engaged retirees. He says a similar program called Green Block in East Vancouver saw a 15 per cent reduction in the carbon footprint of its participants.

The District of Oak Bay partnered up with experts from UBC to create the Oak Bay Coolkit program.The idea is a DIY guide to climate change, so that ordinary citizens can implement climate solutions in their homes, their apartment buildings and even their entire blocks. Rohit Joseph met up with participants of the program to learn more.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. In B.C. we've witnessed its impacts with deadly heat waves, destructive floods and rampant wildfires. But there are people who are committed to taking meaningful strides, both big and small, toward building a better future for our planet. Those people are featured in CBC's series The Climate Changers, produced by CBC science reporter and meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe and associate producer Rohit Joseph, which airs Wednesdays on All Points West, On The Coast and Radio West on CBC Radio One and on CBC Vancouver News with features on

With files from Rohit Joseph