Transition Salt Spring Society is devoted to addressing the climate crisis by mobilizing islanders and the organizations that serve them to lower emissions and help prepare for the increasing climate change risks faced by the community and its ecosystems. “We try to do what we can at a local level,” explains Bryan Young, the Society’s chair. “It can be overwhelming at a global level but empowering at the local.”

The Society predates the international Transition movement as it was originally established in 1997 as the Earth Festival Society. They decided to join the global movement in 2013 and changed their name in 2014. “The Transition movement’s goal is to try and transform at a local level where we get our energy and where our money flows by trying to keep it in the community,” Bryan says.

The community focus is well suited to Salt Spring Island due to its relative isolation and its unusual governance structure. It is part of the Capital Regional District, which also includes Greater Victoria and the Saanich peninsula, as well as the Islands Trust, a special governmental body designed to preserve and protect the islands and waters of the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. There is no municipal governance although a local commission with 4 members was recently established to work on a range of issues that have been delegated to them by the regional district.

As a result, there are gaps in service (such as no garbage bins in the village area of Ganges), but the local community is quick to respond and meet the need (one organization installed benches). “We’re very good at saying that’s the way it is, but we’ll see what we can do,” Bryan says. “A large number of non-governmental organizations are doing good work.” Transition Salt Spring is increasingly providing advice on environmental policy and practices to Islands Trust and CRD elected officials, although Bryan believes more could be done if there was greater local accountability.

Climate Action Goals & Progress

Transition Salt Spring released a Climate Action Plan in 2021 and all their activities are based on that plan. The plan contains 250 recommendations in 5 key sectors – forest protection, water security, food security, transportation emissions, and food emissions – and is designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

The Society recently released a Climate Action Report Card documenting the progress that has been made to date and areas where more needs to be achieved in terms of transportation, built infrastructure, agriculture, forests, and freshwater ecosystems. In each case, they’ve established indicators to help them measure progress. For example, progress has been made on electric cars and school buses, but more work is required on an active transportation network and the electrification of BC Ferries. The report card is exceptionally detailed and well laid out and could provide a template for other communities.

Working Together – Fire & Water

Transition Salt Spring strongly believes that much can be accomplished by working together and establishing partnerships with residents, businesses, government bodies, and other non-profit organizations.

A dwindling water supply is a real concern on Salt Spring Island. The Society has undertaken a 5-year contract with North Salt Spring Waterworks to identify ways in which they can reduce the risk of fire and drought. Students in the University of Victoria’s restoration program are taking the lead while working with biologists, foresters, and other adults. High school and elementary students are also participating. “There is so much engagement,” Bryan says. “People don’t often change by being harassed. Getting people involved and making a connection with the earth is much more effective as it makes people feel good.”

Solutions don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Water running down the road leading to the lake was causing erosion and having a negative impact on water quality. Using straw bales and gravel, participants have created holding ponds to stop the water from flowing directly into the lake. They’re also experimenting with artificial nurse logs that act as wicks for water rather than fire when dead trees are standing.

Working Together – Climate Action Coach

Transition Salt Spring works with local businesses to offer a variety of programs to assist residents in retrofitting their homes and reducing their environmental footprint. There is a rainwater harvesting rebate and a community smoke reduction rebate that covers heat pumps and more efficient wood stoves. The Society also offers a variety of educational programs and residents are invited to participate in projects ranging from a biochar working group to help residents deal with wood waste on their property to native plant and marine stewardship groups. The community action programs are sponsored by local businesses.

Working Together – Community Partners

In October, Salt Spring Transition Society invited 40 people from other non-governmental organizations on the island to meet over supper and discuss ways in which they can work together to meet the goals set out in the Climate Action Report Card. “We want to focus all those individual lights into one powerful beam,” Bryan says.

Bryan foresees significant challenges ahead and believes we need to build connections and avoid divisions. “How we do it is as important as what we do,” he says. “We need to listen and learn from each other. There are huge opportunities to bring love and compassion to what we’re doing together. There’s lots we can do with love and respect. I’m hopeful.”

Photo credit: Transition Salt Spring Society

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