Our family’s resolution? Lose the carbon.

Working with neighbours made it easier to start decarbonizing our household. We’re planning to be fossil free by 2025. Join us!

Guest blog by Kyla Gowenlock

My name is Kyla. I live in suburban Kelowna. I’m a working mom in a middle class family with a mortgage, a car and all the bills that come along with that. And I’m here to tell you that not one of those things is a barrier to completely eliminating household greenhouse gas emissions.

My goal is to be completely fossil fuel free — and I’m going to get there by 2025. Will you join me? If you do, we’ll remove Big Oil’s reason to exist and overturn the belief we all depend on fossil fuels. We’ll show politicians that full decarbonization — the only thing that will tackle climate change — is a project for now, not 2050.

The road to action

When I was a kid, I had a board game about global warming and the 3 Rs. My first memory of worrying about our planet was through that game. But it wasn’t all worry — I felt empowered and hopeful as well! I thought my actions, and the actions of those around me, could make a difference and I believed if we all did our part, then the adults in charge would fix things.

It’s been at least 25 years since I played that board game, and things haven’t been fixed at all.

Over the years, my optimism turned to anxiety. My expectations that the adults would take charge was replaced by guilt that I, and other individuals like me, were to blame for not doing enough. This isn’t a coincidence — the biggest polluters are actively trying to make individuals feel like it’s up to us to change in order to keep the focus off them.

Life went through various stages and I would intermittently “do better” or “do worse.” In 2012, my boyfriend (now husband) and I spent a year buying only items and food made in B.C. It felt good. At the end of that year we got married and started a family.

Life, kids, work, a move to a small-acreage home… it all added up. It became harder to find the time to “do better.” However, we couldn’t ignore the realization that a livable future for our kids was now in doubt.

Kyla and her family

Our family climate action plan

When we emerged from toddler fog we created a family climate action plan: we would keep the heat down, hang our laundry to dry, reduce our consumption of meat and stick to a single vehicle. We tried to ignore the consumer pressure to buy shiny new things. However, our small-scale efforts to reduce our impact weren’t keeping pace with larger-scale problems wrecking the world before our eyes.

We asked ourselves: what could reducing our own carbon footprint possibly accomplish when 100 global fossil fuel producers are linked to 62 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions? What difference would the efforts in our house make when across the province the government was investing our tax dollars to expand fracking?

I spent the next few months in despair. And then I snapped out of it.

No, I was not going to let Big Oil off the hook. But I could start limiting how much of my money was spent on their products. Yes, the government is responsible for leading the climate fight. But I can show them we don’t need to wait until 2050 to cut our carbon to zero.

Generating the power to do more

The recommitment to action brought my power back.

We updated our climate plan. Instead of aesthetic renovations to our older home we decided to make it more resilient. The first step was to replace our inefficient baseboard heaters with a heat pump. [Editor’s note: right now, the B.C. government is offering a $6,000 rebate to switch from gas heating to an electric heat pump.]

Our next step took a little more calculation. Looking down the road we were sure of two things. First, we wanted to transition to an electric car as soon as we could afford one. Second, the price of electricity was not going to drop. When we looked at our total energy costs, our projected electricity costs, and the falling price of solar, it made sense to invest in rooftop panels now.

After a conversation with an energy advisor and some friends, we joined together to make a bulk solar panel purchase, reducing the upfront costs. Our initial effort had rippled out into our community.

Rooftop solar panels

It was my tipping point. I realized there is no one perfect solution to the problem of climate change. 

Like many before me, I struggled to find the magic words that would somehow shift the whole world into collective action. What I have found is the solutions that work where you live make more sense than the perfect idea going viral. Taking action in my household created momentum that I could see around me. 

I’m not naive. I realize my emissions and yours in and of themselves don’t have much meaning, compared to the emissions of industry. But here’s what does.

Good ideas are contagious

When visitors see the solar panels on my roof, they ask about it.  I use that opportunity to let them know it’s healthier for our family to use electricity rather than gas for heat and cooking, and that by creating that electricity myself, I have more money at the end of the month. And, obviously it’s not just our homes! Vehicle emissions are rising as car companies sell us bigger and bigger SUVs and trucks to get around. We’ve dangerously underestimated the health impacts of our tailpipes. 

Talking about our own health and safety — and that of the environment on which we depend — is the kind of conversation that can start relationships.

Each relationship built around the idea of freeing our communities from fossil fuels is ultimately how we’ll build the power to make change happen. Even though I don’t generally have the flexibility in my life to go out to the streets to climate protests, that’s not the only way to make a difference. It took a variety of tactics, including consumer boycotts and many others, to get us seat belts, recycling and rules to protect us from second-hand smoke in decades past. We need to tackle the climate emergency on all fronts.

Remembering who is accountable

When we remember who is responsible for the climate crisis, we create the kind of pressure that only united people can have on the politicians and CEOs standing in our way. We  focus our efforts on holding them accountable for the policies or actions taken that destroy the planet and degrade our individual efforts. On the flip side, bold people willing to run for office  and work with us to lead the charge deserve our support.

At this very moment, I’m organizing letter writing campaigns to local MLAs and connecting with others  in a Climate Hub  so we can amplify our efforts. I’m working with Dogwood to build a Local Power team in the Okanagan to advance local energy solutions. I was happy to find there are hundreds like me across B.C. working on the Local Power campaign.

I’m also educating myself, not just on the science of climate change but how it affects people. Although all communities face unique impacts, some are hit harder than others. We must stand with people on the front lines and lift up the efforts of neighbours developing solutions for their communities. Climate justice must ensure everyone has a voice.

I think I’ve come full circle. Solutions to the climate crisis are local, and the actions we take matter because they ripple out into our community. I’m deeply committed to reducing our family’s impact. But I’ve also remembered that expectation I had as a kid — that the adults in charge would turn our planet around. We’re the adults now. And working together, we’re going to make that come true.

Kyla Gowenlock is working with Dogwood’s Local Power campaign in Kelowna, B.C. If you would like to join her Local Power team, get in touch at oklocalpower@gmail.com

3 Responses to “Our family’s resolution? Lose the carbon.”

  1. Anne Lloyd says:

    thank you -how reassuring that so many individuals and families are doing what they can to make change happen. I don’t feel so alone in my absolute belief that we are in a climate emergency. Media has much to be responsible for but the big oil segment has more money to advertise and put out incorrect and misleading messaging. Advertising works for them as does your messaging. The people have the power if they will do what they can every day and, of course, challenge our political and business community to do better now.

  2. Rosa Stranart says:

    Thank you. Will do the same

  3. G . Thompson says:

    Thank you for using solar panels for electricity. Do you know ANY roofers in the Lower Mainland who are experienced in 1. putting on a new roof and solar panels, and 2. putting solar panels on an existing roof? Seems sensible to have the roofers do both jobs, and have them coordinate with heating specialists and electricians. Thank you.

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