By Montana Burgess

“What is the West Kootenays? Where is it? How many people live there? Why do you live in such a rural place?” I hear these questions a lot from international colleagues and friends from across Canada.

The West Kootenays doesn’t have official boundaries from what I can tell, but it’s made up of areas West of Kootenay Lake, including Kaslo, up through the Arrow Lakes, including Nakusp, over to Christina Lake and down to the US border. It’s debatable, but that’s roughly the West Kootenay region.

From my quick math, there is about 80,000 people who live in these communities throughout the West Kootenays. And apart from its stunning pristine wild spaces and quaint towns, the people and community are outstanding. Citizens in the West Kootenay care. They care about social justice, environmental justice, healthy water, air and land, and they care about each other.

Last year, we showed up in big numbers on a bitter cold November day to send a strong message to Ottawa for commitment and action at the Paris climate summit, with over 100 in Rossland, 200 in Castlegar and 500 in Nelson.

Last night in Rossland, 100 people showed up for the Climate Action Town Hall, hosted by MP Richard Cannings, to speak out for bold climate action. Last month in Nelson, over 240 people came out for the Climate Action Town Hall. These are great turn outs, especially considering our rural spread and challenging evening public transit. Yesterday, an article by the Peoples’ Climate Plan shared that so far 3,000 people have showed up across Canada to speak out at town halls; we, in the West Kootenays, are over 10% of those people.

Two weeks ago, West Kootenay EcoSociety kicked-off 100% Renewable Kootenays. 100% Renewable Kootenays is our new initiative to do our fair share in tackling the climate crisis from home, right here in the West Kootenays.  We had a wonderful evening of celebration and excitement. And over 600 people have already signed our petition. Our petition asks local governments to adopt the goal of phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to 100% renewable in all energy use for electricity, heating & cooling, transportation, waste management, and industry by 2050. And what’s a real commitment without financing? We also want resources in place for local governments’ staff to start working on plans to make 100% renewable our future reality.

The most exciting part of the new initiative for me, is that 90% of people who signed the petition have said they want to volunteer to help us reach our target of getting 1/3 of residents in each West Kootenay community talking renewable solutions and supporting 100% Renewable Kootenays. That’s community engagement!

I know people care, I know our communities want to be ambitious and want our governments to get the right policies in place for our renewable future. I know this because I keep seeing these extraordinary West Kootenay people at community events, and they keep writing letters, signing petitions, talking to their neighbours and changing business as usual. We do things a bit differently in the West Kootenays, which is why I know we can get to our 100% renewable energy future before it’s too late.