Winnie Hwo takes the climate change fight to new Canadians

Limiting air travel in favour of train trips and other vacations closer to home is on the David Suzuki Foundation's list of 10 ways to fight climate change. (iStockphoto image)  

Team Power Smart leader impressed by immigrants' green behaviour

Rob Klovance

In trying to convince new Canadians to explore ways to shrink their carbon footprint, Team Power Smart leader Winnie Hwo has discovered that many immigrant families are already well on their way.

And there are lessons there for all Canadians.

"I was on the Canada Line the other day, and I had three or four groups of ethnic minorities surrounding me," says Hwo, who has worked with the David Suzuki Foundation's Climate Change Team since last fall. "There were two Punjabi girls, chatting and giggling. And there was another group of three boys and girls, likely talking Arabic. And there was a couple of lovebirds, talking Mandarin.

"These people are doing exactly what we've asked them to do in our brochure: take public transit.  They're already doing these things, and I don't think they're going out of their way to to do it. It's a way of life."

The David Suzuki Foundation's 10 Ways You Can Help Stop Climate Change brochure actually lists "greening your commute" right at the top of the list. And it's a list Hwo said was carefully put together to reflect practical, positive reinforcement of behaviour that is already being practised.

That's why a tip on "flying less" – one of the biggest ways to reduce your carbon footprint – is listed well down the list, at No. 7.

"When we wanted to expand the list of what new Canadians can do, we knew that if we put "fly less" at the very top of the list, people would be put off," says Hwo, the former news and current affairs director at Fairchild Television News. "Many people still have families overseas they want to visit, and some actually have their spouse back in China or Taiwan. ... So for us to put that [change] at the top of the list would be asking the impossible."

Hwo said a less aggressive approach on avoiding air travel works better. "We put it lightly, so that they can think about options: 'Maybe this year, I'll think about taking the train', or 'Maybe you shouldn't go back to China this year."

What about the climate change deniers?

Hwo says that both new and long-established Canadian communities still include those who either refuse to believe the scientific concensus on climate change, or just don't care. But those people are not the focus of her efforts.

Instead, the Suzuki Foundation Climate Change Group focuses its efforts on those who know and care about climate change and want to learn how to shrink their carbon footprint.

"The question is how much they want to do, and how much they can do in terms of affordability, time constraints, family commitment," says Hwo. "All those are big obstacles, but I can't see that with our level of engagement right now, anyone can actually say 'No'."

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Rob Klovance is managing editor of