As the Energy Coordinator of the Ecology Action Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Catherine “Cat” Abreu often gets to brag about the ambitious and innovative renewable energy projects in her province. Nova Scotia, far from the hydro-powered hubs of west and central Canada, has relied heavily on coal for decades. Now, after her predecessors helped to implement the first carbon emissions cap on electricity in North America, Nova Scotia is leading in many regards, including emissions reductions in the electricity sector.
Community feed-in tariffs (ComFIT) are an essential ingredient of Nova Scotia’s leadership, guaranteeing municipalities, First Nations communities, and other groups receive a standard rate of return on renewable energy projects, and distributing the growth of clean-powered electricity. The number of projects that were approved under the ComFIT exceeded the initial goal by 3.5 times – a testament to the power of providing incentives to communities. However, the project mainly funds wind projects, not solar, due to concerns about low sunlight. “That, more than anything, reflects a lack of imagination,” Cat insisted, herself radiating positive energy while rain fell studiously outside the cafe window in Halifax. Regardless, as of 2015 Nova Scotia’s electricity is powered with 25% renewable energy, mostly wind.
Among her many roles at the Ecology Action Center, Cat manages a group of volunteers who do grassroots work – implementing projects, connecting with community members, and building support for more aggressive policy. “While I work mostly in the policy realm, at the end of the day I am accountable to my volunteers,” acknowledged Cat. In the past few years, significant power has been reclaimed from the federal government; absent climate leadership at the national level has encouraged provinces and municipalities to take the wheel on energy and climate.
Many people who work on climate and energy issues wield powerful stories about their connection to the natural world – a local lake on which they grew up kayaking that is now threatened by fracking, a cherished backyard forest that was logged unjustly. “Not me,” Cat admitted frankly. “I grew up in a high-rise in Toronto. I didn’t see my first racoon until I was 19 years old.”
For Cat, taking bold action on causes that matter started in 3rd grade when the Premier of Ontario planned to cut education funding in the province. When young Cat heard about this and understood her teacher’s pay would be negatively affected, she organized her fellow third graders to write letters to the Premier speaking out against the cuts. “I loved my teachers. I wanted to support them,” Cat said, tossing back a lock of curly hair.
Drawing from her education in anthropology and evolutionary biology, Cat is driven to act on climate change by her love of the human species. For Cat, tackling climate change does not mean more statistics, more figures or charts, it means telling more stories. “As humans, we can adapt to our changing external circumstances. In fact, we can adapt faster than other species, because we have more than genetic adaptation on our side, we have culture. Climate change requires dramatic cultural adaptation. And because narrative is culture, storytelling is crucial to humans reimagining the world around us.”