I’ve been singing this song a lot lately. I can’t even look at the words without singing it in my head. It pretty much sums up the last two months of my life: summertime and the living is easy. Every once it a while I randomly belt it out at the top of my lungs… fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is hi-iiigh… Can’t you just hear it? I really like to draw it out, make the words last forever. I don’t think Scott appreciates my singing as much as I do, but that’s his problem.
I was in the midst of writing a silly blog post about how I’ve been rather reluctant, loath even, to call myself a Calgarian, even though I was born in Calgary and have lived here for the past 16 years, and about how I still feel like a transplanted Ottawan, having spent my entire childhood and formative years there, when I first heard about what happened in Norway.
One afternoon in May I came home to find an unusual message on the answering machine. It was from a man who had read a recent article in the paper about me and was calling because he was curious about ‘the Right To Play’. The article in the paper he was referring to was about a wonderful award I recently won from the University of Calgary – the Graduate of the Last Decade – and it included a little bit of information about me and some of the things I’ve done, including my contributions as an athlete ambassador for Right To Play.
It was an older gentleman calling, I figured him to be in his seventies at least, who had tracked down my phone number and requested that I return his call so I could answer his questions about the Right to Play. It’s safe to say that I don’t get a lot of strangers calling me with regards to articles about me in the paper, so this was intriguing to say the least.
That night I attended a play with my friend Sabina and told her about the strange message, over which we shared a little chuckle. She suggested that maybe he was calling because he was a generous old man who wanted to make a sizeable donation to Right To Play. Up until that moment I wasn’t sure I would call him back, but the prospect of this being true, along with a healthy dose of curiosity, led me to return his call the next day.
It took a few moments for 91-year-old Phil Streifel to remember that he had called me and what he had called me about, but once everything was cleared up the conversation began in earnest. After some brief introductions and friendly chit chat where I learned that Phil, the longest serving barber in the city of Calgary, likes to go speed skating at the Olympic Oval during the winter, I eventually brought it around to his questions about Right To Play. I explained, at length, that Right To Play is an athlete-driven humanitarian organization that uses sport and play as tools for development in some of the world’s most disadvantaged countries. Working predominantly in African, Asian, South American and Middle Eastern countries, Right To Play has been instrumental in improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children over the last ten years.
There was a pause, during which I imagined of a dense cloud of question marks forming above Phil Streifel’s head. It seemed that this was not what he’d hoped to hear. After this brief silence, Phil began to tell me the seemingly unrelated story about how he had been playing slo-pitch in Calgary since 1971. He spoke at length about many of the interesting aspects of his 40-year career in the sport of slo-pitch and his previous years in the sport of baseball, including the league he played in, his strengths as a player, the friends he had made and just how much he loved to play the game.
Now, this left me scratching my head as I sat there listening, at my desk, phone in hand, with my own giant cloud of question marks floating above me. What on earth was he talking about and what did his slo-pitch career have to do with Right To Play or me? I sat there, staring at the wall, with a furrowed brow, shaking my head and my free hand waving around questioningly. After several polite ‘uh-huh’s’ and ‘hmmm’s’ and ‘that’s interesting’s’ I wasn’t really sure what to say.
At this point Phil began to tell me about a recent meeting where the Calgary slo-pitch league he played for had held a vote and it was decided that Phil was too old to play and that for his own health and safety, and that of other players, he would no longer be allowed to play the game. He said, “Can you believe that? I’ve been playing slow-pitch for forty years, and I know what I’m doing! And now they’re saying I’m too old and I might get hurt! Well, I could get hurt just walking across the street! And I’m good too, I can still move and make plays!”
It occurred to me then, and my heart shamefully sank for just a moment, that Phil Streifel had not called me with the intention of making a sizeable donation to Right To Play, but instead he had called because he thought that Right To Play could help him get back on his slo-pitch team. My heart broke just a little bit, but I also smiled, as I pictured this sweet old man, until now a complete stranger to me, on the other end of the line, his hopes dashed at the news that this Right To Play was a world apart and three generations away from what he needed.
Once I got over myself and the selfish expectations I’d had, I shared my heartfelt dismay and sympathy and quite frankly, my indignation, at his unfortunate and unfair dismissal from the slo-pitch league. Should we all be so lucky, not only to live until the age of 91, but also to thrive and endure and play slo-pitch!
I apologized that unfortunately I, and by extension Right To Play, would not be able to help him but I wished him well in his mission to be reinstated as a valued and enthusiastic member of the slo-pitch league. His appeal was underway and he said if he had to go public to garner support he would. He also told me the story of a 65 year-old player who was accidentally struck in the head with a ball and ended up with a concussion, and while that was unfortunate, he himself had been playing so long and was adequately spry that such an incident would not likely have happened to him. I have no doubt this is true.
A number of weeks later I remained curious if he had won his appeal, so I decided to give him a call to find out what happened. He wasn’t home so I left a message on his machine, one I suppose he might have found unusual. Still no word back but I hope it’s because he’s too busy out on the field, playing the game he loves, exercising his own right to play.
It’s not every day you get an email from Yoko Ono.
Imagine my surprise then, as I found myself, on the eve of my Calgary Bed-In for Sustainability, rolling over the 14th green in a golf cart at the recent Right To Play charity golf tournament in Canmore, when I answered a phone call from my friend Russell asking if I’d checked my email recently. I replied that, no, of course I hadn’t checked my email, and, that if he didn’t mind, I was putting for triple bogey, so could we talk later?
The surprise came when he told me excitedly that I’d just received an email from the mother of the Bed-In herself: the one and only Yoko Ono. I didn’t make the putt.
Somewhere, in that mysterious place where all the ones and zeros line up, Yoko Ono caught wind of what I was planning to do and her assistant tracked me down to pass on this note:
“Kristina, Congratulations for your courage and wisdom. I love you! yoko”
Considering the apprehension I felt in sticking my neck out for something I care about in such an unusual fashion, this email, from someone rather well versed in sticking one’s neck out, gave me a feeling of confidence and relief that this was indeed a good idea.
But I was still nervous that it might not go well, or that Calgary wasn’t interested or ready to hear what we wanted to talk about. And having just motored out to Canmore for a grand round of 18, even if in support of my other favourite cause, Right To Play, I was worried people might start to dissect my every move, ready to pounce on anything I’ve ever done that could be attributed to environmental destruction of some sort to which they could claim any degree of hypocrisy. Well, unfortunately I think just being born in Canada takes care of that.
It ended up being one of the most interesting days of my life. You might think that after a full day in bed I would feel rested and relaxed, but the non-stop conversation and activity left me feeling utterly exhausted. I was, however, also left feeling inspired, informed and encouraged. In spite of the seemingly impossible task of tackling the colossal environmental issues present throughout this city, everyone I met throughout the day was a shining example of someone striving to make change happen, no matter how big or small.
After spending the better part of my life striving to simply skate faster, it was illuminating to learn about the work people all around me are doing to improve their neighbourhoods, challenge their local officials, and clean up some of the mess we have made. My world grew just a little bit. But then, it was not a day about me, rather it was a day about connecting with the community and having huge conversations with people I have never met about something that affects every single one of us, whether we care to admit it or not.
My first question to most people was what they thought the word ‘sustainability’ means. It was generally agreed upon by everyone I spoke with that the word ‘sustainability’ is not the best word we could use to inspire people to listen or act. It has been claimed by everyone from big government to the oil industry and environmental groups to economists. It’s the sustainability bandwagon and everyone is jumping on.
The problem is that the word can be used in so many ways, both in terms of its definition and the broad range of topics it can describe. Dr. Noel Keough, a professor from the University of Calgary Faculty of Environmental Design, conceded that we’ve developed a tendency to gloss over when we hear the word. It’s a catchphrase, a buzzword, a misnomer even, that seems to have lost it’s meaning. We’ve heard it so often we don’t even know what it means anymore.
What exactly are we sustaining? Should we sustain infinite economic growth or infinite oil and gas exploration? Should we sustain where we are at or should we be striving to change direction? Many people defined it as using only what you really need, but then the problem becomes thinking we need more than we actually do. We need a better word.
Another question I asked each guest was: What is the biggest challenge that Calgary is facing in trying to become a more sustainable city? Here’s what we’re facing:
- poor urban planning and the endless annexation of new land for suburban development
- too much provincial control over municipal finances
- car centred infrastructure
- excessive energy usage
- lack of concern or sense of urgency from governments and individuals
- my personal favourite: nimble minds promoting rational inaction
This is a complex issue of course, and the challenges start with governments who are either diabolically opposed to the climate change issue or too afraid to take risks and end with individuals who either don’t care at all or have given up thinking they can make a difference. Not very inspiring is it?
My next question was: What are some solutions to these problems? A little snapshot of the responses:
- have the courage to get involved in politics
- use social media and marketing to inspire individual behavioural change
- lead by example
- start small: leave the car at home one day a month
- retrofit your home to reduce energy costs
- bike lanes please!
- provide an incentive for the better option
- be more thoughtful about the choices you make
A lot of us know these things inside and out, but we don’t always do it. Why is that? According to Gerald Wheatley from Bow River flow, it’s because the carrot hanging in front of us to do the wrong things is HUGE. For many of us energy is too cheap, the train is too inconvenient, biking is too hard, we want huge houses that need to be filled with stuff, and we’ve been conditioned from day one to believe that this is all normal and okay. The lack of any sense of urgency is rooted in the fact that day to day we don’t really see the problem and this attitude is continually perpetuated by the ‘willful ignorance of the wealthy’. Pretty harsh words, but not without reason.
Although everyone I spoke with had amazing things to say, the conversation I had with one person who was particularly memorable and inspiring was Dr. David Swann, the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. I haven’t met many politicians in my day and I’d have to say that, like many people, I’ve grown a little disheartened by many I’ve seen on tv. But Dr. Swann, who is a soft-spoken, thoughtful, brilliant man, was about as genuine and passionate as it gets about the work he is doing. Although he is endlessly paddling against the current and rarely heard amid the sea of blue that washes over this province during every provincial election, he is doggedly determined to make change happen. See part of our conversation here and here.
I have a good deal more thinking to do about this day, and a lot more information to comb through to fully appreciate what I experienced and what can come of it. The end game of this event is to present a report to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Dr. Swann said, ‘why stop there? You should send this to Stelmach and Harper. You need to think big.’ It never occurred to me to think big. I thought it would be best to start small. I guess it’s both. New to do list: leave car at home once a month and send report to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Stay tuned!
My last question to each guest was: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of this city? Everyone was enthusiastically optimistic about the future because they’ve seen first hand the change they themselves have inspired. I’m increasingly optimistic that change is possible, over decades likely, because now I’ve met many of the people working down in the trenches, doing the work, making a difference.
So, did we change the world in a day? In a word, no. But in some ways, the world changed a little for me. And that’s a start.
In 1969, during the Vietnam War, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held two week-long Bed-Ins for Peace in Amsterdam and Montreal, which were their non-violent ways of protesting wars and promoting peace. It was a memorable event, iconic even, representative of how one voice can be the voice of millions, heard by millions. The success and impact of the event is debatable, but one thing is certain, their voice was heard.
The Bed-In has since been re-created, re-interpreted and re-used by many over the years, in protests of various kinds by a number of artists since 1969. Well, I’m no artist and I’m not making a protest but the opportunity to take a stand and raise my voice for something I care about is what this event is all about.
In the spirit of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, I’m bringing the Bed-In to Calgary. I’m not protesting war, or promoting peace, instead I’m using the Bed-In to highlight another issue that affects us all: the future of our city and our world.
On June 24th I’ll be hosting the Bed-In for Sustainability with my friends at the Obasan Mattress shop in Kensington. Obasan has graciously allowed me to use their beautiful new store with the bed in the window to stage this Bed-In for Sustainability. Joining me will be several community leaders in the sustainability movement to share their insights and ideas about making Calgary a more sustainable city.
You’re welcome to join us too. Stop by the Obasan store at 106A 10th St. NW in Kensington anytime in the afternoon to see what it’s all about.
In the 16 years years I’ve been living and training in Calgary I’ve seen it transformed from a small-ish city in the West to a mega-sprawl, cosmopolitan, traffic-ridden, smoggy and congested, yet prosperous, dynamic, vibrant and innovative city with loads of potential. With the recent election of Mayor Naheed Nenshi I feel more optimistic than ever that Calgary can remain prosperous, dynamic and vibrant while tackling the issue of sustainability. I look at massive cities like Chicago, Seattle and Copenhagen and see the amazing things they have accomplished in such a short time, like inner city on-street bike lanes, green roofs on office towers, city-wide composting, green space revitalization and so much more, and I know that we can do the same in Calgary.
We’ve been slow to start, but the potential is there.
I’ve made some progress in reducing my own personal impact; by installing a new high-efficiency furnace, low-flush toilets, energy star windows, a front-load washer, and a smaller energy efficient refrigerator, by composting, ditching the clothes dryer, replacing light bulbs with CFLs, riding my bike, buying local meat and produce when possible, choosing Bullfrog Power, and a low-flow shower head… with much success. Our little house only uses on average 170 kWh of electricity, 4-6 cubic metres of water and 2-7 GJ of natural gas each month, significantly below the national household averages of 800 kWh, 26 cubic metres and 3-23 GJ of natural gas each month.
And I joined up with Clean Air Champions to reach school kids and deliver the message about the issue of climate change and air quality. I signed up to David Suzuki’s Play it Cool program for athletes to offset carbon emissions from travel. I helped establish a Sustainability Committee for Speed Skating Canada.
But lest you think I’m tooting my own horn, let me tell you, I’m no saint. Far from it in fact. I’m well aware of the impact my occupation has on the planet. I fly all over the world to race in circles inside massive, artificially refrigerated indoor speed skating arenas. I sometimes drive to places when I know I could bike or take the train. When I renovated the bathroom some of the leftovers went to the dump. I buy stuff I don’t always need. And why do I make these choices? Because it’s often just plain easier to jump in the car, throw stuff out or throw down the plastic. Somehow, no matter how little I drive, what improvements I make to my little house, or what kind of food I buy, none make up for the massive toll my lifestyle has on the world around me.
But what if became easier to make a better choice? Where jumping on the train is easier, faster and cheaper than taking the car, or renovating an old bathroom means having easy places to recycle or reuse old materials, or where the things you buy last forever? The great thing about Calgary is that it is constantly changing. There is so much potential for this city to grow in a sustainable, intelligent and progressive way that will make it easy for people to choose sustainability. Complete streets, bike lanes, work where you live, community shared agriculture, public transit and so much more can, and should, become a natural part of our lives – where you don’t even question car vs. bike because it’s so obviously bike.
So, the Bed-In. The idea is to have a conversation. A conversation about ideas and solutions. A conversation to determine a vision and establish a goal for what we think this city could become. A conversation about how we can choose to make that choice so easy it’s not even a choice anymore.
When I first started speed skating I was terrible. I mean really terrible. I was a skinny, weak, awkward little kid with gangly limbs. But I had potential. And over the next twenty years I transformed myself into one of the best speed skaters in the world. You have to start somewhere, and to you, Calgary, I say let’s start today. It may take twenty years but we just might end up being one of the best cities in the world.
Many thanks to my brother Erik for getting me onto the work of Norwegian photographer Terje Sorgjerd. He uses time lapse landscape photography to make breathtaking ‘videos’ of this stunning earth. We ought to do more to preserve it. His latest piece is called ‘The Arctic Light’. For more amazing work by Terje click here.
And now, some good news. As an antidote to all the self-pity and public navel gazing of late, you are hereby cordially invited to attend this annual University of Calgary event which promises to be a good time! If you’re in Calgary on June 2nd and are up for a little soiree, stop by the University of Calgary ARCH Awards Celebration. There will be minimal ‘official stuff’, strictly short speeches, and plenty of schmoozing and fun instead.
Please RSVP here or click on the photo below if you plan to do so. Hope to see you there!