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Writers working for a change

Whistler Forum hosts summer series focusing on writers who influence our ‘ecological imagination’

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What: Inspiring Earth Action summer series

When: Wednesday evenings, 6 p.m.

Where: Nita Lake Lodge

Cost: $25 for BBQ (starts at 6 p.m.), $10 donation for discussion (starts at 7 p.m.)

People generally come to Whistler for the recreational activities on offer, or even to explore our arts and cultural landscape. But one local group is hoping that, someday, the community will also be destination for intellectual debate, much like the Aspen Institute and The Banff Centre.

"We want to create something that brings more people in from outside and have Whistler seen as a place that people do come to to think and work with others on issues and problems, and sort of develop public policy and leadership required to move that forward," explained William Roberts.

Roberts is president of the Whistler Forum for Leadership and Dialogue, a group that was founded almost eight years ago with a mission to improve civic engagement and develop collaborative leadership.

"It's always been, for us, a belief and a purpose that we think in Whistler people can really benefit from coming together in forums, dialogues and conferences to really talk about and learn about contemporary issues."

Whistler Forum encourages critical thinking and community engagement at all levels.

"So it's not just experts talking about business. We're trying to say, 'hey, we've got a great collection of people to come to Whistler and that live in Whistler, so let's thrive on that diversity," Roberts explained.

They've recently launched a summertime seminar series dubbed Inspiring Earth Action, which is designed to do just that: get people talking and actively exploring environmental issues that are relevant to Whistlerites, Canadians and citizens of the world. The series will see presenters telling their story of writers who influence and inspire their imagination and action within the overarching theme of our "ecological imagination," a more qualitative, all-encompassing and creative approach to experiencing our surroundings.

That concept is being explored by six people, all of whom have selected an influential writer that helped them to develop a sense of awareness: Jim Cohn, Cheeying Ho, Sonnet L'Abbe, Bob Brett, Leslie Anthony and Lisa Richardson. The roster of writers to be discussed ranges from historical figures like Aristotle and Charles Darwin to more contemporary writers like Edward Abbey, an American author and essayist who inspired radical environmentalists; David Abram, an American philosopher, cultural ecologist and performance artist; David Quammen, an award-winning science, nature and travel writer; May Gibbs, an Australian children's author, illustrator, and cartoonist; and Brian Brett, a Canadian poet and novelist.

Roberts explained that a large focus of the series is on exploring how we deal with and think about environmental challenges, while trying to get people to see the issues in terms of values rather than data and numbers by using personal stories.

"I remember the dean of the Stanford environmental law school telling all these lawyers, 'when you go to court on an environmental cause, don't talk the science, talk the story,'" Roberts recalled.

By "putting a face" to an issue, people seem to be able to relate to it on a different level. So, for the upcoming series, Whistler Forum has decided to try and address environmental issues with storytellers rather than scientists.

Whistler Forum held a similar three-day workshop called the Wild Spirit Nature Seminar last summer, which attracted about 20 participants.

"We had people gathered together and we heard stories and had people talk about creation, from Christian, Jewish, Indigenous groups - how did we get here?"

But this year, organizers have decided to spread the discussions out over the span of six weeks, with informal weekly meetings held in the library of Nita Lake Lodge.

Roberts sees the new Wednesday night series as a step in the right direction, supporting the community and encouraging people to think critically about some serious issues.

"My theory of change, about how people most effectively change their own behaviour, is through connecting with other people in more of a meaningful way." 

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