Four weeks into a planned six-month journey throughout B.C. in a waste vegetable oil-powered 1993 Ford bus, North Vancouver natives Tamo Campos and John Muirhead encountered a major roadblock.
Team members of Beyond Boarding's Northern Grease Project, they were interested in documenting the environmental and social impacts of current and proposed large-scale energy projects on communities. As well, they planned to investigate renewable energy alternatives already in use in the province, ultimately showcasing their findings in a documentary.
They thought they'd have to throw in the towel when the transmission went on their carbon neutral mode of transport, a former library bookmobile, and they faced a repair bill they couldn't pay: a hefty $6,000. However, the team put their heads together and decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. "Within five days we'd raised enough money to get the bus fixed and we were back on the road. That was pretty motivating," says Muirhead, 23, a Handsworth grad.
The show of support more than warmed their hearts - it further fueled the team's passion for change, helping members, all 20-something snowboarders and surfers, realize they're not alone in their interest in taking action on environmental areas directly impacted by pending energy projects.
Reached in Fort St. John last Wednesday, Campos and Muirhead had had a busy couple of days. On the road since February, they had spent the previous two days giving presentations at local secondary schools, and had met with Fort St. John environmental groups working to put recycling programs in place. The following day they were scheduled to meet with area farmers to see what their thoughts were on Site C,
a proposed third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in northeast B.C. "It's been a pretty incredible experience. It's hard to believe that it's coming to an end but I'm sure we'll be revisiting it in the editing room," laughs Campos, 23.
"It definitely was a really good eye opener to the different opinions we have throughout B.C. It was also really interesting. I mean there's so much industrial development being proposed pretty much everywhere in B.C. right now, but (we got) to hear firsthand accounts of how communities are being affected. And a lot of the things that I think were a real surprise and really important were just that the other side of development that we don't talk about. That industrial development does not mean community development," he adds.
Campos founded Beyond Boarding last year. A sponsored snowboarder, he's currently enrolled in the Global Stewardship program at Capilano University, which he credits as a major inspiration. Another influence is the Sentinel secondary grad's grandfather, famed environmentalist David Suzuki. "It's nice to have someone like that in your family that you can look up to, especially for keeping at it. He's just been going for so long. I think that's really inspiring," he says.
Self-funded, Beyond Boarding is a vehicle for Campos and fellow members of the snowboarding and surfing community to make positive change. Muirhead, a friend of Campos', was quick to jump on board, sharing his love for the outdoors and the wild places that have provided them with so many good times, and an interest in protecting them for future generations.
Campos and Muirhead are quick to point out they're not your average environmentalists, something they're hoping to capitalize on to increase their reach, particularly among youths. "We're just everyday 23 year olds who realize that this is a big deal and we're trying to showcase that getting involved doesn't have to be something scary or overwhelming or radical," says Campos.
Their first initiative saw a group of snowboarders travel to Chile and Peru last year to learn about and contribute to a variety of sustainable development projects, including a floating raft food security initiative. While in South America, they learned about recent flooding along the banks of the Amazon River, believed to be the result of climate change, that's threatening the wellbeing of some communities. "When we came home and we saw what was proposed for B.C., that's really where the idea of this veggie bus road trip came about," says Campos.
They bought their bus in November 2012, retrofitting and camperizing it. Over the course of their journey, they fueled it primarily for free, thanks to the generosity of restaurants along the way that donated their waste vegetable oil.
When asked whether the rumour is true, that that type of system exudes a French fry like smell, Muirhead jokes, "Are you talking about us or the bus?" "If you're following our bus on the highway, you're most likely getting pretty hungry, but we figure that's a better smell than diesel," Campos chimes in.
When mapping their route, they were interested in travelling to areas under consideration for proposed projects including the Kitimat LNG plant, oil pipelines, as well as fracking and coal initiatives, says Campos.
"You go through these towns and there is resistance in every single one of the communities we've been to. There's people who don't want this type of development and it's time for us to stand with these people who are fighting to protect these last natural places we have in B.C. And I think that gives me hope," says Campos.
The team spent six weeks in the Sacred Headwaters, from late August to September, with the Tahltan First Nation. The area is home to three of the largest undammed salmon bearing rivers in North America, the Skeena, Nass and Stikine, says Campos. The Northern Grease Project crew joined the Nation in protest against an open pit coal mine in their territory, which proved to be the trip highlight for Campos. "This community was willing to stand up for their land, they were willing to stand up for their fresh water over the economic benefits of these projects. I think it was just really important to see that that culture is possible," says Campos.
The team hopes their project sparks an energy debate. Over the course of their journey the Northern Grease Project team has had an opportunity to talk to people both for and against various energy and industrial projects. They've met with members of the general public, First Nations
leaders, high school students, environmental groups, renewable energy advocates and practitioners, as well as elected officials, including MP Nathan Cullen, MLA Doug Donaldson, and the mayors of Fort Nelson and Hudson's Hope.
"We really need to talk about: is this the only way we can create energy? Is this the only way we can create jobs? And it's simply not the case," says Campos.
To showcase alternatives, along the way they met with a variety of renewable energy advocates, including windpowered project leaders and off-the-grid farmers, like one German man who lives outside Smithers. He powers his entire farm through gasification of woodchips that he got for free from a nearby mill, which was unable to use them, the result of mountain pine beetle kill.
The Beyond Boarding team plans to wrap up their journey by the end of the month. Campos and Muirhead went on all 6,000 kilometres of the trip and have been on the road since February, with the exception of the summer when they took a break to make enough money to continue working on the project. Campos made homemade ice cream in Tofino and Muirhead treeplanted.
Muirhead's older brother Lewis, 29, co-founder of Beyond Boarding, Jasper Snow Rosen, a 21-year-old sponsored surfer from Salt Spring Island, and Landon Yerex, a 23-year-old surfer from Courtenay joined for different legs of the trip.
Campos will give a presentation on the project at the upcoming Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival Fall Series, being held Nov. 12-16 at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre and Vancouver's Rio Theatre. The team plans to premiere the documentary, Northern Grease, at the actual festival in February 2014 (vimff.org). They also plan to tour the film across the province, screening it at high schools, community centres and snowboard shops and invite anyone with an interest to get involved in Beyond Boarding.
"Maybe I'm a hopeless romantic about it, but I think we're going to be alright if people get involved," says Campos.
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