Ben West: Why I am organizing the Great Climate Race

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      Have you ever had a good idea and then felt like, “Damn, now I need to do this”? That’s how I felt when we came up with the idea for the Great Climate Race, a new running event series that will raise funds for local community solar-energy projects. It wasn’t like I didn’t already have enough on my plate. But there was no putting this idea back in the box. It just needed to be done.

      After months of planning and preparation, we launched publicly last week. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s truly heartwarming to see how excited people are to be involved. I feel like we are tapped into something with the potential to have a big impact.

      Launching a new company or organization is a funny thing (we are doing both at once: the race itself is a social venture and the Great Climate Race Renewable Energy Fund is our affiliated nonprofit which facilitates the solar-energy project crowdfunding and implementation). You find yourself telling your “origin story” a lot. Where did this idea come from? Why are you doing it? What problem are you trying to solve? What makes this different from everything else that is out there?

      Here is the story that answers these questions which I have been excitedly telling a lot recently (bonus points if you can find it on the website).

      I started running about a year ago as a way to burn off stress and feel healthier overall. Mostly I’ve been running with my dog Rosie around False Creek and Stanley Park. I entered my first race, the Vancouver Eastside 10K, last year and it had a big impact on me. Early in the run, I was pushing myself up a hill in East Vancouver and I saw a small group on the side of the road in the distance and my excitement transformed into a sense of guilt. People holding handmade signs were yelling at runners ahead of me as they went by. Were these protesters upset about the negative impact this race would have on their community? Was I unknowingly supporting an event that benefited an organization that was doing harm to the environment? I searched for an explanation as I strained my eyes to see what was written on their placards. I felt a wave of relief as I got to the top of the hill and read a sign that simply said, “GO GO GO!” Another sign said, “You can do it”, and my favourite one said, “High fives = an energy boost”. I beamed a goofy, delighted smile at the support crew on the side of the road and truly felt energized after collecting that high five.

      As an environmental campaigner, I have spent most of my adult life organizing countless events. Most of them have prominently featured people holding signs that said “Stop” this or “No” to that.

      For the first time, the signs I was surrounded by said “Go” instead of “Stop”. It was so simple yet so profound. There is something special happening in the running community that matched up really well with the transition to solutions that I am trying to make it my own work. It is so cool to find a whole new group of such positive people. It was amazing to watch all the volunteers and participants joined enthusiastically by their friends and family coming together to support good causes and one another.

      My partner Mari and I founded the Great Climate Race together because we see it as a great opportunity to make a difference. We are so excited to be geeking out on how best to bring together the fun of an event like the Sun Run with the focus on raising money for specific projects like has become so popular on sites like Kickstarter and a dash of the theatrics of something like Cirque du Soleil. It’s fun to be working on a project together with my partner. We talk endlessly about ideas and plans while we walk our dog Rosie, cook dinner, or brainstorm in the living room. The glass surfaces in our apartment are all covered in colour-coordinated erasable ink lists and drawings. We have brought together a fantastic team of event planners, creative community organizers, and special advisors to help us turn this idea into a reality. Stay tuned for interactive guerrilla theatre, fun street art displays, and all kinds of surprises in the weeks ahead.

      Addressing climate change can seem like an insurmountable challenge but we believe the positivity, compassion, and determination of the running community is a force to be reckoned with. It’s cool to see so many people who don’t run much if at all signing up as well people who already love to run. This is a great opportunity to make the links between our own health and the health of the planet. I hope many people have the same experience with running that I have had in terms of stress relief, increased energy levels, moving meditation, and a sense of accomplishment.

      By crowdfunding for solar panels to donate to local charities and community organizations, hopefully we can also strengthen the ties between people working for solutions for the environment and those working on social issues. What will make this project work is all of you getting involved and making it your own. Dream big: where do you think there should be solar panels? What opportunities are we currently missing out on collectively? Please send us your feedback, your input, and your ideas. Get involved in our training runs and community meet-ups (sign up for the mailing list to find out when they are happening). Please use the Great Climate Race to help make your community part of the solution to climate change.

      P.S.: Early bird registration ends May 31 for the inaugural race on November 8. Please register today and pass this on to anyone that you think might be interested. Have a great week.



      Blue Dot

      May 26, 2015 at 9:38am

      Kudos to you.

      Climate change is the defining event for Human kind.

      It effects Habitat in which everything lives from Bacteria to Whales and of course us Humans.

      A great Canadian once ran across Canada on a single leg and the biggest heart to give hope to those suffering from Cancer.

      Lets do it.