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  • He did it for nature

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic

    A close-to-heart climate hero instills hope, courage, and solidarity.


    EIGHT MONTHS INTO A PANDEMIC that as of yet shows no end, I’ve found a new hero and guiding light—my youngest brother Carl. I know he’ll fidget with discomfort when I tell him this, maybe suggest I ease up on hyperbole, possibly even wonder if I’ve gone off my rocker. 

    But I’ll insist I know a hero when I see one—a selfless, genuinely good person who, even against formidable odds, chooses to devote life and livelihood to the betterment of a greater common cause. Heroes are resourceful and resilient, typically lead by example, and persevere in the face of overwhelming adversity. My Canadian heroes include David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis, and now Dr Bonnie Henry, who’s been steering a very steady ship through the iceberg-infested waters of COVID-19. 

    Our best-known Canadian hero is probably Terry Fox, who, with steely determination and only one leg, was running his cross-country Marathon of Hope the summer my husband and I honeymooned from the Maritimes to the Rockies. What slouches we are, I thought, fiddling daily with the car radio dials to find a local station and update. Sadly, Terry wasn’t able to finish his quest, and died when he was only 22, but not before he’d managed to move an entire country with a dream and mission that resonate to this day. 

    Every year my brother Carl laces up for the Terry Fox Run, in honour of our dad and sister who were both lost to cancer. But there’s a lot more to know about Carl than that. He’s always lived and studied close to the land, and saw climate change looming long before most did. His disquiet intensified when his sons were born. It stewed up protracted grappling at his core, then steered him to the decision to trade his secure government job for uncertain work as a champion for nature.

    He immersed himself in the science of climate change and the art of presenting, learning French in the process so he could connect with all New Brunswick audiences. Then he began sharing his knowledge and findings in school auditoriums, conference rooms, boardrooms and town halls throughout the Maritimes. Like all true leaders, he focused on teaching, not preaching. 

    He started a blog, became a consultant, and for years wrote a bi-weekly newspaper column, until the Irving dynasty bought the paper and shut him down. (The wily Irvings now own all of New Brunswick’s presses as well as its fossil fuel and forestry industries. They may not have invented the concept of monopoly but they sure know how to play the game.)

    All the while, Carl chipped away at his family’s own carbon footprint in many small and then bigger ways—which amply compensated for their financial reset. Eventually he bought a used hybrid car, which was later traded in for a fully electric one, also pre-owned. This past summer he installed a bank of solar panels that now power both car and home.

    But back to the 2020 Terry Fox Run, and the day he truly became my hero. Due to pandemic restrictions, participants had been asked to run on their own, and as Carl pondered this, he started envisioning an entirely different mission.

    Months earlier, he and his wife had gone hiking on beautiful Campobello Island. As they rounded a coastal trail to an idyllic sheltered cove, they came upon the atrocity of a 300-metre stretch of beach almost completely covered with discarded plastics.



    Carl Duivenvoorden with the plastic he removed from the beach on Campobello Island 


    “It was so disheartening, especially all the water bottles,” he told me later. “I felt overwhelmed. And when I realized that my Terry Fox run would be solo this year, I decided to come clean up this beach instead.”   

    On what coincidentally was World Cleanup Day, he worked alone for several hours, collecting more than 400 water bottles, more than 1000 pieces of Styrofoam that ranged in size from fingernail to surfboard, about 75 kilograms of nylon rope, including bits and pieces washed up everywhere, and four fishing totes that he filled with smaller plastics, including countless lobster claw elastics. He crammed another four commercial-sized garbage bags with miscellaneous litter and then lugged everything well above the high-water mark so it wouldn’t be swept out to sea again. Island park staff later hauled it all away for proper disposal.

    He cleaned the entire beach. He did it for nature, for the plovers that tiptoed gracefully along the shore, the seal that bobbed by to check on his progress, the Fundy tide that played out a full cycle while he worked. He did it for the world. He did it out of hope.  

    He makes me want to be and do better. That’s what heroes do: instill hope, courage, and solidarity. Inspire the hero in each of us.

    Everyone needs a few heroes, especially right now. I’m grateful I’ve found one so close to my heart.

    Trudy also extends kudos to BC small-ship tour operators who, sidelined by the pandemic, pulled together last summer to accomplish an “industrial-sized cleanup” along our rugged central coast. Over a 42-day period, they and their collective crew of more than 100, and in collaboration with First Nations along the way, collected 127 tonnes of marine debris (which amounted to just “a dent”). Check out the story and photos here: https://thenarwhal.ca/bc-tour-boat-operators-clean-up-ocean-debris-coronavirus/

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