Ecology Ottawa is excited to introduce our new Executive Director, Robb Barnes.
When did you begin to call Ottawa home?
I was born in Ottawa and raised in the west end, close to Bayshore Shopping Centre. Back then, those were the outer limits of the city. I recall walking down the street and crossing the Nepean-Ottawa border in the process.
When did you become interested in the environment? Was there a defining moment?
It may sound odd, but the 2008 economic crash is likely what did it for me, in part by forcing me into underemployment. During that time, I read Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, Gwynne Dyers’ Climate Wars and Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. This reading informed me about a market failure on our horizon that was orders of magnitude bigger than any housing bubble burst: the environmental crisis. I was shocked by the magnitude of the challenge and by our history of political inaction in the face of such a profound threat.
When did you first hear of Ecology Ottawa? What made you interested in working here?
I became involved with Ecology Ottawa as a volunteer when TransCanada announced the proposed construction of the Energy East pipeline. For climate reasons, I knew that the pipeline had to be stopped, and Ecology Ottawa was moving quickly to take action on the file.
Volunteering for Ecology Ottawa was an eye-opening experience. It changed the way I thought of the work of an environmental NGO. Instead of working at a desk writing reports, I was out engaging people in conversations, providing them with information and opportunities to take action to get the attention of decision-makers. Later, when I was offered a position as a field organizer, I couldn’t say no; the job gave me a chance to take part in political organizing for a cause I was deeply concerned with.
What are your proudest moments with Ecology Ottawa?
Two come to mind. Just a few months ago, we got word that TransCanada cancelled their Energy East project. They will tell you it’s because of technical reasons or market conditions, but the reality is that there was a groundswell of opposition coast to coast, and Ecology Ottawa was an integral part of that resistance.
Another one is our most recent EcoFest, in October 2017. It was a celebration of our tenth anniversary. It was amazing to step back and see how far the organization had come – from a collection of committed activists organizing in a living room to an organization with tens of thousands of supporters and hundreds of event attendees. As part of this event, we partnered with organizations and businesses from across the city. It shows that Ottawa is a caring city, and that Ecology Ottawa is part of a dynamic web of organizations that make our city a better place to call home.
What are your dreams for Ecology Ottawa?
In many ways my dreams for Ecology Ottawa are tied to my dreams for Ottawa. I want Ottawa to grow into a greener and more dynamic city, and I see Ecology Ottawa as an organization that can drive that change. I want a better Ottawa that fights sprawl, invests in world class active transit, that preserves and enhances its greenspace and waterways, and that shows true leadership on climate change.
What do you think are the defining challenges of the next years?
We need Ottawa City Hall to demonstrate far more leadership on climate change. So far, the rhetoric is all there, but we’re low in investments for tangible solutions. Ottawa can be a leader on this file – it’s not enough to talk the talk on climate change, we need urgent and dramatic action.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I really enjoy playing music. I’ve been in bands for most of my life, and I’ve been experimenting with audio engineering and recording in my spare time. Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I couldn’t agree more.