Saving Sackville: EOS Eco-Energy’s battle on the frontlines of climate change in Canada

Author: Trevor Popoff

Sackville, New Brunswick, is beautiful. Located 30 minutes south of Moncton and sandwiched between the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait, the former shipbuilding hub is now a bustling university community with a growing tourism sector. 

But there is a hidden beast within Sackville’s beauty. The very location that makes the town of just over 5000 such a picturesque place to live is threatening its very existence. 

For the uninitiated, sea level rise can seem like a far-off consequence of climate change. Digital renderings of Manhattan or Miami becoming the next Atlantis are hard to fathom as possibilities. Residents of Sackville don’t have the luxury of considering rising oceans as anything but an immediate problem. Dykes that were installed for agricultural purposes are now critical interventions in keeping the Bay of Fundy in the Bay of Fundy. How much longer they can hold back the waters is also up for debate, as there is evidence of substantial erosion. 

While the dykes attempt to keep Sackville from being inundated by saltwater, they can cause the town to be flooded by freshwater. If the city sees a large rainstorm, the dykes work to trap water within their walls, leaving Sackville in what is essentially a giant puddle contained by the very objects that deter sea water from running down Main Street. 

This conundrum weighs heavily on Amanda Marlin. She is the executive director at EOS Eco-Energy, a charitable environmental organization based in Sackville. With a brick-and-mortar office downtown and tendrils stretching into everything from water quality to climate resilience, they’re in the Tantramar region of New Brunswick for the long haul. “When we do see flooding,” Marlin says, “it means that certain roads are blocked off and people are cut off from town for days at a time.” The waters also bring about personal impacts, such as flooded basements and property damage.  

Facing down the barrel of these impending issues, Sackville’s residents decided to do something about their situation. In partnership with the Government of New Brunswick, Marlin secured funding for 50 Great Ideas for Inspiring Community Resilience to Climate Change, a project meant to tap into the wealth of ideas within the community on how to tackle this daunting issue. 

As soon as the project got the green light, Marlin set to work arranging focus groups and doling out community surveys. The project was open to anybody willing to contribute, so students, youth and international experts were given a level playing field to voice potential solutions. Others reviewed existing literature to make sure all viewpoints were accounted for. The end result was a guide choc full of information, research and ideas to both mitigate problems in the present and guide the community into the future. “All of that work came together into a really nice guide with tons of great stuff in it,” Marlin said. “It really is for the people of Sackville by the people of Sackville and hopefully others will benefit from it as well.”

One element of climate resilience that Sackville isn’t short on is social capital. Sackville’s adaptable population and patented Maritimes community spirit have been integral in weathering its emergencies thus far. “When we are hit with a storm, or roads are flooded, people come out to check on each other,” Marlin said. Still, she recognizes how critical knowing your neighbours is and strives to make sure that everyone is involved. “It’s something to constantly, constantly work on. We’re always trying to come up with new projects, new offerings, new workshops, and we’re always seeing different people and new people that we haven’t seen before.”

The guide acknowledges that society’s most vulnerable people disproportionately feel the impacts of climate change. Many initiatives, such as creating a local food hub and collective kitchen or performing home water use audits, aim to help disadvantaged members of the community. Before the pandemic, EOS held a draft-proofing party where they went around to lower income homes and used spray foam and caulking to seal up any drafts around people’s windows and doors. Like many climate change solutions, this idea is a winner on multiple fronts: it saves lower income individuals money on their heating and cooling bills while improving community connectedness, and helps out the planet by reducing energy usage. 

The immediacy and dire nature of climate change can wear the average global citizen out, let alone one whose hometown is in the direct path of rising waters. That’s why the guide also emphasizes climate stress and mental resilience. “Because our communities are dealing with climate change impacts maybe more so than others, the stress and mental health impacts have come around perhaps earlier than in other locations,” Marlin said. “We’ve partnered with local family counselling and worked together to do some climate stress workshops. People really appreciated the chance to talk with others who felt the same way and had the same concerns.” At the workshops, attendees learned coping skills and ways to build mental resilience to the negative news that at times can become overwhelming. The workshops also spawned a Facebook group aimed at both helping residents cope and organizing initiatives to work on local issues. “A lot of tears are shed,” Marlin said. “There’s a lot of strong emotions out there. People are worried for a whole variety of reasons and it’s really hard to keep that inside. You get the information, you get freaked out, you have a cry, and then you go ‘how can I channel my stress, my worries, my anxiety, into action?’ That’s when you go to a really positive place and can look at these 50 great things that can be done in your community, or anywhere, and you go ‘OK, let’s get to work.’”

Trevor Popoff is a writer currently based in Toronto. He is passionate about global environmental issues and uncovering unique ways that society is dealing with climate change. He is currently studying journalism at Ryerson University. 

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Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW)

Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW) explores ways of communicating and promoting community adaptation to the rapidly increasing risks and hazards of extreme weather and the public health impacts.

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