In the turmoil of 2017, the Age of Aquarius is dawning. Despite climate change disruption, political upheaval and a fossil fuel industry fighting from its knees, the counter forces are marshalling and alive with inventive optimism.

Even more surprising this positive energy is burgeoning in perhaps unlikely places. 

Take famously conservative, agriculture and tourism oriented Penticton BC, a small town of 35,000.This picturesque lakeside hamlet now signals a re-imagined future with uplifting, community building, and knowledge sharing Energy Symposiums, world leading technology and co-operative solar garden projects in the works. 

From Earth Week school programs to high-end architect designed rammed-earth, passive solar, site-specific construction and renewable energy generation technology, change is being vigorously courted and embraced at Penticton’s second annual Energy Symposium.

How did this come about?

It sounds a bit like one of those jokes about the three people who went into a bar.

Although in this case it was a retired B.C. politician, a retired agricultural scientist and a third generation orchardist among a coterie of Okanagan old-timers who were chatting over cocktails. 

Consensus? There’s trouble ahead. They recognized a common desire to protect a world and landscape that had employed, fed, housed and entertained them back to the original inhabitants, the Okanagan First Nations.

Grandparents all, future generations stared them in the face every family weekend.

Knowledgeable and capable, the group continued to meet searching for a way to share their elder wisdom for the future of young folks. 

In 2015 the group became First Things First Okanagan (FTFO) with a focus on climate action and education. By spring 2016 FTFO hosted a major Solar Fair in one of Canada’s greenest buildings, The Centre for Excellence at the Penticton campus of Okanagan College, replete with solar and energy innovation experts, industry and community exhibits and an unexpected crush of visitors.

FTFO President and former BC MLA, Jim Beattie told me, “When I went to open up the doors at 8 am, half a dozen guys were already waiting. They were oil workers, ‘between jobs’, looking for training and job opportunities in alternate energy. I knew we were on the right track.”

Kai Bicycles owner / inventor, shares the secrets of wooden bicycle construction. The symposium also featured a presentation on mass timber buildings that offer many environmental pluses over metal and concrete construction. Photo by Dianne Bersea.

Over the day, an estimated 600 people flooded through the exhibits and presentation rooms. A follow-up event became inevitable.

The most recent event, “Energy: Our Present, Our Future,” held on Earth Day, April 22, expanded on the theme with a specific focus on meeting young people where they are.

Held at Penticton Secondary School, in part instigated and piloted by 17 year old Victoria Ritchie, passionate third generation Okanaganite, First Things Firster, and competition winning public speaker with a UN presentation to her credit, Victoria firmly believes that without a healthy planet the future is extremely uncertain.

In the week ahead of the public event, a number of presenters shared their message directly to the students in their classrooms, and venue for the energy symposium, at Penticton Secondary School,. 

Outstanding speakers like Josha McNabb, director of Pembina Institute’s clean energy work in B.C.; Geoff Dembicki, lead sustainability writer for The Tyee and author of upcoming book on the millennial shift, and; Tami Rothery, a self-professed policy wonk, “jill-of-all-trades” and soon-to-be sustainable building advisor, offered their individual take on energy sustainability and responded to lively student dialogs.

Local speakers also contributed with talks on activism, green jobs and how the Penticton recycling program is a factor in a sustainable future.

With many exhibitors already set up by Friday, the students had a chance to interact with Fortis Energy and their Jeopardy game. With questions instead of answers, contestants could demonstrate their energy smarts for an LED light prize.