Mentee Stories: Laura Stepney

Mentee Stories: Laura Stepney

Laura is shining a light on light pollution. Or rather, trying to shut the light off. She grew up feeling connected to nature, and while studying architecture she began to wonder how she could help others connect to nature as well. This is where light comes in. “The loss of our connection to the natural day-night cycle in cities is representative of our growing disconnect from all of nature,” Laura says.

As a Climate Guides mentee, Laura sheds lights on the bigger picture. While changing light bulbs is often seen as simple climate action, Laura sees the complex impact of outdoor lighting. She is working with a dark-sky advocacy group to address the issue of light pollution in Surrey. Light pollution significantly impacts urban biodiversity. For instance, nocturnal animals depend on darkness to find food. Biodiversity breeds ecosystem resilience, so naturally, loss of biodiversity reduces nature’s defence to threats, including from climate change.

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Laura (far right), engaging in discussion with some of her fellow Climate Guides mentees at the launch Summit (from left: Emily, Paul, and Sophia).

This isn’t a new passion for Laura; she has been working on this problem for over a year. Laura joined Climate Guides to join a positive community that would encourage her to keep pushing for this issue. “Environmental activism can be a lonely pursuit, especially if you are trying to start a new movement,” Laura tells us. “I joined Climate Guides to form long term connections with other young people who are committed to making positive change.”

Her mentor, George Benson, the Strategic Initiatives Coordinator for the City of Westminster and the Co-Founder and Chair of the Climate Change Migrants and Refugees Project. George has been able to support Laura with his knowledge on municipal governance and experience building youth-led movements. “Talking with someone who has done this kind of work before makes unknown territory less intimidating,” Laura explains. “I can easily get wrapped up in all the details, and my mentor makes me take a step back and look at the bigger picture again”.

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Laura and her mentor, George.

Laura addresses pollution in other ways as well. She is active in Vancouver’s zero-waste community, and is an avid volunteer with local environmental groups that organize garbage clean-ups. She understands the need for intergenerational communication and cooperation, saying that “ultimately, we need widespread cultural change to achieve a sustainable world, and that means engaging with all age groups.”

However, Laura wasn’t always able to speak up this way. In fact, she describes herself as a “pseudo-extrovert”. “As a kid I always waited at the back of the line for anything and was too shy to buy milk by myself at the grocery store,” she says. “I didn’t even talk until I was two and a half.” Her presentation-focused degree in Environmental Design at Dalhousie University and classes in public speaking helped encourage her to speak to groups. “Not everyone who wants to make change and organise a movement is naturally well-spoken and outgoing,” Laura explains. “Introverts are powerful too.”

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And in the future? Laura’s focus on light pollution will continue to be a guiding light for her career and climate activism. The group she is working with is engaging elected officials and the public to push for regulation that protects our night skies after the Climate Guides program concludes. Laura is also pursuing her LEED accredited professional designation so that she can be amongst those leading the movement of sustainable and green buildings. Lastly, Laura will continue to be a voice for behavioural and socio-cultural shifts for climate action. “I am a firm believer that the small, consistent actions taken on a day to day basis can have a huge impact on the larger world.”

Caroline Merner