Never Accept the Status Quo

Q & A with Angela Bischoff by Steve Brearton
Photo by Molly Crealock

Angela Bischoff has never been content to accept the status quo. Since co-founding EcoCity Society, an Edmonton-based urban environmental advocacy group in 1990, she has worked to promote sustainable transportation, food security, civic engagement, mental health issues and much more. The Toronto-based Bischoff is currently fighting for bike lanes on Bloor/Danforth with TaketheTooker, and for a renewable electricity future with the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. dandyhorse connected with Angela to hear her insights on activism and the keys to building a sustainable earth and a sustainable life.

Tell us about your work at the Ontario Clean Air Alliance? Why is energy such a crucial issue today?

Many of the crises facing our planet today—climate change, smog, urban chaos—stem from our profligate use of fossil fuels. We need to reduce our use of energy, and use what’s left more wisely. It’s critical that we move swiftly to a 100 per cent renewable electricity grid – that’s the goal of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. And we’re making great progress in Ontario. No new nukes are on the drawing board, and coal is on its way out. The Green Energy Act is ushering in the green energy revolution that we’ve all been working toward for decades.

Your advocacy work has always been very broadly based. Is there a thread that connects all of these issues?

It’s all about lowering our environmental footprint on this planet, living simply that others may simply live. Twenty per cent of the population (that includes us!) consumes 80 per cent of the resources. That same 20 per cent is the primary cause of the ecocidal trajectory we’re on. I call that insanity! We have all the solutions to living sustainably, equitably and peacefully on this planet; they’re generally low-tech, low cost and local – wind turbines, bicycles, permaculture.
But it’s also about health and wholeness. Just as we aim for ecological sustainability, we must also aim for sustainability of mind, body and spirit.

Bikes. Tell me how bicycles fit into your life and your advocacy work.

My intro to civic participation was in bicycle activism in the late 80s. Bikes are the most graceful, silent, sustainable, space/cost-efficient, joyful and healthy transport choice. Why then does Toronto insist on making on-street storage of cars a priority over safe passage for cyclists? Despite the fact that 14 per cent of the traffic on Bloor is on two wheels, and the fact that Bloor has one of the highest car/bike collision rates in the city, no space has been allocated for cyclists. That infuriates me. Cyclists have identified Bloor as their #1 priority since at least 1990. Let’s do it already.

By far the best part of my day, when I rejuvenate and smile, is when I’m cycling. I’m engaged with others on the streets, appreciating the seasons, releasing endorphins, keeping fit without having to go to the gym. I call it cyclo-therapy – good for the mind, body and spirit. But it’s also good karma – or bikema. I’m not using fossil fuels, not contributing to congestion or smog, not likely to kill or maim anyone, and I’m not changing the climate. Guilt-free transportation. It’s easy on my pocketbook too.

It all ties back to my earlier point about living simply that others may simply live. Imagine every person on the planet riding their own bicycle. Imagine what a sweet, clean and peaceful world that would be. Imagine how much money we’d save on infrastructure, health care costs and policing. We could do it, if we willed it.

Always being engaged in the struggle for social justice, peace and sustainability can be difficult. What sustains you when the going gets really tough?

I surround myself with beautiful people, meaningful work, and organic farmers’ markets. I practice yoga, am a vegetarian, cycle daily, play piano, sing while cycling. As an activist I’ve always lived on a very low budget, which means I spend very little time or energy consuming. But when times are really tough, I pray, breathe, stretch. I see myself as a spiritual person – believing in compassion, equity and service.

This interview originally appeared in dandyhorse Volume 3, Issue 1.

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