The one-wheeled activist

National News

Victoria local Joseph Boutilier has decided to embark on a five-month journey to Ottawa in order to raise awareness about climate change. The trip will include stops in small towns to talk to people about climate change issues, as well as an open invitation for anyone who wants to join him to come along. It will come to an end on Parliament Hill where Boutilier will attempt to convince federal politicians to work together to combat climate change. The only catch is, he’s doing the whole trip on a unicycle. “Unicycling, first and foremost, it kind of has an accessibility about it. People see me and they smile. It’s kind of an icebreaker. It gives me a chance to build a rapport with people,” says Boutilier. “I’m talking about pretty heavy issues. There’s a chance to strike up a casual conversation about something that’s interesting and fun. That’s a good start.” He adds that a unicycle is the perfect speed if people want to join in. Boutilier wants to get people across the country talking about climate change. While his ultimate goal is to get his message across to the federal government, Boutilier believes it is important to get municipal and provincial officials on board with the movement. He says that political parties need to work together if any change is going to happen. “The people that are going to be the hardest hit are the communities that don’t have the resources for adaptation and for health care and things that will really be required to address the pending change—the locked-in global warming that’s going to happen even if we have time to address the bigger crisis,” says Boutilier. Boutilier’s interest in the climate change crisis started when he was 10 or 11, when he went to a UN children’s conference. Since then, the issue has been sitting in the back of his mind. For a while, he says, he was preoccupied with work, but would go on Facebook and see causes his friends were getting into and think that was something he wanted to do as well. So he quit his job as a game designer and started up his own campaign, called Unity for the Climate. “When An Inconvenient Truth came out and then that wave [of interest in climate change] sort of crashed and nothing came of it, I was distracted with work and typical life stuff. I was out of the loop in terms of activism and non-profit work,” says Boutilier. “As soon as I had kind of made the time to get back into it, I knew that was going to be my cause.” Boutilier says he was inspired when he heard about Phillip Schleihauf, a man who unicycled across Canada for the Invisible Children fund. So far, Boutilier says he has received a lot of help, including pending support from local businesses for gear. He’s had a mixed reaction from his friends and family, though. “My mom’s a big worry-wart,” he says. “She sends me a number of emails every day and wants to make sure that I’m properly packed and fed and all that stuff.” Boutilier says he doesn’t want to think about the difficulties he may encounter along the way. He says there is a danger of injury or saddle sores, but he’s also concerned about eating well. “I’m for the most part vegetarian, so that might be challenging,” he says. Boutilier says the hardest part of any campaign like this is providing evidence of the issues and moving beyond partisan politics. He wants to encourage anyone who will listen to join the cause and get everyone talking about climate change. He doesn’t want to unduly pressure people, but he does want to get the attention of anyone who wants to know more. “We’re just seeing, I think, what we’re really capable of as activists and advocates right now,” he says. “The government is absolutely centred on its own objectives, but it’s still vulnerable to the political willpower and the people.” Boutilier will start his journey on April 5, in Sidney, B.C.