The Green Interview: From Conscience to Censorship, Silver Donald Cameron talks with Franke James

Sitting down with Silver Don for my Green Interview in Halifax, was really a fun experience. Don made me feel very comfortable and really pulled out some key thoughts on my brand of green activism — his questions covered the full scope of my environmental storytelling, from the use of conscience to inspire personal action, to the impact of censorship in Canada and in my personal life as well. Take a peek at the 5 minute clip. You can watch the full one hour Green Interview by signing up for a free one-week trial.

Curious about Silver Donald Cameron and the Green Interviews? The Nature Conservancy recently interviewed Don about Telling Great Green Stories and described the interviews as “a rich repository for his dozens of interviews with global environmental and social justice thinkers and activists.”

The Green Interview Introduction

SilverDon_screenSilver Donald Cameron said, “Franke James is a Toronto artist, designer and a writer who wanted to do something about climate change, so she got rid of her bulky, gas-guzzling SUV. Without a car, she didn’t need a parking spot at her home, so she planted a garden in what had previously been her driveway. That got her into trouble with City Hall. Whoever said “You can’t fight City Hall” didn’t know Franke.
“She fought and fought and won. Then she wrote a visual letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking a few very simple questions, like, “If we aren’t going to get rid of fossil fuels, who is? If we aren’t going to do it now, when are we going to do it?” The Prime Minister didn’t reply, but he wasn’t happy.
“When Franke was offered a chance to do a European tour with her art, Canadian Embassies first
opened their arms and then slammed their doors. They say “You can’t fight Parliament Hill,” but Franke did. She discovered that her tour had indeed been quashed for political reasons. She struck back with another book: Banned On The Hill, and with posters plastered all over Ottawa and later, all over Washington. Poor Stephen Harper. Did he even know what hit him?” Watch the video.

The Green Interview Newsletter #20140303


Concerned about climate change, artist Franke James sold her SUV and tore up her driveway to plant a garden. Her conscience made her do it. She thinks you should do something similar. “I’m not saying everybody should go out and sell their cars,” James says in the latest Green Interview, available now at

“I’m saying listen to your conscience and let it tell you a way that you could take action.”

Her commitment to action on climate change led her to take on Toronto City Hall—and win. In what she describes as an Alice in Wonderland moment, she had to fight the municipal government for the right to remove her driveway and plant a garden in the space instead.

James also angered the Prime Minister’s Office when she planned a European art tour urging young people to consider what they could do to stem – or reverse – global warming. Having written and published a “visual letter” to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking him pointed questions on climate change, she later discovered that federal support for a proposed European tour of her art had mysteriously evaporated. Her Freedom of Information investigation uncovered a back-room government effort to discredit her and her work – so she retaliated with a well-documented visual essay called Banned on the Hill. She later plastered Ottawa, Calgary and Ottawa with posters saying, “Do Not Talk About Climate Change: It’s Against Government Policy.” “

Franke is fabulous,” says Green Interview host Silver Donald Cameron. “She’s fierce, she’s funny, and she’s fearless. Her conscience and her determination make her a model citizen – though I’m sure Stephen Harper doesn’t think so.”

Excerpt from the video transcript:

Franke James in Halifax in front of two of her posters, photo by Nick Pearce
CAMERON: Let me start by saying, your presentation at Dalhousie University last night got a standing ovation from a packed house. That must have felt pretty good.

FRANKE JAMES: It did. It was really, really fun. It was great. It was also great to see the age range; you had university age students right to silver-haired people. [Laughter]

Dalhousie talkCAMERON:
Yes, I know there were silver-haired people there last night. [Laughs] But neither you, nor Steve, mentioned how you got there; the story behind your appearance. Tell me about that.

JAMES: Isn’t that fun. Okay, so, Steve did reach out to me and said that he wanted me to come and present at Dalhousie and speak at their Special Lecture Series. We were going back and forth and the deal hadn’t really been sealed until I told him about the Indiegogo campaign, where I was raising money to fund my posters on media space. I asked Steve if they would contribute to the Indiegogo campaign and thereby get me to come out to Halifax, and so that’s what they did. They bought one of my talks and that was just a wonderful boost for the campaign and I really appreciate their support.

Second Excerpt from the video transcript:

GreenConsciencecover_James_72CAMERON: This, Bothered By My Green Conscience—“conscience” is not a word we hear a great deal anymore. What does it mean to you?

JAMES: I think it’s really interesting. I was raised in a Catholic family (one of seven kids) and my mother often talked about a conscience: you’ve got to listen to your conscience. And that went in and, “Yeah, okay Mom, I have to listen to my conscience.” Right?

But then as an adult I found that actually my conscience was telling me certain things. I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to it and I wasn’t following what the conscience was telling me to do.
nightwalk2cSo, I think that it’s interesting that [in this story] My SUV And Me Say Goodbye—that is very much the story of listening to my conscience and my conscience telling me, “Okay, you’re driving around in a big SUV and you’re saying that you’re concerned about global warming. This doesn’t make sense! How can this be? Right? If you’re really concerned about global warming, you shouldn’t be driving around in that big SUV!”

And I kept on hearing that. In my story it looks like things happened very quickly, but it actually took place over a couple of years where I had this kind of quiet dissatisfaction about where I’m going, “Ah-h, this doesn’t quite feel right. Maybe we should sell the car, you know?”

Anyway, my story about My SUV And Me Say Goodbye is resolving that battle with my conscience. And I think conscience is a really, really exciting idea. I think that we can make tremendous change happen in the world if each of us listens to our conscience because each person’s conscience is going to tell them something different, something that’s right for them.

So, I am not saying everybody should go out and sell their cars. I’m saying listen to your conscience and let it tell you a way that you could take action on climate change. And I think that the people who really listen to their conscience and act in line with their conscience, they feel good about themselves because their words and their actions are coming together. They’re in alignment and they feel good inside and then they radiate that out to the rest of the world so their friends and family can say, “Woah. Look what Franke did! She just sold her car because she’s taking this global warming thing so seriously!”

Even though most people wouldn’t agree with the idea of selling their car, they can at least step back and say, “Okay, Franke is living in alignment with her values and she is taking action. So that’s good.”

CAMERON: Well and the conscience draws out of you the actions that will make you less discontented with yourself and I guess that’s really the essence of what the implicit challenge to others is. You know? Look inside. See what you need to do outside.

Franke's Dalhousie Green Conscience WorkshopJAMES: And so one of the things that I often do at my talks to students… I give them the green conscience test… Do you ever worry about turning off the lights?… Most people will put up their hands, “Yeah, I think about turning off the lights.”

Do you ever feel guilty if you throw a piece of trash in the garbage and you should have put it in recycling? Okay? And most people will put up their hand and say, “Yeah, okay.”

Do you ever wash fruit because you’re worried about the pesticides on them? Right? And most people will put up their hand and say, “Yeah.”

So, I go through this very simple series of questions… By the end of it they’re going, “Okay, yeah, I guess I do have a conscience that’s telling me those things, even though I am not listening to it, there is a little voice in my head that is telling me that there is a better way to do things; a greener way.”

…I try to kind of awaken people’s green conscience through this very simple test and I also do art workshops and those are really fun. With the art workshops, I’ve designed my six tools for climate change, things like using symbols and metaphors and actions. But the core idea is to get people to express what is bothering their green conscience.

That’s the core challenge of the art workshop. So people could say, “I feel guilty because we’ve got four TVs in our family and we leave them on all the time for our little puppy dog.” One student did an artwork based on that.

It’s just wonderful and remarkable to see how differently people respond, and how most people have something, which is bothering their green conscience. And when you ask them to pull it out into an artwork, they can do something remarkable and then that starts a conversation.

So, the really fun thing about doing my book, Bothered By My Green Conscience, was that it got me engaging with other people and going around talking to them about the idea of a green conscience and getting them to create their artwork that drew out of them their green conscience. Then you get this multiplier effect where they are sharing their concerns about their green conscience with their friends and family and community. So lots of fun! [Laughs]

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