James Whitehead


Pronouns: he/him
Areas of Focus: Climate Solutions, Democratic Participation, Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Reconciliation and Decolonization
Email: james_whitehead@sfu.ca


James Whitehead is an engagement analyst for the mitigating wildfire project. He has a strong passion for climate adaptation and emergency management with a fascination about political and social factors that influence them. He is guided by the question of how to make communities in BC more resilient to fire and focused on practical and locally sourced solutions. James recently completed a masters degree at the University of Northern British Columbia focused on better understanding the impacts of wildfire on rural communities in the Robson Valley and aims to apply the findings to his work with the Mitigating Wildfire Initiative.

Before coming to the CFD, James spent seven years working with the BC Wildfire Service on a variety of fire crews throughout the province. Through this experience, he gained an understanding of the challenges faced by communities during wildfire events and the constraints of fire management agencies while working in populated areas. This inspired his masters research and his interest in the Mitigating Wildfire Project. In working with the Mitigating Wildfire Project, he is excited to explore the role of dialogue in addressing the polarization and social challenges surrounding wildfire management and mitigation in BC.

When not working or chasing fires, James can be found skiing, climbing and trail running in his new home of Squamish.

What is your role at the Centre for Dialogue?

I am an engagement analyst with the Mitigating Wildfire Initiative. This means that I work with the team and stakeholders to research, develop, host and report on dialogues surrounding wildfire in British Columbia. My focus within the team is focused on community and local impacts of wildfire, wildfire policy and leading academic collaborations for the wildfire program.

What does dialogue mean to you?

To me, dialogue means being curious and trying to look beyond your own perspective and to better understand that of others. I view successful dialogues as a tool to foster collaboration and identify common challenges and interests. While dialogue may not be sufficient to solve a challenge alone, dialogue can highlight shared values, common challenges, opportunities and show the way towards improved outcomes. Dialogue is a crucial tool, skill and mindset in our current world and social/political climate.

What is a common assumption you'd like to de-mistify?

There are two. The first is that dialogues need to occur in a formal venue to have value. Often, we find that the most productive conversations can happen outside the venue of a formal dialogue. If formal dialogues can simply help to make a connection, participants can often workout the details on their own. Second is that wildfire is not a product of just one cause. No matter the fire, there are a multitude of factors leading to that fire burning and trying to create a simple narrative out of a complex issue is unlikely to help.

Affiliated Initiatives

Highlights and Achievements

  • I planned, organised and hosted a November 2023 dialogue on Landscape Resilience and Wildfire in the Cariboo Region.
  • I was the primary writer behind the recent What We Heard Report about a June 2023 dialogue on Strategic and Collaborative Approaches to Mitigating Wildfire.
  • I recently finished a Masters Degree at the University of Northern BC on the Impact of Wildfire on communities in the Robson Valley. During this process, I published an op-ed in the Toronto Star and I am currently in the process of publishing my thesis work into an academic paper.