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Wikimedia Commons/Gregory H. Revera

Before I met my intentional community,  Upstart , I went through what you could say were some dark nights of the soul. Several years after going back to school and getting an Environmental degree, I still hadn’t made the difference that I had so desperately wanted to make and this was difficult to take to say the least.

Not able to find a way out of this, I found my myself going through prolonged periods of feeling profoundly depressed and confused, greatly disillusioned about what was happening to the environment and what my purpose and role in all of it was meant to be. During these times, nothing seemed to offer any hope or meaning and I would at times become almost paralyzed as to what I might do or how I might respond.

Although I had a loving group of family and friends (including especially my partner, Richard) who helped me heal so that I largely got ‘better’, these feelings lingered for quite a while, even after the darkest periods had lifted for me.

Making a shift

While it would be an oversimplification to say it was the only reason, my feelings started to shift more significantly for me when I got involved with Upstart. There I found a group of people who would listen to me, and appreciate all that I had to say, no matter what I had been through or where I was at. This acceptance, as I came to understand, was encouraged in the community through our practice of the post-judgement and post-grievance mindset which I talked about earlier.

I also learned through my involvement with the community about collaborative thinking which encourages the adoption of these mindsets, so as to help people work generatively together towards creating a world in which we can not only survive, but also thrive. As I started learning about these ideas, I started to see their potential power to bring about the impacts that, as we say in the community, we deeply want, need, and value.

In coming to understand the power of these ideas, I began to find a sense of meaning that had been missing in my life. That is because slowly started to realize that I wanted to not only practice these ideas in my own life, but also be part of a culture of such practice that also seeks to share these ideas with others.

Internalizing the change

In addition to the amazing sense of acceptance that I experienced with Upstart, another important reason existed as to why I wanted to be part of such a culture. It was because I began to see that protecting the environment was could not be achieved just ‘out there’ by stopping those who I saw as degrading the planet from doing so. Instead, I started to see that changing human behaviour was a complicated process and that being angry at, and judging, those I saw as acting in ways that degraded the environment would not help the situation.

Rather, I came to also understand that my anger against, and judgment of, these so-called degraders was just the ‘same side of the coin’ so to speak. That having these feelings was only perpetuating environmental destruction that so horrified me, because it got in the way of me from forming connecting relationships with those people in my life who I deemed to be less environmentally concerned with me. Without that, how could I even begin to start thinking constructively about how the human population as a whole might work more effectively together to protect the environment?

heartSizedIn seeing my role in it all, I came to see the idea that NO lines of struggle exist, that there really are no ‘good’ and ‘evil’ sides anywhere. Which includes the struggles going on inside the human heart. By thinking otherwise is to be in the coercive, and thinking this way, whatever side one is on, only creates more of the same poor thinking that is destroying our planet to begin with.

Rather, real change starts to happen from the inside out, when there is a shift in our very own *hearts* and we are able to see those who offend us as real human beings, also needing the same love and care that we would give to those we identify as ‘us.’ This was a profound realization in me, one that I will unashamedly share I am still in the process of fully internalizing.

Change possible everywhere

I had an exciting realization with this shift in my thinking. If I was also contributing to the challenges facing the world, then I could also play a role in turning the situation around. Not by forcing other people to do what I thought they *should* do AND by learning how I could achieve this through modifying the ways I interacted with others.

With this, I saw that the work of change making can happen anywhere, with each and every person that I encounter.  It could happen in my home, when out visiting friends and family, at my daughter’s school and dance studio, at the grocery store, at pretty much any place that I went! To put it another way, as I did in my last post, change can happen in and around the kitchen sink!

In becoming aware of this, I saw that I did not have to necessarily perform public, grandiose acts to cause change. For instance, I did not need to go on an environmental march or to protest, or even necessarily attend environmental meetings or visit a voting booth, as important as all of those activities can be. I could simply connect with others wherever I was at, and let change unfold organically and naturally from there!

Back to the micro

microscopeSizedThose that have read my previous post may realize that I am touching again on changes that are possible at the micro level. To reiterate for those that did not read that post, I talked about how making changes at the micro-level can provide the training ground for bringing about changes at the macro-level.

For me though, leaving it there doing so does not even begin to fully shed light on the matter. This is because, as I have come to believe, working at the micro level in one’s more private life is about more than just learning about how to increase one’s effectiveness at change-making in more public arenas. It is about this embracing the amazing, self-expanding idea that you CAN be a change-maker no matter who you are. That you will not, and cannot, be held back!

It doesn’t matter one @#$&! bit that you are only making small changes and are not having the broader impacts that others seem to be making. You can make change and that is all that matters! Bringing this back to myself, I no longer needed to feel, as I have in the past, left out or on the outskirts of environmental activity happening in the world. Rather, the possibility of change, and consequently the hope and meaning that I have so longed for previously in my life, exists everywhere I go, just waiting for me to see it!

While I had believed all this, I had perhaps not believed it so deeply until the falling of my family’s Christmas tree. With that experience, I got to witness firsthand the incredible impact of practicing at the micro. If doing the “work” can have such an impact on my family, I do not care how small and insignificant my contributions to bringing about change seem to be. To the environment or anything else that I care about passionately for that matter.

The igniting of hope

Flame of light

Photo provided courtesy of fotomoments.

As a result of that experience, I have found a sense of great hope re-igniting in me. Perhaps this is also due in part to the time of year, which I feel brings with it a strong sense of expectation and excitement with it. For me, I will say that I almost had a sense that a feeling of hope was hanging palpably in the crisp, cold winter air a few days ago when my family went to see Christmas lights at a park.

Part of it is also an awareness of the long process of learning that my family has been on to get to the point where were able to respond as we did. And, I cannot also help but acknowledge that taking the time to reflect on how what happened connects to my work with Upstart has heightened my sense of hope for the possibilities of what are doing as a community.

Yet, there is more. More that I would like to try and share with you before leaving my reflections on the falling of my family’s Christmas tree. More that I would like to share about what this experience has stirred in me with regard to the current environmental state of this planet, thoughts that I would like to do so in a deep and meaningful way. So, if you will be just a little bit more patient with me, I would like to do so in my next posting, which I an planning to provide soon…

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Christmas Tree Entry [1]  [2]  [3]  [4]  [5]  [6]


This month the Tamarack Institute will be holding one-day workshops on Deepening Community for Collective Impact, focused on exploring ways to deepen community for achieving social transformation. With plans to personally attend one of these workshops this month, I realized it would be timely to finalize my reflections on the event hosted by Tamarack last year that I had shared I was attending, both to prepare myself for the workshop, as well share with others the ideas that I learned so far.

The event that I attended last year was entitled Re-Imagining Cities~ Re-Engaging Citizens, and it also focused on ways to engage citizens for the purposes of bringing about generative community change. As utopian as this can sound in today’s increasingly socially fragmented and hostile world, many interesting ways were discussed about how to deepen community and bring about community change, which I will discuss here. And as I will show, these ideas often can be implemented without huge amounts of funding, but rather by simply changing the way we think!

# 1: Start with the glass half full


Look beyond a community’s needs towards its assets (picture by participants at gathering)

In a whirlwind series of workshops and connections over a period of three days, perhaps the most crucial idea introduced to participants was what speaker John McNight calls an asset-based approach (or “gift focused” as speaker Jim Diers called it later on at the event). Whereas institutions traditionally direct their attention towards a community’s needs, and the services they need to provide, McNight encouraged community leaders to look beyond those needs towards the assets (or skills and resources) that each community member brings.

The resourcefulness of communities became starkly apparent from one of the surveys McNight described. Over half of the changes that community members identified they wanted to make where they lived were things they could do themselves. In other words, the glass was already half full!

I find this incredibly reassuring. Community organizers do not always need to look to others to address their challenges and create the communities they desire – they can start by looking inwards to assess the resources they themselves and their own communities already have.

#2: Involve the community


Community members need to be supported to reach their goals (picture by participants at gathering)

Individuals and organizations that embrace a ‘glass-half-full’ mentality do not view government as an entity that is expected to solve all the problems of its constituents. Rather, government is perceived as a facilitator that supports communities in their development and helps them to deal with obstacles that are preventing them from moving in the direction they aspire to go. Residents then become not so much “clients”, but valued members of the community simply in need of support as they work towards meeting their needs and goals.

This idea was alive for people at the gathering. It was so alive in fact, that one panelist of the “Citizen Engagement through an Anti-Oppression Lens” workshop made the intriguing comment that governments need to stop making community plans and put their focus instead on representative, inclusive engagement. His comment suggests a more organic approach to community organization is needed, one that perhaps requires taking smaller steps in order to ensure that all community voices are heard and considered, and, ideally, acknowledged.

#3: Start blurring the edges around what is ‘work’

wageTo push the envelope even further, one attendee of the anti-oppression workshop reminded us that community engagement workers are successful when they start “working themselves out of a job”. To achieve this, the participant suggested that community workers need to embrace the “spirit of inclusion”, by providing community members with opportunities to get involved in carrying out, and potentially phasing out, what has, in the past, been paid work. As a way of becoming more inclusive, another attendee put forward the idea of empowering residents by training them (e.g. by sending them to leadership conferences).

My brain absolutely starts whirring at the thought of these ideas because they get to the root of what we call ‘work’. If everyone started getting involved in, and was empowered to do, what needs to be done, whether they are paid or not, what would that mean for current structures around volunteerism and paid work? Could people become so impassioned about the work they are doing and its effect on the community that it would become more important for them to show volunteers how to do it, even if it means working themselves out of a job? Would people start to value the work that volunteers do in the same way that they value those (including higher level employees such as directors and CEOs) working for a paycheque?

Overall, could the line between work and volunteering become blurred to the point where people are motivated to work solely from a place of caring and a sense of responsibility? So that through a complex web of citizen effort (be that at the level of a settlement, region, province or beyond), people would actually voluntarily seek out ways to meet the needs of not only themselves, but also others in their community? And in doing so, people could have their needs met, if not even live quite comfortably, without a requirement for any sort of formal wage?

I like to think that one day this could become true AND in the meantime, I recognize that paying people in monetary terms for doing ‘work’ is not a structure that will change in the short term. However, we could start, at least, by creating the awareness that there may be other options. For instance, we could more often consider non-monetary forms of compensation to those passionately putting in hours of volunteer work. One example would be providing help with childcare, or vegetables from community gardens. For those being paid for their work, we might find additional non-monetary ways to compensate them through ‘social capital,’ such as recognition from members of the community.

#4: Get rid of silo type decision-making


Silo type decision-making ignores needs of the entire community

While all these ideas may sound wonderful, actually implementing them can be challenging. Especially when, as Jim Diers pointed out, community development work involves silo-style of decision-making and service-delivery. For instance, organizations frequently focus on just one demographic (such as youth or the elderly) instead of neighbourhood development, where the needs of the entire community are considered.

The reason for this singular focus is that most agencies are limited by mandates that require them to meet very specific objectives. Stepping outside of these objectives can threaten their ongoing funding. Nevertheless, as was also discussed, many agencies find creative ways to widen their focus despite the barriers they are up against.

Some brilliant examples of how this can happen came up in the “A Dialogue on Community Hubs” workshop facilitated by Karen Pitre, the provincial government’s Special Advisor on Community Hubs. Attendees of the workshop explored how different agencies can work together to make better use of existing (and underutilized) public infrastructure. Examples provided by attendees to the workshop included various agencies coming together to figure out how to creatively repurpose outmoded schools as community service centres (such as a YMCA and gymnastics centre) for the entire community, as well as improving mass-transit options at existing community hubs (such as at Kidsability Centres) so that services become accessible.

While not the only way agencies can creatively overcome bureaucratic barriers, I find community hubs particularly attractive for how they can bring people together and allow solutions to be spontaneously discovered. Rather than miring people in committees and meetings, which necessarily exclude some community members, a greater body of people can start connecting in multiple and diverse ways to address the needs that are most relevant to them.

#5: Find new reasons to care about caring

The final speaker of the event, Vickie Cammack, shared some thoughts that, in my opinion, fed into this idea of creating community hubs. A social entrepreneur and establisher of many organizations dedicated to strengthening community and addressing isolation, Cammak described how caring for vulnerable individuals actually served to strengthen community. This is because a community (or hub) would be formed where one previously did not exist, by and around the people involved in the caring and those being cared for (such as an individual requiring homecare).


Picture by participants at gathering

Although both the act of giving and receiving care can be lonely, occurring behind-the-scenes, out of sight of mainstream society, Carmack’s findings suggests that caring for vulnerable individuals can actually provide opportunities for creating very socially connecting experiences. Moreover, despite caretaking often being unpaid work and viewed by some, in conventional monetary terms, as worthless, the social connections that can be formed in the process makes this quite the opposite. For in a broader definition of economics that takes into account social resources (or social capital), caring for vulnerable individuals can offer great value beyond the services being provided!

So now what???

To summarize the ideas I’ve focused on in this article, we can deepen community when we look beyond a community’s needs and towards its assets, support community members to reach their goals, and reorient our notions of work so as to empower volunteers and give community recognition to the work of employees. We can also explore creative ways to end silo type decision-making to meet the needs of the entire community such as through the creation of community hubs, and embrace caring for the vulnerable amongst us partly as a way of also building community connections and social capital. These ideas all point to subtler ways to transform and bring abundance into our communities, as well as flow between community members, ways that are more about shifting our thinking than finding new pots of money that are increasingly difficult to come by.

Is it really this simple? I am not so naïve as to think that these suggestions are the only way change can happen, AND I believe they are useful starting points. What is more, my sense was that many other people came away from the gathering thinking similarly.

With the challenges facing our world, we do not have time to reinvent the wheel – we need to join forces and make the future happen now. Fortunately, thanks partly to events like those held by Tamarack, perhaps never before have we had in our collective cultural consciousness such a wealth of ideas about how to turn things around. And even now, a year after the last Tamarack event that I attended, I continue to be both excited and hopeful about this!

This article was originally posted on the Tamarack Institute’s site,

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Sow with cub, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. (c) Ron Niebrugge

Sow with cub, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. (c) Ron Niebrugge

I have decided to try and come out of hibernation. Yes, that’s what I said. Out of hibernation, with winter just beginning. As an environmentalist and nature lover, I attest this really does makes sense, given how the seasons are all mixed up with global climate change. And as an expectant and ultimately new mother (yes! I was blessed to become a mother this past year) my time and energy has largely been required elsewhere to, of course, the most important job of all.

As a re-entry point, I thought I would blog about what I have been up to over the past while and where I think I may be heading (I did admittedly manage to write a short blog post about the nastily invasive plant, garlic mustard a while ago. But that was meant to be informative, without any personal reflection or such). For better or for worse, a fair number of things have been going on in my life, thanks largely to my wee one’s good temperament and my very supportive husband. Here they are in brief below.

Waterloo Mayor’s Forum Series on Building Resilient Communities

This three-part event series (held during the winter and spring of 2011) was a highly-ambitious project, involving a partnership between TransitionKW, The Upstart Collaboratory for Collaborative Culture Designing and other groups. We set about to shape no less than the very thinking, at the community level, about how to create a more resilient (meaning the ability to deal with changes, stresses, and shocks) community. We sought to achieve this by helping participants 1) understand the barriers to environmental and social change, 2) identify ways to overcome these barriers, and 3) explore what a more resilient future would look like.

What were the outcomes? Well, we forged a lot of great friendships and had a lot of fun. in the process, I believe we really got people pondering (myself included) what needs to happen if we want to stop heading towards the train-wreck of environmental, social and economic problems that we’re heading towards right now.

Tough Questions around Aggregate Mining

Yes, the rock, gravel, cement, and sand that we use to build our homes actually must come from somewhere, and the results can be quite contentious. My volunteer involvement with these matters started with the Melanchton mega-quarry, for which I made a presentation to the City of Waterloo Council, requesting that they petition the province for a full environmental assessment of the project.

The request was turned down at the municipal level (though it was eventually permitted at the provincial level), but continuing my work on the broader issue of aggregates in general, I presented at a PitSense event last April and later an all-party provincial review of aggregate extraction this past July.

What have I learned from all this involvement? Well, the topic of aggregate extraction is a highly contentious one, albeit falling under the radar of the general public. Whether it is possible to reach some sort of agreement amongst the various disagreeing parties remains to be seen. I believe a crucial step involves opening up the conversation to the broader questions of “Why do we feel we need so much aggregate?” and “Is the world we want to live in compatible with continuing to use it at the rate we have been?”

Increasing an Appetite for Local Food Resiliency

My involvement with TransitionKW (for which I have held various positions including Facilitator and now Ambassador, to allow time for other things) and its focus on permaculture, that seeks to grow food and generally live in a manner with as opposed to against nature, led to giving a presentation on pollination for a Jane Goodall event this past March. My takeaway? It turns out that by planting wildflowers, we can not only protect bees, but increase the productivity of our gardens, orchards, and fields!

My growing awareness of matters related to food helped prepare me for another presentation in May. This one was related to food security and global climate change for a Connect the Dots event in Waterloo. (This event was meant as a follow-up to the rallies that happened the year previous, meant to raise awareness about growing levels of C02 in the atmosphere and the need for action by worldwide leaders convening in Copenhagen). Instead of focusing on climate change mitigation though, this event sought instead to explore what is and could be done to prepare for and adapt to the changes to weather that are and will continue to happen. This again was a great experience – providing me an opportunity to sit down and think about all the ways that we can make our food system more resilient as well as recognize the myriad of things being done in our community already.

With this taste of the complexity of issues we face relating to food, I eagerly jumped at the change to speak to an urban planning class at the University of Waterloo about local food resiliency. I should perhaps mention at this point that my knowledge about food has been developing also as a result of my involvement with the Community Garden Council of Waterloo Region (for which I was Communications Lead and am now a Member-at-Large) and KW Urban Harvester (for which I am a coordinator).

The experience of giving a presentation in an academic setting was so exciting, and I was so grateful for all the help that I received, that I made the presentation publicly available. Not wanting the presentation to go to waste, I shared it with all the candidates running for the Kitchener-Waterloo provincial by-election this summer, and ended up working with the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable in an effort to review all the candidates on their opinions on food. Unfortunately (and to be fair, at least partly due to issues of it being a quick election), I only managed to interview Green Party candidate Stacey Danckert, the recording of which I have now just posted.

With a more solid understanding of food issues beneath me, I also ended up volunteering to facilitate a workshop on access to healthy, environmentally safe food. The workshop was for an Environmental Justice Convergence event by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) at the end of this past August. It involved a panel discussion with various people involved in community gardens, followed by a conversation café. While the turnout was not very large, I was very happy with the event including the quality of questions that were asked. My favorites were, “How do we raise awareness about food issues to the public at large?” and “How do we share this information without making people defensive?” Important questions all.

As of now, I am continuing to further my understanding of food issues by becoming engaged in conversations about the Canadian European Trade greement (CETA) and its potential impact on local food procurement policies. I have been doing so with the Waterloo Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee (WCEAC). More to follow hopefully in the days ahead as to what develops on that front.

Tapped out on bottled water

This is another interesting issue. It both brings the promising potential for an immediate lessening of our impact to Mother Earth, while at the same time raising sharp criticism from industries like Nestle (with a bottling plant no further than nearby Guelph). As part of a single-use bottled water subcommittee of WCEAC, I have been helping to raise awareness about the issue in the city of Waterloo. The latest formal presentation on the matter was made to the City of Waterloo Council on April 23 of this year.

Political, Internet, and Just Plain-Old Democracy

The Greeks claim to have started it, and nearly two and a half millennia later we still do not seem to have gotten it right (for recent commentary on this, see the Sarnia Observer). Groups like Fair Vote Canada are still pulling out their hair as to why we can get majority governments with only a minority of the vote. In environmental terms, I know many would agree that this has meant that parties with a ‘greener’ agenda have not been able to get their concerns acted on (let alone their voices heard).

Conversations like this inspired myself and a few others to organize a Democracy Café last fall. While not a huge turnout, we had some interesting discussions. Perhaps my favorite was the idea of a citizen-driven governance system, where leadership is encouraged and developed from the grass-roots up, and feeds into higher levels of political decision-making. Is this the solution? Well, maybe not entirely, but it would sure help a lot I think.

As for Internet democracy, you are probably wondering what at all this has to do with environmental protection. And I felt the same way, until I started thinking about it a bit. But there are increasingly looming threats of Big Brother surveillance and the already existing ‘silos’ of information (i.e. in academia, commercial businesses, government) preventing us from solving the problems we so desperately need to address, to name just a few issues.

These matters motivated me to help organize an Internet Democracy Café this past month and start a blog where I have summarized my thinking on the matter as well as provided some references on the topic. My hope is that this will help motivate us ‘environmentalists’ to get out of our silos, and start connecting-the-dots between the myriad of issues we are facing.


Well, that about sums it up. Except to answer the question perhaps as to why on earth I have been doing all this. I will answer to say that it’s not that I have had some sort of ‘master plan.’ My philosophy on life, that emphasizes the importance of the process by which we do things, causes me not to approach things like this. But I am fascinated by the learning opportunities created by opening ourselves to new experiences and ideas. And of course, by working and aligning ourselves with different people, we can achieve even more.

No doubt these initiatives largely feed into helping me with my chosen profession as an Urban Planner. I have had plenty of opportunity to research, assess policies, review development proposals, explore the merits of processes, and so on, with everything I have been up to. All of these things have been great learning ground to become a fully accredited planner.

I hope though that as I re-enter the workforce, I can maintain my sense of adventure for learning new things and having new experiences. I believe also that this wide array of activities should give me a broader basis to consider questions around planning and how we can more effectively manage our community resources for the public good.

There are some other ideas that I have on the fire, but for now ‘nuf said’ as they say. This is one mamma bear who just might head with her wee one back to the den for a moment to ponder things a bit more. After all, there’s no point in being too hasty and you can never exactly predict what will happen next. Just look at the weather…


Photo by R. K. Singam From the Wikimedia Commons.

It is a belief many of us hold dear. That is with respect to how the future is with our children. If we teach them about the importance of environmental protection, they will make the changes needed to ensure a sustainable future. Yes, we have made and continue to make many environmental blunders. And yes, without a doubt, there are many who do not care about these blunders. Or at least enough to do something about it. But the children will be able to fix all of this.

The Source of Frustration

Oh boy. Allow me to take a deep breath. Why, do you ask? Because I must admit this sort of thinking has been anathema to me for a long time. The environmental problems we are facing must be addressed now. If we wait for our children to become involved, it will likely be too late. Precious species and ecosystems will be permanently lost; people will suffer from often environmentally-linked health issues like cancer and asthma; and the climate may be irrevocably damaged as a result of global climate change.

Based on such thinking, surely the solution lies in targeting those who are making the critical decisions affecting our environment today. By that I mean the adults, or, from a child’s (by which I also mean a youth’s) perspective, the “grown ups.” Amongst them are the businesspeople, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the leaders, the volunteers, who carry much of the power to guide us towards making more environmentally-responsible choices.

But does focusing on such individuals really hold the solution? Should we really channel all of our efforts towards them, at the expense of children? Well, a few years later and hopefully somewhat wiser, I have rethought my position.

The Importance of Environmental Education

For one thing, children have tremendous power to affect change by their own actions. An example that comes to mind which is relevant to Ontario is “Reduce the Juice”, a youth-led climate change organization. In Waterloo, they held a number of great events aimed at educating the public and themselves on how to conserve and use renewable energy. Additionally, for Earth Day in Waterloo Region, students from both elementary and high schools have participated in a wide range of activities including garbage pick-up, planting and caring for trees, and conserving energy.

An additional matter is the ability of children to influence their parents. For this reason, David Suzuki regrets not focusing on educating children 20 years ago when he started his foundation. As he said recently on The Hour, “We still don’t have time for them [the children] to grow up. But [for] all of the young people, the two most important people on the planet are your moms and dads.” And they say to their moms, “I’m really worried” and to their dads, “What are you doing for me?”

There is yet another reason why we should educate our children about the environment. That has to do with the resiliency of the earth. Yes, we may foolishly wreak environmental havoc, and yes we need to take steps to stop this, but the earth has shown that it can repair itself (at least to a certain extent) if given sufficient opportunity. Examples are the improvements to the ozone layer and the recovery of species like the Bald Eagle. Rather than throwing our hands up in despair, we need to look towards the future to find ways to mend it. And teaching our children to value the environment and how to care for it is an important part of the solution.

Putting these Ideas into Action

That just about summarizes my thoughts on environmental education. Except with regard to how exactly we can achieve this. Fortunately, a wealth of information exists on how to include the environment in a school curriculum. A brief exploration of my public library produced a number of reference books. (Some books I found that seemed particularly useful were True Green Kids by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin, and As If Earth Matters by Thom Henley and Kenny Peavy.) A search on the Internet with the terms “environmental education for kids” also yields a plethora of information (including Kids for Saving Earth and EcoKids, both of which provide resources for teachers).

Also, with many universities offering degrees in environmental studies and Queen’s even having an Outdoor and Experiential Education program, there should be no shortage of people able to teach children about the environment (although, sadly, environmental studies does not qualify as a ‘teachable’ in teacher’s college, a situation that administrators would be wise to reconsider.)

Of course, from personal experience, I would say that all the teaching in the world about the environment will do little without enabling children to come into contact with nature firsthand. Only then can they develop a true understanding of the importance of protecting our “wild” spaces. This will require protecting our greenspaces (particularly those in urban spaces where children have less access to such areas), funding outdoor education programs like those associated with the Laurel Creek Nature Centre, and providing them with opportunities to join groups like the Waterloo Scout Group (which, by the way, is open to both girls and boys).


So. Environmental education for children. Is it important? Most definitely. Do we have the resources to rise to the challenge? Absolutely. Should we rely solely on children to do all the work for us? Not at all. But that doesn’t mean they should be left out of the equation. As for the time to act, as they say, no time is like the present. So let’s get going!

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Flame of light

Flame of light. Often used as a symbol of hope. Photo provided courtesy of fotomoments.

This past Sunday I gave a talk on global climate change at a church in Hamilton. The question came up afterward, why we should even bother, given the magnitude of the problem? In other words, is there any reason to hope that we can address this issue? This blog post will attempt to answer this question in realistic terms.

Is there Really Such a Thing as Global Climate Change?

I realize that I may be “putting the cart before the horse”, so to speak, as many people feel the jury is still out as to whether global climate change is actually a problem. If you are one of these people, I urge you to read books such as Australian Tim Flannery’s Now or Never or Canadian Andrew Weaver’s Keeping Our Cool. Other great sources of information are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, or the Pembina Institute’s Climate Change Program (Not to blow my own horn, but you can also send me a request to give a talk on the subject, as I have been doing at various secular and non-secular venues.)

Reasons to Hope We Can Address the Issue

But to return to the question of why we should even bother, I feel there are many reasons of late to feel that climate change is something that can be addressed. These include:

  1. The recent passing of private-members Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, on May 5th. The legislation calls for greenhouse gases to be cut 25 and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 2050 respectively. Out of interest, the bill narrowly passed third reading with a vote of 149 to 136.
  2. The fact that Ontario has created Canada‘s first feed-in tariff program for renewable energy. Introduced on October 1, 2009, this program is called MicroFIT. Homeowners who are small energy producers will be reimbursed 80¢/kWh for installing solar photovoltaic cells in their homes. Reimbursement is also available for producing other renewable energy, ranging from that produced by wind, biogas and waterpower.
  3. How the United States (U.S.) National Academy Of Sciences has released on their website a series of reports on climate change this past Friday. In one of the reports, “Advancing the Science of Climate Change”, the conclusion is made that “a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”

While I would not want to say it is exactly hopeful, given the devastating tragedy that caused it, one cannot help be heartened by witnessing the strong public outcry over the BP oil “spill”. As proof, just visit the Boycott BP Facebook group, which has over 100 thousand fans, to realize the extent of anger about this disaster.

A Measure of Realism

While I have listed many reasons to be hopeful, there are no doubt many reasons to be a bit dubious. I lay out below some of the reasons why.

Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill C-311)

Whether Bill C-311 actually gets passed still remains to be seen. It was originally tabled in October 2006 in the Canadian House of Commons as Bill C-377 by the New Democratic Party (NDP). However, parliament was dissolved before it achieved royal assent.

MicroFIT Program

In an ideal world, people will recognize the wonderful benefits of the MicroFIT program and take advantage of it. However, one needs to be cognizant that the program will not last forever. There are those that oppose the program and will do their best to see it cancelled.

A prime example is an article generated by Don MacKinnon, President of the Power Workers’ Union in a special information feature this past May 13th in The Globe and Mail. With the headline, “Ontario’s green energy policies are not sustainable”, the article criticizes the government for spending money on wind and solar power. It also asserts that “Nuclear can provide the clean, cost-effective, base-load power that Ontario needs.”

Climate Change Research

With regard to the developments surrounding climate change research in the U.S., undoubtedly this sets a positive tone for working towards addressing the issue (much more favourably than, for instance, the situation during the previous presidency of George W. Bush). However, while the public is angry about the effects of oil today, how long this will last remains to be seen. It is no secret that the American way of life is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels and any activity that obstructs this may be viewed unfavourably.

As for Canada, whether we follow suit on the research front remains to be seen. In 2007, the Harper government shut down the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN), whose mandate was to promote and encourage research on climate change impacts and adaptation. While there is some research going on in Canada about climate change, it seems to be quite limited. For evidence, just review Canada’s action on climate change as outlined by Environment Canada. Nowhere in this is there any mention of climate change research.

This is a serious concern, for, without a solid understanding of the impact of global climate change in Canada, knowing how to respond appropriately is difficult. To borrow a phrase that I have heard used in a different context, it is like driving down a winding country road in the fog without the lights on. It just doesn’t make sense, does it?


My aim in writing this blog post has been to provide a measure of optimism about what is happening regarding global climate change. At the same time, I have attempted to reveal how much work remains to be done.

So…let the politicians know of your support for initiatives aimed at addressing climate change. And try to take advantage of the MicroFIT program while it lasts. Only by doing so will the gains that have been achieved be maintained and built upon.

As always, I am hopeful, while at the same time realistic about the challenges the future holds in store.

<< Previous Entry

It started with attending a rally just before Copenhagen to raise awareness about global climate changes. While I felt passionate about the need to do something about climate change, I realized I lacked all the information needed to convince others of the need for action on the issue.

Thus, began my search to better educate myself on the matter which led to giving talks on the subject. This in turn led to being asked to speak on another matter, sustainable food systems, which I presented on Earth Day 2010 (April 22nd) at Kitchener City Hall.

To be honest, I’m not sure where this will lead. Whether I will be blogging about local, national or global issues. Whether I will be discussing matters of scientific urgency or environmental questions of a more philosophical nature. Or a combination thereof.

What I do know is that time is running out for us to make the changes needed to ensure this planet continues to be a habitable place, not only for the numerous species that share this Earth with us, but for ourselves as well. I shall begin to join my voice with numerous others on the Internet who are taking action on environmental issues. And with it, I shall embark on a journey with hopes of helping to bring about a renewed, environmentally sound and resilient earth.

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