By Jessica Kirby –
Canadian Environment Week runs June 5 – 11 this year, and is a prime example of just how great days of awareness can be, because it does so many amazing things correctly: the festivities last an entire week, the majority of initiatives are municipally implemented, and the observance activities are fun, simple, and easily engage people. Delivering the message is accessible and just about everyone can both understand and appreciate it—talk about bringing us closer to making the most important and meaningful change we can in terms of our long-term happiness and survival.
The federal government says the week comprises the Commuter Challenge, World Environment Day, Clean Air Day, World Oceans Day, and Rivers to Oceans Week, but really, it is about being mindful and conscious of the health and state of our one and only planet, and making choices in favour of that mindfulness 365 days each year. Each time we take a small step – riding a bike to the grocery store, picking litter near the ocean, spending quiet time near the river – we take on and reinforce the message that taking ownership of our environment is both possible and essential. If we share these actions with friends and families we plant seeds of responsibility, and if we share them with children, well, watch out because that is where the real power lies.
Municipalities across Canada are hosting events to celebrate the various events that comprise Canadian Environment Week. According to Government Canada, Commuter Challenge is a nation-wide event promoting friendly competition among organizations and cities to see who can get the most employees into clean commuting like walking, cycling, carpooling, vanpooling, or teleworking. This event coincides with Clean Air Day, which also places focus on the importance of clean air and strategies – largely hinged upon transportation and greening our commutes – individuals can implement to help preserve and promote clean air for everyone. The friendly, competitive Commuter Challenge initiative is a great clean air strategy—it means works places are forming individual and team contests for collecting clean transportation miles, families are being conscious of how to run errands in more efficient ways, and schools are having bike week challenges. And that is only the beginning. The wonderful thing about Commuter Challenge is its potential—according to the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US, cars and trucks account for about 30 per cent of emissions in North America and put out about 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other GHGs per gallon of gas. If Commuter Challenge can convince even a few people that greening their commute is feasible, or if it helps many people make small steps in that direction, the impact could be life-changing … and Earth-changing!
World Environment Day (WED) was established in 1972 by the United Nations to stimulate action on the environment and to inspire people around the world to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development. I have to admit I was a bit taken aback by this official description because “sustainable and equitable development” is still development, and I have done enough work in the construction sector to know how environmentally friendly development strategies still mean habitat loss, loss of green spaces, and GHG chaos. However, it appears WED has a whole rally of themes relating to global, hands-on action against these atrocities—this year’s theme, for instance, is Go Wild for Life and is aimed at combatting illegal hunting and wildlife trade. Although more of a global theme, there is potential at the community level to make progress in this area. The WED website has a number of fabulous, small-scale community engagement projects that can have a serious impact on the bigger picture. And besides, it is high time we support the message that “our environment” isn’t just the three square feet we occupy, or that cool camping place we take the kids every summer, but a complex, globe-spanning area that depends on our awareness and passion to survive.
World Oceans Day is a global initiative to raise awareness about the importance of oceans and their critical role in the world’s survival. It was first proposed by Canada at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and has since been adopted by the UN as an official day of global observance. Interestingly, scientists know more about outer space than they do oceans, which is a testament to oceans’ complexity and awe-inspiring importance. Whether on the mainland or on the coast, oceans affect our existence and this day is a great opportunity to learn more about how and why.
This is an amazing day to share with children, as well. If you live near the ocean, a beach day checking for crabs and jellyfish is definitely in order, and if you don’t there are about 300 million ocean-related games, crafts, and songs available online. Kids love this, too, because it is largely about animal and plant biodiversity and when you are six, every animal and plant is your friend. Who doesn’t like celebrating their friends?
Government Canada says Rivers to Oceans Week is an opportunity to work together to create an understanding of Canada’s watersheds, our connection to fresh- and salt-water environments, and ways everyone can protect watersheds and keep them healthy for people and wildlife. This year, it falls June 8 – 14, so there is some overlap with Canadian Environment Week, which means the celebrations can go on. The most important issue rivers and oceans face today is plastic—it turns up by the truckload in every major waterway in the world. According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF), which oversees Rivers to Oceans Week projects and initiatives, plastic production rose to 299 million metric tons in 2013 and the majority ends up in landfills or in our rivers and oceans as trash. Most ocean litter gets there by from our roadways via wind and run-off, and of all the debris found in the ocean, an incredible 60-80 per cent is petroleum-based plastic. The effects of plastic in oceans and rivers is profound, and has prompted a number of brilliant research projects including large scale ocean-cleaning nets and six pack rings that become fish food when they end up in the ocean. Please take a peek at what CWF offers communities in terms of awareness activities and vow to do just one—I guarantee, it is easier, more interesting, and less time-consuming than you think.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember during Canadian Environment Week (and all the time, really) is that environmental sustainability is not an optional program in the game we call life. There is no maybe when it comes to whether we should, can afford to, or are obligated to help preserve the Earth’s health. As I mentioned before, our environment is globally interconnected and also happens to be the only place we have to live. Just as it is our responsibility to raise our children, look after our bodies, and be kind in our communities, it is our obligation to actively work towards a greener, sustainable environment, in Canada and beyond. So, what are you waiting for?