At the Institute of the Environment, we take an interdisciplinary approach to learning and are interested in understanding the perspectives of various experts. I was therefore very excited to learn that the Office of Campus Sustainability at Ottawa University was broadcasting a virtual classroom with David Suzuki. I was keen to invite our Master’s of Environmental Sustainability students, and attend myself.
After having listened to environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki, 100-Mile Diet co-author J.B. MacKinnon, and food justice expert Utcha Sawyers in a discussion on local food systems, I was left with five key lessons.
1. A clean and healthy environment is a human right
More than 110 countries already recognize their citizens' right to a healthy environment. Now it is time for Canada to do the same!
Most Canadians agree that strong environmental laws are important because they protect the quality of the air, water, and land on which our health depends. And yet, Canada consistently underperforms against its peers when it comes to environmental protection. In 2013, a report released by the Washington-based Center for Global Development ranked Canada’s environmental protection record last among 27 wealthy countries.
2. Our concrete jungle is disconnecting us from nature
Today, over 80% of Canada’s population lives in urban areas and we are becoming disconnected with nature. When we don’t take the time to walk beside the sea, stand by a clear white stream or swim naked in a lake, then we can’t contemplate the beauty and power of water and the rejuvenating effects of feeling the water holding you up and gently flowing over you. If we don’t connect with our environment, then we don’t fight for it.
I was saddened but not surprised when Dr. Suzuki told the audience about his discussion with a 3rd grade teacher in Japan who said that her students thought that fish came from Styrofoam, wrapped in plastic. We need to end this disconnect so that the generations to come can grow to appreciate nature, and learn to defend it.
3. Food security: another human right to consider
The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. We need to become creative in order to end the socio-economic gap and adopt environmentally-friendly behaviours. Food justice expert Utcha Sawyers pointed to subsidized community gardens in Toronto for people of low socio-economic status, seed sharing, and canning workshops as ways to increase people’s connection to the land, and help end their food insecurity. By starting at the municipal level, we can show the province and the nation that we care.
4. Judge a fruit by its cover
This is Canada. We have long cold winters where nothing grows. Our ancestors had to harvest and store food for the winter, and everything that was eaten was pickled or jarred. Now, we see jumbo strawberries in February, along with every other type of exotic, imported fruit. Seeing a manicured apple without a single blemish tells a story about an apple orchard that is covered in pesticides, how those pesticides run into the local streams and poison fish and aquatic plants; it tells the story of the trucks and planes needed to import the snow-white apples, and the carbon emitted in the transport.
5. Step by step, change is made
When we understand the environment as a living organism instead of a resource that we can pillage, when we understand the needs of our brothers and sisters and their access to food, and when we understanding the system by which we harvest and disseminate our food, we can begin to make sustainable choices. It is these choices that influence our economy’s behaviour. And when enough people show that an environmentally sustainable future is important to them, then we will see real change.
I was inspired when J.B. MacKinnon described the capacity our society has for change. When he began his 100-mile diet, he described boiling sea water to make salt, and searching for 8 months to find someone local who sold wheat. Seven years later there are winter farmer’s markets and local beer festivals! The purchasing power of the individual will lead our economy into environmental sustainability. With our mind, our voice, and our actions we can make a conscious decision to mitigate the damage that our current system is causing the environment. When each one of us alters our own ecological footstep, we see a collective difference.
- Authored by Kaitlyn Innes, Assistant Director of Graduate Studies at the Institute of the Environment