Top 5 Environmental Issues of 2015

crystal ballAfter gazing into my green crystal ball, and consulting with several legitimate scientific organizations (like the mythical anchor William Duncan McAvoy on The Newsroom, I protect my sources) I can pronounce with more certainty than a long term Weather Channel forecast, the top environmental issues of 2015.

To put a positive spin on it, I can also announce the things we can do individually and collectively to address those issues.

#5 War and Terror:

Whether they are radicalized Tea Party republicans or radicalized Islamic jihadists, they are equally dangerous. The policies of hate produce displaced and disenfranchised peoples by the millions. They could be the American poor living downstream and downwind of toxic corporate waste, waiting for the trickle down of free market capitalism to get to them. Or they could be the thousands of families fleeing war and oppression in the Middle East, from Palestine to Syria. Peoples in extreme need do not care one whit about environmental issues. They care about safety, shelter, water, and food. Then education. And maybe then the home planet.

#4 Conservation and Protection of Land, Water, and Air

It is long overdue that every municipality put the primary needs of their communities first, by ensuring that any development does not adversely affect the quality of the land, water, and air in their communities. The agribusiness lobby must finally acknowledge that water pollution from phosphate enriched fertilizers and manure runoff is one of the biggest water contaminant sources in Ontario. Business and industry must finally acknowledge that many of the most toxic substances in our environment enter the planetary waste stream via their effluent. Our municipallities must ensure that sewage treatment and disposal ensures zero discharge of pollutants.  And all three groups must accept responsibility to clean up their acts.

#3 Species at Risk: and that includes us

From Woodland Caribou to the Northern Shrike to the Blandings Turtle to the Wood Poppy, habitat alteration has vastly decreased the ability of species to adapt and survive. Whether it be resource extraction from forests or the tar sands, or urban sprawl and expansive residential development on agricultural lands, the impact is the same. More room for us, less room for them. Also, fewer healthy sustainable ecosystems for everyone.

#2 Toxic Chemicals

No more neonicotinoids on our plants, no more Triclosan in our toothpaste and hand sanitizers. Ontario Nature began a campaign last year to protect our pollinators, without whom our food sources would become totally dependent on Monsanto. And those who watch Kelly and Michael in the mornings might want to remind Ms. Ripa that Colgate Total toothpaste is NOT a healthy lifestyle choice. And those are only two of a toxic mix that is in everything from our food to our antibacterial handsoap.

#1 Accelerating Climate Change

Still the number one issue on the planet. This single issue affects everything from environmental refugees to food production to insect disease vector displacement to species extinctions. From November 30 to December 11, the attention of the world should be focused on Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference, perhaps our last gasp to do something meaningful for life on Earth.

In Canada, we have a federal election coming up in October, hopefully. Whatever the government, a clear policy on conservation, species protection, economic sustainable development, human well being, climate change mitigation, and a carbon tax/polluter pay principle must be articulated. Every citizen can begin to demand that our elected officials at all levels acknowledge these priorities.

What do we as individuals and communities do about these issues? War – be peaceful as a family and a community. Seek consensus resolution to our issues, and learn to live together. The optional choice is social chaos. Conservation – the old adage, use less, buy for the long term, and “reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink”.

Species at Risk – plant native plants in our yards and greenspaces, ensure developers respect wetlands and woodlots and watersheds, and if not stop their projects! Find out who are our wild neighbours. Look at how popular the Jefferson salamander has become!

Toxic chemicals – simply refuse to buy products sprayed with them or containing them. Triclosan is an insidious ingredient in many “antibacterial” products. I would rather my children eat dirt. And let Home Depot and Walmart and Canadian Tire know that we will NOT be buying any of their spring plants if they have been sprayed, again, with neonicotinoids.

Climate change – elect a government that will enact and act on policies based on science and the wisdom of the elders instead of the oil patch old boys club. Don’t idle our cars, walk and cycle  when we don’t need to drive, and sign up to Bullfrog Power!

So, the future is really what we create, and if we are apathetic to the issues, if they are just sound bites on the nightly newscast, then we are truly deserving of “Our Government™” and the future of our planet. It is only when we become informed, communicate our concerns to our municipal, provincial and federal representatives, that we can truly claim that we are a democracy.

If not, we are simply a herd, following the leader with the most bull.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

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Mittens in the Snow

There was an astonishing breaking news report this week that declared, “Playing outdoors could have health benefits for children.” This study, done by the Toronto District School Board, was looking at the benefits of unsupervised outdoor play time. I was impressed. I wondered how much money had been spent by TDSB to determine that outdoor play could be benficial for children. Really?

Outdoor educators have only been tellling their administarors this for over fifty years. Studies done by Yale University and our own Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario have hard research that outdoor experiences, from playtime to study time have very real health benefits for children from physical fitness to engaged cognitive development and academic success. It is not an area of educational research that needs another study. What it needs are the resources to train teachers.

InukFortunately for our children, there are enlightened Boards of Education that are fully aware of the health benefits of outdoor education, and are putting the time and resources into training their teachers to be competent in the outdoor classroom. Enabled by the Ministry of Education’s Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program that places an emphasis on play-based inquiry learning, the Simcoe District School Board went into action.

They have started an initiative to train their primary kindergarten teachers with the skills and resources to take their young students outdoors and connect those experiences to the elementary curriculum. Their first sessions were held on a fall Saturday at which over a hundred primary teachers attended their “Hands in the Dirt” conference. Based on the overwhelming success of this first experience, and spread by word of mouth, over 150 teachers and support staff returned for the winter conference this past Saturday, entitled, “Mittens in the Snow”. I am proud to have been part of both events.

The entire “Mittens” day, with the exception of a warm chili lunch, was spent outdoors, from the opening keynote to the multiplex of sessions offered to the participants. Everything from snow studies, art outdoors with technicolour snow, storytelling in the forest, shelter building, pine cone crafts around the campfire, building bird feeders, and a variety of other activities that covered every aspect of the curriculum in a fully experiential way. Every participant also left the conference with a copy of the inimitable Frank Glew’s illustrated story, “That Chickadee Feeling”, a celebration of the joy that can only come through children’s contact with nature. And the need to have a guide who can bring them to that place.

Simcoe Board now has close to 200 trained primary educators more than eager to take their kindergarten students outdoors to the schoolyard, the local greenbelt, the park forest and spend the day in the greatest classroom of all. It’s amazing what a little enlightened and supportive leadership can do. There is hope for the future, one full of healthy, re-connected children. Just keep your mittens in the snow!

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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