Durham EcoSummit 2018

EcoSummit 2018 Durham District School Board On Monday, May14th I had the honour of delivering the keynote address to the student leaders from a full cross-section of Durham Region secondary schools at their 2018 EcoSummit titled Beyond Talk. Organized by student leader Aidan Brushett, the conference was an inspirational and informative success. These are the teenagers who give us hope for the future – engaged in positive problem solving, open to creative solutions to build sustainable communities, and committed to put their words into action.

I have been doing this since 1970 with my own classes, and nationally since 1988, so this would be the 30th anniversary of attempting to move awareness to knowledge to action. At the conference I met a colleague who reminded me of how long we have been trying to get a comfortable society’s collective head out of the sand.

The first consensus climate change warnings were issued by the World Meteorological scientists at the “The Changing Atmosphere” Toronto conference in 1988. In 2018 we have Donald Trump and Doug Ford denying climate change realities. In 1988, we were warned about insect vector disease spread with thermoclines moving rapidly north. In 2018, we have the documentation of Lyme Disease as the “First Epidemic” of accelerating climate change. In 1988 we were warned about erratic weather patterns, more severe storms, changes in precipitation and food production. In 2018, we have catastrophic flooding, drought in previous productive food growing areas, and a disposed, hungry and angry humanity at the edge of starvation from Africa to the Middle East. On the other hand, life in much of the world is better than ever, with longer life spans, access to medicine and health care and education. And yet the gap between the very rich and the many poor of this planet is increasing. We are beginning to realize that we are simply pretty well off serfs catching the trickle down crumbs from the corporate masters of influence in the religious military pharmaceutical industrial complex.

This is not science fiction and these students know it. They are about to inherit the 21st century from a group of adults who have taught them to consume the resources of the Home Planet far above their needs under the philosophy of “Whoever dies with the most toys wins!” The concept of a conserver society is direct anathema to a consumer society. So, how do we put our environmentally literate words into action? Keep It Simple Stupid. We turn off the energy when not needed, we practice the 5 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink and relax). As students, we put into action the practical things we have the power to do. We don’t buy the car, or the appliances, or the house, or vote. BUT we can use our voices to ask our parents to make wise choice for us.

No need to by a Ranger Rover to drive 5 km to the grocery store. No need to buy a 40,000 sq. ft. home for a family of 3. No need to buy from companies with unsustainable business practices. And no need to vote for alt-right wing populist politicians who are climate change deniers. Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.

These students were well-informed and critical thinkers – something most politicians hate. When I told them that with one week of solid research on the local environmental issue of their choice they could be better informed than any politician on Town Council they were astounded. Equally amazed that they could mail a letter to their Prime Minister without any postage stamp. And equally challenged that if they prayed for potatoes, they had better pick up the hoe. Like many of us, these students were well aware of the issues.

In the same breath, they recognize that we are one of the most spoiled and privileged societies on the face of Earth. If, by some roll of the dice, we had been born in Syria or the Sudan, how different would our lives be? And so, like Private Ryan, with the luxury of life and education and a relatively safe society, how do we honour this gift, how do we earn it? This privilege of having enough water and food and shelter and safety and education that we can give back something of an intelligent legacy to the planet.

Many members of the student audience commented after that my talk was inspirational, and that I made them laugh and cry with my stories. One even said that he thought I should be a professional stand-up comedian. In these days of government approved climate change deniers, laughter is still the best medicine.

A good friend and colleague, Kale Black, drove me to and from the event. He too is committed to positive sustainable development for communities. We talked on the route back in his hybrid Camray about that repetitive cycle where environmental sensitivities take the forefront and then dip to economic concerns.

Yes, we get impassioned and turn off all our lights for one Earth Hour and then blaze them for the next 364 days plus 23 hours. This is a species about to earn the next Darwin Award. We have to decide if we want to go down as homo sapiens sapiens or homo sapiens stupidus.

Do we want to say to our children and the next generation that we said we cared, but we really didn’t do anything about it because it was all about the economy, stupid? Besides which there were just so many reality shows and Netflix series to watch. Or do we want to show them that with the best of our current knowledge,we made good decisions for the next seven generations.

I am getting closer to composting, but my wife and children and grandchildren will inherit this future. I really hope they don’t have to live on Mars eating Matt Damon’s excrement nourished spuds.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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