Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication Awards

Dr. Catherine O’Brien was recently awarded the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication Award for Outstanding Post-Secondary Individual. The award honours innovative contributions to environmental education programs, especially those that “foster a greater understanding of ecological principles, environmental issues and environmental ethics.”

Working from her home base in Nova Scotia, she has worked at every scale touching audiences from the international level right down to the individual. Dr. O’Brien has had major impacts in the academic community through her extensive cross-sectoral research and her accomplishments include teaching efforts around Sustainable Happiness (a concept developed by O’Brien in 2005). Her main focus has been on children’s transportation options to school. As part of a national School Travel Planning pilot project, Dr. O’Brien works with primary and secondary schools, developing systems to collect data concerning students’ sentiment towards their travel mode to and from school. This is based on previous research that indicates that the way children travel to school relates to their moods and dispositions.”

Mike Nickerson of the Sustainability Project

CBC’s Information Morning with Steve Sutherland recently hosted a panel and public discussion on the question “Cape Breton 2030: What’s your vision for the future?”

Answers ranged from the broad (develop tourism, protect the environment) to the specific (entrepreneurial training in high schools, inclusion of Mi’kmaq). And while several themes emerged, many seemed to centre around the need to develop a local economy – one that is more environmentally sustainable, more self-sufficient and resilient to global change, more inviting to newcomers and expats, and more focused on Cape Breton’s assets.

Everyone seemed to agree that the way to get there is by collaboration, both between and within Cape Breton’s various municipalities and First Nations, as well as between Cape Breton and the rest of Nova Scotia; and between rural and urban, government and the private sector (and I would add the voluntary sector), and between local producers, distributors and consumers.

The question of direction has been a driving force behind the 35-year career of Mike Nickerson, director of the Sustainability Project (sustainwellbeing.net). Currently on a cross-country tour to promote his new book, Life, Money and Illusion, Nickerson will be in Cape Breton on October 4th and 5th, where he’ll be visiting classrooms to talk to students and meeting with community groups, asking the question of the day: What’s our vision for the future, and how will we get there?

Central to Nickerson’s message is the idea that economic indicators are the wrong rulers for measuring progress and well-being. We should instead pursue the 3 L’s – Learning, Love and Laughter – in order to develop ourselves and our relationships with others, through skill-development, scholarship, art, music, sport, dance, friendship, spiritual aspiration, parenting and service.

We are quickly coming up against the limits to growth, whether ecological limits such as how much waste the planet can absorb, or financial limits such as how much debt a household or nation can carry before collapsing under the weight. In each case, we deny the existence of limits even while we suffer the consequences of crossing them. But in each case, it is not too late to chart a new course.

Many of the alternatives to consumerism, the things that build community instead of tearing it apart, are the same things that help develop local, place-based economies: from cooperatives and credit unions to local food and energy production and distribution.

In other words, we’re all in this together, and the time for meaningful change is now. Whether that means something as practical as developing renewable energy resources like wind, solar, tidal, biomass and geothermal as sustainable alternatives to coal, oil and gas; or something as crazy as asking a young person about their vision for the future.

Sydney Tour Dates for Mike Nickerson:

October 4, Sydney Academy, Science 10, 8:45am-1:50pm
October 4, ACAP, 582 George St., 7:00 pm
October 5, Riverview High School, Global Geography 12, 10:05am-11:15 am
October 5, Rotary Club of Sydney, Delta Hotel, 12:15pm
October 5, Green Cape Breton, McConnell Library, 50 Falmouth St., 7:00pm

All dates at sustainwellbeing.net

Climate Vigil in Sydney

Join us at the Bandshell in Wentworth Park Saturday evening (December 12) from 6 – 6:30 p.m. as people across the country and throughout the world gather for a candlelight vigil to show support for a binding emissions reduction agreement in Copenhagen.

Help make it known that Cape Breton cares about climate change. There will be speakers, readings, music, and hot chocolate.

All generations are encouraged to come. Please help promote this event by by telling your friends and families!

The way forward in Copenhagen: Rich countries must blaze a green path

This was read on-air on CBC's Maritime Noon and reprinted in the Cape Breton Post

The urgency to reach a deal on climate change seems lost on the Harper government. As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a global carbon emissions reduction agreement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to delay and disrupt talks by demanding carbon reduction parity, arguing that unless all countries accept equal cuts we run the risk that some will gain economic advantage over others.

Harper’s position is not only callously self-interested, but short-sited and wrong-headed.

Short-sited in that an economic disadvantage already exists, but not the one Harper is concerned with.

Developing nations are not responsible for the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is to blame for global warming, nor have they reaped the economic benefits during the last two hundred years of the Industrial Revolution. Developing nations are, therefore, not in an economic position to adapt to climate change.

The result is that those who will be hit first and hardest, due to geography, are also those most vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to lack of infrastructure.Harper’s position is also wrong-headed in that moving away from fossil fuels presents an economic opportunity.

Of the 44 countries committed to emissions reductions under Kyoto, only 4 are on track to meet their targets: Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. (Canada’s emissions rose by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2007.) Yet far from experiencing economic contraction as a result of investing in a ‘green-collar economy,’ those countries are in fact outperforming other wealthy nations in terms of job and business creation.

Greater investment in a sustainable energy future will not only result in decreased emissions, it will bring down the cost of renewable energy technologies, thereby making it possible for all nations – including developing nations, and especially rapidly developing nations – to make the switch away from fossil fuels. It’s no wonder that the heaviest polluters are fighting such a move given that 55% of Canada’s emissions come from industry.

Harper has further warned that “without the wealth that comes from growth, the environmental threats, the developmental challenges and the peace and security issues facing the world will be exponentially more difficult to deal with.” This is surely true, and reinforces the urgency for rich countries to fulfil their commitments made under Kyoto for an adaptation fund to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change.

But if the growth of which Harper speaks is fuelled by carbon, the challenges of climate catastrophe facing the world will be exponentially worsened.

To quote from the ‘Survival Pact’ by Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives:

“It is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport.”

In other words, growth without environmental destruction is possible. But only if we break the link between energy and carbon. In order for this to happen, we first must break the link between energy companies and government.

The damage caused by the profligate burning of fossil fuels over the last two centuries must now be answered by a green energy revolution – one from which every nation would benefit, both economically and environmentally. Only a global Green New Deal, combined with a global agreement rooted in social justice, can rectify the historical economic disadvantage experienced by developing nations while ensuring a sustainable energy future for all.

The way forward must be led by rich developed nations, including – especially – Canada.