May 11, 2011

Looking for ways to grow greener, smarter kids

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin celebrated its passion for the environment last week as hundreds of people gathered at the high school, discussing ways to raise kids dedicated to sustaining the planet.

Growing Green, Smart Kids was organized by the Erin Parent Connection group, with representatives from area schools: Erin, Brisbane, Ross MacKay, St. John Brebeuf and EDHS, with the help of a Ministry of Education grant.

The guest speaker was environmental author and educator David Noble of Guelph, a student of Al Gore who has travelled the globe collecting stories about people making a difference on climate change. He has been an observer of the international climate negotiations and is an entrepreneur (

The evening was like an environmental fair, with 21 display booths from companies, non-profit groups and public agencies, a panel discussion moderated by Liz Armstrong of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) and an "Eco-Challenge" for people to take specific follow-up actions and talk about them on the new Real-Action-Erin Facebook page.

Noble was welcomed by Erin District High School Principal Julie Prendergast, saying she felt "humbled by the commitment of our students" to the environment. Mayor Lou Maieron urged kids and parents to think about living within the earth's capacity.

"How can we continue to live in this society as top end predators and keep taking out resources greater than the planet can support?" he asked. "We can't. If we continue going the way we are, the planet's going to crash."

Noble said there is an urgent need for environmental leadership around the world – not just crisis management. He recently visited Greenland, and as an example of the global warming crisis, saw a glacier melting away at the rate of 34 metres per day. He noted the risk of other disasters, like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the nuclear contamination in Japan.

"Young people need support, and they need partners across the community," he said. "We're going to have to do a whole lot better at preventing those crises from happening in the first place. The implication is that we're all going to have to push harder than we're pushing; we're all going to have to push different ways, we're all going to have to push together and work really hard to make the big changes that we need to make."

He pointed out that both the White House and the Vatican have set an example by installing solar panels. He quoted Pope Benedict, who has called for courageous environmental choices: "We need a decisive 'yes' to care for creation and a strong commitment to reverse those trends that risk making the situation of decay irreversible."

Scientists are increasingly intervening in the process of politics and decision-making, in addition to their research, a development that Noble finds encouraging.

He quoted Canadian Nobel Prize winning scientist John Polanyi: "Some seven billion of us share this crowded planet. The question is whether we can achieve a sufficient sense of community to continue doing so. This sense of community will depend on the belief that a fair apportionment of the global commons is possible. Only then can we hope to resolve our problems by law, rather than war. Is our species capable of the necessary generosity of spirit? Answered aright that question could lead to a global civilization that is sustainable, and worthy of being sustained."

The evening finished with a panel discussion, including Upper Grand School Trustee Kathryn Cooper, Wellington Water Watchers Executive Director Arlene Slocombe, Brisbane teacher Chris Green, Everdale organic farmer Olivia Ronkainen and Phil Winters, founder of EGen Power of Caledon, which promotes solar power systems and home energy efficiency.

"We need to stand up, commit, and decide to do something," said Cooper. She noted the construction of an Environmental Leaning Centre in Orangeville and development of more Eco Schools.

"I love this place," said Green. "This is the place I want to protect. We need to bring in different perspectives, not just one story. How rich is our understanding?"

The main advice to parents from this group was to get kids out into the natural environment as much as possible, so they can develop their own passion for it. "Kids will have a vested interest in preserving it," said Slocombe. "Plant something – anything," said Ronkainen. "And teach kids how to prepare food."

Winters urged people to buy local, vote for policies that benefit the environment and "listen to the children – that's the future".