July 03, 2013

Environmental activity a high priority in Erin

As published in the Know Your Community magazine

Liz Armstrong moved to Erin during the drought of 1988-89, and as she worked in her garden on Sundays, she listened to the CBC radio series It's a Matter of Survival, by David Suzuki.

That series sounded an alarm about where the planet was heading, long before the term climate change entered our vocabulary. It was part of a grassroots effort that led to creation of the David Suzuki Foundation and the Declaration of Interdependence – promoting care for the diversity of life, recognizing limits to growth and calling for a "new politics of hope".

It also inspired Liz to devote a regular portion of her time to environmental causes. She had seen how community action could make a difference, and decided to do more than just work on the sidelines.

She co-authored a book called Whitewash (1992), on the problems of chlorine-bleached paper products, did research on carcinogens in the environment, helped found the Women's Environmental Health Network and the Breast Cancer Prevention Coalition, and was a co-chair of Prevent Cancer Now. In 2007 she co-authored (with Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth) the book Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic.

Liz grew up in Toronto and remembers DDT being sprayed to kill mosquitoes in a ravine near her home. She was influenced by Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring, which helped launch the North American environmental movement and led to the banning of DDT in 1972. For many years her efforts were linked to hubs of environmental activity in Toronto, but more lately she has turned her attention to the Erin area.

"It's easy to be against stuff, but what are you for?" she said. "For every problem there is some solution – we need the vision to see that there is a way. Erin can be a really wonderful place to live, not just a charming place."

For her efforts in promoting local environmental awareness over the years, Liz received one of the Town's Shamrock awards in March of this year. It was part of the first annual Celebrate Erin event, which recognized volunteers in various categories.

In 2007, Liz was in discussion with Lynn Bishop at Everdale Environmental Learning Centre in Hillsburgh about local activities. Don Chambers and Joanne Kay brought in the inspirational film Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream for a showing at Main Place, and a coalition of people came together, known as the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE).

Activities included a tour of natural gardens, successful lobbying to have the Town of Erin adopt an Anti-Idling Bylaw for vehicles, efforts to get school kids interested in environmental issues and a regular Climate Change Corner item in the Erin Advocate.

They talked of having a film club (like a book club) where people could see a film and stay for discussion. With the help of Lisa Brusse and Credit Valley Conservation, the Fast Forward Eco-Film Festival was born.

The fourth season of the festival recently finished, featuring one film per month at the Erin Legion, from January to May. Environmental documentaries have become a well-established genre, combining entertainment, education and ideas for taking action.

Attendance has been in the 60-100 range over the years, but was 2013 was the best so far thanks to strong promotion. There were at least 125 people for Revolution, which had not yet been released in theatres.

The film nights are sponsored by local businesses and organizations. There are guest speakers, question and answer sessions, and opportunities to sign petitions and get involved in lobbying efforts. There are always displays and people to talk to from various groups such as organic farms, along with organic popcorn and natural snacks made with locally-sourced products.

This year, CCAGE and the film festival have merged into Transition Erin, a broader group working on a variety of issues. The film festival is one working group, but there are others including sustainable development, wastewater solutions, promotion of fruit trees, reduction of waste from plastic bottles, and Foodshed, promoting local, organic, seasonal food and recipes.

"It has real appeal, because it is local and positive," said Liz. "Small groups can really take off – it's supposed to be fun. We need a sense of urgency. I think there's shift, when we think of kids and grandkids, and we want to make things better."

For more information, including events and background on local issues, go to www.transitionerin.ca.