Help save our planet

Photo by Toby VanWeston

Environmental Technology student Eric Lacina and Sustainability Coordinator for Durham College Tanya Roberts.

Global warming is one of the greatest concerns facing our generation today. It’s not a matter of debate anymore, it is a fact.

The Earth is heating up. 2016 was the warmest recorded year on the planet. Modern recordkeeping began in 1880. Data collected by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that the Earth’s surface temperature was warmer last year than ever before. This is part of a trend, one that is happening very quickly. Last year was the third year in a row to set new records for global average surface temperatures.

The changes in environment are largely due to increased carbon dioxide, and other man-made emissions to the planet’s atmosphere.

The key to solving this problem is to make changes in how our society interacts with the environment. Perhaps just as crucial, however, is the need to instill awareness and passion in the next generation.

“Do little kids need to know about global warming and climate change? No, not a chance. What they need to do is love the earth,” says Jacob Rodenburg, instructor for Environmental Science for Teacher Education at Trent University in Peterborough. “So instead of waiting until they’re adults, and then hitting them with these massive problems, teach them to be advocates and ambassadors while they’re growing up.”

Rodenburg is also the Executive Director of Camp Kawartha, a not-for-profit organization that teaches environmental education to youth. The main camp is located on Clear Lake, and an Environment Centre is located at Trent University.

The camp’s focus is to foster stewards, which Rodenburg defines as “people who care for each other and care for the land”.

Rodenburg found a lot of the problems about environmental education over the years was “issues-based.” He found children, the future protectors of the environment, did not respond to this kind of approach.

“There’s a term for it, it’s called ‘Eco-phobia’. If we’re not careful, and you keep dumping these ideas into kid’s heads without giving them tools and a sense of hope, you do them a disservice,” explains Rodenburg. “In fact, you scare them into apathy.”

With Camp Kawartha, Rodenburg sought to find a different way to get children interested and passionate about protecting the environment.

“We see environmental education and stewardship very much about building hope, and empowering and inspiring,” says Rodenburg.

The camp sees about 10,000 people come through each year.

Camp Kawartha focuses on teaching children through experiences, games, activities, science projects, and art. It offers traditional day and overnight summer camps. The outdoor education centre provides programs for elementary and secondary students. The Environmental Education Centre located at Trent is “one of Canada’s most sustainable buildings” and provides environmental education training for future teachers.

Rodenburg believes kids should be fostered to be stewards as early as possible. This means naturalizing schoolyards, creating more nature-rich cities, having access to green spaces, and the chance to care and tend to space.

The hope is that creating passionate children will lead to passionate adults.

Tanya Roberts is the Sustainability Coordinator for Durham College. Roberts increases environmental programs and initiatives on campus, improving campus operations. She also works on projects with students to make the college “greener”.

Eric Lacina is one such student. Lacina is in the Environmental Technology program, and a member of the Student Green Team at Durham College.

Tanya Roberts, Sustainability coordinator for Durham College
Tanya Roberts, Sustainability coordinator for Durham College
Eric Lacina, Environmental Technology student at Durham College, and member of the student Green Team
Eric Lacina, Environmental Technology student at Durham College, and member of the student Green Team

One project the Green Team has found success with recently has been the #muglife campaign, an awareness campaign to reduce disposable coffee cups by offering reusable mugs. So far the campaign has received well over 100 pledges from Durham College and UOIT.

Lacina says every little bit of recycling makes a difference, and reduces the amount of waste that simply sits in the open.

Research from POLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS), reveals startling statistics about land-waste. According to research conducted in 2014, there are more than five trillion plastic pieces floating in the world’s oceans, weighing over 250,000 tons.

“E-waste always ends up in landfill. And it just sits there. It doesn’t do anything. So if we are diverting to e-waste programs, we’re reducing the need for it being shipped over to China,” says Lacina. “[There’s documentaries about it] and it’s actually horrendous to see three-year olds digging through piles of copper-wire.”

This is something Roberts has personal experience witnessing. Ten years ago, she volunteered in Guatemala City, and saw first-hand the effects of mishandled e-waste.

“There were all these families built up around the landfill. The men went and collected materials, and built tin shacks that didn’t even have air-holes, and they were cooking in them,” says Roberts.

This left a strong impression on her, and Roberts encourages students to volunteer if possible.

“It opened up my eyes to the environment,” says Roberts. “Young people: get out and volunteer overseas. See the world.”

Students should get out and explore the world now, because it is changing at an alarming rate.

NASA data shows globally-average temperatures were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. Furthermore, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century.

Temperature is rising at a fast rate. Most of the warmest temperatures have taken place in the last 35 years. In fact, 16 of the 17 warmest years recorded have taken place since 2001. Eight of the twelve months in 2016 were the warmest recorded in history. January through September (excluding June), all set records.

Not surprisingly, the warm temperature patterns have bled into 2017 as well. Records have already been set this year.

This affects our population in ways you might not realize.

The warm temperature does not necessarily translate to tranquil weather. Weather patterns have fluctuated drastically. Days have ranged from record warm to freezing in the span of a single week.

On February 6, Environment Canada issued a weather statement warning snow, rain and freezing rain for Toronto. On February 7, thousands were left without power after the freezing rain hit the city. By February 18, the city was setting record high temperatures. The 18th saw temperatures hitting 11.9 Celsius, breaking 2011’s record of 10.8 Celsius. Spring-like weather continued for the rest of the weekend.

This fluctuation has an adverse effect on our food as well.

“Crops are losing their entire production because of weather. It’s on a cusp. [Depending] if there’s another couple of good rainfalls, you can have the best season ever. But if you don’t get that, you’ll have to pull your crops altogether,” explains Roberts.

According to Environment Canada, Toronto only had 48.8 hours of sunlight in the month of January. That’s only slightly more than half the seasonal average of 85. This is attributed to the rising temperature, as warmer weather produces cloudier days. Environment Canada recorded this January as the fourth warmest in over 80 years.

Roberts explains there are a lot of simple things that everyone can do in their day-to-day life to help the environment. These range from reducing water, turning lights off in rooms, unplugging your devices when they are fully charged, and being mindful of the products you buy. Recycling and using re-usable packaging goes a long way to reducing waste.

“Especially in this area, we primarily run off nuclear. But once you go past nuclear, everything is taken up by natural gas,” says Lacina. “So if we can reduce our energy use to that baseline of nuclear, we won’t have to use natural gas.”

Roberts says one of the simplest and most important things people can do to help the environment is to stay connected to it. By doing this, she says you realize how dependant you are on it.

“Get outside, stay connected to nature so that you realize that you’re dependant. Your water doesn’t just come from a tap. Your air isn’t just clean because your house is clean,” says Roberts. “It’s all inter-connected. Stay connected to that external life.”

“Also, maintain an understanding of where things come from. And what happens to your waste. No one just comes by with a magic wand and it just disappears,” adds Lacina.

Despite all the challenges of facing the problem and the necessary work ahead, Jacob Rodenburg, Executive Director of Camp Kawartha, remains hopeful that this is a struggle that can be overcome.

“Nature is extremely resilient, and it will bounce back. The effects that we’re causing, eventually will heal. I have every hope that somehow, someway, people can learn to live in more balance,” says Rodenburg.

To Rodenburg, this begins with education.

“Instead of thinking about what kind of world we want to leave for our kids, we should think about what kind of kids we want to leave to the world,” says Rodenburg.

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Toby is a second-year journalism student at Durham College. He enjoys writing about entertainment, with a focus on on movies and music. Toby can be heard on Riot Radio as one of the hosts of Talkalypse Now. He hopes to work at an entertainment or music magazine in the future.