Reflection on Environmental Stewardship at the University of Guelph

The readings from the two books, Our Ecological Footprint and Plan B. 4.0, as well as the course manual and David Suzuki’s article have provided a good background to prepare my discussion for the electronic debate. Above all this, I also leaned on my own approach and experience towards environmental stewardship. What I learned in the past and was recently reminded once again is that every being on earth has a finite span of life and that life is a circuit from birth to death and over again. In the same manner, every being leaves a mark or an impact on the planet’s ever-changing state. In short, the mark we leave on earth changes it.

My reaction to David Suzuki’s statement was written from a personal perspective as I believed his message encompasses not only a dire message, but one that’s been steadfast throughout his life as an environmentalist. I read his article from the point of view of a mother-to-be, someone who will not only now be a steward of the environment, but also a steward of life.

“…I can’t help but think of the world that my child will live in. While she is in utero, I will be preparing for her arrival in the next few months. This is truly a time for making decisions that will impact how I will bring her up in this world. From choosing cloth vs. disposable diapers to assessing how many things, clothes, toys, etc. she will really need in order to have a complete childhood, I am charged with the responsibility to choose wisely in the name of a more environmentally-conscious upbringing.”

Coming from that perspective totally enhances my passion and call to action. It’s no longer about me and my future, but the future of my child and the world she will live in. The world I currently nurture and have a moral responsibility to protect and preserve.

            From there was my point of view of Lester Brown’s practical suggestions on restoring the health of the planet. I considered that his suggestions are feasible but it’s the follow-through actions that will truly mark the sustainability of these suggestions.

“… Globalization is in parallel with climate change issues… If there is honesty and bravery in tracing back to the real source of emissions and pollution, giant corporations who operate worldwide should be highlighted. But nobody dares to do that because let’s face it – the economic success of most countries thrive on a chain of global business cycles…So unless major corporations admit ownership and accountability and act on solutions, the many efforts of communities trying to spark change can sometimes be in vain.”

I am convinced that the major contributors to global warming and acidification of our oceans are giant corporations running the world. Unfortunately, they are not bound by countries but through a global network set up everywhere they can conduct business. This makes conferences like COP21 in Paris just earlier this month an inconsistent approach. Seeing this from working in the engineering industry where I was involved in many infrastructure projects from the public and private sectors, it’s not hard to get jaded when what you put together gets shelved because the client decides to ignore the contents of the reports produced, for example, reports for environmental assessment, baseline studies, etc. in favor of moving on with a project. It is not uncommon that every legal and political loophole will be exploited in order to get at the final favorable and economically-driven result. This does not happen all the time, but where there’s a strong push and politics to back it up, every string will be pulled.

So this takes me to thinking about accountability and corporate responsibility. It takes leaders who walk the talk and really truly understand their business’s (or governing body) impact on the environment that can lead this movement. Still, the struggle is great. One can lead by example and this person needs to be convincing enough to persuade the rest of the organization to follow.

Are we there yet? It’s been a long journey but the longer we are on this road of environmentalism, the more lost we sometimes get. Ecological footprint and land stewardship sometimes look and sound like singing “Kumbaya” around the campfire as one hopes and prays that people choose wisely for the sake of the environment.

“When we discuss ecological footprint, it is important to understand the underlying societal factor. Wackernagel and Rees (1996) confirm that “consumption by the affluent 1.1 billion people alone claims more than the entire carrying capacity of the planet” (pg. 102). This fact alone needs to be seen through a giant lens. Let’s assess who’s really doing the damage to the planet? As long as we are able to live in convenience to the demise of the world’s poor, the world is doomed to suffer ecologically and economically.”

This morning I was stopped at the intersection waiting for the green light when I look to my right and saw a huge sign that said “Organically grown Christmas Trees”. I asked myself, am I missing something here? Although I understand the premise of the organically grown Christmas tree, I can’t help but think, have we as a society come so far to trivialize and exploit that we are now turning to organic Christmas trees? When we talk about ecological footprint in our comfortable lives in the developed world, I am ashamed because I think of the remaining 4.7+ billion people surviving on less than a quarter of the world’s consumption while the small 1.1 billion affluent consumers use up over three-quarters of the world’s carrying capacity as stated by Wackernagel and Rees (1996) in Our Ecological Footprint.

Further disappointment comes after I attended the public consultation meeting last Tuesday to get answers to my request for additional green space in a new residential development near my home. The City of Brampton decided that 5-7 lots (0.57 acres) is a negligible area of land to acquire from the developer in order to add to an existing park and will therefore take cash in lieu of the land. Thanks to me, more cash in the City's pocket. Why did I bother to bring up the issue? When I raised the ecological footprint of 5 lots of detached houses versus 0.57 acres of green space, I was met with indifference. The room was quiet like I was speaking an alien language?! This type of behavior is where most of us stand when it comes to land stewardship. It is a shame and for as long as we place economy and profit over environmental stewardship, we have failed as a society.

- Rubylyn Paulin



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