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Some of the most exciting thinking and doing in Canada is taking place at the country's colleges and universities, where young people of different backgrounds, interests and politics come together to debate and learn about our world. Campus Notes examines issues confronting higher education through our students, teachers, workers and graduates. Email christina@rabble.ca for pitches and contributions to Campus Notes.

Earth Week retrospective: What do Canadian students think?

| April 26, 2012

Earth Week and Earth Day are now behind us, but hopefully the issues of water politics, the industrial food complex, logging and consumption are not left behind. Earth Week is always an interesting time to get everyone motivated and thinking about what issues affect our daily lives and which ones affect global life. When I was a student at the University of Victoria, living in the vacuum that is student life, little penetrated my mind other than grades, tiredness and hunger, and the occasional surf and coffee. Okay, I am being unfair to myself (maybe), but I think attending a school that was seemingly forward-thinking in its view of environmental politics and sustainability actions was spoiling to my apathetic self and I took those initiatives for granted. UVic was among one of the first to establish compost and recycling depots (big, back in the day), environmentally friendly businesses and not to mention about a million passionately involved and active environmental clubs. I also worked away those university days at a (now defunct) 'green' coffee shop that a UVic business student and her company greened to divert 95 per cent of waste and become the first carbon neutral coffee shop in Victoria. Now, I'm not saying I'm an environmental guru -- far from it -- but as a part-time student now living in Vancouver, those issues that seemed so automatic in Victoria, seem far from that here.

Living and working in a big city has changed the way I view environmental politics, especially when they are not so readily in demand. Why aren't we composting at work? Why isn't our food ethically sourced and workers treated fairly? Why does transit shut down at 1 am on Saturday night? Why are condos going into the DTES when affordable rentals and shelters are what's needed? Why does the BC Place retractable ceiling now dominate our skyline and debt when our cost of living is one of the highest in the world?

More specifically, big city living has increased my demands on public transit -- the days of timely walking everywhere are seemingly over -- and I would like to see Vancouver increase the efficiency, accessibility and affordability of the public transit. Getting out to University of British Columbia is a nightmare, but so is getting to Stanley Park or Marpole. What gives? Vancouver is not a sprawling metropolis, so it seems ridiculous to drive, but sometimes dangerous to bike. We need more rapid transit and better hours, but also better bike lanes (marked well please!) and accessible routes.

So, my response (rant) proposes this: what do Canadian students think about the issues of the past week? Do students going to school in Manitoba have the same environmental concerns as students in Nova Scotia? Do students raised in Ontario identify with the sustainability initiatives in British Columbia? Some of the best and brightest minds are right here in our schools, so I set out to find the answers from a few of the student writers who have contributed to our Campus Notes blog this year and are always on the fighting lines of student activism and community involvement.

"This Earth Week, I wonder how many of us take something as simple as what we eat for granted. It's only when the convenience of our fast-paced prepackaged lifestyles is suddenly gone that we begin to ask questions. I'm worried our methods of food production aren't sustainable, that corporate farming is getting out of hang and that animals are being abused in the name of efficiency. Most of all, this gets me thinking about what our collective response will be."
--Steffanie Pinch, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario

"Earth Week is not just a time to break a spring sweat in the garden -- however valuable that effort may be -- it is also an opportunity to reflect on our lifestyle in relation to its effects on the planet. The current brand of North American capitalism teaches us to tax ourselves and the Earth beyond the limit, to push ever harder to acquire more, better, newer stuff. This ideology is wearing us out, on an individual, societal and ecological level. Although this lecture may seem like an old hat, the fact that we're still wearing it is evidence of our society's failure to correct its philosophy. Until we can move beyond our battle for ecological domination -- by going fair trade instead of free trade, by being grateful for what we already have -- Earth Week will serve as a reminder that the threads of this lifestyle are worn thin. Both our planet, and our society, is in need of a more sustainable philosophy."
--Samantha Elmsley, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

"I think about the consistent destruction of the earth every day because it is primarily people of colour that live with the worst consequences of this ecocidal/genocidal white capitalism provoked phenomena. There is no Earth Week for us for every day we remember and see environmental racism since it is tied to the white supremacism we encounter on the daily, in all of its sinister manifestations. In contrast to the days/weeks that remember "erratic" demonstration of this white supremacist ecocide, do not just recognize the "oil spills" or "natural disasters" when they are highlighted in the news or when it is trendy to be green because we know what there is a long and ongoing history of these genocidal practices that reveal white/capitalist-supremacists' morbid and unrelenting efforts to dominate and control land, resources, people and labour worldwide. We know because it is people of colour who have toxic waste dumped in their communities in Skull Valley Goshute Indian reservation in Utah, in Dandora Kenya, in Abidjan, in Somalia and in Africville. We know because it is our families who live in the Niger river delta where there has been 550 million gallons of oil (an amount roughly equivalent to that of the Exxon-Valdez devastation) spill every year for over 50 years. We also see the effects of depleted Uranium in Iraq and white phosphorus in Palestine, chemical spills in Bhopal and mining provoked disasters in Congo, Peru and in Guatemala. There are many opportunities to stop these environmental oppressions, there are many ways to make sure that they will never happen again. But they will continue as long as we fail to oppose, dismantle and extinguish white capitalist domination -- a task that requires a revolutionary ethic that goes beyond remembering "our" Earth for one week of the year."
-- Wangui Kimari, Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity, Toronto, Ontario

"On a micro level, Canada is an eco-friendly society: a large percentage of families recycle, moderate amount composite their waste and many individuals bring reusable bags to grocery shopping; however, each of us contribute to the deteriorating of our ecosystem on a macro level in several different ways. Primarily, the pollution caused by transportations such a cars are a large contributor of Green House gas emission. Secondly, the exploitation of natural resources by multinational corporate organization for cheap natural resources to maximize profit is rapidly dwindling our natural resources to unrecoverable levels. Lastly, the hazardous chemicals and toxins produced by factories during production is severely impacting the health of locals as well as surrounding wildlife. This demonstrates that although Canadians may appear to be eco-friendly on the surface, this is only as long as there is no personal cost/loss incurred on the part of the Canadians. Canadians are not contributing in any major way at any personal cost to themselves. The innate feeling of discomfort that should be felt by Canadians when witnessing the rapid destruction of the ecosystem is pushed to the back of most of our minds in exchange for luxury. As long as we continue to view the ecosystem's recovery as an interest rather than an obligation, self interest will always come before the interest of the ecosystem. I believe we should take responsibility for treating the environment with negligence and have an obligation to help protect and aid the recovery of the ecosystem."
--Sabeen Kazmi, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

Are you a student and have thoughts on Earth Week? Let us know in the comments!

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