Short-term political gain can mean long-term environmental destruction
Crews are shown working on the site of a provincially significant wetland a few years ago in Barrie. David Hawke/OrilliaMatters
Outdoors columnist implores readers to learn about and appreciate the environment
By David Hawke Orillia Matters
I know there are readers of this column who are waiting impatiently for me to rip a strip off our provincial government in regards to its recent and ongoing desecration of our accepted environmental protections. Sure, it would be easy to rant about its misapplied ministerial zoning orders, or the infuriating deaf ears and closed minds of the politicians. But that’s not what this column is about.
This column is about you.
Before I, or anyone, can ask you to take action to overcome a challenge presented, some legwork, so to speak, has to be done to get you prepared to join in. Let me explain.
A few years ago, I was asked to speak at an Environmental Youth camp, a gathering of mainly inner-city kids and a smattering of small-town teens. They were keen to learn how to save the world. I, supposedly, was going to enlighten them on how to do it. No pressure.
These ‘kids’ were great — smart, eager, no hesitation to speak up or put forth an idea. I was intimidated. So, rather than lecture them as ‘the sage on the stage,’ we had a curl-up-in-your-chair chat. They shared their frustrations at not having all their friends and neighbours immediately joining in with their ‘think global, act local’ initiatives.
From this event there came a simple three-step plan that has proven to work many times over since then, both for them and for me. I call it the Triple A Plan.
First “A” is for Awareness. If someone is unaware of an issue, of the long-term detrimental effects to, let’s say, environment desecration, of the complexity of changing the course of events, they will not join you. Oh, you can ask, beg and plead for either moral or financial support, but none will be coming. If they are unaware, they just won’t care.
So, therein is the first task: make them aware. Signs, brochures, invitation to websites and blogs, newspaper submissions. Whatever it takes, throw the issue in front of them. Make them aware! But do it gently. Don’t scare them away. They have to be taught that the issue will have an impact on their way of life: water may dry up, crops may fail, forests will be cut down, wetlands will be polluted. Huge municipal costs will be incurred to obtain fresh water, import food, tend to the sick.
OK, so now they know about the issue. Will they provide support? No, not yet. So far you have just caught their attention — for the moment. Now they have to learn the second “A,” which is Appreciation.
The best way of learning to appreciate a situation is through hands-on experiences. For an environmental point of view, invite them to join in on a nature walk. And this may well require multiple visits, but with a bit of guidance the participants will slowly yet surely go from awareness to appreciation. “That was fun.” “I can’t believe how many birds/flowers/trees are in the forest.”
Some people call this the ‘mud between your toes’ or ‘forest bathing’ or just getting to be by yourself within nature. Whatever. Once experienced, an appreciation will grow.
Now comes the critical “A,” Action. Through your efforts, a person has become aware, has grown to appreciate the benefits of nature and is not happy about that experience being taken away. Now they will answer the call to action.
Action can take many forms, and does not always have to be chanting within a placard-waving crowd or organizing a flood of emails directed at your representative member of provincial parliament. (That last action item won’t work as the reply from their office is a form letter stating they will not accept form emails.)
So, what’s a well-meaning activist to do? Join with like-minded others, get involved at some level and, if possible, become aware of the challenges that your ‘enemy’ has to deal with — laws, bylaws, policies, schedules, acts, process, levels of bureaucracy, political winds of favour. Maybe if you find a way to work with them, you can help them work for you.
Currently, we are all involved, like it or not, in fighting a pandemic. At first, way back in January, this was a European thing. You became aware of it only because the media was reporting on this strange virus that was shutting down Italy, France, England. So what? Not here; don’t care.
But the virus did come here, and we have all felt the effects of the pandemic: lost income, restricted travel, shortages of lumber and toilet paper (of all things). We started to appreciate that this was something that wasn’t going to stay at arm’s-length awareness. If you have lost a family member or friend, you will appreciate the true severity of the situation.
Sometimes ‘action’ can simply be compliance. Change your routine, change your attitude. We did it with seatbelts and blue boxes. We are doing it now with masks and social distancing.
So, now that I’ve wandered quite a bit astray of my opening paragraph, let me bring it home. Y’all need to become aware that our natural environment, our collective clean water, good soil, healthy forests and vibrant farm fields are in real jeopardy of long-term destruction for short-term political gain. Yes, perhaps a few hundred construction workers will get a few more paycheques, but that wetland they are filling in or the rich soils they are paving over will be gone forever. Irreplaceable, as some may say.
So, I am not calling you to arms; I am not shouting at you to take action! But I am asking you to become aware of how much we all depend on the natural resources of this region. I am urging you to appreciate that we have to balance our collective social growth against our dwindling life-sustaining environment.
And when you are ready, I know that, in your own way, you will become aware, experience appreciation, and eventually take action. And in advance of that, may I say thank you. As folk hero Red Green would say, “we’re all in this together.”