Category Archives: Sustainable Lifestyle

Visiting Canada’s True North, Strong and Free

At four in the morning, I started driving from Fort River, Alberta to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. An hour before arriving in Yellowknife, my car slipped on ice and fell into a snowbank. I stopped my car and shovelled the snow around the car for over half an hour, but I couldn’t get the car out. With the assembly time closeby, I started to worry. Thankfully, at the last minute, a gentleman stopped by, tied a rope to his truck, and pulled the car out. If he had shown up a mere ten minutes later, I would have been late.

Yellowknife is a rocky area with lots of mining activity. According to locals, St. Patrick’s burnt down and was rebuilt in 1991. During their rebuilding, they decided to build around the local Rockies to showcase nature. The stairs in the main hall includes a huge section of rocks.

Due to a local diamond mine, children from miners from around the world come to Yellowknife and attend high school, so it was a quite diverse group.

Around twenty five students came to the workshop after the assembly, evenly distributed across higher grades. Most of them were from the school’s Green Club or the Interac Club. Students had a very active discussion. I asked them, “What are the skills most necessary to create an impact?” They responded: “Creative thinking, cooperation, originality, wisdom and ethics, listening especially with people you disagree, compromise, and self-improvement.”

A student asked me, “I want to make an impact, but I don’t know where to start. What are other Canadian students doing to make an impact?”

This is why we do the tour. This is why I write these blog posts.

I write about youth-led solutions and projects from across Canada, so a miner’s child in Yellowknife can feel inspired to do the same. As I go from town to town, I’m physically mobile. But, 3% Project offers students a different kind of mobility: the mobility to think beyond their local context and yet, simultaneously, be mobilized to act in their local context.

Dear young person, whether from Smithers, British Columbia or Yellowknife, Northwest Territories: If you’re reading this, know that there are thousands of students across Canada that care; that are taking action; and that are fighting the good fight.

Sincerely,

Steve

What’s in a Teacher?

igenou

First, meet Warren Lake.

He’s an environmental science educator at the school. He’s received international awards, given TED talks on pedagogical approaches to nature education, and published articles and studies on environmental education. Mr. Lake shared that students who graduated his class still talk about our assembly, and a few students chose their university majors inspired by the assembly. Since then, he told me that students have pushed for climate change to be included in the curriculum, and climate change became the main theme for projects for a grade ten science course in Calgary!

Two school-wide initiatives came out of the assembly in Oct 2017.

One. Students created Meatless Mondays in the school cafeteria! They qualified for a $1,000 grant and purchased a grow tower where they cultivate herbs for use in the cafeteria.

Two. Students created a project mapping ice movements from 17th-century whaling logs, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award.

During lunchtime, I was treated to a Meatless Monday pasta from the cafeteria and was given a tour of Mr. Lake’s classroom with vertical gardens, rainbow trout aquarium, tortoise house, gecko terrarium, over a hundred plants, microgreen garden, vermicomposting bins, tomato, potato, and various edible plant garden. Mr. Lake took IKEA’s open source design to make a circular garden house that students could sit and read in. He recently won $7,500 from the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation to create a solar park on the school roof. 8 solar panels will function as sunshades and underneath it, students will eat lunch, read, take naps on hammocks, so that they can directly witness the benefits of solar panels.

Mr. Lake takes students on a number of nature trips. They go to mountains, lakes, the Arctic, ocean, islands – as many places as they can, so students can develop memories and appreciation for nature. His TED talk on this is available here.

I have an incredible amount of respect for Mr. Lake, who is one of the most active and effective environmental educators across Canada that I have ever met. His dedication and passion not only transforms the students’ appreciation for nature but their entire lives. His pedagogical approach deserves to be studied and emulated for the upcoming generation of educators.

What’s in a teacher? Whatever you make it to be. You could change a student. A school. A town. A province. A country. The world.

Sincerely,

Steve

Ahousat: Resilience, Love, and Hope

igenou

Ahousat is an island accessible only by water or air, off the coast of Vancouver Island. It’s an island with a predominantly Indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth Nation population of 2,100.

After six hours of driving, a highway closure, and a water ferry, I arrived at the school. I gave my usual presentation. To conclude, I asked students and educators what sustainability meant to them. They answered: “Whales and fish.”

Having never heard such an answer, I asked them to elaborate. They told me that most jobs on the island come from fishing or the public sector. The island has one elementary school, one secondary school, one small hospital, and one fisheries agency. There is not a single store on the island, so everyone shops for groceries in the nearby town of Tofino. They take several empty tubs, fill them with groceries, and come back on water taxis. Garbage is taken to Tofino for disposal. For most, the sales of recyclables barely cover the cost of the water taxi fare.

The unique history of the Indigenous peoples looms largely on the island. As I got on the water taxi to return to the mainland, I sat next to an elderly man who introduced himself: “My name is Ty-sem, some call me Tiger, and my slave name is Darren.” I was surprised, and I asked him what he meant by ‘slave name’. He replied by saying that it was a name given to him from a residential school. I later found out that there’s a deep history of enslavement of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In fact, ⅔ of the slaves of New France, which held the most slaves and for the longest duration in Canada, were Indigenous. Ty-sem shared his life with me: “I’ve lived here in Ahousat all my life. I do construction here. Getting materials here is difficult, and it gets worse every year. The water gets more violent. The winds are weird. It’s difficult to get in and out of the island. The worst part is when the storm comes. Emergency evacuation isn’t safe anymore. Some people don’t make it.”

Visiting Ahousat, I visibly saw the impacts of climate change. I saw maps for tsunami and hurricane evacuations around the island. I saw incredibly long and steep docks to the boats with coastal erosion forcing the islanders to continue extending the dock into the island. I heard teachers warning students against touching the sea foam in the sand with a warmer ocean resulting in melting poisonous jellyfish in the sand.

In my presentation, I talk about climate justice: “Climate justice means those who’ve done the least to cause climate change in the first place, are the ones most affected by it. That also means those who’ve done the most to cause it in the first place are the ones least affected by it.” On Ahousat, I felt this deeply. I felt the systematic injustice of climate change, the abuse of Indigenous people, and the neglect of rural communities.

Beyond the systematic injustice, however, I found a spirit of optimism on this island. The love of teachers caring for students, the hope of a community celebrating in an annual harvest festival, the resilience of islanders steadfastly collecting recyclables. The world can learn from this spirit, one that keep the island of Ahousat beautiful.

Sincerely,

Steve

Going from Project to Impact

Hello, Prince of Wales Secondary!

“How do we move away from fossil fuel?

How is it fair that climate change disproportionately affects developing states who did the least to cause it? What is the structure of the Paris Climate Agreement?” asked students at Prince of Wales Secondary.

Young people aren’t interested in superficial conversation on climate change. They’re interested in learning the complicated, complex, but important details.

They’ve started good sustainable initiatives including a bike shop, sustainability week, student council, and a bottle drive.

I started talking about the bike shop with the student leaders. They wanted to open up a bike shop at school to help students fix their bikes and, in turn, encourage biking over driving. But, their objectives were unclear.

I asked them: “What’s the impact? Is it to build a long term habit of biking? Is it to promote physical exercise for the community’s health benefits? Is it to reduce GHG emissions by riding a bike to school, instead of a car?

If these are the objectives, why do you need to fix bikes? Is that the best use of the school’s resources to set up a shop to achieve any of the objectives above?”

Helen, a student council representative, agreed that they hadn’t really thought about that. She’s excited to start having hard talks with her student council on how and why they do things. She wants to incorporate an impact and measure of success to their planning in the future.

And I hope they will. I hope that these passionate students launch well-researched, data-driven, impactful projects to help shape their community’s future into the kind of future they want.

Sincerely,

Steve

Sowing Seeds of Sustainability

Hello again, Kumsheen Secondary!

What is an action project?

At every school, we challenge students to solve their community’s biggest sustainability challenge. We help students analyze and develop solutions to the identified challenge. This is what we call an “action project”. Our full-time sustainability project consultants (mentors) across Canada provide mentorship for every school, helping them complete their project.

Climate change is a big problem. But, when students measure their climate actions, they turn climate change into a real, tangible issue that they, and their generation, can face.

The student-led action project at Kumsheen was a garden.

  • Students wrote letters to local organizations to get seeds.
  • Students researched what kind of seeds would work with the local climate.
  • Students designed a banner for the “sharing and learning fair”.
  • Students presented the garden to the rest of their school.
  • Students shared the produce at the fair.
  • Students wrote thank you letters to farms and groups that supported them.
  • Students practiced project management with goals, targets, and timeline.

The real fruits of the garden was the student learning experience. Students learned about food security, and developed solutions to produce sustainability in the local context.

They were proud of starting this garden, growing things, and enjoying the produce for their school and local community.

This is why we exist.

We know youth-led climate action alone will not solve climate change. But, those who work towards climate solutions at a young age are much more likely to challenge the status quo in the future. We envision a future where every young person grows to make their personal and professional choices reflect a sustainable future.

A Glimpse Into The Future We Want

Mamma mia, here we go again: Hello, Brookswood Secondary!

An Indigenous teacher opened the assembly. I had 70 minutes. Students signed up to be at the assembly. It was exam season for them. They were attentive, quiet, and had interesting questions for me. We had a great discussion together.

I asked students: “What are three skills you need to create the future we want?”

They answered: Creativity, innovation, communication, courage, empathy, listening, problem-solving, and leadership.

Hannah and Josh, the co-presidents of the school’s student council, approached me after the assembly. They asked me how they could run their student council more effectively. I sat with them through lunch to hear their stories and to come up with a game plan until June.

I’ve been to many schools. At every school, I see glimpses of the kind of future we want. At Brookswood Secondary, I saw it in two student leaders.

Let me introduce you to Hannah and Josh.

Hannah is in grade twelve. She joined student council to help create community at her school through school spirit, school-wide activities, and by setting common school goals. She knows that, especially in a big school, it’s easy to feel isolated and feel like there’s no one there for you. She wants to fix this. She’s been through it. It’s not something she wants anyone else to feel at her school.

Josh is also in grade twelve. He is passionate and hardworking. Josh is applying to neuroscience programs for university, so he can better understand mental health. He wants Brookswood to be a more empowering space for the marginalized. He knows that high school can be a tough time, and he’s been there. He doesn’t want others to feel that, without knowing there’s a strong support base and community for them at school.

We brainstormed four priorities for student council, until June:

  1. Maintain the Council by running events that are expected by the Council;
  2. Tell an exciting story of the Council to attract others to want to join it too;
  3. Cultivate new leaders from younger grades who will continue the Council and have a longer overlap transition period; and
  4. Set the fundamental, Constitutional structures of the Council

Hannah and Josh are pictures of bold and empathetic leadership. They’re driven by a vision of changing their world, and the future of their school, to the world and future they want. Big solutions don’t always have to start at the global level. It starts with two students that have the interests of their peers at heart.

You can change your school. Change your town. Change your province. Change your country. Change your world. It all begins at home.

I wish the best to both Hanna and Josh. If you’re interested in making a difference at Brookswood, contact Hanna and Josh. They’ve got a place for you at student council.

Sincerely,

Steve

Hello, from Nechako Valley!

After the assembly, I talked with some student leaders. They’ve run a successful e-waste drive and have a water walk coming up for the school’s Water Week.

“What is the expected impact of your water walk?

What do you consider to be success?

How do you intend to measure success? Is it the number of dollars raised? Is it the number of participants? Is it the awareness of water issues?

How do you measure the improvement? Is it the reduction of water use in the school?” I asked the student leaders.

Blank faces. Bright, curious eyes. I’m thrilled. This is why I’m here.

This is a good starting point. Young people are smart. They’re not going to continue putting labour into fruitless projects.

If we don’t want high-school sustainability projects to be empty exercises, we need to start equipping our students with the ability to turn innovative ideas into impactful long-term projects.

And that’s what we hope to do. For every school we visit, we challenge students to solve their community’s biggest sustainability challenge. We help students identify, analyze, and develop solutions to their community’s biggest sustainability challenge. In turn, our full-time sustainability project consultants across Canada provide mentorship for all interested students.

Sincerely,

Steve

Hello, from Smithers!

Visiting the town’s local high school, I witnessed tremendous potential for youth action. Over the last six years, teachers and students have started environmental initiatives that are unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else in Canada.

SSS Youth Action is an active group of dedicated students and teachers, Mr. Hubert, Mr. Rath, and Mrs. Cunningham. Together this group has tackled social justice and environmental issues including the initiation of a compost system, a bicycle powered charge station for cell phones and to make smoothies, microgreens grown for snacks in classrooms, the invention of a rocket retort to convert the woodshop’s sawdust into biochar, a Vegucation website, a 4000 sq ft garden, and the construction of a biomeiller and geodesic dome for year round growing.  SSS Youth Action has won provincial and national awards (BC Green Games and Staples Ecovator Contest) for their efforts.  Smithers Secondary students have benefited greatly by being involved with these eco-innovations.

The mastermind behind these inventions is teacher Rick Hubert, who is a climate change leader.

He’s made machinery and equipment at his metal shop to create a more energy efficient and sustainable Smithers. Hubert has been recognized with the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence.

To help his wife fight cancer, he started looking for ​more nutritious and better sourced agricultural food.

This led to the creation of the first biomeiller and geodesic dome in the region.  Hubert has put much of his own time into these projects, and much has been funded by grants he applied for. At one point, part of his teaching load was assigned to working on green initiatives and running the geodesic dome with students, but over the past years, the school has faced a large decline in population and as a result, a decrease in budget.  Hubert’s teaching schedule no longer allows time for a “green block” so it’s become impossible for him to keep things running.  The geodesic dome hasn’t been operating for the past two years.

Recently, there’s been talk of scrapping the geodesic dome altogether. It’s a hard situation for everyone at Smithers Secondary. Teachers acknowledge that the budget decline is a very real and serious problem; in equal measure, they see the enormous educational benefits of such climate innovations for students.

We see it too.

This is why we do this tour. We want to highlight climate solutions that educators and students are building in high schools across Canada.

Smithers, you inspire us – and the rest of Canada – with your steps towards real climate action. We are rooting for you, and the return of the biodome to Smithers Secondary.

Sincerely,

Steve

Dear Future Canada

A letter to future generations

– Steve Lee

Dear Future Canada,

If you are reading this letter, my generation has succeeded in solving climate change.

You see, back in 2017, the human race was on the verge of existential crisis. From our ignorant yet arrogant perspective, the sky seemed like an endless space into which we could dump our garbage without limit. So, we burned fossil fuels at irresponsible rates, which increased the global temperature.

By the dawn of 21st century, the energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution was equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year. Every year was hotter than the year before. The sudden increase in temperature caused people to die from heat waves.

The frequency and severity of extreme weather events increased every year. Families, cultures, and livelihoods were wiped away by violent storms. Entire people groups and cultures were disappearing due to chronic droughts. We cut our forests down, expanded our oil rigs, and fracked our water sources.

We have killed more than half of the animals on our planet in 40 years. Sea levels rose to engulf island nations and forced people to leave the lands of their ancestors. Almost 90% of our ocean was polluted by plastic debris. Air and water pollution turned cities uninhabitable. Roads and train rails were breaking down. Deserts were expanding the size of Ireland every year.

Rising global economic inequality and food insecurity brought political instability. Regional wars, insurgent groups, and extremist militias wreaked havoc. Political leaders worldwide questioned whether climate change is a hoax, blamed other countries, and delayed action until my generation became the final generation who could solve climate change.

If you are reading this letter, humanity has bent the moral arc of history towards justice.

We must have had the courage to move away from fossil fuels and embraced renewable technology to energize our world. We must have set aside our short-term differences and fulfilled our shared long-term responsibilities. We must have reduced global inequality and designed a financial system that works for people, planet, and prosperity. We must have created a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future.

If you are reading this letter, all the sacrifice made by thousands of brave women, men and children, who have invested their life towards fighting climate change, were all worth it.

I really do hope you are reading this letter.

With great hope,
Steve