Today is World Environment Day, an appropriate moment to reflect on the state of our nation's journey towards sustainability.
In a nutshell, we're not doing so hot.
Measured against other OECD nations, Canada continues to rank near the bottom of the barrel for environmental protection. Once viewed as a constructive, conscientious partner, Canada is now a sort of pariah on the international stage, uninterested or downright unwilling to work with other countries to tackle major global environmental challenges from desertification to over-fishing, deforestation to climate change.
So singularly focused is our current federal government on oil-fuelled growth, for example, the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. referred to our Natural Resource Minister, Joe Oliver, as Canada's "Minister of Oil."
Our reputation in disrepute abroad, environmental degradation continues at home. We can't solve everything all at once, so if we were to really focus, what is the most important thing threatening the Canadian environment? Is it the destructive power of climate change? The cancer-causing effect of unregulated toxic chemicals? The downward spiral of water quality across the country?
In my view all of these challenges are symptoms of a larger problem: the unrelenting, aggressive hostility of our country's Conservative parties to environmental progress.
I once participated on a panel for the magazine Corporate Knights that voted Brian Mulroney "the greenest Prime Minister in Canadian history." That seems like a long time ago now. And many of Mulroney's signature environmental accomplishments -- such as the creation of the respected National Round Table on Environment and Economy -- have since been killed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
This is the same federal government that has recently questioned whether global warming is really as bad as everybody says it is, has used the Canada Revenue Agency to make life as difficult for Canada's environmental charities as possible, and presided over what is -- objectively -- the most significant rollback of environmental protections since Confederation.
At the provincial level, in a little-noticed speech during the last provincial election, Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak promised to abolish Conservation Authorities -- a creation of Tory governments dating back to the 1950s, and he has been uniformly hostile to environmental notions ever since. In Brad Wall's Saskatchewan, the David Suzuki Foundation has recently noted that "it is difficult to imagine any jurisdiction taking the threats of climate change less seriously."
And though some days it's hard to focus on his actual policies through the haze of circus-like shenanigans, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has targeted green initiatives with a laser-like precision, making it very clear that in his world "green" and "gravy" are synonymous and equally deserving of elimination.
There once was a proud Tory environmental record: Brian Mulroney's battles against Acid Rain, and Bill Davis's protection of the Niagara Escarpment come to mind. The Canadian Conservative circa 2013, however, has not only turned their back on this legacy, they are busily dismantling it.
Conservatives today are of a different ilk. They view the environment through a distorted and Manichean lens, one where environmental policy is inevitably at odds with sound economic policy.
Yes, there are voices -- like that of Preston Manning -- calling for a renewal of a Conservative green ethic. But these voices make little impact, drowned out as they are by the chorus of pro-industry voices, granted privileged access to lobby Conservative ministers for changes to environmental regulations. Meeting so often with oil and gas sector executives, it's little wonder "Environment" Minister Peter Kent focuses on promoting "Ethical Oil" rather than environmental stewardship.
A commitment to reconciling environmental and economic priorities is now without a doubt one of the single greatest differences between Conservatives and non-Conservatives in our country. For progressives, the task is to demonstrate to Canadians that there are alternatives to the ecologically destructive and economically uncertain path we are on.
Rick Smith is Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute.
Even in the most urban parts of America, natural beauty can be found just a few miles from home. Take your child on a nature walk, or a hike on a nearby trail. Keep an eye out for exotic birds and insects (just remember not to touch!) and make sure to point out exceptionally beautiful plants. Find the nearest nature reserve or trail near you by checking out Traillink.com, Localhikes.com, or the Sierra Club website. Before you go, make sure to read REI's advice for hiking with kids. Don't forget sunscreen, a hat, and reusable water bottles!
What better way to celebrate World Environment Day with your kid than to spend it in the kitchen? The night before, make granola with your child so they have a crunchy, earthy, homemade breakfast to look forward to in the morning. For lunch, put together some colorful salads made with local, organic vegetables and fruits. Talk about the different tastes, textures, and colors that come naturally from these foods, and why it is so important to eat things that come straight from the ground instead of a factory. This list from SheKnows.com is a good place to get some ideas. For a protein side, have fun with cage free hard boiled eggs. Extra points for organic and all-natural ingredients! Now comes the best part: dessert. Baking cakes, cookies, and cupcakes gives you the chance to show your child how sweet World Environment Day can really be. Check out Earth Day Globe Cookies from Family Corner, Bug Mountain Cake from Family Fun, and this creative concept from Dollhouse Bake Shoppe for Fruit Tree Cupcakes. For extra fun, pack up your meal and make it a picnic. Check out the Nature Conservancy's plan to Picnic for the Planet and participate in an event. Flickr image courtesy of zestycarl
Sometimes, the best way to teach your child is just to read a book with them. Children's books often carry beautiful messages about planet Earth in a very understandable way. Pick up some green kids' books at Barnes & Noble, or order them online through Amazon. Here are some of our favorite children's reads: Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf by Olivia Bouler: This collection of drawings an 11-year old girl did in the aftermath of the 2011 Gulf Oil Spill is inspirational, and awe-inspiring -- with this collection, Olivia raised $175,000 for the recovery effort. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: This environmentally aware classic was published in 1971, just one year after the Earth Day movement began! The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole: Miss Frizzle is the queen of science fun, and this Earth-friendly adventure is no exception. Earth Day-- Hooray! by Stuart J. Murphy: Not only does this teach kids about the benefits of recycling, but helps them with math along the way. The Earth and I by Frank Asch: If "The Giving Tree" has a warm place in your heart, you and your child will want to read this book about the special relationship humans have with nature. The Earth Book by Todd Parr: Made with recycled materials and nontoxic soy ink, this book truly practices what it preaches. Every Minute on Earth by Steve Murrie: For the children of Trivia Night royalty, this book is full of great Earth factoids.
Although it may take longer than one day to see results, planting fruits, vegetables, flowers, or herbs can thrill children, and teach them how we can all contribute to the natural beauty of the world. If you are already a gardener, take your kids outside and have them help you with your plants. Let them weed, water, or actually plant bulbs and they will feel super important and proud. Here are the National Wildlife Federation's tips for gardening with kids, just to make things a little easier. Not enough backyard space for serious planting? Potted plants brighten up a room and give your child a chance to see his or her project bloom on a daily basis. Web Ecoist's list of hard-to-kill houseplants could be a good place to start for the easily distracted. If your child is one to nurture and love a plant, potted herbs are always fun.
Building a bird feeder is a classic childhood activity that connects kids to the world around them. Check out HGTV's different types of bird feeders you can make with your kid out of recycled materials. Or, of course, you can always just go the peanut butter and pine cone route! Flickr image courtesy of USFS Region 5
One of the best parts about World Environment Day is experiencing the natural wonder in our communities. For a fun day trip, take your kids to the local zoo, aquarium, or botanical gardens to see what the world has to offer. Find a zoo or aquarium near you through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums website. You may even live near one of Parents Magazine's Top 10 Zoos or Top 10 Aquariums for kids! Check out your local zoo/aquarium website to find out more. Are your kids too young for a zoo, or would just prefer to see some flora? You can also find a nearby arboretum or botanical gardens through the Better Homes and Gardens locator. Or just pack up a picnic and head to your local park!
Here at HuffPost Green, we believe that anything that can be turned into a game, should be. By making recycling fun, your kids will better understand the concept from a young age, and will be excited to participate when it comes time to separate your glass and paper. If your kids enjoy playing on the computer, have them check out these recycling games on the BBC website and Kaboose.com. This packet from the California Energy Commission has loads of crafts, facts, and games focused on recycling that you and your child can look through together. Have a large group (or at least 2+ kids) and want to involve them all? Play this recycling game, and actually sort your waste in the process: 1. Split the kids into two teams, or have each child play on their own. 2. Give them a pile of mixed recycled goods: plastics, paper, aluminum cans, or anything else that is safe for a child to toss. 3. Set up 3 bins near each team labeled "paper" "plastic" and "aluminum" 4. On the count of three, see which team can sort the pile into the appropriate bins first. Whoever wins gets a World Environment Day cookie!
Since kids cycle through clothes fast, teaching them new uses for old items is a great World Environment Day activity. Have them transform an old t-shirt into a fun pillow, or make sock puppets that can be used to perform a play. As long as you use non-toxic, all natural materials, tye-dyeing is fun any day of the year! For an added splash, use different hues of greens. Flickr image courtesy of Vancour
Kids love a good mystery, and playing in a dark room can help explain the concept of power saving. Have them play hide and seek or marco polo in a room with the lights off, or gather in the closet and tell a (not too) scary story. Show them how much fun can be had without using any extra power. Just make sure to put any sharp or dangerous objects away before you shut off the lights!
Explaining the concept of renewable energy to kids can be tricky, which is why making a solar oven is such a great World Environment Day activity. PBS kids has a great step-by-step solar oven guide, or check out this easy Home Training Tools method. They even have some tasty recipes for you to make in your new cooker! Flickr image courtesy of frankenstoen
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