Earth Day 2014 – Honouring our planet in Vancouver.

Photo by Cornelia Kopp | flickr.com

This past week marked the 44th annual Earth Day, an event celebrated around the world once a year to pay tribute to the planet that so tolerantly supports us all.  Out of the thousands of celebrations around the world, I was fortunate enough to be in Vancouver to witness the city’s annual Earth Day parade, complete with appearances by many influential special guests, including Vancouver’s best known environmentalist, David Suzuki.   

The celebrations began with a parade, led mostly by youth, warning of the dangers of continued fossil fuel use, including continued progress of the tar sands and the pressure from the federal government to install larger-than-life pipeline networks across Canada and the remainder of the continent.  Local Vancouverites showed their support by waving and honking – it was nice to see a community, one that together already makes such great efforts to be mindful of its surrounding environment, come together for one day to show that they, too, care for the environment.

The parade concluded at Grandview Park, where marchers were greeted by inspirational guest speakers and stations set up to provide opportunities for youth to get involved with local environmental initiatives.  Despite the bouts of rain, attendees listened carefully to the words of accomplished advocates of the environment.  Perhaps most inspirational of all was Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a young, yet undoubtedly gifted 13-year-old girl who I heard speak for the first time.  A member of the Sliammon First Nation, Ta’Kaiya is no newcomer to environmental activism.  From a young age, Ta’Kaiya has understood the urgency in protecting the single planet we have, treating it with care as opposed to our collective trashcan.  One powerful message I took away from her speech involved her hopes of working with technology to help improve the state of our planet, rather than fighting against technological advances.  She followed her already inspirational presentation with the bravest of gestures – performing a song she had written when she was just 10 years old.  It definitely did not sound (vocally and lyrically) like something possibly written and performed by someone so young.  I’d say the world needs to watch out for this young woman – she will continue to inspire others – both younger and older – in many years to come.

Short but memorable appearances by Andrea Reimer (Vancouver City Council) and David Suzuki emphasized just how important it is for youth to get involved.  Reimer revealed some shocking statistics that would become Vancouver’s reality, should the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline be approved.  After announcing that the city has reduced climate emissions by 4% and is on track to reach projected climate reduction goals by 2020.  She continues, “All of that will mean nothing if the Kinder Morgan pipeline is approved.  In three days of production – forget that oil being burnt – just the amount of emissions created by three days of the increased production that they’re projecting for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, all of the gains that we have made in Vancouver would be wiped out by that production.”  It is thanks to city council members like Reimer that Vancouver will continue to fight to maintain our environmental progress rather than reverse it.  She finishes with this strong message for everyone in attendance: “If anyone ever tells you that you don’t have the right to fight for your own future, they’re absolutely wrong.”

During Dr. Suzuki’s speech, he reminded the youth of today to  “fight like hell” (the power of this statement received the most energetic reaction of the day from the audience).  He noted that he was present to speak as an elder; the generation who has lived an entire lifetime and can pass on messages of successes and failures to younger generations.  He continues, “It’s your future that’s at stake…You’ve got to recruit the two most important people on the planet – your mom and dad.  If they love you, and if they care about the future you are going to, they have to become the eco-warriors that are going to raise hell in the electoral process.”  This passionate address by Dr. Suzuki is sure to inspire today’s youth to follow his instructions for making the changes necessary in our political systems to bring attention to conserving the environment rather than exploiting our natural resources for profit. 

After Dr. Suzuki’s speech, I wandered over to a booth with two girls selling plants, which were from their school garden.  I quickly noticed that these young environmentalists played an important role in planning the Earth Day event.  I asked them a question that weighed heavily on my mind that day: “Why is it important for youth to get involved in Earth Day initiatives?”.  They responded by saying, “I remember once someone said that when people care about the environment when they’re younger, they’re most likely to do something about it.  And we are the people of the next generation.  If we start caring about [the environment] at a younger age, we will be able to start doing something about it sooner.  The people running this event is pretty much all kids, so it really shows that teenagers are more that what people think they are.”  At the end of the day, their school had a few extra dollars for future environmental projects, and I have a few extra tomato plants in my backyard!  

Another group of bright young environmentalists from the Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) caught my eye, as did the collection of bees on display (not living, of course) to promote the importance of keeping pollinators alive and healthy.  Georgia and Sam, two enthusiastic EYA volunteers, believe that younger generations now will be able to carry these messages of environmental sustainability into generations even further down the line, as preserving our only home becomes increasingly crucial.  They also commented on the lifestyles of many children today, and how this may be a barrier to increased environmental movement.  “I think a lot of kids spend a lot of time inside with technology and barely go outside in nature.  But if we start to care about the environment, then our kids will probably get into the movement, too.” 

I spoke to a member of ForestEthics, an organization dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable elements of our natural environment, such as endangered forests and wildlife. The group is currently working on a tar sands campaign against proposed pipelines, which would interrupt pristine environments and create potential for major environmental catastrophes.  As part of Earth Day, though, they are gaining community support to build momentum in opposing dirty energy.  When asked why it is important for youth to be involved in Earth Day initiatives, the first thought she had traced back to door-to-door canvassing.  “Anyone that we come across is usually middle-aged or older, but...younger generations are the ones who are going to fix and take over these issues that have been put upon us, so youth are really important to change the direction that we’re going in. Youth really can do a lot.”  

Earth Day is important for advocating environmental awareness – but it is just one day.  So, I provided all of the individuals that I had the pleasure of speaking with the opportunity to give one suggestion or piece of advice for how to keep the environment in mind throughout the entire year.  The most common answers?  Water conservation, recycling, getting involved with environmental initiatives – all simple things that each one of us can do on a daily basis so that every day can be a little more like Earth Day.

One message that continued to surface throughout the entire day emphasized the importance of considering future generations when making any decisions about the treatment of our environment.  One thing is certain - if the determination and passion of the younger generations present at this year’s Earth Day are any indication of how well the people of this world will take care of the environment and its resources in the future, the planet will have something to look forward to.

Find out more about ForestEthics (www.forestethics.org), Environmental Youth Alliance (www.eya.ca), and Ta’Kaiya Blaney (www.takaiyablaney.com).