Monthly Archives: April 2016

Change happens now; the world is rooted in our backyard

Paper presented at the Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit 2016

by Ryan LiuRyanLiu

Is nature not something beautiful, caring, extraordinary? Does it not surround us and care or us every second of the day like a mother, hence the term Mother Nature? But would you really treat your own mother this way? How can we throw our trash in her backyard, mess up her clean house, neglect her house plants, not thank her for all the nice things she does for us? Who are we to treat our dear Mother Nature this way?

Because of us, she is fading. She is dying from neglect and abuse. Because of us, there will soon be no nature to enjoy, no more wildlife nor vegetation, no more flora nor fauna. Because of us there will be nothing left. I don’t want that and neither should you.

I want to make a change. I will make that change. There’s a really big difference you know? Between wanting and willing. Wanting is just an empty way to trick yourselves into thinking you’re doing a good thing. To the people who sit at home wondering what if? What if what? What if you didn’t spend the day thinking but doing? If we don’t do anything, then how can we hope to accomplish anything?

We are the most powerful creatures to rule the earth; the apex predators, so how are we the ones to plunge earth to its doom? By not taking action, we are causing destruction. By standing by, we are letting the world pass us by. We have to do something for our environment, OUR planet. Remember, you guys still have to live here, under the roof of our Mother Nature.

Now I don’t want you to go outside and plant fifty trees because although that would be awesome, it’s unrealistic. If you could just plant one or have your own little garden, that would help. A small act makes a big difference.

I’m going to bring my mom a fresh glass of water, I’m going to clean up her house, I’m going to plant flowers in her backyard. I’m going to make my mom happy.

I know there’s plenty of people just like you, like me, people who want to make the world a better place. Who want to see our Mother Nature smile again, laugh and dance again, prosper and live on with a bright healthy future in front of her, in front of us.

Who wants to make that change?

Now who will make that change?



I was lost

Keynote Speech – Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit 2016

by Jay MatsushibaJayMatsushiba

I was lost.

Life got tougher and all I seemed to hear was more and more bad news. This bombardment of pessimism…

Coral reefs will be gone by 2050, climate change is destroying our communities, hundreds and thousands of species going extinct and, most of all, we will not be able to live on a happy planet. These problems kept growing and growing in my mind, becoming these unscalable mountains each day. As those cliffs towered over me, I ran.

I tried to run from those doubts but it seemed like the further I ran the louder and closer those doubts became. I spiralled down and down and further down, and as I ran I left a few important things behind as well.

I disappeared from what I had felt passionate about with environmental sustainability, unable to deal with the helplessness I felt, and I honestly didn’t know if I still believed in the movement. I really needed a moment away from it all, to try to escape this downward spiral. To make those doubts just shut up for once.

So what do you do when you need that moment? Many of us like to take a walk, and that’s what I did. My friend, being the candlelight in that darkness, organized a backpacking trip to hike the famous Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island. She invited me along with a few other friends.

Together, this group of five teenagers was going to take on this adventure. This was the first time many of us had gone backpacking. I’d gone camping plenty of times before but backpacking? That was new to me.

Another first for us was being totally on our own. No parents, no guides; we had only our own limited skills, abilities and mental fortitude to make it through. That was terrifying, but also incredibly empowering.

We had to hike 8 hours on the first day to get to our planned campsite. No big deal, right? We were all fit, young individuals and we thought it’d be just be a healthy challenge. In hindsight we probably should have realized that hiking 20 km of the “Most Difficult” section was going to be tough.

The first two hours of the trail were gorgeous, as we hiked along the beach. The magnificent Pacific Ocean to our left, as far as the eye could see, lined by gorgeous red cedars on our right. We were beginning to feel pretty good about this trip.

But as soon as our spirits seemed to rise, the beach trail ran out. We were instead greeted by a wall of towering evergreen trees. In a gap stood a sign, tilted on an angle, which read “Juan de Fuca Trail è

Greeting us there was, I swear, a cliff. This incredibly steep trail disappeared into the forest, and we needed to drag ourselves and our over-packed bags over this hill.

As we lugged our way up one of the first things we noticed was the dust. People on the trail ahead of us would kick up the dust with every step, leaving it for us in the back to breathe in and having it build up in our eyes, noses and throats. When it was my turn at the front I found it impossible to avoid kicking up dust as well – the fine silt seemed to cover absolutely everything.

Finding water was not as easy as expected either. Many of the streams and creeks that flowed between the hills had dried up. The few that remained weren’t exactly easy to get to. One stream was 2 or 3 metres underneath the bridge that crossed the ravine, and we needed to refill our bottles. So I tumbled down the side of the ravine and ended up absolutely caked in mud.

But both of these challenges paled in comparison to what tested us the most.

The Hills. It seemed like they would never end. We fought the heat, dehydration and dust as we climbed hill after hill. Every hill just lead to another, and every one we climbed seemed taller than the last. Our thighs burned, our calves trembled, and it got to the point where our legs literally stopped working, and started collapsing underneath the weight of ourselves and our bags. Yet at this point we were still hours from our campsite. What we planned to hike in 6 hours, dragged on into almost 10, and I did not think we could finish that trail.

Eventually, on one of our many water breaks, one of us said to the others “I can’t go any further, I can’t do it. You guys can go ahead without me and I’ll catch up.

And at that moment, without any of us speaking a word, we stood up and unpacked his bag. We took some his load, his food, his tent, and repacked it all into our own so that he could keep going. So that we could keep going. Even though all of us were exhausted, in pain, and with legs that barely worked, we still were willing to carry more so that we could finish the trail together.

And finish the trail we did. Finally, as daylight was running out, we made it to our beach camp-site. I swear that view was the most beautiful scene that I have ever seen, with the sun disappearing into the Pacific Ocean.

As we sat around the camp-fire, and enjoyed our instant mashed potatoes, I reflected on what I had learned that day.

  1. Even if things are incredibly difficult, you are capable of far more than you ever expected. Each and every single one of us has the incredible power and strength of the human spirit, and it’s just a matter of finding that strength inside yourself.
  2. There are people out there who will be the candlelight in the dark, and they’ll give you the light you need to escape. Its just up to us to say yes.
  3. You will find friends that will take this journey with you and willing help you out to take some of that load off your shoulders when you need it.

So, look around you right now. Do you see this room full of hundreds of people? We’re all in this together and each of you has the unimaginable potential to make a difference in your own life and in the lives of others. Look around you – these are the people that are willing to carry some of your load, to help you through. And you’ll be around to help carry theirs when you have the strength.

As I fell asleep on the Juan de Fuca Trial to the sound of the waves crashing, I realized the most important lesson of all. We don’t have to run or turn away. We’re not helpless, we’re not useless and we’re certainly not hopeless. We have the capability to make our environment and this world a better place, and I believe in you. No matter how loud those doubts get, you can do it. And if you can’t alone, then together we will.

Thank you.

Jay Matsushiba is a 12th grade student attending Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C. He is currently the co-chair of the Churchill Environment Club and the Vancouver Youth Sustainability Network, working to provide other youth opportunities to be involved in their passions in environmental sustainability. Jay volunteers at the Vancouver Aquarium educating visitors, maintaining habitats and helping rehabilitate rescued marine animals.

The refugees are coming

by Stan Hirst

It is surely one of the worst things that can happen to us – to be uprooted from the place we live in, and forced by violence or disaster to flee for our survival: in other words to become refugees.

As we head into spring the news about Syrian refugees in Canada is rosy. As of April 10 a total of 26,262 had arrived, 15,000 of them assisted by the Government, the remainder arriving via private sponsorship. Canada’s efforts in assisting refugees fleeing the strife in their war-torn country has received praise from European countries and from international agencies.

There were some underlying reasons for the success. Essentially the federal government already had a framework in place to work with community groups. Government of Canada agencies redeployed some 500 people staff from seven ministries as well as the army to fast-track screening. Canada has a strong NGO sector that serves refugees and immigrants.

But Canada’s experience with refugees has been strikingly different from that of European countries. Only 6 months after Europeans responded positively to the disturbing imagery of Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach the general mood has turned sour and even downright hostile with far-reaching political ramifications.

Nearly half of all Germans now feel that the chancellor should resign over her initial decision to open the country’s doors to refugees. Sweden has moved to reject possibly half the 160,000 asylum applications it received in 2015 and plans to deport tens of thousands already in the country. Denmark, Switzerland, Bavaria and other German states have introduced legislation to legitimize the seizure of refugees’ valuables as a way to help subsidize asylum-seekers’ costs to the state. European members of the Schengen Area of 26 countries that have abolished border control at their common borders are moving to kick Greece out of the group because of the huge number of refugees currently entering Europe from that country. The European Union has signed a $4.5-billion deal with Turkey to help that country step up efforts to stop the flow of illegal migrants attempting to enter Europe.

What does this have to do with the environment? A great deal as it turns out. The Syrian refugees coming to Canada are the undisguised consequence of a brutal war targeted on civilians, but there is now clear evidence that a severe drought, created in part by human-induced climate change, contributed to the conflict.

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of California have examined the climatic instrumental record and concluded that the drought from 2007 to 2010 in Syria caused widespread crop failure which resulted in mass migration of farming families to urban centres. Examination of century-long trends in precipitation, temperature and sea-level pressure strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing made the occurrence of the 3-year drought three times more likely than by natural variability alone. Water shortages in the Fertile Crescent in Syria, Iraq and Turkey killed livestock, drove up food prices, sickened children, and forced 1.5 million rural residents to the outskirts of Syria’s jam-packed cities. This occurred just as the country was already exploding with immigrants from the Iraq war.

In 2010 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN Refugee Agency, estimated that 42 million people worldwide had at that stage been uprooted from their homes. Most could be considered “environmental refugees”, i.e. people no longer able to eke out an existence in their homelands because of environmental degradation and forced to move in order to survive. Some 26 million of these were deemed to be “internal refugees” by natural disasters or conflict, i.e. forced from their homes but not yet crossing international borders.

Climate change will likely prove to be the ultimate humanitarian disaster. Its immediate effects – droughts, floods, rising seas, worsening storms – directly threaten many countries around the globe, but they impact most severely on people who live on the margins. These include Sudanese, Somalis and Senegalese beset by long cycles of drought, and Bangladeshis imperilled by rising seas engulfing their paddy fields which lie only centimetres above normal high tide levels. People living on a floodplain may be able to rebuild when floods come once a decade, but when they come twice a year that option is no longer tenable.

Even a small shift in the local climate can initiate a period of disastrous circumstances for people that have to survive through subsistence farming. This happened on a massive scale in the 1930s, not in Africa or Asia but right here in North America where Dust Bowl conditions across the Great Plains sent farmers streaming toward the cities,

Red Cross statistics indicate that numbers of environmental refugees are growing orders of magnitude faster than war refugees. If the estimates derived from climate models hold true, upwards of 200 million people are expected by 2080 to be made refugees by climate instability and rising seas.

The world currently has 40 cities with populations exceeding 10 million. Many of these in Africa and Asia are growing at unprecedented rates because they’re already receiving an influx of climate refugees. The vulnerability of many megacities to climatic disasters overlaps with the inability of local and regional governments to accommodate rapid growth via proper infrastructure. The best current example of this, ironically, comes not from Asia or Africa but again from North America. Hurricane Katrina came close to obliterating New Orleans in 2005 and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing. A discomforting thought is that hurricanes and storms of equal or greater magnitude than Katrina will inevitably strike highly vulnerable cities such as Lagos or Dhaka.

Is there any way forward? That is the somewhat complex subject for a future blog post. Stay tuned. In the meantime we can ponder the words of Mary Robinson who was President of Ireland and later the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and is now a member of The Elders:

The human rights framework reminds us that climate change is about suffering – about human misery that result directly from the damage that we are doing to nature.”

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015.