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What’s your March Break ecological footprint?

Published March 27, 2008

by dbazely

At current rates of resource consumption, we need at least 2 more planet earths to sustain our North American lifestyles. The NGO, Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), develops sustainability curriculum content for schools across the country, and since their offices are in IRIS, I am constantly awed by their hard work and innovation. Now, I have two school-aged children, and therefore, some first hand experience through the homework that I see, of which sustainability issues are being integrated into classrooms and which aren't. I recently chatted with LSF Director, Pam Schwartzberg, about the fact that the biggest contributing factor to the ecological footprint of students in many Ontario schools is likely to be any family vacations that involve airplane travel. So, I wondered what sustainability education was doing to address this. Now it's one thing to vermicompost in class, but what would happen if little Johnny or Jane, in Grade 5, demanded that their March Break ski/Florida etc. vacation be cancelled, in order to reduce their family carbon emissions? And how likely is this to happen? I certainly hope that a conversation about the relative ecological footprint of local travel versus flying (or, if doing that, an understanding of how to purchase reliable carbon offsets) could be stimulated through current sustainability school curricula.

My older daughter and husband have flown for March Break and I am of the opinion that they should carbon offset their flights. In contrast, my March Break involved a rather more local trip to Niagara Falls. Given the limited outdoor options that exist in Niagara Falls in March, I decided to become a sustainability detective with my younger daughter ("BORING", she told me), and to search for evidence of our reduced holiday footprint. I was delighted to find that every toilet I inspected in both of the Niagara Falls hotels that we visited was a low-flow loo. The worst aspect of the trip, from an ecological footprint perspective, were the "meal-deal" components of the hotel package, which seemed to consist of huge meals and huge portions of steak. I couldn't eat it, and it certainly made me feel guilty, especially when one considers what most families around the world get to eat in one week (What the World Eats - Time). Check out this photo of our doggie bag - at least 8 oz of uneaten steak leftover from a family meal for 3 adults and 1 child. But, there were veggies, although simply boiling them did not make them very appetizing. Gordon Ramsay would not have been impressed.

I would love to see the emergence of challenges, in which, following classroom and school-wide calculations of ecological footprints, entire schools or classes compete to reduce their collective footprint. It would also be fascinating to use these calculations to explore the nature of the relationship between overall prosperity/family income level of the school population with the mean ecological footprint of a student in the school. I predict that the same kind of trend that we see globally, would emerge at local scales, with students in wealthier Toronto neighbourhoods having much higher ecological footprints than their counterparts in lower income neighbourhoods. Dawn Bazely

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