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Summer Internships in Sustainability Do Exist!

As an MBA student at the Schulich School of Business at York University interested in sustainability, I started to wonder late this spring what summer internship opportunities are actually available in The City of Toronto? As my friends and colleagues, one by one, received internship offers at financial institutions, consulting firms, consumer packaged goods companies etc. I began to wonder; maybe the summer internship in sustainability was just an urban myth? An experience reserved for the sibling of a friend of a friend…

I can now say, from firsthand experience, that there are opportunities to work in Sustainability. You just need to find them!  Talk to anyone and everyone you know – and even people you don't - and let them know what you are looking for. I was able to secure a 16 week internship with the City of Toronto Environment Office (TEO) supported by a grant from York University and the Knowledge Mobilization Unit.

In addition to blogging on the IRIS website, my primary focus is on Climate Change Adaptation. Adaptation? You ask, as you scratch your head quizzically? What is that? I thought we were focusing on mitigation, you know, reducing our Greenhouse Gas emissions?!?

Well, you are right, we are still focusing on reducing our GHG emissions, but TEO is also recognizing that our climate is changing and we are currently experiencing more extreme weather events (remember all that rain in May or the record breaking heat on June 8th??). There was a great article in the Globe and Mail on Saturday June 4th, 2011 that further explains adaptation and actions currently being undertaken in Toronto

I have been at TEO for just over a month now, so I can say with some credibility, that it is going to shape up to be a pretty exciting summer!  I am working on some really neat projects with regards to Climate Change Adaptation in the Toronto region and with the upcoming Live Green Toronto Festival on July 16th.

In the coming weeks I hope to be able to update you on my projects!

Spring is here… too early

This morning, the novelist, Rui Umezawa, who is a neighbour and who kindly reads my blogs, asked me why I have been so inactive on the blogging front. "Too busy", I yelled across the garden fences. This term I have been teaching BIOLOGY 2010, the Plants course, which I taught from 1991-97, before powerpoint and course websites. So, while all of those life cycles are forever burned into my brain, chalk and talk, as we call that style of lecturing, is, in science, pretty much gone the way of the dodo. I have had to create Keynote and Powerpoint lectures and to learn "moodle" which is the most comprehensive electronic classroom software that I have ever seen. This open source software has replaced the way that I previously accessed my course websites - namely through the very nice, and now retired Biology Department Lecturer who functioned as our webmaster.

Moodle has allowed me to teach this course as I always wanted to: skipping from chapter 1 directly to chapter 32, and then to 21, to chapters 2-8, to 11-12 and then 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13 in Raven et al's Plant Biology 7th Ed.  CRAZY, right? But in fact, moving through the material in this sequence always made more sense to me than the linear way that I was forced to teach in earlier versions of the course text book: i.e. start at chapter number one and proceed forward in a one-way sequence. The internet and moodle has provided me with the tools to lay out a completely different roadmap than that provided by the book's author's and index, and, in 2010, the students can follow my map and route through the text book. If I had tried to do this in the 1990s, supported by paper course handouts and chalk and talk lectures, there would, most likely, have been a revolution in the lecturehall. Students who missed classes would have been griping about the jumping around, and any deviations from the lecture schedule, when I found that I was not delivering planned lectures on the expected date. With moodle, I  constantly update the students about where we got to, and with podcasted lectures, they have more flexibility than ever before, to miss a class and still catch up.

I LOVE IT - but it's been a heck of a lot of work at the back end. Still, there's nothing like jumping into a new technology with two feet, and sinking or swimming. The York University support staff have been amazing and I have taken several mini-courses. And, the time involved, has meant no time for blogging here. But, I have sought to imbue the course with a large measure of sustainability thinking. This is easy to do in a course that is essentially about biodiversity, why plants are important to humans, and about evolution. Our lectures on the Carboniferous and the tree ferns and progymnosperms (ancestors of seed plants) that fixed enormous amounts of carbon, and which subsequently turned into fossil fuels, relate directly to human-produced greenhouse gas emissions arising from the burning of these fossil fuels. I found an amazing old You Tube video about fossils, from the 1950s or 1960s by Royal Dutch Shell (that's Shell Oil to you and me), that the students have watched.

Everything is connected. Teaching about flowering plants and pointing out to my students that trees are already flowering , has reminded me, every day since early March, that climate change is happening NOW. I told my husband yesterday that one is supposed to prune roses when the forsythia blooms, and today, I have seen forsythia flowers. My gardening journals from the 1990s tells me that in 1994, the forsythia was only just flowering on April 27. In the early 2000s, I was noting that the forsythia blooming in mid-April was just "too early" - and in 2010, it's been flowering since the 2nd or 3rd of April. Climate warming is here, and in fact, in the USA, the Gardening Zones were  adjusted in 2006 by the Arbor Day Foundation to reflect this.

Dawn R. Bazely

“Why Woody?” – for an honorary degree

A very nice reporter from the Toronto Star asked me this question on the phone yesterday, as I was standing in a field in Milton, Ontario, next to 16-Milgiant 2e Creek. I was collecting seeds from Giant Hogweed, an invasive and somewhat toxic plant (see right).

Tomorrow, York University will confer an honorary degree on Woody Harrelson. Back in January, when I wrote my nomination letter, I had no idea that the announcement of this would coincide with the recent release of a popular commercial movie, starring him! I also had no idea as to how receptive the university committee responsible for Honorary Degrees would be to our nomination! After all, universities are very conservative institutions, as I found out from the raised eyebrows, back in the mid 1990s, when I had the temerity to suggest to some colleagues that we ought to consider nominating Oprah Winfrey for an honorary degree. At the time, she was dictating what America and my local Mum's Book Club was reading, through her book selections.

There have been a lot opinions offered about York conferring this degree on Woody Harrelson, in response to the CBC story. In the wake of my interview with the Star reporter, I think there's a few things worth mentioning from my answer to her question "Why Woody?"

1. The whole idea can be traced back to 2006 and the conversation that IRIS started about making York's course kits carbon neutral. Along the way, not only did we discover a huge interest amongst our students in the issue of climate change, but we also learned a lot about how unsustainable the publishing and printing industry is, in terms of how it produces books:  inks, paper, and the energy footprint of shipping books; akin to shipping bricks, a friend in publishing has told me.

2. Then, in August 2008, I was invited by the committee organizing our Fall Green Week, to suggest environmental and sustainability-related documentaries for screening. Since I am always forcing my family to watch educational docs, I had lots of ideas, as did others, and we had a lively discussion. I thought that An Inconvenient Truth was too ubiquitous to have much appeal at the time, and that Who Killed the Electric Car, was just a wee bit too boring. But Go Further was different from anything that I had ever seen, and might just be the ticket for an undergraduate audience. It was not at all preachy and took a very different approach to engaging youth than  found in the standard lecture.

3. When we screened the film, through a colleague at York, who turned out to have a brother in publishing, we also learned about the companion book to the documentary, which is incredibly sustainably produced. From him, we learned that the appearance of these kinds of books tends to have limited appeal to the purchasing public. This is why the books in stores don't tend to look like the Go Further book: they don't really sell that well. In other words - environmentally friendly, unshiny, dull-looking books don't cut it on the shelf - YET.

So there you have it, the boring story of why I got involved in this nomination. We did a bunch of research into and learning about a couple of key items of academic life - documentaries and books and learned about Woody Harrelson, too. And, as a good academic should be, I was also rather skeptical about the nomination venture. As I  wrote in my  letter:

"Mr. Harrelson has turned out to be an embodiment of our new York slogan and our old motto, that the way must be tried. Who would have thought that the goofy bartender from “Cheers” would turn out to be such an important environmental leader and activist?"

If universities are to be leaders, then we must be receptive to different modes of teaching and learning, and be prepared to recognize and honor them.

Dawn Bazely

Our Urban Experience

The students in the YSTOP program spent a day exploring the urban environment, travelling from York University Keele Campus, where they were staying, to Kensington Market via TTC, then south on foot to Queen Street and then back on the subway with a stop at Yorkdale for a late lunch.  When we were at Kensington market we discussed the study done by the York Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry in conjunction with Streets are for People on the effect of pedestrian Sundays on air quality. Yorkdale was one of the first enclosed shopping centres in Toronto, and is interesting for the impact that such malls have on the environment, relying on air conditioning and travel by cars.

For some of the rural students the trip gave them their first ride on a subway, and for many, even those who live in the city, it was their first ride on a streetcar. Included in this post are some images and some writing that the students generated from their trip.

Our urban experience was about learning what goes on in the city, such as the transportation, tall buildings, crowded streets, big malls and fewer forests. Transportation in the urban setting is different because there are street cars, subway trains and tunnels. There is a greater population in the urban setting and public transit helps to reduce the amount of pollution being produced by people travelling around the city.

The urban environment is the TOTAL opposite of the rural environment. The urban environment has more people and modern technology than the rural environment. As we found out, there are lots of people crowding the cities from different backgrounds and cultures. We got to experience new things like sour cream and onion flavored crickets and empanadas. The transportation in a rural community is very different from the transportation in the urban community. Many people in the urban community choose to ride their bikes and take city transit, like the subway, bus and street cars, which help decrease the pollution.

Urban Wildlife

Urban Wildlife


Urban Landscape

Urban Landscape





In the subway

In the subway

YSTOP – What is it?

The YSTOP program hosted by YSIMSTE is called Urban and Rural Youth as Environmental Scientists.  Two days into the 6 day program some of the students created this description of the program:

YSTOP stands for Youth Science and Technology Outreach Program. This particular YSTOP program brings together students from urban and rural communities in order to learn about different aspects of the environment. This program encourages students to actually take a closer look at our wonderful world. This program takes place at Seneca College, King Campus and at York University, Keele Campus. Throughout this program different professors and graduate students came and taught these students about the environment, including sessions on animals, insects and plants. Since this program takes place at Seneca, in a rural area, and at York, in an urban area, students from the country get to visit the city and students from the city get to visit the country. They get to experience and explore the differences of rural and urban communities, and the environmental science related to them.

What’s your March Break ecological footprint?

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

Yesterday was World Water Day

What with Earth Hour and Earth Day coming up and International Women's day come and gone, I totally forgot about World Water Day. But, last year, 2007, York University students, led by Korice Moir, who was helped by Roberta Hawkins (see the gender and water poster), and Paul Marmer, the 3 Master's students, who went to Mongolia for 3 months in 2006, as part of our Sustainable Water in Mongolia project, organized a great event with fellow Faculty of Environmental Studies students. Here are a few pictures. We had a hike around the campus (see our former Campus Planner, and IRIS exec. member, Andrew Wilson, in the central picture at the bottom) and learned about lost rivers, and the First Nations land claim that still remains to be settled. There were also posters and displays in Vari Hall and students taste-tested the difference between tap and bottled water (top photo).

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