Petitions and Flowers: A Semester's Research and Volunteer Work
by Darby on May 6, 2015 - 8:48pm
When I tell people I am volunteering to help the environment, one of two reactions occur. Either they fully support me and encourage me or they tell me in despair that they don’t believe my actions will do much good in the grand scheme of things. The weird thing is, no one seems to be opposed to the idea of being environmentally conscious.
This semester, I have had two main volunteer projects ongoing. The first was the collection of signatures for a petition that aims to preserve biodiversity. The second was to help the plight of the monarch butterfly which is facing extinction.
We all want to help the environment yet, this is not the way we act. A large part of the problem, at least in the western world, is that the infrastructure of our culture forces us to be consumers. Western culture is focused primarily on economics and everything else revolves around that. Therefore, even if the people at the bottom want to make conscious good decisions, they cannot because the environmentally friendly options are not available to them. Even people like me, who wish to make every environmentally friendly choice regardless of if it costs us a little more, cannot avoid the negative consequences of our consumerism. For instance, Canadians in winter must get their fruits and vegetables from elsewhere as the local land cannot provide any.
However, this does not mean we should give up the fight and drop our gloves. Rather, this should give us more of a drive. In recent years, consumers have learnt their power. The pressure to create environmentally friendly options has been felt and seen throughout the North American market. It was not that long ago that eco-friendly products did not exist. Now, many companies are going green to meet consumer demands and save money. Many corporations are saving money by reducing packaging and waste. However, this is nowhere near being a widespread phenomenon. The reality is that most businesses remain harmful to the environment. The idea here though is that change is possible.
For instance, earlier this semester, I read a post written by a fellow student who goes by the pseudonym BreeTheHappy on newsactivist. Her post explains how consumer pressure forced the company KitKat to change the source of its palm oil. I went to the source she cited, an article entitled “Palm oil continues to destroy Indonesia’s wildlife” published in The Conversation. It turns out, Nestlé’s palm oil used to originate from Indonesian farmers who cleared rainforests in order to plant the crops (Laurance and van Oosterzee). Now, they receive their palm oil from farmers who did not cut forests in order to provide palm oil. The old practice was a threat to many endangered species in Indonesia as well as contributed to a huge loss of biodiversity as many organisms were disappearing at alarming rates (Laurance and van Oosterzee).
To those who think that environmental change is impossible or for the dreamers, I say it is possible and it is happening today. Throughout this semester, I have been regularly posting about environmental issues on newsactivist. In doing so, I have read countless articles both about the problems facing the environment but also the progress of environmental causes.
In response to all of this, I became more and more eager to do something myself. In the past, I have organized tree plantings through Scouts Canada, and participated in many local environmental cleanups. I wanted a project that would be different from my previous experiences but that would still be significant. That is when I decided to volunteer with SNAP Quebec, the Quebec chapter of CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Quebec Chapter).
I first contacted them via e-mail and explained that I wanted to help. Subsequently, I met with them on March 29th 2015 and learned more about their objectives and goals as an organization. As mentioned in two previous posts on newsactivist, SNAP is a non-profit environmental organization whose main goal is to keep half of Canada wild by creating and sustaining protected areas in Canada (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Quebec Chapter).
They have a petition that has the goal of creating more protected areas within the province of Quebec. Their goal is to attain 10 000 signatures and they were at 3000 when I signed on to help. I proposed the idea that I could collect signatures in my CEGEP, (a post-secondary level school for those of you not residing in Quebec). I thought that this would be a great place to collect signatures as many young people are truly concerned about the environment. In addition, I had originally planned to help them collect donations and signatures for their Nagoya + petition on April 25th at a kiosk in MEC. However, this event was unfortunately cancelled.
My collection of signatures entailed a few simple steps prior to starting. I first had to translate the petition given to me by the SNAP. The original petition was in French but the student population of my CEGEP is primarily English. The petition reads as follows in French and in English:
“Aujourd'hui, le Québec compte moins de 10 % d'aires protégées, alors que les objectifs internationaux pour la biodiversité visent un minimum de 17 % d'ici 2020. Si vous aussi, vous pensez que le Québec peut faire mieux, alors vous partagez les objectifs de la campagne Nagoya +, réalisée par Nature Québec et la SNAP Québec. En signant cette pétition, je demande que le gouvernement du Québec respecte les objectifs fixés par la Convention sur la Diversité Biologique à Nagoya et s'engage à faire + : 25 % d'aires protégées d'ici 2025 sur l'ensemble du territoire” (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society).
“Today, the province of Quebec is made up of less than 10% of protected areas. However, the international objective for biodiversity is to reach a minimum of 17% of protected areas by 2020.
If you think that Quebec can do better, then you share the objectives of the Nagoya + campaign created by SNAP Quebec and Nature Quebec. By signing this petition, I am asking the government of Quebec to respect the objectives fixed by the Convention for Biological Diversity held at Nagoya and to protect 25% of Quebec’s areas by 2025”.
Before I started, I posted the following on a Facebook page dedicated to the students of the CEGEP.
“Hey everyone! Starting this week, I will be going around school collecting signatures for an environmental petition. It’s a simple petition about protecting more of Canada's land and water. I am doing this in collaboration with SNAP Quebec (Société pour la nature et les parcs du Canada, Section Quebec). I would appreciate your time if you could sign if you agree with the petition. If you see a person walking around with a clipboard collecting signatures and you agree with the petition, just come up to me to sign. Thanks”!
I also included the actual petition found just above in this post. Most students look at the page regularly so it was a good way of informing the student of what was happening and why I was interrupting them.
I then began by passing the petition through my classes. Not long afterwards, I recruited a friend, Sarah, to help me collect more signatures. I then went around the school, in the club rooms, in the main student space, in the locker areas, politely interrupting students for a few minutes of their time. I spent roughly 12 hours volunteering for this project. Everyone responded positively and it was actually a very pleasant experience. The students were eager to sign and do a little part in helping the environment. In the end, I obtained about 200 signatures for the organization. This petition will then be given to the government of Canada and Quebec in order to express the desire among the people to protect our wilderness.
Sarah (on the right) and I (on the left) with our clipboard of signatures
The signed petition papers
My goal was that through this volunteer work, we might put a bit of pressure on the government to pay more attention to environmental issues. Governments make decisions for the people and the pressure of the people has been seen to work many times before.
For instance, in a recent post I wrote entitled “President Obama’s Role in Climate Change Battle”, I explained how both the environmental activists and the government were necessary to create environmental change. The people have expressed their desire, in America, for the environment and climate change to be taken more seriously. They do not want to leave behind a legacy of national parks who dwindled away due to rising seas and changing climates. And the President is listening. Obama has been taking an active role in Earth Day and during National Parks Week, he asked Americans to recommit to a vision consisting of the protection of America’s natural and historic places so that future generations can enjoy their beauty (Pierno).
Recently, I also read on USA Today that Obama has vetoed the very controversial Keystone pipeline. A particular line from the article really struck me, “Obama could still approve the project on his own authority, although he has suggested that its environmental impacts would outweigh any economic benefits” (Korte). The Keystone pipeline was widely protested across America and received a lot of attention from the media and the President heard their voices. Obama “take[s] seriously [his] responsibility to the American people” (qtd. In Korte).
To me, this goes to show that the protests we make, the petitions we pass around and the level of noise we make around these issues matters. In fact, I would say that it is imperative to environmental progress. If we do not bring attention to our desire for change, to our desire to protect biodiversity, to protect the environment, to protect our water, our fauna and our flora, then who will? The environment cannot speak for itself, we need to speak for it. And, the louder we are, the more attention we bring to these issues, the more legislators and corporations will notice.
We have come to a point where we can no longer ignore climate change. It is real and it is happening now. Even if you want to deny the fact that the planet it warming, you cannot deny the negative environmental impact of human activity. You cannot deny the extinction of species, the loss of habitat, chemical runoff, light pollution, the accumulation of garbage in the oceans; there is physical tangible proof that our current lifestyles are destructive and unsustainable.
Earlier this semester, I wrote about Severn Cullis-Suzuki, an environmental activist. She began her environmental activism at a very early age and now, continues to encourage youth to believe in themselves and their own power to change the world. I would like to re-quote her now. She said something which I found truly moving, not only environmentalists are needed now to make change. In fact, she says young people should “first follow [their] passion” since “society now needs everyone in every field to become sustainable. […]Become whatever you’re interested in first and then bring sustainability to it” (Cullis-Suzuki).
What I found particularly interesting was that she said sustainability needs to happen everywhere. And this is very true. Over the course of the semester, I have noticed that the main causes of environmental problems are corporations, businesses and people who all act unsustainably. Monarch butterflies are on their way to extinction because the agriculture industry, made up of individual farmers who all followed its choices, eliminated milkweed from the landscape of North America through herbicide use (Associated Press). Similarly, bees and many other pollinators are dying due to the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on these same crops (Suzuki and Moola). Garbage is accumulating in the oceans due to poor waste management but the main cause is consumerism (Parker). We buy and throw away all the time and it is a problem.
The actions to fix these problems are within themselves very small but they need to happen globally. Everyone needs to take some responsibility for the damage they themselves have caused to the planet. This is not to say that we are all horrible garbage creating monsters, we are simply human. The blame lies on all of us collectively as a species, we need to do better.
However, not everything is gloomy. As mentioned in the beginning of the post, things are beginning to improve. Companies are starting to take a turn for the green. People are more aware of issues and more responsive to help. For instance, when I was collecting signatures, no one refused to sign. Because, when it comes down to it, in the bottom of our hearts, we all do care about the state of our planet because it is our home.
Milkweed for Monarchs
In fact, I also took on a second project that would have an impact a little closer to my home. I also had a second smaller project running this semester. I wanted to help the monarch butterfly. I made a post earlier entitled “Monarch Butterflies in Rapid Decline” on newsactivist which explained the difficult situation facing the monarch butterflies. Summarized shortly, the monarch population has declined by approximately 90% due to the loss of milkweed plants along their migratory routes (Associated Press). Milkweed is detrimental to the monarch’s survival as it is the only plant which their young can eat. It has largely disappeared due to increased herbicide use in the agricultural industry as well as urbanism (Associated Press).
I had to ideas to help the monarchs. The first was to plant my own milkweed seeds. I ordered a free package of seeds from the Cincinnati Nature Center, a non-profit organization, through their initiative Milkweed to Monarchs (Cincinnati Nature Center). The seeds are currently being prepared for planting as they need to be kept moist and cool, usually in a refrigerator, for 30 days prior to their planting. They are set to be sowed on June 1st.
The seed packet from Milkweed to Monarchs
A milkweed seed
My second goal was to convince my municipality to plant milkweed as well. I sent an e-mail to the mayor explaining the situation of the monarchs and requesting they consider planting milkweed. However, this endeavor was not successful this year for two reasons. The municipal plans had already been made for the summer. But also, they considered the plant to vigorous and invasive to place in the ornamental flower beds. Regardless of this, a victory was made because the city is however considering the possibility of planting it elsewhere in the year 2016. They are finding areas where this kind of plant would fit in such as in the fields or parks of the municipality. I was extremely pleased by this outcome.
In our correspondence, the mayor and his associates thanked me for informing them of the issue. The fact was that they didn’t know that monarchs needed milkweed. And I am left to wonder how many other environmental problems could be solved simply by creating greater awareness.
Every little thing each individual does helps the global cause. Many people think that signing a petition, or planting a plant doesn’t make a huge difference. But I would like to tell you it does! It makes all the difference in the world because it stems from caring. As soon as we begin to care and take action, however small for the environment, it becomes a chain reaction.
I would like to finish by recommending you watch this inspirational video from the artist Prince Ea (Ea) entitled "Dear Future Generations: Sorry". His video received over 50 million views through Facebook within one week. I believe this is truly indicative of our will as a people to stand up for the environment. I believe this shows that we want to create change and that we will create change.
I encourage you all to take up your own environmental projects whether they be big or small. You can start a petition, organize a river clean-up, use re-usable grocery bags, clean up your street or even plant a few seeds. Don’t be afraid to stand up to the problems you see in your community. If enough people speak up, change will happen. It just takes one voice to start the conversation.
Associated Press. "Monarch butterfly numbers drop to lowest level since records started." The Guardian 29 January 2014. Web. <Monarch butterfly numbers drop to lowest level since records started>.
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Quebec Chapter. CPAWS Quebec. 2015. Web. February 2015. <http://snapqc.org/en/index.php/>.
Cincinnati Nature Center. Milkweed to Monarchs Initiative. 2015. Web. March 2015. <http://www.cincynature.org/conservationstewardship/milkweed_to_monarchs-....
Cullis-Suzuki, Severn. Perspectives on RIO 20+ U.N. 2012. Web. <http://www.unep.org/environmentalgovernance/PerspectivesonRIO20/SevernSu....
Ea, Prince. Dear Future Generations: Sorry. YouTube. Missouri, 2015. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M>.
Korte, Gregory. "Obama: Keystone pipeline bill 'has earned my veto'." USA Today 25 February 2015. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/02/24/obama-keystone-ve....
Laurance, Bill and Penny van Oosterzee. "Palm oil continues to destroy Indonesia's wildlife." The Conversation 11 November 2014. Web. <https://theconversation.com/palm-oil-continues-to-destroy-indonesias-wil....
Parker, Laura. "Eight Million Tons of Plastic Dumped in Ocean Every Year." National Geographic 13 February 2015. Web. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plas....
Pierno, Theresa. "National Park's Place in President's Climate Legacy." The Hill 27 April 2015. Web. <http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/240045-nationa....
Suzuki, David and Faisal Moola. "Ontario right to ban." The Star 17 February 2015. Web. <http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/02/17/ontario-right-to-re...? referrer=>.