The part time environmentalist

It is pretty safe to assume that all Yukoners want a healthy environment. Clean air to breathe, safe water to drink and the chance to enjoy some of the natural environment around us are universally desirable items. Where possible we all do our bit.

It is pretty safe to assume that all Yukoners want a healthy environment.

Clean air to breathe, safe water to drink and the chance to enjoy some of the natural environment around us are universally desirable items.

Where possible we all do our bit.

From recycling to purchasing energy efficient appliances it all helps from an environmental perspective.

Even mine executives, pipeline promoters and all the usual suspects of industrial-type projects promote environmental aspects of their particular activities.

This ranges from water treatment plants to revegetation of old mine sites.

The big debate is usually over how effective these initiatives are because often they do not work exactly as intended.

The point is, though, that all of us are part-time environmentalists.

In our own small ways we do what we can.

This is the reason I have always signed off this column by calling myself a part-time environmentalist.

While I have been fortunate to find paid employment with a variety of groups working on environmental issues that does not make me an environmentalist.

Rather, it is the everyday actions that are taken to live in harmony with the natural world that make one worthy of that term.

There are those who choose to not own a vehicle, those who repair items when it would be much easier to purchase new ones and those who are insistent on consuming locally grown or gathered food.

It is these actions that make one part of the green movement no matter what one does for a living.

Now it is not easy to do all these things all the time.

Some days one forgets one’s reusable shopping bags going to the store.

Other days the compost pickup is missed so some fruit and veggie scraps end up in the garbage instead of being composted.

These are important issues at the individual level, but one must also consider the long-term planning and development proposals that are occurring all around us while we agonize over whether cat box litter is compostable or not.

For the record, it is not accepted for composting by the city of Whitehorse. But I digress.

Saving ecosystems is more than what individuals can do by themselves when up against the system that provides the rules and regulations for either protecting the environment or permitting development.

The institutional, bureaucratic and political process for protecting the Yukon environment is surprisingly well established.

It must be noted that the decisions they often arrive at are often head-shakingly environmentally unfriendly, but at the least the process exists.

There are more boards, councils and review panels for industrial projects than one can shake a stick at.

The problem is, at least from a part-time environmentalist’s perspective, is finding the resources and time to participate in these processes.

Not everyone has the technical knowledge to submit comments on some complicated water treatment process nor does everyone have the time to participate in an all-day land-use planning session.

This system of ensuring environmental adequacy for projects and planning, due to its complexity, requires complex responses.

This means that individual voices from the general public are valued but they are often not enough to convince a regulatory authority to change or halt some project in order to protect the environment.

Submissions from environmental groups and community associations can carry a bit more weight.

These groups represent large numbers of citizens and they can be a conduit to express a large number of opinions succinctly.

They also can group everyone’s financial donations and hire technical experts to counter other viewpoints.

This becomes important when there is the case where governments such as municipalities, territorial and federal submit their opinions to regulatory bodies.

Because they usually have the fiscal means and in-house technical resources they can be the deciding factor in a review board’s assessment.

Now this is a bit of a generalization but since some governments tend to side with development projects, and given the technical resources these governments have access to, the pro-development viewpoint can win out over concerns for environmental protection.

For part-time environmentalists to overcome this they have to respond in kind.

This can mean either becoming technically informed and devoting a lot of time to an issue or it can mean supporting an environmental group to do it on your behalf.

Basically what it boils down to is support your friendly neighbourhood environmental group.

A donation, and it doesn’t have to be cash as volunteering time can be just as valuable, to these groups will ensure that the resources are available to counteract the blind ambition of those projects that will have very negative environmental consequences for the Yukon.

The individual voices of all those part-time environmentalists out there are vitally important.

When combined in a united cause they can become unstoppable.

This is the last Green Space column. I would like to thank the Yukon News for providing the opportunity to print the rants and raves that seem to have constituted the majority of the content. Here is hoping that there is many a green space in everyone’s future as they move about the land we call the Yukon. Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.