Opening new windows on the world

How many Earths would be needed if everybody in the world lived like Westerners do? Grade 11 and 12 science students at Vanier Catholic Secondary…

How many Earths would be needed if everybody in the world lived like Westerners do?

Grade 11 and 12 science students at Vanier Catholic Secondary School learned the answer: six.

That was one of the major points that a group of visiting biological and chemical engineers from the University of British Columbia tried to convey to the students with their Sustainability North of 60 program.

“The workshop made me more aware of exactly how much pollution and waste we put into the environment,” said Grade 12 student Aaron Bielz.

“We do a lot of talking but we don’t always act the way we should.”

UBC students Alexandre Vigneault and Monica Danon-Schaffer and faculty member Naoko Ellis traveled to Whitehorse to conduct workshops on environmental sustainability at high schools throughout the city.

Funded by the Jade Bridges program out of UBC, the Sustainability North of 60 program encourages senior high school students to consider studying science at university.

“We have a number of components in the program; we talked about everything from engineering, to sustainability, to greenhouse gasses, to international development, so there was really a mishmash of components all strung together through science and engineering,” said Ellis.

“I’m hoping that they were able to see what’s beyond the classroom from here.”

They try to accomplish that with hands-on activities that teach the students about environmental sustainability.

One of the activities has teams of students building water filters.

The students are assigned a country and, according to that country’s economic position in the world, they are given a sum of money to buy supplies at a store set up in their classroom.

Depending on the literacy rate of their country, they are given instructions to build the filter that are, more or less, easily understood.

“Doing the water activity, they all realized this afternoon that if we shared all the resources and divided it up, everybody would have had clean water,” said Ellis.

Those are the lessons that Ellis hopes will leave an indelible impression on the teens.

“They take physics and chemistry and that’s why they’re here to begin with, but we wish to inspire some of these students to say, ‘Hey, maybe we can make a difference in small ways.’”

Everybody has to be aware and care dearly about what’s going to happen to the next generation and the generation after that, said Ellis, who is clearly passionate about sustainability.

“I believe that we need to wake up and say, ‘We can’t just sustain the way we are right now.’

“New technology is not the only solution that’s going to carry us over — we actually have to change our lifestyle to adapt to what’s going to come up.

“The more students that I get to talk to, the more aware they are.

 “I actually get the pleasure of seeing some of the students at university and they are just really full of innovation and hope and I want to instil hope in the next generation.

“That’s my passion.”

Vigneault travelled a lot while doing his undergraduate and masters’ degrees and said that volunteering to come up north just seemed like the right thing to do.

“When you are aware of what’s going on you cannot do your work just for the paycheque; you need to do something to help,” he said.

If 17-year-old Bielz is any example, Sustainability North of 60 does help open the eyes of future scientists.

“It helped show us we can make a difference later on in life if we are all involved and aware,” he said.

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