Education News – Prairies push for sustainable campuses

WINNIPEG (CUP) ? Environmentally concerned students from across the Prairies gathered at the University of Saskatchewan for the region’s first Sustainable Campuses Conference, hosted by the Sierra Youth Coalition, to shine a light on how students can influence climate change.

?Fundamentally, we have to look at climate change as a human rights issue,? said Rosa Kouri, communications coordinator for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition who had just returned from Bali, where she was an official observer for the United Nations conference on climate change.

?The communities that will be most affected by it are the ones that have done the least to cause it . . . and have the least resources to deal with it.?

?Students have been at the vanguard of most social movements throughout most of history,? said Kouri. ?Now is the time to take it to the next level.?
The conference took place from Jan. 18 ? 20, hosting youth from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Delegates participated in sustainability and anti-oppression training sessions, shared experiences of campus sustainability efforts, and listened to keynote speeches on the relationship between climate change, social justice, and the Alberta tar sands.

?It is a forum to empower community members,? said Jeh Custer, Prairies coordinator for SYC. ?The conference is all about facilitating a discussion to educate folks and students about the sustainability challenges that we face . . . help students and campus community members understand how to be more effective activists.?

Custer agreed that students have a unique position in universities and colleges due to their influential role in the governing structure and the high availability of resources, brainpower, and potential recruits.

?We want to see students doing practical research That’s going to benefit our campus,? said Kate Dykman, coordinator for the University of Winnipeg’s SUNSET and a conference participant.

SUNSET (Sustainable University Now, Sustainable Earth Together), was awarded the region’s Most Successful Success in sustainability at the conference.

SUNSET also offers an Experiential Learning Program, a multifaceted academic stream that connects interested students with faculty to engage in sustainability research and practice.

?The university is a place for that innovation. We have the luxury of being able to follow our values and principles, do what’s right and not what’s profitable,? Dykman said.

?Campuses are a good testing ground for new ways of running things,? said Mike Hudema, a tar sands campaigner for Greenpeace Canada and a keynote speaker at the conference.

Custer also said that the largest barriers often standing in the way of campus sustainability are university and college administrations and government.

?I think some admins are more out of touch,? Custer said. ?[Universities] should be people’s institutions, democratic institutions.?

?It’s really immoral for a government like Canada and Canadian citizens to continue as business as usual while other people are losing their lives,? Kouri said.

Kouri believes that while motivated youth have a variety of ways to get involved with sustainability initiatives on campuses across the country, personal actions to reduce their own ecological footprint are also necessary.

?Not everyone can go to an international conference or march in Ottawa. Just getting involved at the campus level . . . You’re already a step ahead of the federal government,? she said.

Others argued that desperate times call for desperate measures.

?The Earth needs a voice, and sometimes we need to put our bodies on the line for that,? Hudema said.

The Sustainable Campuses Conferences are now in their ninth year, in both national and regional capacities, as part of the SYC’s Sustainable Campuses Project.

Despite their wide popularity, this was the first year the conference took place in the Prairies.

?The Prairies was a bit of a slower region . . . because it is so vast,? Custer said.

?Sometimes the Prairies are lagging behind and seem reluctant to adopt certain practices,? Dykman said.

Hudema was more critical of this slow progression.

?The Prairies should be one of the firsts?Alberta is one of the biggest industrious polluters in the world,? he said.

?Our population may not be so big, but I think you’ll be seeing one of the biggest activism efforts coming out of here,? Hudema said.

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