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Action Pack Stories: Justice - The Privatization of Water

This blog post is part of a series that demonstrate how our Action Packs are used! This post covers the 'Water Privatization' in our Justice Action Pack. 


Before I started college, I bought plastic bottled water almost every day. Yes, I bought water. But did I really need to pay for all that water when I could have gotten it for free instead? I started to change this habit as I learned more about how plastics harm our environment. Now, I have been bringing a reusable water bottle with me for 5 years. I’ve really changed the way I live with water. 

I learned about the negative impacts of plastics, which encouraged me to switch to reusable water bottles, in the ‘Privatization of Water’ justice action pack. But more significantly, I hadn't realized until completing this action pack that the bottled-water industry exists as a result of the privatization of water.

Throughout the research process of this action pack, I was most impressed by a video called The Story of Bottled Water. This video taught me that bottled water is actually created by manufactured demand. The bottled water industry scares people about tap water, seduces people with marketing strategies, and supplies misleading information. In fact, studies prove that bottled water is not necessarily cleaner, safer, or better tasting than tap water. In addition, it requires a large amount of energy to produce a plastic water bottle, and plastic bottles contribute to land waste pollution. Not all bottles can be recycled, and many are even transported to poorer countries, increasing their own waste. This creates social injustice. What’s more, bottled water costs thousands of times more than tap water.

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Action Pack Stories: Health - Food Additives

This blog post is part of a series that demonstrate how our Climate Action Unit's Action Packs are used! This post covers the "Health: Food Additives" Action Pack. 


Have you ever stopped and read the labels of the foods you consume? Or even researched what exactly all those weird-sounding ingredients are? Yeah, me neither. 

The “Health: Food Additives” Action Pack changed this for me, though. Throughout this action pack, I learned what food additives and preservatives are, why they’re used, their detrimental effects on our health, and how to eliminate these pesky and problematic substances from my life by taking personal pledges.  

Basically, food additives and preservatives are sneaky substances, often incorporated into packaged and processed foods so they last longer on the shelf, look better, are easier to package, taste better, and/or add nutritional value. But these substances can have seriously negative effects on our health and are known to increase the risk of a myriad of health complications. 

In this action pack, there was an activity in which I got to choose one of my favourite processed foods, write a list of its additives/preservatives, and then research their health implications. I chose Oreos, because I love them dearly, and was quickly disappointed to find out that Oreos are destroying forests of palm trees (and orangutans!!), as well as increasing my risk of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. As much as I love Oreos, I'd rather not eat them knowing what goes into their production, let alone their possible effects.

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Out of Office & Onto the Streets

This week, millions have already walked in solidarity with youth leaders demanding action to address the climate crisis. Our time is running out. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, we are seeing an increase in extreme weather events, and temperatures are at all-time highs

Our modern existence seems to have forgotten its intrinsic connection to the natural world. And so here we stand, on the precipice of an irreversible climate crisis, with countless species at risk of extinction, and our frightened children leading rallies in the streets. 

We got ourselves into this mess, and we have got to get ourselves out. Our way of living, governing, and going about ‘business as usual’ is going to bring us all down. So let’s take pause. Let’s reset. And then let’s act boldly by making personal choices and supporting public policies that protect our planet. 

But how? How can we change hearts and minds? How can we collectively break our habits and disrupt the status quo? Well -- as we stand in the wake of a week of incredible youth-led organizing around the world, it seems we ‘elders’ could learn a thing or two about global collaboration from our ‘youngers’. It is possible! 

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"Thank you. With deep, deep gratitude" : A reflection on youth climate action with Creative Director Maureen Jack-LaCroix

I’m sitting with Maureen Jack-LaCroix, founder and creative director of Be the Change Earth Alliance, to discuss her thoughts about the moment of youth climate activism we currently find ourselves in.

1. Maureen - who are you, and why were you drawn to climate activism through education? 

I’m Maureen Jack-LaCroix, the founder and Creative Director of Be the Change Earth Alliance. 

After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Political Science, I was a bit disenchanted with humanity and found a career in the music industry. Music was one core aspect of humanity I could still believe in. I flourished in the music industry; it’s very independent, creative, and multi-faceted. 

And yet, throughout this time, I was hearing a call from Gaia that got stronger and stronger over time. I was constantly approaching non-profits and asking “what can I do.” I would write the letter, sign the petition, write the cheque. Finally I thought - “this isn’t enough.” We can’t expect the non-profits to do all of this work for us, we all have to do something. 

I then went and completed a Master’s in Eco-Psychology, I closed my production company, and founded Be the Change Earth Alliance. I found that my version of activism and working in service for Earth was through education. This was what suited my psyche best. 

Be the Change has also been a way to help people like myself determine what we can do on an individual basis to make a difference. It has led me to a deep exploration into what we can do…  And that’s been a very rewarding process. It’s been an amazing fifteen years working with teachers, creating materials, learning resources, and workshops to support them in bringing eco-social education to students that need it and want it so much. 

2. You recently attended the ‘die-in’ hosted by the Sustainabiliteens in downtown Vancouver - can you describe what this event was?

The ‘die-in’ was a remarkable experience where students - hundreds of students - went into the Pacific Centre Mall’s food court and collapsed. They acted as if they were dead for eleven minutes. These eleven minutes were a representation of the eleven years we have to turn back our carbon emissions. Eleven years is such an incredibly short period of time, but those eleven minutes lasted a very long time... to witness our youth lying lifeless in this crowded food mart was really impactful.

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The Global Climate Strike -- An Energetic Rallying Cry for Educators

This week, September 20 - 27, millions will walk from their homes and places of work to join young climate strikers as they demand urgent action on the most pressing issue of their time: the climate emergency. 

Many educators support these walkouts, with some institutions going as far as cancelling classes the day of, and with many teachers committing to a ‘no major assignments pledge.’ Locally, UBC has endorsed the strike and the BCTF has come out in support

And yet, in the absence of class attendance, this seems to be the ultimate teaching moment. We can learn so much from this youth-led demonstration of power, solidarity, diversity, and determination -- and if past climate strikes serve as any indication, we can witness some real beauty in the process. In the words of Greta Thunberg, “If you still say that we are wasting valuable lesson time, then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction.”

I personally participated in some of the major climate protests and student walkouts in London this year, and the energy was second-to-none. It was incredible to stand witness as thousands of students from varying grade levels and post-secondary institutions systematically organized. Even more surprising was that, amidst the clamour of Brexit negotiations, British parliament was disrupted enough to declare a climate emergency. Government listened. The point of this anecdote being: demanding action through activism can not only have an impact, but it is also an astounding first-hand glance at democracy in full force. 

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"I want to live, grow old, and have a family..."

“I’m 14, today. It’s my birthday,” said one of the 20 high school students crowded around a few cafe tables. We weren’t gathered for a birthday party. We were gathered to write letters to Vancouver City Councilors to urge climate action. Since when is this something teens do...especially on their birthday?

After introductions, we spread out to every corner of the cafe to write. Vancouver City Councilors was about vote on whether the city should formally request that fossil fuel companies contribute to paying for climate change adaptation costs. The students were writing to urge Councilors to hold Big Oil accountable.

 

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Be The Change - Executive Director Position

Dear Community, 

After almost eight years of fully dedicated work with Be The Change and two and a half years as its Executive Director, I have decided that it’s time to change the role I play within the organization.  As of February 28, 2019, I will be stepping down as Executive Director and into a collaborator and consultant role (you may just see me on Be The Change’s Board of Directors in the coming years and for sure at celebrations for donors and staff/volunteers).

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Summer at BTCEA and Upcoming Events

Be The Change Earth Alliance

We hope you’ve been having a wonderful summer!

We have been busy little bees at the office this summer and we would love to take this opportunity to share with you all of the exciting things we have been up to and how you can be part of it.

We’re emailing now as we know many of you are preparing for the chaos and change of pace that the fall brings and we wanted to connect with you in the calm before seasons change.

In this Back to School newsletter we’ll be sharing a few updates and invites, skip to what interests you!

  • An invitation to join us for our inaugural Back to School BBQ event
  • Programming Highlights and Updates
    • Student Leadership in Sustainability (SLS)
    • Citizens of the Future
  • Team Members
  • How you can help BTCEA thrive

 

Our Executive Director, Erin, would like to invite teachers, superstar students, and community supporters to come eat and mingle at her home in East Vancouver with other Be the Change community members and teachers on September 28th.

You can learn more about the Back to School BBQ and get your ticket here. This will be an intimate gathering, so if you’re interested, be sure to get your donation ticket (which covers food, a drink, and a raffle ticket) before we run out, as space is limited! We also welcome you to invite others that may want to learn more about our work.

The BBQ will be social, have a fun activity or two, an optional presentation, food and drinks, and a raffle. We’ll be serving Earnest ice cream and Bandidas Taqueria’s classic chips and salsa to go with delicious portabella burgers, and a tasty side – can you say “YUM”?

If you can’t attend and still want to support us (because you’re amazing), we’ve got you covered. You could:

  • Buy raffle tickets for the BBQ raffle online to be there in spirit
  • Let others know about Be the Change and the work we do
  • Donate now or during our upcoming donor drive in November
  • Donate through our website

Student Leadership in Sustainability:

This summer, with the support of our marvelous summer program assistants, we reviewed all of our SLS Research Links, replaced any of links that were out of date with new ones and updated some of our language. Wow, we have a lot of links! Thanks to all the teachers that have also been reporting broken links over the year.

We have released some new support resources. We have an “Interconnectedness Activity” which includes an article by an elder and friend of ours, Chief Phil Lane Jr. This can be used instead of Costs and Benefits in Action Packs OR on its own after a student explores a topic (we would love feedback on this as it’s new!). We’re also releasing an “Informed Decision Making” hand-out that can help students take deliberative action or be used as a teacher discussion tool. This was created to support many of the questions and challenges we saw students coming across as we delivered SLS in the classroom and in presentations.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen many teachers signing up for the 2018-2019 SLS Teacher membership. If you are a teacher and haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late! Check out our SLS webpage to sign up or get more information.  If you aren’t a teacher, but know any that would be interested in SLS, pass this along!

Citizens of the Future:

The Citizens of the Future is an evolution of a former project – Climate Action Champions.

Last year we ran the Climate Action Champions Initiative for the first time. This initiative included our first youth fellowship as well as delivering engaging, solution-oriented “Climate Action” workshops and assemblies for students from grades 2-12. Through this initiative, students from across the region took big and small actions to reduce the environmental footprint, which resulted in the reduction of over 163 tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. At BTCEA we have had a great deal of fun with this initiative, learned a lot, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback as well as learning opportunities; we look forward to continuing with more programming in the future.

For our 2018-19 Citizens of the Future initiative we will build on previous work and experience as we focus on engaging and empowering at-risk youth (who often miss out on sustainability programming) and emerging youth sustainability leaders (who benefit from additional support). We are thrilled about our updated Climate Leadership Training and Fellowship. Among other things, this evolution allows us to include the type of cross-district youth empowerment that we found students were asking for. Furthermore, we look forward to bringing in more community volunteers to build and expand the impact of our programming.

Teachers - Please reach out to us if you would like to book an Environmental Action Workshop. We will prioritize classes and programs that serve at-risk youth, but will offer a few other workshops as well. Email us soon to book a workshop as space is limited: admin@bethechangeearthalliance.org.

For more information on our Climate Fellowship, check out our website: takeclimateaction.ca/fellowship.

Summer is a season of change for us and we’d love to give a huge shout out and so much gratitude to our Summer Program Assistants who have supported us tremendously over the last four months. Thank you Sam, Haidee, Tyler, and Emma, we appreciate you and already miss you!

We are also thrilled to announce our newest core team member, Eugenia Serrano who joined us in early August. You may already know Eugenia who worked with us as a Summer Program Assistant and volunteer from 2015-2016; we are so excited to have her back! We love her tenacity, competency, constant embodiment of our values, and the grace with which she lives sustainably and kindly.

We also want to thank Jude Crasta for such incredible support over the past year, and wish him the best in his new role as Managing Partner at Cobalt Strategy Group!

We’re so excited about all of the great work that we’ve been able to do in the past months and we want to make sure we can continue to support the youth and educators in our community. You are a vital part of our community too, and we are asking for your continued support in being able to offer our impactful programs and resources. 

Please consider donating now if you want to see these programs continue to flourish for years to come. We are extremely grateful for our amazing community and all that you do to help us keep up this important work.

Even though it’s cliché, every little bit really does help!

Wishing you a beautiful end to your summer and a plentiful fall.

Thank you for all you do!


Be The Change Earth Alliance

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Social Innovation as a Route to Creating an Ecological School Culture

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Part of our mission at Be The Change Earth Alliance is to engage in productive dialogue with educators on the opportunities and obstacles for the wide scale uptake of environmental education. With that goal in mind, we’ve launched into a community action research initiative that explore Social Innovation as a lens to support transformative education. 

Our Social Innovation Roots

After five years of working with different educational stakeholders including teachers, directors of instruction, school administration, district sustainability managers, BTCEA is creating space for processes oriented projects that support the systems change that is oriented towards transformative education. 

BTCEA is committed to environmental education as a component of urban sustainability and will continue to build on the successes, but we also acknowledge the complex dynamics of systemic change and endeavor to catalyze innovation through a common agenda that supports the scaling of environmental education best practices.

In the last few years BTCEA’s work has evolved from a primarily grassroots approach, working closely with teachers to develop environmental education resources to working within higher levels of the education system. Through this new approach, we have come to understand how we can help unite individuals across the system in the pursuit of 'collective impact'

Social Innovation is a tool for individuals and groups who aspire to tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems such as climate change, in a way that brings disparate parts of the whole together in productive dialogue and action.

This is a participatory action research study which is made impactful through the participation of passionate educators and leaders, including teachers, school and district administrators, as well as students, parents, and community organizations.

Cultivating a Community Research Agenda

The motivation for this research project is a result of BTCEA’s experiences bringing environmental education into schools and a strong desire to better understand the current challenges and opportunities for the wide scale uptake of environmental education.

Thanks to the support of the Vancouver Foundation approaches include place-based learning connecting the classroom to the community, an inquiry approach to problem-solving, a blended approach to on-line research, home and community based research, classroom dialogue and small group project presentations, personal values clarification, and taking real action to develop personal and social responsibility. The application of these approaches has been positively received by many teachers, yet these teachers still face considerable challenges to integrate environmental education into the mainstream courses in secondary school.

Teachers and students who clearly see the connection between global environmental issues and local actions are more likely to make choices supporting global sustainability. Further, they can have a strong influence on their friends and family. This is congruent with the positive results of the ‘quit smoking’ and ‘seat belts’ campaigns when the youth brought the message home to their parents.

An Emergent Process

This first stage of research is largely exploratory with the objective of developing a picture of those aspects of the current education system which encourage or challenge the integration of environmental education and an ecological school culture. This picture will be used to identify key actors, connections, and points of leverage within the education system that will be critical in developing a ‘social innovation prototype’ (a preliminary model that is collaboratively developed and tested and later adapted and adopted to create systemic change).

The second stage of the research project is to develop a social innovation process that leads to the sprouting of an environmental education intervention/prototype that will then be tested within the local education system. Those who participate in various stages of the research will be provided a range of opportunities to provide insights on the emergent implementation process and outcomes of this initiative.

The research components of this project will be conducted in partnership with BTCEA, other environmental educators and organizations, with BTCEA's Founding Director and PhD student, Maureen Jack-LaCroix, as the project lead, under the permission of the Simon Fraser Research Ethics Board,

 

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Beyond the Bin- How Zero Waste Education Can Shape Society

Waste is a huge barrier for any community that is aspiring to become truly sustainable. Municipalities that take this task seriously are quickly learning that if children and youth are not educated and engage- this cannot lofty goal cannot be achieved. Waste is a sustainability issue that allows cities like  Vancouver to test education that leads to positive environmental behaviors.

“The workshops offered by BTCEA will encourage students to take tangible actions in adopting zero waste behaviours and will help the City achieve the zero waste target set in the 2020 Greenest City Action Plan” says Patrick Chen, the City of Vancouver's lead on this collaborative project.

Can action oriented education help support the creation of a Zero Waste City? BTCEA has received significant support over the years from the City of Vancouver to put our action education model to the test so as to better understand the ecological impact of action oriented education.

Waste Watchers Shape School Culture

‘Waste Watchers’ explored place based learning by having students dig through their schools garbage, asking them to consider how positive environmental behaviors can mitigate the environmental impact of societies current waste issues. Students then took on a variety of individual, home, school, and community projects to mitigate the affects of current waste behaviors, drawing upon the knowledge they gained from the waste audit (a detailed break down of contamination rates and notes of diversion potentialities). 

Some students went on to deliver assembly presentations that asked their peers to consider simple behavior choices that would help their school, households, and communities get to zero waste. Others improved waste bin signage and conducted bin monitoring. 

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Classrooms are Key

The majority of student learning in the course of their careers takes place in side the classroom. When sustainability education is delivered in this space it is being recognized as important to the development of society. New curriculum approaches in BC welcome less prescribed formats that suite BTCEA’s action oriented approach.

The Zero Waste workshops were developed with the City of Vancouver and were delivered to 500 secondary school students in 2017. Science teachers were very interested in making room in their schedule for this offering as it connects well with the content they teach. 

When asked to pledge waste reduction actions, 50% of students committed to reduce their use of disposable items in their personal lives, in their homes, and at school. However, many students reported that they found these actions difficult to complete because using disposables has become part of their everyday lives and alternatives are often not provided, especially in fast food outlets and cafes.

Indeed, one student commented: “Something that was challenging was the fact that almost everything I eat and drink is contained in something disposable”.

Youth Invest in the Circular, Waste Reduced Economy

A move to ban coffee cups in the City of Vancouver could go a long way towards reducing the amount of disposables ending up in the landfill and hopefully also lead the way to significant reduction in the use of other disposable items such as plastic bags or straws. As our workshops and audits have shown, many youth are aware of and concerned about waste issues and are willing to reduce their use of disposables when provided with alternatives. 

Youth are key stakeholders for helping communities transition to the circular, waste-reduced economy. As students learn about the environmental impact of their consumer choices, they also learn how their purchasing power can help in re-shaping how society organizes systems of production and consumption. Transformation and education are inherently linked in this regard. 

Education That Focuses on Impact

Teachers indicated that they would like to receive more education of this type in the future but that even one off workshops, when delivered in an engaging manner, can have a significant impact on student behavior. The results of our assessment suggest that many students will alter their behaviours relating to waste after trying 1-3 actions provided to them during the workshop.

In fact, many students directly reported that they would keep up their actions in the future and ask their families to also take on similar actions. This feedback signifies the potential long-term impact of delivering hands on, action oriented education in a classroom setting. 

It is expected that by improving students’ waste habits, these same youth will also be more readily engaged in other types of sustainability actions. 41% of students indicated that more workshops/ classes around waste and climate change would serve to encourage them to improve their habits out of a desire to be an environmentally responsible citizen. 

How might we start to treat youth as the stewards of the future that they really are? Providing them with education that teaches them this is key. A significant number of students also indicated that extracurricular activities such as a student action groups and more support from teachers and other adults would inspire them to take even bigger actions.

These educational programs were made possible by the support of the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Foundation. If you are a teacher in Metro Vancouver and are interested in zero waste or climate change education, please get in touch as these are evolving offerings. 

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