ESAC Conference 2010: Sustainability in a Changing World

Photo: ESAC Conference: Elizabeth May Panel
Congress 2010 ran from May 28 to June 1, 2010.

It was in 1993 that the Environmental Studies Association of Canada (ESAC – ACEE en français) joined the over 75-year-old Canadian Federation of Social Sciences and Humanities. Every year since, environmental minds meet, ideas are expressed and research is presented at the Congress of over 26 organizations. Passion is high in this down-to-earth bunch. Urgency is in the air. ESAC members are on a mission to change the world. Open minds and green hearts.

Keynote speaker Elizabeth May gave a solid historical context of Canadian climate change negotiations. Later, May again checked her political hat at the door and sat among her environmental peers, this time to offer tips on how to make good science the best read. Alternatives Journal editor-in-chief and author of (soon to be) four books, Nicola Ross, led the panel. Wayne Roberts, Canada’s most creative and strategic food security advocate lent his wisdom, as did wildly successful and crafty blogger for the Montreal Gazette, Monique Beaudin. The consensus: Tell the story. Make it human. Make it relevant. Sometimes it’s hard to sell environmental ideas to the masses who think they have no interest in environmental issues. The closest door to relevance? Food.

It’s as if these four veterans of media had consulted with the rest of ESAC’s presenting delegates. In many cases these people are activists first. In some cases their research and learning is outside of the formal university setting. In all cases their presentations excavate hope from adversity – from a bunch of Southwestern Ontario farmers called ALUS (pronounced Alice), to the Prairie academics paralleling desperate experiences in Bangladesh to the atrocious conditions that result in very high food insecurity in Canada’s northern First Nations people face.

ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) was pioneered by some savvy farmers who connected the dots between best practice in working the land and the environmental service that this provides to all of us. Huron County farmer Bryan Gilvesy (and chair of the board) explained in the Food Policy and Sustainability panel how the ALUS program would pay farmers for providing ecological services on their land, such as reforesting, wetland rehabilitation, creating vegetative buffers along creeks or planting native grasslands. ALUS is in its final year of a three-year pilot program. More at norfolkalus.com and yuranch.com

Asfia Gulrukh Kamal left heart-breaking stories of poverty and farmers committing suicide in Bangladesh behind her to study in the true north strong and free. But the disparity that she found in Canada’s northern First Nation living conditions was so far from her perception of Canadian life that she is now devoting her next four years of study to improve food security and access to clean water to this secret society. If it’s not a secret, then how is it that the desperate and appalling conditions have not been addressed and rectified? Gulrukh Kamal presented her work in a panel on Food Security and Community Development that included a video called Growing Hope in Northern Manitoba that she helped to research at http://vimeo.com/8114019.

ESAC partnered with the Canadian Association for International Development to bring international speakers that included Bina Agarwal, renowned for her work on gender and community forest governance, Camilla Toulmin with stories of the impact of Climate change in Africa, as well as senior gender specialist for the World Bank, Nilufar Ahmad, with Shirley Thompson of the Natural Resources Institute sharing concerns about women and children dying at greater rates due to climate change impacts.

In Montreal, where wine was often cheaper than water, ESAC members made great plans to energize environmental studies at an ESAC sponsored world café one night and reunited the next over a great tapas dinner with the African jazz fusion of Papa Zon that inspired everyone to dance.

There was so much more in the schedule. Watch esac.ca for highlights. If you are, or want to be involved in the pursuit of environmental excellence (it’s a journey and everyone has their story to contribute), then join ESAC. Membership includes a subscription to Canada’s longest standing environmental magazine: Alternatives Journal. Alternatives has been reporting on, analyzing and chronicling, Canada’s national environmental movement since 1971. AlternativesJournal.ca