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A sad day for Canada, a sad day for the World – Earth Day 2010

April 22, 2010

To quote Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star: “Earth to Canada. What happened?”
Once a leader in environmental issues, and now, the laughing stock of the world, Canada’s government marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today by…well…doing nothing.
In sharp contrast to the United States, which only a few years ago completely frustrated the rest of the world by its intransigence on the existence of climate change and other environmental issues under President George Bush, Canada once fought for and lead the western world on environmental policies. Canada’s leadership was well regarded, that is, until the agenda was highjacked by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. A quick search of Youtube today shows that President Obama’s Earth Day speech has already received almost 8,000 views. It was notable in that he specifically challenged teachers and students to continue working for a cleaner, healthier environment.

And what was said, of note, by Canada’s Prime Minister? Nothing. Rien. Mr. Harper seems to have forgotten that our two nations share a continent. For years Canada battled with the USA over cross-boundary pollution. Now that we have a government south of the border that actually listens to and acts on trans-boundary and global issues, the Canadian government has taken the approach that all this is of little relevance, and the celebration of Earth Day is just like any unremarkable day.
And what kind of example does that leave our children? The message is clear. The environmental issues that the next generation will face just don’t matter anymore, and children might just as well learn about other things. The struggle of teachers to help students understand the challenges of energy, the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity, climate and health issues using unique teaching and learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, has very little support from the Government of Canada, and particularly its leaders.
It all seems a little hopeless. But just as governments come and go, teachers, and the children they serve, the ones who become the next leaders of the nation, will overcome the self-serving interests of present day short-sighted politicians and make a difference. The power of great teachers and engaged students is a great hope.
I just have to look out the window of my classroom and see the wetland that was saved by students acting united to force a government to preserve it for future generations. Earth Day reminds us that the power of a small group of educated youngsters, lead by dedicated teachers and other leaders, can accomplish much more than narrow-minded governments.
To quote President Obama, who inspired our school motto for the year: “Yes we can!”

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