By Irene Brueckner-Irwin

Another doom and gloom story, another reason to disengage. Even the most passionate students around me toil with feelings of apathy and desensitization when we hear about our impending doom as millennials. Sustainability discourse reminds us that we’ve been dealt a rough hand when it comes to the significant environmental threats we will face, and we’re only the first wave of ‘future generations’ who will encounter them. But according to Jennifer Lynes and Sarah Wolfe, “It’s time to rethink our messaging about environmental change.” This leaves me wondering, how could we make the narrative around environmental change less alarmist and more compelling?

Canada hosting World Environment Day is a good opportunity to think about this. The theme this year is “Connecting People to Nature”, and reconnecting with nature may be a healthy strategy to reshape narratives about the environment. All 35 million Canadians connect with nature daily, if by no other means than the air, food, and water upon which we rely. However, being more mindful and intentional about fostering our relationships with nature has the potential to transform perceptions and actions on environmental change. The premise: the better we know nature, the better we’ll take care of it.

Fortunately, there are some promising initiatives coming out of the conservation and parks communities in Canada. At the Canadian Parks Conference in Banff, Alberta from March 8-11, 2017, I learned about some of these initiatives. For example, the Parks for All Strategic Framework (Canadian Parks Council & Canadian Parks and Recreation Association) places high priority on the central role of citizens in parks and protected areas. The framework is currently in its second draft stage, and will eventually receive endorsement from a broad range of actors in the environmental field. Indigenous Guardians are protecting traditional lands and waters, renewing their deep connections to nature while reminding others of their own connections. Toronto Region Conservation is working on restoration of a hydro corridor with community volunteers. The Nature Playbook gives down-to-earth ideas for a new generation of Canadians to interact with nature.

These are examples of initiatives which enable us to develop our relationships with nature, by experiencing the outdoors in unique and meaningful ways. These relationships and experiences will ultimately shape how we choose to care for our planet and because of that, we should not underestimate the power of strengthening human-environment connections on the individual and community levels. In going beyond doom and gloom narratives around environmental change, and instead deliberately embracing and engaging people in our commitments to the environment, we will create more opportunities for action and hopefully transform environmental change narratives for the better.



Many thanks to Dani Lindamood for reviewing this post.

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