Green Calgary hopes to educate Calgarians about environmental issues and sustainability. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: GRACE WARK

Sustainability is about the small things, says Grade 8 student Wyatt Colnett. He has learned little actions can have a major effect on our planet for years to come.

Colnett has known this from growing up with a mother who works in conservation. But he gained a greater appreciation for the environment when Green Calgary virtually visited his classroom in March 2021. 

“There was this game we played as a group from the perspective of a bear in an urban area. And it was a choose-your-own-adventure-style game where you had to choose the most environmentally safe [options] to make sure that [the bear] would survive in that urban environment,” Colnett said.

The game helped him and his friends better understand issues like climate change and sustainability in an interactive and fun way.

The problem

Green Calgary is tackling the climate crisis by providing Calgarians with programs curated to help classrooms like Colnett’s understand how little actions can make a big impact on climate change. 

“It can feel really overwhelming, sometimes difficult to engage with, because it’s such a massive global issue,” Green Calgary coordinator Grace Wark says.

The solution? Environmentally-focused educational programs that are available to all Calgary and area residents for free. 

There are many ways to sign up for classes and people can even host their own educational events on Green Calgary’s website. Wark believes bringing a Green Calgary program to a community event is an engaging and easily accessible way of encouraging communities to learn more about sustainability and the environment. 

Alberta Council for Environmental Education educator David Kleiman says sustainability and climate change are often considered the elephant in the room because the subject carries a negative connotation and is too heavily politicized. 

“I know that there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up around the issue of climate change, and that emotion is linked in large part to [the] oil and gas industry,” Kleiman says. 

This is one of the largest obstacles in tackling climate change here in Calgary, says Kleiman. 

Green Calgary coordinator Grace Wark says it’s important to reduce waste going to landfills. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: GRACE WARK

The programs

Community Waste Exploration teaches Calgarians about “the environmental impacts of creating waste,” says Wark. The program, offered in 60 or 90-minute sessions, shows Calgarians proper in-home recycling.

“Landfills are in fact a really massive source of methane around the world. So when we reduce all of our waste that’s going to the landfill, we’re actually taking climate action by reducing those greenhouse gases,” says Wark.

Kleiman says acknowledging the climate crisis isn’t enough; education is needed. Younger generations have had the privilege of being in classrooms where the climate crisis and sustainability are taught but older generations were not, he says.

“I think it’s an amazing way to bridge divides between people to sit down with other adults and learn about what challenges we have in protecting nature and listening to each other and brainstorming our different ideas about how to do right,” says Kleiman.

Launching this year, Green Calgary’s Energy Efficient Future program will teach Calgarians how to lower their utility bill by conserving water and limiting the duration that lights are turned on for. 

“Teenagers are some of the most important voters in the world,” Kleiman says. PHOTO: CALLUM SHAW/UNSPLASH

The results

To track the program’s success, Green Calgary maintains a relationship with those who have taken the classes and provides continual support to ensure they are managing their household waste efficiently. 

Although Green Calgary is able to track the success of the program within individual households, it is difficult to affirmatively track the impact these programs have on the environment. 

“It can be tricky to measure what is the total reduction when it comes to our carbon footprint and total number of CO2 equivalents that have been reduced,” says Wark. 

However, working with companies like Enmax has helped improve understanding of how efficient Calgary households are.

As an educator, Kleiman says he definitely sees changes in students’ behaviour when they talk about sustainability in the classroom. 

“[Environmental education] takes people out of themselves and gets them thinking about the world and society around them and how important their individual actions are,” Kleiman says. 

“When I talk to young people, a lot of them feel disempowered and sort of at the whim of the adult world.” 

Kleiman says that once he shows students that they can vote with their everyday actions, they start to think more consciously of the environment.

“Teenagers are some of the most important voters in the world,” he said.

However, Colnett says that though the program has been valuable, it is not nearly as engaging as he and his peers would like. Despite this, Colnett and Kleiman both agree that education is a great place to start when it comes to climate action.

“It starts with respect… and using language that is accessible to everyone,” Kleiman says. “That is not blaming, that is not about moving away from one thing, but moving towards another.” 

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