Bikes! Sprawl! Agriculture!

It’s Off The Grid 2: Planet S’ student environmentalist boogaloo

Earlier this year, Planet S got an e-mail from Michael Prebble, a teacher at Tommy Douglas Collegiate, about his school’s Off The Grid program. Off The Grid helps students learn about the pressing environmental issues of our time from a scientific and social perspective.

Would Planet S be interested, Michael asked, in publishing a few essays by Off The Grid students?

Yes it would, I said. Planet S is delighted to give a page to young humans with a huge stake in a sustainable future. This is the second part of a two-part feature. You can read the first installment online at planetsmag.com. These essays were lightly edited for publication and length. /Stephen Whitworth

Urban Sprawl Vs. Animals!

Animal displacement is a terrible thing that is happening everyday all over the world. If cities are developing, then more often than not, animals are losing their habitats.

Habitat loss causes many animals to lose food, water and shelter, and limits their chances of surviving while increasing conflict with humans. For example, in Saskatoon there is a freeway being built in the northeast, in an area that, up until now, has served as a gateway for wildlife to travel around the city in peace. This freeway now blocks their path.

There have also been new residential areas built on one of our most important ecosystems — the wetlands.

Two effective ways to help prevent things from happening include building our cities upward rather than outward, and getting — and following — environmental assessments. Building cities higher reduces the habitat destroyed and limits the amount of animals that lose their homes. As well, fewer people will be stuck in traffic, infrastructure — including water, sewage and roads — will be more compact, efficient and even cheaper to maintain, and it saves land for our farming industry.

Let’s assess the land we plan to build on before we start to build. This will make it so we can stop ourselves before destroying ecosystems and animals, and it can help us find easier and cheaper options.

Climate Change Vs. Farmers!

Climate change is affecting agriculture in all areas of Canada. Crop yields and livestock are being affected because of the ever-increasing rate of natural disasters, with drought being the main concern on the Prairies. But farmers should be at the forefront of fighting climate change, not only because agriculture is contributing eight per cent of all greenhouse gases in Canada but also because their livelihoods will be jeopardized if temperatures continue to rise globally.

In an interview with Ian McCreary, a local farmer from Bladworth, he said, “There is still a tremendous amount of denial in the farming community concerning climate change.”

It is important that farmers know that climate change is going to be a huge problem for agriculture unless we start to change our way of life.

“When you are in this business you try not to worry about things you can’t control but it’s always in the back of your mind, ”said McCreary when asked about extreme weather.

Feeding as many people as possible should continue to be our goal, but something as simple as preserving wetlands in fields could go a long way towards reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it could pay dividends to farmers and their customers in the long run. Lower yields in the short term, but longevity of useful land in the long haul.

Urban and rural Saskatchewanians have to start thinking long-term and begin the difficult conversations needed around the topic of climate change.

Better Bike Lanes Vs. Bad Bike Lanes!

Bike lanes are one of urban Saskatchewan’s hot topics of debate. Motorists seem to hate them and cyclist find that the lanes are still so sparse that they feel threatened every time they hit the streets. CBC’s Guy Quenneville reported that many folks in this country see biking as strictly recreation and not a serious means of transportation. This mindset has to change, and quickly.

Cyclists pay taxes like everyone else. They pay for road repairs and for healthcare costs which are both on the rise in this province. Folks who exercise and cycle to work are less likely to use the services of healthcare professionals and don’t cause any wear and tear on our streets. Yet people driving vehicles and oversized trucks can be constantly seen around our cities cursing the very existence of cyclists.

The city of Saskatoon recently removed one of two bike lanes in the downtown core due to members of the public complaining about the inconvenience of parking and narrower lanes. We need to give our heads a shake here. Cycling and exercise is proven to lower anxiety, boost mental health and lead people to be happier at work and at home. We can’t move backwards on this fight, we should be battling through the hiccups of improving the lanes, not stripping them away.

For our environment and ourselves, we need bike lanes. Folks driving cars, just relax — or try biking.