Off The Grid 2021: Climate Change, Covid and Other Catastrophes

Environment by A Bunch of Cool Students

Image courtesy NASA

Are you reading this on Thursday, April 22? If so, Happy Earth Day! Welcome to the 2021 Off The Grid Report, the third installment of our annual collaboration with the students of Tommy Douglas Collegiate’s Off The Grid program, a year-long, half-day learning experience that sees students study climate change, ecology, sustainability and social justice. Every year they share what they’ve learned with Planet S readers. The result is always earnest, honest and well-researched, not to mention a little silly and a lot of fun. In other words, a perfect fit. Enjoy!

Conservation: A No-Brainer

The divide between where animals live and where people has changed a lot over the past three decades. But as humans continue to move into wild areas and chop down trees — largely for agriculture — we increase the risk of future pandemics. The animals likely to endure and flourish after deforestation — rodents and bats, for example — may very well spread dangerous diseases to humans.

Of the 335 diseases that emerged from the 1960s to 2004, 60 per cent of them came from human contact with animals. By removing trees and other plants, it reduces the shelter, food and habitats available to wildlife, which in turn creates more interaction with people.

So… what do we need to do?

The organization Protected Planet says only 9.8 per cent of the world is designated as protected wildlife areas. Governments around the world need to expand this to give humans and disease-carrying species space to breathe (and sneeze) without harming each other.

In a July 2020 report in the journal Science, Andrew Dobson and Stuart Pimm estimate that the cost of preventing the next pandemic by safeguarding wildlife and forests is just two per cent of the financial damage Covid-19 caused. Seems like a no-brainer.

Now we just need to see more governments using their brains. /Braelyn Hawryliw

Nature Etiquette

Covid-19 has had a big effect not only on us human folk, but also the environment. Researchers from around the globe have compared nature both before and during the pandemic. Due to reduced traffic, humanity’s carbon footprint has decreased by a lot.

Maybe lockdowns and bubbles aren’t as bad as we thought? At least for nature.

For a few months, hiking paths were deserted, canals were free for fish to roam, city birds didn’t have to cover their ears and even normally glum beach clams smiled at all the peace and quiet (or so we imagine).

So how do we enjoy this regrowth without going back to the way it was before? Easy. Just treat our environment better.

We need to improve our nature etiquette. That means not littering while hiking. It means switching to less harmful transportation while enjoying the environment. And lastly, it means improving our understanding of the unique interactions between the humans and animals sharing an ecosystem.

Let’s all feel the positive effects of all this regrowth and give each other a bit of room out there. /Owen Cawood and Maxwell Tessman

Ripe For Invading?

If aliens invaded Saskatchewan, how would we respond?

Judging by our reaction to covid and climate change… not too well.

Our province shut down in March 2020 after our first confirmed case of Covid-19. For a brief time, the world was Saskatchewan’s crystal ball, showing us what happened to countries that rushed to open — like Great Britain and the United States — and to those that kept strict measures in place longer, like Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

We didn’t apply the lessons to our own situation. It’s no wonder Saskatchewan’s now struggling to contain a third wave while ranking among the highest case counts per capita in Canada. Meanwhile, Australians can now travel to New Zealand, and vice versa.

We continue this path, banking that vaccines will save us within a year. Despite the fact experts say that vaccines alone won’t do it.

The same denial is happening with climate change.

We’ve seen the fires rage in California and British Columbia. In 2019, we watched as Australia burned in what was called “one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history” by the World Wildlife Fund, with almost three billion animals killed or displaced.

We have seen drought destroy economies in Africa and the Middle East. We’ve seen heavy rains devastate cities. All the while, our provincial government seems bent on dragging their feet on fighting climate change.

No vaccine can make up for our delayed response to climate change. So, let’s give those in power a kick in the butt to get things moving.

Because if we can’t come together to fight climate change, what hope do we have of uniting against an alien invasion? /Wyatt Thompson

Crisis Versus Crisis

The Canadian Government under prime minister Justin Trudeau, has made some major decisions in the past year to respond to the current Covid-19 pandemic. This government has spent roughly $952 million a day to fight covid and support people who have lost jobs.

Just imagine if the same kind of effort and money was spent fighting climate change.

We are mobilizing to combat Covid-19 because the risks are so blatantly obvious, especially in North America. We see and hear about people dying daily, because it’s featured on our news networks nightly and the dots are all connected for us. Climate change hasn’t nearly had the same impact on us here in Canada as it has in other countries, where people are dying from it every day. Canadians have an “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking when it comes to our environment.

Trudeau has done a good job increasing awareness and understanding, explaining prevention, and addressing misinformation around Covid-19. He even grew a beard for it. But we’re going to need daily briefings to educate the public about climate change, to push policy forward, and to address misinformation from climate deniers. The Federal Government needs a way to bypass provinces who oppose climate action.

We’ve all changed our lifestyles due to Covid-19. You’ve probably had to adapt and change, too. But one crisis shouldn’t be more important than another. Just as we have changed our ways for Covid-19, we need to start reacting to our climate crisis.

We’ve proven we can answer the call to action. The Federal Government needs to stop worrying about re-election and make the difficult decisions needed to move us in the right direction. /Sydney Epp

A Breath Of Fresh Pomegranate 

Imagine drinking only Dr. Pepper for our entire lives until one day we’re offered a nice swig of Pomegranate juice. But then the Pomegranate juice is taken away, and everyone has to go back to drinking the sludge that is Dr. Pepper.

I bet people would fight like heck to suckle down some sweet pomegranate nectar one more time. Don’t you think?

About a year ago, some people around the world took their first breath of fresh air in their lives. Something that should be a human right was kept from them for decades, due to pollution by the oil and gas industries.

Many might remember that for the first month or two of the global pandemic, the world’s air quality improved drastically. China and India’s coal plants shut down and the Internet was abuzz with before and after photos of clear skies versus hazy skies.

We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for humans and all species on earth. Roughly 8.7 million people die annually from air pollution. That’s more than eight times the population of Saskatchewan, each year! But as soon as the factories opened back up, the air got worse again. Imagine how you’d feel in that situation.

It’s another reason everyone needs to phase out coal and gas, and set up solar, wind, and hydro power.

It’s about time we do our part to make sure nobody ever has to taste Dr. Pepper again. /Bridget Donnelly

Freedom! Liberty! Stupidity!

Over the past year we’ve all learned to become more adaptable “thanks” to Covid-19.

Well, most of us, anyway.

While most Saskatchewanians accept the changes needed to stay safe during the pandemic, it’s also been a constant battle against misinformation and flat-out denial. Most us changed our habits, wearing masks when we go out and staying home when we can. As a young person, wearing a mask has become second nature to me. Like a seatbelt, most of the time I don’t even notice I’m wearing it.

But too many people in this province seem to think that wearing something on one’s face is a sign of weakness or a sacrifice of their freedom.

Some might wish to mutter “Darwin” about these people and ignore them, but there are too many similarities between anti-maskers and climate deniers to just leave it at that. Misinformation is causing more Saskatchewanians to distrust science and facts. This has to change.

There’s a saying: “People are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.”

I have heard many times that youth today are soft or spoiled. But during this pandemic, we’ve made the sacrifices to keep as many people as safe as possible. We’re also the ones pushing for bold climate action.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can go back to enjoying school and not having to push adults to change their ways for the safety of our planet. /Byron Sebesteny

Fossil Fuel’s Fast Fade

The signs that our economy is shifting green are right in front of us. From the United Stated cancelling the Keystone Pipeline project, to oil and gas companies struggling, it’s worth asking: could real change be happening?

Last June, The International Institute for Sustainable Development released Green Strings. The report offers recommendations that could help Canada’s covid recovery plans improve not just the country’s economic health, but its emissions reductions as well. (You can see the report at

One recommendation is for Governments to not support industry that doesn’t have plans to become net-zero by 2050. The funds that would’ve gone to these companies would be put towards environmentally friendly businesses. Non-renewable energy companies would be forced to either adapt or die.

Many people have lost jobs or are on the brink of unemployment thanks to the pandemic, creating an accelerated need for job creation. For example, there was an $1.72 billion announcement last spring for jobs to clean up orphan or inactive oil wells (wells that have been abandoned by oil companies) that created thousands of jobs for people facing financial hardship. Strategies like this could greatly benefit those in need.

Climate plans set to launch years from now could be put into practice much earlier than scheduled by attaching these “Green Strings” to our recovery. We often hear there’s no more time to waste. Let’s stop wasting what we’ve got.  /Maram Hani

The Zoom Generation

Why video calls are carbon catastrophes

Did you know when your camera is on for a one-hour zoom meeting, it emits 1,000 grams of CO2 and uses up to three gallons of water? Shutting off your camera cuts your carbon footprint by 96 per cent!

Every day 11 million video conferences are held worldwide and most people taking part have their cameras on. If you think about all the cameras on each video call, and their impact, it adds up to a huge amount of carbon.

You may not know or want to research what carbon is doing to our earth, but right now it’s the main cause of global warming. Yes, we need carbon in the earth’s atmosphere to keep the earth’s oceans from being frozen blocks of ice, but this is a case of “too much of a good thing”. Since humans have increased our footprint industrially and emitted more carbon than current life on earth needs, there has been a concerning amount of carbon in the atmosphere leading to more natural disasters, drought, rainfall, and sea-level rise. 

We’re starting to see the results: rising temperatures. But what happens as the earth continues to heat up? Water levels will rise because of melting ice, which could cause cities and islands to sink underwater. More animals will go extinct as their natural habitats change. Some places could become unlivable, unleashing waves of climate refugees.

And many more scary things.

Are you personally to blame for the climate catastrophe? Of course not. Neither are we. But we can all do our small part to help solve this issue.

Keep your camera off for your next video conference. Bonus: if you happen to hate being on camera, you can now say you’re helping the environment! /Maya Osterbeck and Lynae Tebae