Students can help shape the future, so we need to educate them to make a difference when it comes to the environment—and those wise words are coming from a student herself.
It was through a pair of environmental studies courses in her last year at Kapuskasing District High School that Jessica Serre was inspired to write about her experiences for the Union Gas Essay Scholarship competition.
Her argument that younger generations need to take up the cause of environmental sustainability is compelling.
"We all use energy," the 18-yearold writes. "Why shouldn't we all be involved in changing our ways so that we can continue to use energy?"
Serre is an advocate of her own advice. Simple solutions she incorporates into her own life include shutting off water and lights when they're not in use, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, and growing her own food close to home to reduce transportation costs and emissions.
Last year, her high school won a $5,000 grant from the World Wildlife Fund to create a 48 foot by 48 foot school vegetable garden as part of her environment and resource management class. Students started sowing seeds in the winter months, transplanted them outdoors in the spring, and volunteer teachers and students tended the garden in the summer.
The produce will be sold at the farmers' market this fall, and proceeds will go back into the garden.
"I love gardening," said Serre, noting her grandfather shares the bounty from his large garden at Crystal Falls, which she and her five-year-old sister have helped tend, with nearby friends and neighbours. "It's so fun."
Youth as young as kindergarten age can start to learn about the value of sustainability, Serre argues. If it doesn't become a priority, she worries we could run out of resources.
"I think that, right now, within the generation of our parents, it was all about becoming bigger, creating new things, trying to be better," she said.
"But now that we have global warming, now that we have so many emissions from trying to be bigger, we're realizing that we're killing off the environment by doing all these things. We need to find a new way and the only people that are going to be able to do that are students."
While there is some knowledge amongst her peers, Serre believes the education system is key to raising awareness about environmental sustainability. You have to be in school, she reasons, so why not make it mandatory to learn about environmental sustainability.
She also sees the connection First Nations peoples have to the earth as the ideal model for students to follow. Too often, she said, people see themselves as conquerors of the environment, but they should be more respectful of the bounty before them.
"The environment gives us the wood to build our buildings, it gives us the fossil fuels we burn to create energy, it gives us the soil we grow our food in, and it gives us every single element that we need in order to survive," she writes. "Therefore, we depend on the environment."
So passionate has she become about environmental sustainability, Serre has chosen it as her career path. In the fall, she will enter the first of a four-year bachelor of science degree, specializing in environmental biology, at North Bay's Nipissing University.
"I really enjoyed both my environmental classes, and when it came time to choose our university courses, I chose environmental biology," she said.
Career options include an environmental biologist or ecologist, but Serre is waiting to see what opportunities her post-secondary education presents before determining her future job prospects.