Environmentalists at the University of Alberta Introduction
When people learn that I left Vancouver to attend the University of Alberta, often their first question is some iteration of “Why?!” It could be the more polite: “Oh, that’s so interesting, what made you choose the U of A?”, or the more straightforward: “Why would you ever do that?” Either way it always knocks me off my balance a bit.
The truth is, of course, complicated. I wanted to leave home, but I didn’t want to go too far. I wanted to meet new people, but I didn’t want to know nobody. Sometimes I’ll give more interesting answers: I knew I wanted to write about the environment and I thought being as close to the tar sands as possible would help me do that. Or I wanted a more truly Canadian experience of harsh winters and prairies. Whatever the reason, I’m here now and I’ve learned a lot. I always say I don’t regret it.
As I prepare to enter my fourth (but not final) year at the U of A I often reflect on what my life might have been like if I’d gone to a more logical choice like University of British Columbia or Victoria. Maybe I would be part of the divestment club or constantly attending Transmountain pipeline protests. Maybe I’d be hiking every weekend and swimming all summer.
The truth is that it took me a while to find my place at the U of A. The environmental community wasn’t as big or as out in the open as I expected it to be. But I think that’s because it didn’t look the way I expected it to. It wasn’t all students riding their bikes to the farmer’s market together, wearing Birkenstocks and sipping from Nalgene water bottles. There’s a bit of that, of course, but it’s so much more than that. There are student environmentalists in political science and biology, environmental studies and humanities. There are engineering students having closed-door meetings with a dean who spoke out against David Suzuki’s honorary degrees. There are business students leading environmentally-friendly startups and people running youth sustainability blogs. There are environmentalists who are passionate about Indigenous issues, food security, green technology, anti-capitalism, the carbon tax, science journalism, and art. I have been so lucky to work with, write about, and befriend people in this community.
In this series I want to explore student environmentalism at the U of A. Who are the changemakers? What are their stories? How are they different? How are they the same? Coming out of writing this series I feel something I don’t feel that often when it comes to the environment: hope. With so many amazing young people tackling this issue from so many angles the future looks less daunting. I hope you’ll come out of this feeling the same way.