Refuse to be Passive

Environmentalism in a National Parks Town

In Uncategorized on July 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

One would think that living in a small town in a National Park in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, that environmentalism would be on the the forefront of people’s minds. After all, living on the threshold of the wilderness leads to a population of people who love nature and get out to enjoy it. After a long day at work, the trails around town are milling with people hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. The rivers and lakes are filed with canoes, kayaks and rafts. While the small local population seems to be intent on preserving that nature, I have to question how sustainable this small town is? While many people bike or walk around town, there are no shortage of SUVs and Pick-up trucks parked along the curbs for when people leave town to explore deeper into the Rockies. Beyond that, my small town is a tourist town. The summer is when the money is made, and in the winter the town dies. Most businesses in town survive off this tourism and are part of the service industry, although the railway plays a significant part in the survival of the town. But we can talk about the railway another time. For now I would like to focus on the service industry that caters to visitors from around the world.

Due to the fact that many of the businesses in town have a scant half year to make the majority of their income, it’s important that overhead and fixed costs remain low. Jasper, my town, is known as a minimum wage town, as most of the service industry pays relatively little to their employees. During the summer season, many of these employees are university students, needing a summer job and a cheap place to live– namely, staff accommodation. These short term residents tend to take two forms, the outdoorsy types and the partiers. Both types come to Jasper to enjoy their summer, but tend to choose to enjoy them in different ways. But once again, I digress. Between the temporary populaiton and the tourists, there is a large culture of consumerism here, particularly in regards to food. Restaurants, coffee shops, bars, pubs, and confectionery stores abound.

Yesterday evening, I took a trip to my local Mac’s to pick up a Slurpee as my apartment was piping hot, even at 10pm. A cold shower probably would have done the trick, but instead I wandered down to the town center to find myself a sweet treat. As I wandered with my froster, I looked around at the others who were out and about. Most of them were holding some form of food or drink container– an ice cream cup, coffee cup, pop bottle, or take out box. I cringed and looked down at my own froster cup and recogized a truth. Most of these items would wind up in the local landfill. Many of them can’t be recycled, and the majority of people are not aware of what items can be recycled. I started thinking about how often I was the cause of the production of unneeded waste. Let’s see here, a few frosters a week, a few drinks at work a week. A can of pop here or there. And even while I recycle what I can, sometimes I am simply too lazy to ensure that my recyclables make their way into the appropriate receptacle. And that is just the recycling.

I was reading the Edmonton Journal this morning, and was captivated by an article on the development of a sustainable community on the land where the city center airport now stands. Edmonton is already a world leader in the areas of garbage reduction/disposal and recycling. Now they’re aiming to add to their environmental reputation with this new community that will make use of geothermal energy, a grey water system, and many other avant garde technologies. Here in Jasper, I’m fairly certain that most of these technologies are rare. Most forms of energy are traditional, coming off the standard power grid. I’ve seem little in the way of alternative forms of energy such as solar, wind or geothermal energy– not that the last of those is terribly obvious.

Sidebar: The washroom in the cafe in which I’m sitting has a chalk board with things written on it that change on a regular basis. Today’s writing? “Welcome to Jasper! Population: 5 trillion mosquitoes.” Love it. And below that someone scrawled “At least it’s not 45 million years ago when they were the size of foot balls.” Isn’t that a horrific thought? I cringe. End of sidebar.

Now I do have to give the town kudos for the fact that in all the public buildings, they use dual flush toilets with sensored sink faucets. But in the many apartment buildings used for staff accommodations, the story is different. Many of them have your regular water guzzling toilets, and sinks with leaky taps. The buildings are often overly warm, and so people live with their windows open all the time, as even with the thermostats turned off, the heat still rises. That’s hardly environmentally friendly, but even the eco-minded seem to have little control over this. With all the issues we have with global warming, do we really need to heat our apartment buildings to the point of needing to leave the windows open, adding even more heat to the environment? In the Edmonton Journal this morning I was reading about the issues of global warming on the polar bear population. People like to stick their heads in the sand on issues such as these, but I cannot turn my back on what is happening with many of the wildlife populations that are in distress due partially to natural environmental changes, but compounded by the actions of man. Here in Jasper we have the perfect example in the caribou population. These animals used to thrive here, now there are less than 50 left in the park. Banff, my neighbour to the south, lost their last five in an avalanche last year. The caribou in Jasper are threatened by an agressive wolf population that are gaining easier access into the caribou habitats via the roadways built to get us humans to various places in the park. Parks Canada is well aware of the situation and is working hard to help protect the caribou population, but this population is on the brink of extinction. It will be the first animal to go extinct in the Canadian national parks (I believe). Considering that caribou only procreate every other year, and the survival rate is something like 30%, this population of animals is in some serious need of help. I say all this simply to iterate that even with natural causes and cycles, humans have a major impact on the wildlife in the world around us. As such, we need to be thoughtful about our resources and how we use them. In many situations it is important to stop and examine our lifestyles and ask ourselves seriously if the conveniences of our lifestyles warrant the effects on creation.

For example, I was also reading in the Edmonton Journal about the plans for a pipeline through BC to carry crude oil from the oilsands to the coast to be shipped to Asia. Activists, land owners, first nations groups, and others are joining the bandwagon to protest the destruction of virgin territory. I applaude this, but still the are of the oilsands, responsible for the economic boom in Alberta is being further plundered and raped to keep us in Alberta in the cushy lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. Granted, big oil does provide millions of dollars to environmental research in an effort to create a positive public face. And I’m sure, that to some extent their concern for the environment is genuine, but I just can’t shake the feeling of this being a case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Even as I write this, I know myself to be a hypocrite. My laptop on which I type is made primarily of plastic, which is produced from oil. The laminate topped counter at which I sit, is a byproduct of oil. Even my fleece sweatpants are made from oil. Did you know they can take plastic water bottles and turn them into fleece? Crazy, right? But at the same time, I do take intentional steps to limit my dependence on oil. I walk or bike almost everywhere, and do not own a vehicle. This was true for me when I was living in the largest city in Canada– Toronto– and still is, now that I live in a town that is roughly 1% the size of the city from which I moved. When I do need to get somewhere that my feet or bike cannot take me, I rely on public transit. In Jasper, that’s usually when I need to get into Edmonton. My options are Greyhound or Via Rail, or carpooling with a friend. I don’t go into Edmonton often, but when I do, I try to make the trip worthwhile, hitting as many stops as I can. Granted, running errands around Edmonton is usually done by car, but when possible I localize my errands and walk from one location to another.

Today, when you hop into your car, think about the impact you are having on the world around you. Can you walk that 1km to the grocery store? Do you really need to drive? Even if you can’t see the impact your lifestyle has, know that it is there. I encourage you to start making small changes, if you haven’t already. Choose to shop closer to home, choose to walk when possible. And when not possible, turn your errands into a trip with friends. That way, you’ll be carpooling, reducing traffic on the road, and reducing pollution into the atmosphere. Just make sure when you’re buying whatever your buying to consider not only the pricing, but the amount of waste it will produce. I had one roommate who insisted on buying her packs of toilet paper all individually wrapped. Goodness. What a waste.

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  1. Thoughtful & thought-provoking post. I feel encouraged. 🙂

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