Photo courtesy of TCDSB

Our Poles. Our Planet Environmental Conference Inspires Toronto Youth

By  Robert Adragna, Youth Speak News
  • April 20, 2016

Polar adventurer Geoff Green posed an ethical choice to an audience of more than 200 Toronto Catholic high school students. 

“Are you going to be a passenger on spaceship Earth, just along for the ride to see what happens? Or are you going to be a crew member who takes leadership and has a role in preserving our planet?” 

This latter question was answered with a resounding “yes” at the first ever Our Poles. Our Planet Youth Environmental Sustainability Conference recently held in Toronto. 

Sponsored by the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the conference aimed to get students from across the city to work as stewards of God’s creation. The conference had a special focus on raising awareness for the planet’s polar regions — the Arctic and Antarctic — by bringing participants on a journey into their awe-inspiring beauty, scientific significance and cultural vibrancy. 

“These are some of the most amazing, most sensitive, most beautiful places on the entire Earth," said Green in his keynote address. “What an amazing planet we have, and the poles are the cornerstones of its global ecosystem.”

Green is the founder of Students on Ice, an organization that takes youth from around the world on life-changing journeys to the polar regions. He talked about how the program takes students to geographically remote locations to witness first-hand the importance of preserving the environment.

“We are having an impact on the Antarctic right here in Toronto even though it’s all the way at the bottom of the world," said Green. “In the end, success or failure will come down to an ethical decision, one on which those living will be judged for generations to come."

His keynote address was followed by a series of lectures from a group of guest speakers who each worked in the Arctic and Antarctic, including a a wildlife photographer, a historian and a climatologist. 

Each youth seminar featured young people who are making a difference at the poles, whether by researching climate change, educating through eco-tourism or improving mental health and wellness in remote Inuit communities.

“Youth engagement for our generation is critical,” said Eva Wu, a youth presenter at the event. “We are the individuals who will be shaping the next policies, looking for solutions to these problems and conserving the global environment. So it is important that we work towards stewardship for our planet’s future.” 

Creating positive change in the polar regions does not necessarily involve grandiose, specific actions that are directly connected to the Arctic and Antarctic. Rather, each of us can make a difference by using our talents to build a society that celebrates humanity, sustainability and progress. 

“God didn’t give us dominance over the Earth but rather a responsibility to preserve the magnificence of creation, which we are blessed to experience," said Kathryn Kazimowicz, one of the student organizers of the event.

Kazimowicz said as Catholics, especially in light of the papal encyclical Laudato Si', it is our duty to join in preserving the polar regions for future generations. She said the conference is only the beginning. 

Organizers are currently working to make it an annual event. They are also considering initiating various other projects, such as the drafting of a Youth Declaration on Polar Sustainability for the Canadian government. But regardless of the future’s specifics, the group will continue to raise awareness for the protection of our poles, and our planet. Visit ourpolesourplanet.weebly.com for more information.

(Adragna, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Bishop Allen Academy in Toronto.)

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