Act locally for the right to a healthy environment

Children at the 2014 Steveston Salmon Festival coloured a “Bog Life” cartoon—butterfly, vole, killdeer, bog blueberry and sphagnum moss in the Lulu Island Bog. This Sunday, Michael Wolfe will lead a related activity at the David Suzuki Foundation event at Britannia Shipyards. Carol Day photo and Suzanna Wright art.

Children at the 2014 Steveston Salmon Festival coloured a “Bog Life” cartoon—butterfly, vole, killdeer, bog blueberry and sphagnum moss in the Lulu Island Bog. This Sunday, Michael Wolfe will lead a related activity at the David Suzuki Foundation event at Britannia Shipyards. Carol Day photo and Suzanna Wright art.

“What’s up, guys?” the vole seems to wonder as he pokes his head out of the Lulu Island Bog in the cartoon. The chance to colour it was a hit at the Salmon Festival, so Garden City Conservation’s Michael Wolfe and Eldon Lin are adapting the activity for a free David Suzuki Foundation family event.

It’s at the Britannia Shipyards site 1–3 pm this Sunday July 20, 2014. The “Bog Life” part is for “kids from one to 92” and beyond. The cartoon will prompt Michael to share insights, since he loves the sphagnum bog and loves teaching.

The event will kick off a far-reaching campaign for the human right to a healthy environment. The campaign is starting at the local level, and the aim is for Richmond to be a model for the communities of Canada. The Garden City Conservation board has strongly endorsed it.

The first need is for broader awareness—leading toward commitment—about the right to a healthy environment. With council action, the right could become a guiding principle.

After two or three years to build locally and provincially, it might be time to include the right in Canada’s constitution. Support across the country could actually make that feasible.

I was curious how a constitutional right to a healthy environment might work in practice. I found that half the national constitutions of the world already state that right, and three-quarters state some environmental rights. Canada, which has yet to act, can glean the best of their experience.

Canada’s right to a healthy environment, like other human rights, is sure to include limits to enforcement. And it will have to be moderate to survive the tough formula for amending our constitution.

I also see the right as a freedom. We gain freeness from clean water, air and soil and, in the long run, from biodiversity.

At this time, the challenge is to apply the right to a healthy environment locally. To become a model for the country, we must get results.

A good place for results is the Lulu Island Bog, the area from Westminster Highway north to Alderbridge Way and from Garden City Road east to Jacombs Road. It’s government-owned land that’s hanging on as a remnant of huge sphagnum bogs that had a vital role in forming the island.

That brings us back to the “Bog Life” cartoon and Sunday’s event at Britannia Shipyards. As a follow-up, Michael is enabling further action with a free eco-tour two days later. Whether you can come on Sunday or not, you’re welcome on Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m.

The eco-tour will start from the east entrance of the Garden City Lands, on No. 4 Road a little south of Alderbridge Way. Michael will help you see a world you may not know is there. With that you’ll see its role in the local right to a healthy environment.

For teachers, “Bog Life” class sets will be available courtesy of Garden City Conservation both days.

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This article also appeared as a Digging Deep column in the Richmond Review of July 16, 2014, but it did not appear in the Richmond Review online.

 

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