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Saving the Planet One Story at a Time
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Earth Day began on April 22, 1970 with an impassioned speech by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson who, at the height of protests against the war in Vietnam, asked whether money might be better spent on solving environmental problems instead. Response to the challenge was swift with the launch of the Environmental Protection and Clean Energy Acts in the U.S. and the founding of Pollution Probe and Greenpeace in Canada.

But as quickly as the environmental movement was born subsequent decades have laid claim to environmental disasters from wars to nuclear explosions, chemical spills, toxic gas leaks, and oil spills.  Questions remains such as why, 50 years after the first Earth Day, has so little headway been made to protect our precious planet? 

Furthermore, why was our early activism replaced by complacency that led to weakened environmental laws, extreme weather conditions and environmental disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill? Where have we failed?  Where have we succeeded? While international awareness led to innovation and campaigns to protect the planet, there remains an enormous gap of indifference from political leaders down to everyday people about the fragility of our planet’s future.

CineFocus Canada is tackling these questions in a new documentary and interactive experience, Hindsight in 2020. By taking a chronological approach to telling the story of the modern environmental movement viewers will see how world events and public policy have supported or challenged individual efforts over time and learn that there is still time to turn things around if we adopt solutions that are available to each one of us.

The onset: In 1970 municipal recycling did not exist in Ontario before a small women’s group from Burlington initiated the idea of a recycling experiment. Their major aim — once they had completed the initial research with just over 250 families — was to propose that the City of Burlington offer municipal recycling for its citizens.

The group of housewives was known as Citizens Committee for Pollution Control (CCPC) and their door to door campaign to collect bottles and cans led to the province’s first recycling program. In 1981, Burlington was the first city in Ontario to begin municipal recycling with curbside pickup of “separated at source” household waste.

The original group has undergone a recent revival under the banner “Recycling Revisited.” The goal of Recycling Revisited is to preserve the memory of an amazing citizen action, led by up to 1,000 people at a time, to inspire those who are concerned about other environmental issues to gather with like-minded others in order to implement some positive change.

Mid-point: This environmental story illustrates the David and Goliath challenge facing environmentalists around the world who want to protect natural resources, such as old growth forest, against consumer demand.  To do this we turn to Green Hero, Tzeporah Berman and her experience at Clayoquot Sound 25 years ago.

Prior to coordinating the historic blockades in 1993, Tzeporah Berman had never been to a protest in her life. She was among one thousand people arrested, marking the largest civil disobedience action in Canada’s history. She was acquitted of the 850 criminal charges she faced, marking a real tipping point in Canada on environmental issues.

In a recent Globe and Mail editorial, she writes of her experience on the blockades 25 years ago and its relationship to the the Kinder Morgan pipeline protests today.

Present Day: Each year, Earth Day creates themed events leading to the 2020 challenge to engage citizens from across the globe in action actions to save the planet. In 2018 the Earth Day campaign to end plastic pollution had significant results raising awareness and participation around the world. In 2019, Earth Day Canada is teaming up with Kamik Footwear to celebrate Earth Day by inviting families to #FreeYourPlay and make a commitment to step outside and connect with the environment through play.

According to UN research, children in Canada are losing their connection to nature due to a sharp decrease in the amount of time they spend outside. Our Green Hero Ta’Kaiya Blaney, featured in the TVO episode, Back to Nature, tells us why more young people like herself should take to the great outdoors.

For more information about the campaign and upcoming events, including resources for how to bring outdoor, unstructured play into your own community and family, visit Kamik.com/FreeYourPlay or EarthPlay.ca.

What can we do this year to make a difference? Start by heeding some sage advice from Dr. Jane Goodall – this month’s Green Hero.

What every person can do is spend a little bit of time every day learning about and thinking about the consequences of all the little choices we make each day. What we buy. What we wear. What we eat. How we get from A to B. How we interact with other people. How we interact with animals and the environment. If we all start making little changes the cumulative effect will be the kind of thing we need to change the world and put it back on track.

You can watch the webisode where she speaks these words or catch the entire Green Heroes TV episode featuring Dr. Goodall along with other animal champions including Dolphin Protector Ric O’Barry, Shark enthusiast Rob Stewart, and Papa Goose, Richard Lishman on Amazon Prime

Also as a special treat this month- the multi-award winning documentary National Geographic documentary about Jane Goodall’s life with the chimps airs on TVO Monday, January 7 at 9 p.m. as part of their Biography Mondays series. The documentary also gives a seldom seen look at footage filmed by Dutch wildlife photographer Hugo van Lawick who later became Jane’s husband. It’s an intimate portrait of their life and love that will capture your heart.

Now that’s a great way to start the New Year! Happy 2019 to all our Green Heroes and their many fans and supporters. May 2019 bring a greener and cleaner future for all and remember:

Everyone of us makes a difference every single day.

Dr. Jane Goodall
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Green Hero, Rob Stewart’s latest film, “Sharkwater Extinction”, opened across Canada on October 19th. It premiered with a special screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7th and is featured at this year’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival on Sunday October 28th at 1:30 p.m. at the Innis Town Hall on the University of Toronto Campus.

Thanks to Rob’s 2006 first film, “Sharkwater”, and his tireless campaigning, shark-finning is banned throughout the world. Yet, as Rob tells us in the opening lines to his latest movie, sharks continue to die in record numbers. “Sharkwater Extinction” follows Rob’s on his renewed quest to find out why this is happening.

“Sharkwater Extinction” takes us to West Africa, Spain, Panama, Costa Rica, Florida and Los Angeles to expose this multi-billion dollar industry. As you can imagine the quest is not without risk.

Sadly Rob Stewart drowned on a dive off the coast of Florida while making this film. However, the film does not dwell on his death. Instead it inspires us with a message of hope to follow his lead and become heroes ourselves.

Regina Domingo appears in “Sharkwater Extinction” with Rob. Originally from Barcelona, she now lives in Mexico, where she continues Rob’s work to find out what is happening to sharks.

She is also an inspiration to others as the founder and Director of the Nakawe Project, a non-profit organization that dedicates its time and efforts to the protection and conservation of marine life around the globe.

Here is a podcast from Friday, Sept. 7th, with Green Heroes producer, Joan Prowse, and Regina Domingo discussing the late Rob Stewart’s film, “Sharkwater Extinction” on CHHA Radio.

Ric O’Barry’s first environmental act took place on April 22, 1970, when he was arrested for freeing a captive dolphin. What makes his story particularly poignant is Ric was unaware that this action would change the course of his life, taking him from dolphin trainer to dolphin protector.

During the 1960s, Ric’s love of marine life led to a position at the Miami aquarium where he trained the five dolphins that regularly appeared as Flipper on the popular TV series. When the series was cancelled and the dolphins warehoused, Ric realized the error of his ways and began a crusade to save dolphins from captivity and senseless death.

Ric’s campaign has been fuelled by the 2010 Oscar® winning film The Cove and by his determination. Today, as Japan prepares to host the Olympic summer games in 2020, Ric is calling on Japan’s Prime Minister to halt the annual dolphin capture and slaughter that takes place around the coast of the country in Taiji.

Ric is not the only Green Hero using a 2020 target date for campaigns aimed at changing government policy and individual behavior in favour of the planet.

Already underway are Earth Day events leading up to the 50th anniversary date with a goal of inspiring 3 billion people worldwide to take part on April 22, 2020.

But why wait for Earth Day? Now is a great time to reflect on ways we can protect our planet today. Here are 30 suggested ways to create a more hopeful situation leading to Earth Day’s 50th birthday. How many are you doing right now and how many more would you like to adopt during the countdown to 2020?

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The Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) is taking on a conservation challenge of epic proportions to reach an estimated 164,000 tenants living in over 58,000 rental units across the city. As North America’s second largest housing provider, only surpassed by New York’s Public Housing Authority in size, this is no small feat. But the goal is a worthy one – to create a better place for TCHC residents to live and a better planet for all.

As part of this initiative, CineFocus Canada, Green Heroes’ production company, is working with Toronto Community Housing’s Capital Engagement and Conservation Program (CECP) to create a series of on-line shareable videos aimed at reducing energy consumption (electricity, water, natural gas) and waste in residential buildings across the city.

The mission is to produce ten short videos, each one showing a particular conservation challenge and how to fix it. In order to ensure the videos reach the largest number of people living in TCH’s 2,200 high, mid, and low-rise apartments, town homes and houses, the videos include animated characters and tenant profiles to give tips of what can be done to reduce consumption with the end goal of creating a better place to live.

CineFocus Canada is working with a highly creative and motivated team of Senior Program Leaders (SPLs) who are TCHC tenants or residents from the community assigned to each building. As each SPL is familiar with their community, they are able to tap into their local networks and provide advice on how to best engage local tenants.

Already CineFocus and the CECP team have created three animated videos aimed at energy conservation during cold winter months. The Keep Warm in Winter campaign videos use two animated characters (created by Andrea Nellis and animated by Luke Murphy) one, an energy hog and the other, an energy hero, to show viewers ways how they can stay warm and minimize their environmental footprint.

Check them all out here.

Stay tuned for the spring campaign videos that focus on recycling and waste reduction.

Heroes combat adversity with ingenuity, bravery and strength. Al Gore truly exemplifies these heroic attributes.

For over a decade, the former American Vice President has fought climate change, the greatest challenge of our time. In 2006, his Academy Award winning film An Inconvenient Truth, raised awareness about the need to phase out fossil fuels and shift to clean renewable energy.  Now eleven years later comes An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

In devastating detail, the sequel lays out the ongoing destruction of warming temperatures, rising seas and increasingly deadly storms. We also get to see Al Gore behind the scenes at international climate summits brokering complex deals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (I guess you could call this heroic diplomacy.) But what most inspired me was the focus on the power of ordinary individuals following in Gore’s footsteps promoting renewable energy solutions. The Climate Reality Leadership Corp  Al Gore created after his first film now numbers 12,000 and leads the way in the global movement for climate action. (Three members of the Green Heroes creative crew are part of this team.)

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is definitely worth seeing. Afterwards, you might consider the path for your own hero’s journey combating climate change. The film certainly reaffirmed my commitment to Green Heroes and the people we’ve profiled, for instance: race car driver Leilani Munter , who after seeing Al Gore’s first film, launched a campaign to reduce fossil fuel in her sport, or fashionista Kelly Drennan who raises awareness about the environmental impact of the clothes we wear.

Ingenuity, bravery and strength. In the face of climate change, these heroic actions provide hope, a much better choice than despair.

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Canadian photographer, filmmaker, conservationist and Green Hero Rob Stewart was best known for making and directing the documentary films “Sharkwater” and “Revolution”. For four years, Stewart worked as chief photographer for the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazines, and also worked as a freelance journalist. He held a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Western Ontario and studied zoology and marine biology in Kenya and Jamaica. Stewart died in a scuba diving incident while in Florida filming “Sharkwater: Extinction” on January 31.
Stewart’s contribution to the common human struggle to respect the Earth and all her creatures was herculean. May we continue his work with alacrity.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

As we know, Rob Stewart disappeared Tuesday evening off the coast of Florida. The outpouring of support and hope that spearheads his search is inspiring. Across social media on Facebook, Twitter and at sharkwater.com you can find updates and opportunities to volunteer or donate. On twitter follow @teamsharkwater and #FindRob.

The fundraising campaign continues to gather funds for air and ground searches including 13 helicopter and teams working non-stop. The outpouring of financial support is heartwarming.

 Green Heroes field producer Stephanie Silliker and I met Rob in the summer of 2009 when we interviewed him for the first season of our TV and web series.

I remember Stephanie giving me the Sharkwater DVD telling me it was a “much-see” because Rob was your quintessential Green Hero. He certainly changed my Jaws-jaded view of sharks from man-eater. In less than 5 minutes, I learned that sharks are not to be feared by rather revered for the essential role they play in balancing all life on earth.

I was so impressed at how he was able to convince me of their importance that we did the interview with him right away. He was gracious and generous, even introducing us to his pet python.

He also tipped us off that a new film called The Cove was having its commercial release that night in Toronto and that Ric O’Barry, the film’s hero, would be there to talk about it. Thanks to Rob, we got the scoop on another Green Hero, before his Academy award win, that day.

Stephanie wrote to me upon hearing of Rob’s disappearance. “ I was lucky enough to accompany you to interview one of Canada’s most influential environmentalists and documentarians. His vibrant spirit and zest for open water and the wildlife below are so inspiring. I was shocked and saddened to hear that news that he has gone missing. I am sending positive vibes in the hope he will be rescued safely.”

I join Stephanie and literally millions of others around the world hoping and praying that Rob will be found. Just think of Rob free-diving in the last scene of Sharkwater and you’ll agree with this encouraging message from the Sharkwater website:

“We believe Robbie Stewart is out there waiting for us to find him. We are reaching 72 hours, which is an absolutely feasible timeframe in which to find Robbie. And as we all know, he is strong and resilient and at home in the water.”

Rob with his pet python

Planet in Focus, Canada’s longest running environmental film festival, honours David Suzuki and Alexandra Cousteau as the 2016 recipients of the Eco-Hero award.

The award is presented each year to both a Canadian and an International figure whose body of work has had significant impact on raising awareness on environmental issues. Past recipients include other Green Heroes too!

This year, the festival also celebrates the next-generation of eco-heroes with 10 budding environmentalist discussing how to change the world with David Suzuki, as part of the festival kick off event on Tuesday, October 18. Watch it as the discussion streams live from 1:30 to 3:30 ET at planetinfocus.org.

Later that evening, David Suzuki accepts his award, delivers a keynote speech and answers questions at a sold out event at the Isabel Bader theatre in Toronto.

 Sunday, October 23 at the closing night gala the spotlight shines on our country’s oceans and on Alexandra Cousteau as she accept the International Eco-Hero award at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema prior to the screening of the Canadian documentary What Lies Below.

As well as the opening and closing night galas, there are more than 60 films to choose from as well as an industry day for environmental filmmakers to network, pitch their ideas, and learn more about their craft.

And as a special bonus for Green Heroes fans, the first five people to join the Green Heroes Academy or post to the Green Heroes Facebook page which film they’d most like to see at this year’s Planet in Focus are eligible to receive free tickets to a film of their choice.

Planet in Focus is a stellar organization that deserves a wide audience for the festival and the events they host year round. Why not make a donation now to ensure its continued success into 2017.

Today, as Green Heroes.tv celebrates our 6th anniversary, we honour musician and water protector, Gord Downie on tour with his band The Tragically Hip. Media articles and reports cover his musical legacy, but haven’t mentioned his activism and love of the lake. This led to stopping an environmental heavy hitter from burning tires as an alternate fuel source on the shores of Lake Ontario, just down the road from the band’s recording studio in Bath Ontario. Gord joined forces with the local community and the environmental organization, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and became co-applicant on a case that led to changing how permits for potentially unsafe environmental practices are approved in Ontario.

“I feel more a citizen of Lake Ontario than I do of anywhere else.” Gord told us.

His love of the lake came early, growing up in Kingston Ontario, a waterfront city located at the eastern end of the lake near the start of the St. Lawrence River. But “with time and distance” Gord found he had “lost his connection with the lake” until he heard a speech by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. whose work on the Hudson River spawned the global Waterkeeper Alliance.

Gord said it was an empowering moment when he heard that “the lake belongs to us. It’s in the public trust. In an era when everything is owned and staked out, that really moved me.”

Watch our profile of Gord as he tells what it took to achieve victory against a large multinational and, for a more in-depth look, watch our TV episode, In My Backyard, produced in association with TVO.

The CBC carries the Hip’s hometown show in Kingston, Ont., live on its television, radio and online platforms on Aug. 20 starting at 8:30 p.m. ET. While it will be a moving event, we’ll remember Gord best for literally putting his name on the line to achieve environmental justice for the lake he loves so much.

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