Guest Post – Wakan Tanka



Wakan Tanka

Wakan Tanka, meaning in the First Nation Lakota Sioux language “Great Spirit” is a powerful documentary film which interweaves the voices of environmental and aboriginal elders with a captivating fictional story that will engage youth on climate change.

The fictional journey follows Zak, a 13 year-old boy, as he makes his way across a nightmarish cityscape to find his way to the safety of his grandparent‘s house. Zak‘s journey through the city represents the journey humankind would have to make in order to rebuild a deeper connection with nature.

Wakan Tanka has the potential to influence millions of young people through the networks of the environmental elders and experts involved in the project and the international bands contributing songs. Between the deep wisdom of these elders and the inspiring music, the film highlights the struggles we face if we continue on our current path and the many alternative pathways to a sustainable future.

In addition to a number of world-famous bands that have contributed their music, the following elders and experts have graciously volunteered their time and commitment to the Wakan Tanka project:

Dr. David Suzuki – Scientist, Environmentalist
Dr. James Hansen – Climatologist and Columbia University Adjunct Professor
Raffi Cavoukian – Singer, Author and Founder of Centre for Child Honouring
James Hoggan – Author of Climate Cover Up and co-founder of
Robert Bateman – Naturalist and Painter
Grandmother Agnes – Chair of the Thirteen Grandmothers
Dr. Pakki Chipps – Ethnobotanist, Author
Guy Dauncey – Climate Change Author and Advocate
Miles Richardson – Haida Gwaii Elder
Manley Little Brave – Sioux Elder
Makere Harawira – Waitaha Elder
Dan Jason – Author, Founder of the Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada
Bristol Foster – Scientist, and Filmmaker
Paul Dickinson – Chairman, Carbon Disclosure Project
Samuel Bullock – Permaculture Designer & Educator
Hwiemtun – Coast Salish Elder
Chickadee – Ojibway Elder

Wakan Tanka has been commissioned by the Institute for Sustainability Education & Action ( a charitable non-profit based in Canada in partnership with UK non-profit A Purpose for Life Foundation, and produced by Substantial Films, UK. ( .

We are in post-production now and only $60,000 from our goal. We’ve recently launched a fundraising Indie go go campaign.

Please donate today and spread the word on your social networks and in your communities. Together we can make a difference. Thank you so much!

Protect the Poles, Protect the Planet

Guest blog by Leah Davidson, Act for Antarctica Campaign

In 2011, I received a scholarship to travel to the Antarctic with a Canadian-based organization called Students on Ice, which takes high school students to the Polar Regions on educational expeditions. For two weeks, I conducted science experiments, listened to lectures from polar experts, studied animal behaviours, and fell absolutely in love with this beautiful continent.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

Why is Antarctica so important?

  • Antarctica is a fascinating ecosystem containing valuable natural resources, including 70% of Earth’s fresh water. Antarctica is also an environment of extremes, as the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on the planet. It represents one of the last true wilderness areas, where animals approach humans without fear and you feel completely distanced from modern civilization.
  • Devoted to peace and science, Antarctica is a rare symbol of international cooperation. According to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, it is illegal to hunt, fish, mine, and pollute on Antarctic territory. Today, around 50 countries have ratified this treaty and agreed to protect the continent.
  • Antarctica is affected by climate change. Due to Antarctica’s geographic location, the temperature is rising at several times the rate of the global average. When we visited Palmer Station, one of the American research bases, the scientists explained that the Adelie penguin population in the area has plummeted and warmer-water species, like Gentoos and fur seals, have taken its place.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

What can you do?

While watching humpback whales glide through perfectly reflective water and our ship pass tabular icebergs illuminated by the glow of the sun, I started to recognize the transformational effect of natural beauty. After returning home to Sherbrooke, Canada, I put together an arts-based anthology called Antarctica: To Be Inspired with the photography and writing of the students and staff on the expedition. My friends and I have also partnered with eco-friendly companies to launch a campaign called Act for Antarctica. We are donating copies of this book to schools and youth groups and giving multimedia presentations, with the hope of educating 1000 youth about Antarctica and motivating them to undertake environmental acts. Acts could include conservation projects, lifestyle changes or awareness events. By sharing these acts via our website and social media outlets, we hope to convey the message that ecosystems are interconnected; therefore, everything you do on a local level contributes to the preservation of Antarctica for generations to come.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

New Interns at SYC!

Hello everyone! We are Nejc and Hrvoje, two new interns at SYC, staying here until the end of November. We came to Canada as part of the “Thinking Canada” study tour and internship programme funded by the EU. The aim of the tour was to provide students with an understanding of EU-Canada relations and the complex diversity of Canada itself. We visited six cities – Ottawa, Québec, Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria – where we met with various private and public institutions, government bodies, think tanks and NGOs. Some of the topics covered include Canada’s cultural diversity (the English/French relationship, First Nations and multiculturalism), political issues (federalism, regionalism, and the role of government), the environment (including old-growth forests and Arctic issues), urban issues and economic issues (business, finance, trade). We are both very lucky and excited to be working with the team!

A little about our backgrounds:

NejcI am Nejc (pronounced Nates) from Slovenia, currently finishing my Master’s degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Ljubljana, where I focused on Canadian and American studies, as well as cultural theory during my studies abroad. Coming from a rural background and a family of hikers (which is very Slovenian) and a few vegetarians (which is not), I have always had an appreciation for the environment. That interest grew as I started taking sustainability and climate courses through Coursera’s online platform, and I am now increasingly drawn to the challenges of sustainable transport and the infrastructure required. Combining the environmental with my geekier side, I will be working on building the Sustainable Campuses database, updating the SYC website, and helping with various other tasks.

HrvojeI’m Hrvoje (pronounced: her-vo-yeh) and I come from Croatia where I study English Language and Literature, and Sociology at the University of Zagreb. I’m really interested in society in general, but more specifically in the solutions to problems we (still) face- inequality, poverty, environmental issues, all sorts of discrimination, politically disengaged youth etc.  I am particularly interested in LGBT rights, racial discrimination, and multicultural issues, that’s why I’m looking forward to working on the anti-oppression policy of SYC. Hopefully I’ll be able to develop it more by connecting all the mentioned topics through the concept of environmental justice (I’ve always preferred the bigger picture). I firmly believe that sustainability and equity are inseparable, and that treating them as unrelated entities is incomplete and counterproductive. If you have any ideas, suggestions or simply feel passionate about anti-oppression issues, please contact me at:

An Update from the Fossil Fuels Divestment Movement

 Guest Blog By Elysia Petrone, Out-going SYC Excomm member and Eastern Field Organizer with Fossil Free Canada

I first caught wind of the fossil fuel divestment movement this past fall at Powershift 2012. It was great to hear Bill McKibben talk about the success of the ‘Do the Math’ tour and to learn how many campuses had joined the movement in the United States. After Powershift, SYC was involved in working on the Serious Issues Tour. I attended the workshop in Toronto. There, I met Yasmin Parodi and Kyuwon Kim. Since the three of us were no longer in school, we figured our best point of intervention and divestment strategy would be to pressure McLean’s Magazine to rank the universities on how ethically they invest. Our petition through received over 10 000 signatures. MacLean’s was not agreeable to add this new parameter in its ranking system, but we are hopeful they will write an article on divestment in their fall publication.

Since McMaster University is near by, I decided to launch a divestment campaign there. It did not take long to assemble a core team and start collecting petition signatures. Fossil Free Canada’s website is the place to go to create a petition and launch a new campaign. The website has loads of useful information, including the divestment toolkit which provides a guide on how to start a campaign, a guide on messaging and useful sample letters.

Divest McGill has been leading the way on divestment at Canadian Universities. Their website was helpful in determining strategy.

The group already had done their research and received some impressive endorsements. Through a Freedom of Information request the group knew exactly how much their university had invested in the Tar Sands and the Plan Nord.

In February, I was hired as the Eastern Canada Field Organizer for Fossil Free Canada. My first task was to help coordinate a Fossil Fools National Day of Action. This event really helped unify the national campaign. It was great to see so many creative actions in over a dozen campuses across the country. It has also been great to see the enthusiasm and energy build around this campaign in Canada in a relatively short time. Fossil Free Canada’s Facebook page had only a few hundred likes to start the new year and is now just over seven hundred.

It has also been amazing to celebrate the mini wins the campaigns have experienced along with way. For example, when the University of New Brunswick Fredericton Student Union passed a motion in favour of divestment or when 76% of Trent students endorsed divestment in a school wide referendum. At McMaster, there have been bumps in the road. (Taking away the social license of the riches companies in the world is not going to be easy), but there have also been successes. CUPE 3906 voted unanimously to support Fossil Free McMaster’s divestment campaign and OPIRG McMaster at their AGM voted to divest their own investments.

The next victory for the campaign could come on May 23rd when the Board of Governors at McGill University meets to discuss Divest McGill’s appeal made through the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility. You can help this campaign by signing their open letter to the Board here. Even if Divest McGill does not get the answer they are hoping for, as we learned at the Eastern Canada Divestment Training for Trainers this past weekend, they would use a negative response as fuel to keep escalating their campaign.

The training this past weekend in Montreal, led by Cameron Fenton, the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and Amara Possian was awesome. It brought together almost 30 divestment trainers representing campaigns at Lakehead University, Trent, University of Windsor, McGill, Concordia, Dawson College, University of Ottawa, Laurentian University, University of Toronto, McMaster University, Mohawk College and Dalhousie. Fun was had, the movement was fused, connections were made, and an exceptional curriculum was learned. I am excited to watch what this group of people can bring back to their campuses and accomplish in the new school year. Image

To end, here is a favourite saying of mine from Joshua Kahn Russel “We are unstoppable, Another world is Possible!” If you interested in starting a campaign at your own campus, faith group or municipality send me an email at and I will send you some links to get started.

Time to Back the Tap!

For Bottled Water Free Day, we came up with a list of 10 reasons why bottled water is a bad choice and shared them on Facebook and Twitter… But that can be a bit hard to read, so we decided to gather them all in one place here! This isn’t a top 10 list per se – no reason is really that much more significant than any other, but together they add up to a lot of motivation to Back the Tap!

By the way: If you’re looking for citations to back these points up, check out the resources on – they’re well researched and broken down by different issues… Thanks to a lot of hard work from the Polaris Institute – Institut Polaris

1. Bottled water is bad for our green future. Transportation isn’t the only way it uses fossil fuels. Plenty of oil goes into producing those bottles… When you add it all up, it takes 3.4 megajoules of energy to make each 1L bottle, cap, and packaging… And around 3 million barrels of oil each year for all the bottled water consumed in Canada.

2. Bottled water is bad for the climate… After all, it takes a lot of CO2 to transport those bottles from the plant, to the store, to your door… And since some of those bottles come from halfway around the world, whereas tap water travels on average less than 10km, bottled water contributes a heck of a lot more to global climate change.

3. Bottled water is a huge waste… Litter-ally (teehee)! Only about 48% of plastic beverage containers in Canada are recycled, with the rest either going to landfill or ending up in places like the Pacific Garbage Patch… By the way, that works out to around 150,000 tonnes of plastic per year. Yuck.

4. It’s out of line… with the prices of other “commodities”. Even without having to pay fees and royalties (see point #6), the price of a bottle of water is higher than a litre of gas.

Although we think that thinking of water as a commodity in the first place is a bad idea, it’s an interesting point! Oh, and we recognize that the price of gas doesn’t account for externalities (like Climate Change, air quality etc). but neither does bottled water.

5. Bottled water is bad for the planet… It actually takes 3-5L of freshwater to produce a 1L bottle of water – which means it’s depleting our limited resources of freshwater. While freshwater supplies in Canada may SEEM pretty nearly unlimited, major watersheds like the Great Lakes are already under pressure from Climate Change, and Canada is far from the only place your bottled water may be coming from…

6. Bottled water privatizes a public resource. While other industries that profit off of our natural resources (minerals, forests, oil, etc.) all pay fees/royalties to access them, water rights are typically doled out with little or no strings attached. That means the water they’re using goes from a public resource to a private good with no corresponding compensation for Canadian citizens.

7. Who wants to be a victim of false and/or misleading advertising? Bottled water tries to play on your fears and claims it’s the “freshest, cleanest water”… Implying tap water isn’t. But bottled water often loses blind taste tests to tap, and is often just tap or well water in plastic… So those claims are pretty dubious.

8. We don’t really know what in bottled water… Because it’s qualified as a food product, water bottling plants are typically only inspected every 3-5 years by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Tap water is regulated provincially/locally and is tested and inspected multiple times a day. Results of those tests are also shared publicly, whereas there is no similar requirement for bottled water. While some companies may report on testing they do, there is no universal standard for what to test and how often, and there is nothing to guarantee they’re not just cherry picking results, as their testing is essentially done for marketing purposes.

9. Bottled water hurts watersheds: water from the tap is typically taken from and returned to the same watershed, but most bottled water travels between watersheds – sometimes as far as halfway around the world… That means local water resources can be reduced or even depleted by commercial water bottling facilities.

10. Bottled water hurts your pocket book: the cost of a bottle of water from a vending machine is usually about $2… The cost of a litre of water from the tap is less than a penny.

Black Out, Speak Out


SYC and Sierra Club Canada staff on Parliament Hill today for the Black Out Speak Out event

Today is Black Out Speak Out (Silence on parle) day in Canada, and the Sierra Youth Coalition website is down for the day. This isn’t due to technical difficulties (even if it does look like a site maintenance page right now), this was done to help make a statement.

The Black Out Speak Out campaign is modelled after the stop SOPA and PIPA campaign that took place earlier this year. In January, websites around the world went offline to show solidarity with those that would be affected by legislation in the United States that was seen by many to be interfering with freedom of speech. Right now in Canada, we are dealing with some similar issues. Instead of dealing with the supposed prevention of online piracy, the bill we are protesting against, Bill C-38 (the budget implementation act for 2012), proposes the systematic dismantling of fundamental environmental legislation in Canada. It cuts money from government departments that help protect the environment and simultaneously increases the amount of money available to audit charities to ensure “compliance.” Several very public statements by prominent Cabinet Ministers, MPs and Senators imply that these funds will be directed almost exclusively towards auditing environmental groups.

On the surface, these look like different things. The underlying issues, however, are pretty much the same. SOPA and PIPA were proposed legislation that made sweeping changes with limited consultation, they threatened to undermine public participation and consultation in government, they threatened the strength of civil society, and they threatened freedom of speech. Bill C-38 is doing the exact same thing. The Bill has stepped beyond the normal bounds of a budget bill into issues that are unrelated and not even mentioned in the budget documents. It is not merely proposing changes to things like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the Fisheries Act – it is completely repealing the CEAA and removing habitat protection from the Fisheries Act. The legislation they have proposed has been put forward with almost no public or expert consultation. Any consultation that has happened was allowed – begrudgingly – only after prolonged outcry from the Opposition and experts. And as for threatening the strength of civil society and freedom of speech – in this case, they are the same thing. The rhetoric being spouted by certain members of the Government has already put a chill in the environmental sector. They have publicly called us terrorists, money-launderers, and tools of “foreign interests” with no evidence to back up their claims (because, I can assure you, there is no such evidence). While our finances are publicly available, we have them reviewed by a third party on an annual basis, and we declare our funders much more readily than many other charitable sectors, the Government claims we need to be watched like hawks. Taking a position on things like the Northern Gateway Pipeline review has been characterized by the government as political and partisan (something charities are not supposed to be). But when did expressing an opinion on a private development become a partisan political issue? When did raising legitimate environmental concerns go from being advocacy, which charities are allowed to do, to being activism, which they are not? All this serves to make environmental groups afraid to speak out on environmental issues. And preventing environmental organizations from expressing legitimate concerns over environmental impacts amounts to eliminating freedom of speech.

This is why we are participating in Black Out Speak Out. It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to protect nature and democracy. Visit to add your name to the petition. And when you’ve done that, consider visiting to add your voice to ours so we can Speak Out together. Just wait until June 5th when the site is up and running again!

Black Out Speak Out Teach-in


Speak out on June 4, 2012 in defence of two core Canadian values: nature and democracy.

Join over 13,000 website owners representing millions of Canadians as we darken our websites in protest against efforts to silence your voice. Blacking out your site does not require you to shut it down for the day. You will have the option of inserting a splash page that will cover your homepage while maintaining the functionality of your site.

For more information visit

Give youth a voice! Support SYC as we strive to empower young people to become active community leaders who contribute to making Canada a better society. Make a donation today or sign up for a membership!


Check out this awesome event – free for students!

WHERE: St Paul University, 223 Main Street, Ottawa
WHEN: Wednesday, May 30 at 7:00 PM- 9:00 PM
WHO: Elizabeth May (Green), Kirsty Duncan (Liberal), Megan Leslie (NDP) and, Stephan Hazell (Environmental Law Expert)
WHAT: The event is a panel discussion to raise awareness about the environmental implications of the 2012 Federal Budget bill (C-38). The audience can ask the panel questions regarding the Budget bill, in order to better understand its future effect on Canada’s natural environment.

Seating is limited so reserve a seat today by calling 613-241-4611.

Change the World. Save the Planet. Have fun!

This is my personal mantra and what’s top of mind as I start my new job with SYC. I’m super excited to be working with this amazingorganization and group of people on what is to me the most important thing to do right now: reverse the destruction of our world and bring justice to those being oppressed by the ol’ powers-that-be. That Carl Sagan quote comes to mind: “Nothing else is going

 to matter if you can’t breathe the air or drink the water. Don’t just sit this one out. Do something!” That’s right – it’s gotta be a priority for us, now – all Canadians, and everyone around the world – changing key practices to reduce our carbon emissions, our air and water pollution, unsustainable agriculture, a broken justice system, a giant hole where our democracy should be, kids feeling left out and pissed off, and on and on. Sounds like lots of different problems, but for me, they’re all interrelated, and that’s what I love about the concept of sustainability: it covers everything.

Some of the ideas I’ve got in my head now:

– A national engine retrofit program, to get hybrid engines into cars and drastically reduce our transportation-related carbon emissions and improve city air quality;
– A national food and farmer campaign, to get people growing and knowing what a sustainable food system is all about;
– Some awesome skill building and sharing workshops and activities;
– Getting people thinking and talking about ecological economics and responsible investments; and
– Making awesome media and revamping the SYC website to be beautiful, useful and inspiring.

If you’ve got campaign or conference ideas, please drop me a line at and let me know what you are thinking. I can’t wait to start working with the awesome SYC network to revolutionize our sleepy little country!

Peas and love-