For its second annual student conference, Our Poles Our Planet has spread to five different cities across Canada.
“Being able to run a conference like this shows the tremendous leadership of the organizers, and its success proves that their vision is of interest to young Canadians,” said Whitney Lackenbauer, history professor at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo and speaker at the Our Poles Our Planet Conference 2017. The conference took place on March 4 at the Sydney Smith Hall on the University of Toronto campus.
Robert Adragna, a first-year engineering science student at the U of T, along with a team of youth, organized Our Poles Our Planet, an environmental conference for students. Sponsored by Toronto’s Catholic and public school boards, the event aimed to inspire students to create a culture of sustainability to help save the polar regions.
“A conference like this is very relevant to Catholics,” Adragna explained. “Pope Francis calls us all to be stewards of creation in Laudato Si’. Our Poles Our Planet reminds Catholics of this, that we can bring about the change that the Pope asks of us.”
Adragna, former writer for the Catholic Register’s Youth Speak News, explained how his interest in the polar regions began when he travelled to Antarctica in 2008 on an expedition organized by the Students on Ice Foundation. Upon seeing the beauty of the land and the abundant wildlife in the region, he felt inspired to find a way to share his experience with young people.
The conference has grown from 200 people in Toronto last year into a nationwide event, taking place in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.
This year’s conference began with an introductory video about the polar regions and was followed by a message from Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent of CBC News.
“Whatever happens in the former absolutely affects what happens in the latter,” he said with regards to the significance of climate change.
One of the conference speakers was Brad Bass, who was part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and one of the two recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He encouraged the youth by saying, “Getting involved should be fun.”
Lackenbauer also echoed the importance of getting involved.
“We have a responsibility to protect the Arctic not only as Canadians, but also as global citizens,” he said. “The Arctic is not only a frontier for resources, it is also a homeland. Along with our rights come responsibilities.”
He also stressed that pollution does not respect boundaries, so the problem with the ice caps is a problem for the entire world.
After the presentations, there was a youth panel consisting of some of the speakers and organizers.
Samantha McBeth, a member of the Northern Engagement and Outreach Team for Parks Canada, said there is a great need to create and support environmental movements.
“The biggest killer is apathy, that’s our biggest problem. Try something and let yourself fail,” she said.
Adragna stressed the importance of youth heeding the call to action. “Find a way to make your voices heard,” he said. “Canada is a democracy. Write to your MPs, start local initiatives, sign petitions.”
For more information on Our Poles Our Planet, visit www.ourpolesourplanet.org.
(Vaz, 19, is a first-year accounting and financial management student at University of Waterloo.)