Sustainability at RRU and the Importance of Wetland Restoration!

This week during my sustainable development series class at Royal Roads University, we had a few guest speakers give us talks about the sustainability efforts on my campus. I have to admit, the efforts taken to achieve a sustainable campus environment have made me very proud to be a student of Royal Roads. From their extensive recycling and composting programs to their toxin-free microfiber cleaning methods, they have consciously considered nearly every angle, making the university healthier and safer for staff, students, the surrounding ecosystems, and the planet. The university also makes education on these issues a top priority, placing itself as a role model for other individuals and organizations. As I sat there, listening to all of these smart sounding plans and actions, they seemed simple and relatively low- effort. I truly believe that organizations like RRU, who are not only making solid plans for meaningful sustainable development, but putting these plans into action, should make their job as a role model top priority, so that other organizations can follow in their example. In this way, sustainable development could spread exponentially.

Transportation emissions remain as the major issue, but efforts are being made to implement a solution. A class discussion took place around potential plans of action, including incentives for carpoolers and bikers, doubling parking pass fees, and UPASS implementation with increased bus service. Coming from a previous university that adopted the UPASS in my second year, I have seen the significant impact that it made on the amount of drivers. Every year previous, a parking pass lottery was held to determine who would have the privilege of paying $300 + for a limited number of parking spaces. The year the UPASS was implemented, a surplus of parking spaces remained unsold throughout the entire year. I believe that UPASS implementation, along with a doubling of parking fees would GREATLY increase the amount of students who choose public transit over driving.

The project that struck my interest the most was the campus wetland restoration project, which is still in its planning stages. I hadn’t realized the importance of these diverse ecosystems until I did a bit of research upon hearing about the project. It seems that the historically, this value was also overlook, as development and “progress” gave weigh to huge losses of these areas.

Wetlands are essential life support systems for both wild animals and humans. These areas play a critical role in the cycling and decontamination of water, water storage, and habitat for fish, waterfowl, mammals and other organisms. Wetlands release water vapor, which helps to control the microclimates of certain regions and provides buffering capacity during extreme weather conditions.  They also act in carbon sequestration, helping to mitigate climate change. The water storage, drainage, and decontamination roles of wetlands saves us huge amounts of money in infrastructure costs, which must be developed when wetlands are lost .

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Evidence has linked the loss of wetlands to drastic declines in fish and waterfowl populations, flooding, decreased ground and surface water stores, water pollution, and enormous loss in biodiversity. Our lives economies, and communities depend on these vital components of the water cycle.

The Royal Roads wetland restoration project aims to restore a roughly 10 acre portion of land which was drained for the purposes of pastureland nearly 100 years ago by the Dunsmir family. It would take over 300 years for this area to restore itself without intervention.  This restoration involves recovery of buried streams, and lost aquatic species, restoration of marsh areas and two types of   old growth forest, development of three small creeks, boardwalks, blinds, trails, and interpretative materials. The site will serve as an educational and research hub for Royal Roads and U Vic, with research plans for the role of wetlands in carbon sequestration already under weigh. This area will not only serve as an important ecological and educational tool, but will also be important for infrastructure purposes and will serve as an “eco-destination” for the west shore communities.

Click here to learn more about the Royal Roads wetland restoration

Wetland areas are extremely important components of out natural capital, and need to be protected and conserved for future generations.

Please follow this link to learn more about local wetland protection in BC!

Unsustainable Ratios

In order to be sustainable, we must find ways to meet the basic needs of today’s population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own basic needs. I feel that when most people think sustainability, their minds immediately relay to carbon emissions and global warming. The fact is that biodiversity loss could be an even greater issue for humanity than climate change, and even more difficult to deal with. Biodiversity in marine, freshwater, terrestrial, and invertebrate species are on an astonishing decline according to the Living Planet Index:

Soil degradation and loss of our global forests are also issues that warrant major concern. It is inevitable that this loss will continue if changes are not made, that is, if meaningful sustainable development does not take place.

Meeting the needs of the population today is perhaps the most important goal we must strive to achieve. Our planet is governed by positive and negative feedback loops that work toward and against maintaining the status quo. In my sustainable development class, we discussed how financial crash caused by economic mismanagement causes ecological crash due to increased logging and harvest of other natural resources. Positive feedback that results from the use of natural capital during periods of economic distress, or by the poor and disenfranchised as an attempt to meet their basic needs can lead into an uncontrollable vicious cycle that only leads to further loss of natural resources and distress. If we take steps to ensure basic needs are met across the planet, sustainability is likely to follow much easier. The key is meeting the needs of people all over the world, which is a far cry from today’s reality, where one billion people lack access to clean drinking water and five billion children dies of starvation each year. The gap between the world’s rich and poor is widening, fuelling these vicious cycles that are causing drastic decline in our planet’s biodiversity.

According to these two articles, the key is thinking small changes and developments in order to reap big results.

90% of product development today caters towards the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population. These articles highlight the importance of developing simple, cheap technologies, goods, and housing that will help the world’s poor, those that live on one or two dollars a day, get ahead and sustain themselves. Things like $35 water pumps that will make it possible for poor subsistence farmers to yield a crop that will maintain the livelihood of their families.  This is a crucial factor of sustainable development, and effort must be made in this area if we wish to achieve sustainability for our planet.

Many ideas, figures, and statistics discussed in this post were taken from my Sustainability Series lectures, delivered by Dr. Chris Ling at Royal Roads University.

What is Sustainable Development?


What is Sustainable Development?

In the past, upon hearing the word “sustainability”, I would think of my high school sustainability club and the minor, everyday, environmentally friendly practices that we campaigned for by painting shiny, colorful posters. Things like recycling, riding your bike, taking public transit, eating less meat, and using cloth bags and reusable mugs. Simply “being green”, if you will.  I never really thought about what was being sustained by these practices. The dictionary meaning of the word “sustainability” is “the ability to support”, but exactly what is it that we are concerned about supporting?

Economy? Biodiversity? Resources? Culture? Environment?

Life as it is?

This is not an easy question to answer, as many people have different or even conflicting ideas of what needs to be sustained.

What, then, is sustainable development? During a class exercise last week, I was introduced to several perspectives. The Organization of American States defines it as “gradual change characterized by economic growth, increased social equity, constructive modification of ecosystems, and maintenance of the natural resource base,” while the Government of Canada claims, “Sustainable development has three dimensions: (1) economic sustainability, which means holding investment at rates sufficient to maintain stocks of capital ; (2) environmental sustainability, which means husbanding and recycling natural resources and limiting flows of air, water, and land pollution to amounts that can be assimilated by the environment; and (3) social sustainability, which means promoting social justice and human well-being across the entire population.”  The most prominent difference between these two views seems to be the goal of change and growth sought by the Organization of American States, while the Government of Canada appears to be more concerned with limiting growth and maintaining a balanced economy.

My sustainable development series Professor, Dr. Christopher Ling, defines sustainable development as the process required to reach the goal of sustainability. Obviously, this is not a conclusive definition due to the fact that the goal of sustainability is so abstract and is continually evolving.  Different individuals and economic, social, industrial, and business sectors all have different ideas of what needs to be developed and what needs to be sustained when this development occurs.

Personally, I believe that a mindset of very limited growth needs to be adopted. Economic growth requires an increased input of energy and other resources and results in an increased output, which in turn causes increased carbon emissions. We cannot go about “Life as it is” if we wish to reach sustainability. We must cut back our output if we want to support biodiversity and our natural resource capital. This does not mean that we cannot find economic prosperity by reaching a balanced economy that will sustain our basic needs while also sustaining our natural capital as well as our social diversity. I see sustainable development as a process of cutbacks, investment in efficient technologies, and campaigns for the paradigm shifts needed in order to reach this state of sustainability. We must adopt a “less is more” view in order to harmonize human activity with the capacity of the environment and the needs of future generations.