Environmental Education: Now, more than ever

Reflections on the eve of our Recharge conferencet

The below is an excerpt from Gareth Thomson’s original reflection on the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM) 2019 conference that ran from May 10-12, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You can find the full reflection here.

As we all busily prepare for our annual conference, I want to talk about the importance of environmental education, and the importance of our community. And I want to talk about how we can survive and indeed THRIVE, despite the challenges we sometimes feel when doing our work in this province.

And to do all this – perhaps somewhat unexpectedly – I am going to talk a lot about boats.

I want to remind you of the scene in the movie Jaws that features a fisherman, who finally sees for the first time the enormous shark they are trying to catch.  He backs into the boat’s cabin, eyes wide, and says to the captain: “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”   

I would put it to you that now, more than ever before, we who are so passionate about our kind of education need to build a bigger boat. We are facing some challenges in this province.  The economy is slow, and many families are struggling.  The resources we need to do our work are fewer. And a juggernaut called climate change is bearing down on all of us.  Given that, I encourage you to ask yourself:  What does this mean for you and your organization?  What could you do in some collaboration with a new partner?  And – thinking of the whole group – what can we do together that we can’t do separately?  What if we who attend the conference developed a network?  What if that network started to act like a movement?  This is why we are holding a preconference summit. This is why we are considering the creation of a Charter that might be part of our rallying cry…

Here’s another boat theme, one you’ve heard before: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  I hope during this conference you feel that tide lifting you, as you learn from others, exchange ideas, get inspired, and know that your practice will be better post-conference, and that your spirit. Too, will become more buoyant as it feels that rising tide.

As you tack into the wind, yours will be an indirect course, but you can end up where you want to be.  Perhaps the tide will help you, too.  I’ll remind you that Shakespeare had a thing or two to say about tides:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves…”

And I’ve got some good news, because maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning.  Greta Thunberg sparked a worldwide student movement that led to climate strikes by 1.4 million people -most of them students – last Spring.  Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Kingston – and most recently Ottawa – have all declared Climate Emergencies. When you turn on Netflix these days you can watch ‘Our Planet’ and hear David Attenborough talk with unprecedented focus and passion not just about the beauty of nature – but how climate change threatens nature, AND what we can do about it. 

I believe that the tide is turning, and creating valuable space for us in which we can do our critically important work.

So, to recap: If you’re a good sailor, and you’re sailing on that bigger boat, and if you catch a favourable tide – you’ll get there.  We’ll get there.  Our children, our students, our cities, the people of Alberta, and yes the planet – I believe they all NEED US to get there.


Gareth Thomson is the Executive Director of ACEE. He has over twenty-five years experience in environmental education, working for the government of Alberta and then as Education Director for an NGO. He has an engineering degree, an M.Sc. in Environmental Geology, and is a certified teacher. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Alberta Teachers Association’s GEOEC, and the national ‘Non-Profit – Individual’ award from EECOM. Gareth lives in Canmore, where he divides his time between parenting three exceptional young people, and exploring little-known hiking trails and hidden valleys with his wife Kelly.