While movers and shakers from the environmental and political spheres had their moment Monday morning, the rest of the United Nations World Environment Day North American event at Evergreen Brick Works was about the future leaders.

Fifty students from North Kipling Junior Middle School took part in a special interactive workshop with American astronaut Mae Jemison called Forests Matter to Youth, Too.

The theme of this year's World Environment Day (WED) was forests. The Grade 6, 7 and 8 students were selected to attend the special event because they had entered the International Children's Painting Competition on the Environment, which had them drawing pictures and writing an essay on why forests matter to them.
Canada's first female astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar............
attends a World Environment Day tree planting...........The students were divided into five groups and began the
ceremony Monday at the Evergreen Brick Works........ workshop by being presented with a question or issue to tackle.
Photo - Matthew Sherwood ........................................Adithya Venkatarao's group had to make a plan to keep the ...............................................................................animals and plants that depend on forests safe for the next
...............................................................................20 lifetimes of a maple tree.

The Grade 8 student said they began by brainstorming the issue and highlighting some of the main questions they would need to know the answers to in order to come up with their plan; one key question was what is the lifetime of a maple tree.

It turns out it's approximately 200 years so they needed to come up with a plan to protect the forests for 4,000 years.

Students spent the morning researching their issues using the computers and information sheets provided. They also had access to experts who were on hand for the WED event.

Adithya said he learned a lot.

"I learned that the environment is much more important than I thought it was. That it's the base of life," he said. "Today was a good experience. It helped my knowledge...It was fun."

Some of the ideas his group presented for saving forests was to buy land to plant more forests (the purchase would, presumably, be paid for by the carbon tax they proposed) and have existing forests receive government protection.

Before the groups presented to wrap up the workshop, there was a frenzy of activity in the Holcim Gallery at the redeveloped industrial site.

Sitting at round tables between the old brick kilns, the groups had to use team work and communication to accomplish their important tasks. There was a flurry of markers, balloons, stickers and pipe cleaners on the tables as the groups came up with creative ways to make their cases.

One group tasked with coming up with a plan for how their children could make a living from forests - aside from using them for paper - made a model to demonstrate their eco-tourism idea. It featured a tent for camping, trees for bird watching, and a zip line.

Adithya thought it was great to have young people participate in the event.

"Many people in this world don't understand the importance of these kinds of things," he said. "When you're young you can change your mind and actions."

Sustainable Prosperity (SP) hopes there's still time for adults to change their actions towards nature. The green-economy think tank released a report at the WED event called Advancing the Economics of Biodiversity in Canada.

In it, SP advocates putting a market value on Canada's precious ecosystems as a step towards conserving them. The report looks at the economic value of the goods and services that nature provides for free, such as rich soil, clean air and water, or a life-supporting climate.

For example, the estimated value of the ecological goods and services provided by Ontario's Greenbelt is $2.6 billion per year.

"If we undervalue the life-supporting services that nature provides, we mortgage our future," said Stewart Elgie, chair of Sustainable Prosperity and one of the report's authors.

"Nature's wealth is the foundation of our economy, but we are using many natural resources faster than the planet can replenish them."

Elgie, along with Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey, Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space, Evergreen CEO Geoff Cape and others, ceremoniously replenished the forest by planting a tree at Brick Works after the Monday morning press conference

By Danielle Milley

Article available online here.(external link)