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Happy Canada Day everyone! What better to spend the day than talking about the environment?

As in the place where Spirit Bears live! Photo uploaded by Jackmont and licensed under CC-BY-SA

Despite our ruling party’s best efforts to make us forget our former reputation for environmental stewardship, we actually had a lot to be proud of. Here are a sampling of our finest accomplishments:

5. The Nature of Things. Since 1960, it has been teaching kids like younger me to love animals and be curious about the world. Contrary to what might be believed, David Suzuki only started hosting in 1979. Donald Ivey was actually the first host. But I didn’t live back then, so what do I know?

4. The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes. This one literally speaks for itself. Yep, Severn Cullis-Suzuki and co. raised money themselves to Rio as kids. She’s still at environmental advocacy as the more optimistic side of the Suzuki family these days.

3. The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). Remember your high school biology textbooks showing algae-choked lakes and how fertilizer caused it? Or acid rain destroying forests and landmarks? Well, you have the ELA to thank for your biology curriculum. Established in 1968 near Kenora, Ontario, it was a world-renowned institution, the only one that investigates entire lakes, that taught us what were inadvertently dumping into our water supply. David Schindler was the former head of the institution who continued doing tar sands* research at the University of Alberta, where he became known for freaky fish. Unfortunately, the Harper Government tried to kill it with the 2012 Omnibus Bill. But it has been recently saved by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, fortunately not an April Fool’s Joke.

*Yes, I know it’s called oil sands now, but it was always called Athabasca tar sands, even by Wikipedia, before industry wanted to be politically correct. Besides, the more accurate term is bituminous sands, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely.

2. The Clayoquot Sound protests, a real-life Lorax story with a happier ending. Until the Quebec student protests, it was the largest act of civil disobedience Canada ever witnessed, including logging road blockades and organizing boycotts against B.C. logging. Residents young and old participated, and more than 850 people were arrested, with the impact felt worldwide. And because of this group of thoughtful, committed citizens, we kept alive the 2/3 of the temperate rainforest that would have been cut down. Now ancient forests are viewed not just as resources to exploit, but living, breathing worlds to explore and absorb. The protests even changed the face of university forestry programs to more conservation-focused studies. Valerie Langer and Tzeporah Berman were the leaders of the protests as part of Friends of Clayoquot Sound, who went on to protect the Great Bear Rainforest through ForestEthics among involvement in other organizations. Enbridge, take note. The British Columbia populace is not to be trifled with.

1. The Montreal Protocol. Okay, this isn’t entirely Canadian, since Frank Sherwood Roland and Mario Molina of the University of California first broke the news that our chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were eating away the Antarctic ozone layer (here’s a simple primer on the chemistry involved) , but still, I’m astonished this happened. Somehow, the entire world managed to organize themselves to quickly act on phasing out CFCs from our aerosols. Sure, there was industry denial, but in the end, transition to the less destructive hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), then removing chlorine completely (HFCs) was unnaturally smooth. And now, we can see the recovery for ourselves. Also interesting, the sitting Prime Minster at the time was Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservative Party. Yeah, once upon a time, environmentalism was the norm in Canada and not something that branded you a terrorist. But in any case, the world worked together just this one time to fix the ozone layer. Now if only we could do the same for global warming.

Considering the dire state of science, environmental policy, even democracy in our country right now, it’s easy to forget why everyone loved us in the first place. Now it’s time for us to remember and not lose faith in the capacity for things to change. Education does work, protests do work, and it is possible to convince the entire world to get their act together.

And for more cheer, here are more Spirit Bear pictures courtesy of Paul Nicklen of National Geographic.

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