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Student blogs


Each year, the participants of CoPEH-Canada's hybrid course write a blog on a topic of their choice related to ecosystem approaches to health and share with the other participants. Then everyone votes on their top three blogs and the three highest scoring blogs are published here. Along with the votes, participants have to provide a tweet for each blog they voted for, which we then use to publisize the blogs from our @copeh_canada twitter account


A Bitter Farewell to Chocolate

By Jamie Goltz

A wolf track a day… keeps the doctor away?

By Ella Parker

Colonization’s Collateral Damage and the Sweet Blood of Indigenous People

By Marina Wanes


A Bitter Farewell to Chocolate

By Jamie Goltz

What if I told you that your favourite sweet treat comes at the expense of environmental and social exploitation? Chocolate, a $80 billion dollar a year industry (Odijie, 2018), provides us with not only a delicious snack but has also become a traditionally shared experience for holidays and celebrations between family, friends, and loved ones. However, our growing global demand for chocolate may have pushed these resources past the point at which they can support, and it might be time for us to boycott the chocolate business.

70% of global cocoa beans are produced in West African countries, dominated by Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (Gockowski & Sonwa, 2008). Although West Africa only consumes 3% of cocoa beans themselves, they bear the weight of an industry that has destroyed 90% of their original forests and is linked to 70% of illegal deforestation (Carr, 2020; Odijie, 2018; WWF, 2017). Because cocoa trees only produce cocoa at high yields for 30-40 years, farmers regularly clear new forests instead of reusing the same land (Wessel & Foluke Quist-Wessel, 2015; WWF, 2017). These forests are a rich source of biodiversity, inhabiting approximately 1900 different endemic plants and animals, including half of Africa’s mammals, and deforestation is pushing these species to endangered and extinct levels (Gockowski & Sonwa, 2008).

blog2020Jaime1The cocoa industry has led to economic and social catastrophe. In West Africa, about 90% of cocoa is grown on small family farms only a few acres in size (Gockowski & Sonwa, 2008), and although demand is high, these families continue to struggle financially. Prices for cocoa beans are set by intermediaries, who are the link between large corporations and farmers, preventing farmers to have control over the selling price of their product (Odijie, 2018). According to the World Bank, 60% of the population in Côte d’Ivoire live below the poverty line and make only a few dollars a day (Odijie, 2018). This is an enormous increase from the less than 10% in the 1960/1970s (Odijie, 2018).

Poverty and competition between farmers to provide high yield at a low cost has encouraged cheap child labour (Mammel, 2013). In 2013-2014, it was estimated that 2 million children are used to grow, harvest and transport cocoa beans (WWF, 2017). The conditions in which these children work are horrifying. Some children work over 12 hours a day doing hard labour, are beaten regularly, and bear scars from the machetes they use to harvest the cocoa (Mammel, 2013). It is estimated that 60% of the children working on cocoa farms were younger than 14 (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). These children can’t leave these rural farms because they don’t make enough to buy a bus ticket, aren’t paid at all, or in some cases the children are introduced/sold into the occupation at such a young age that they don’t know any better (Mammel, 2013). Although there has been pushback from consumers on child labour, large companies can’t guarantee that child labour wasn’t involved in the production of their products (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). It was found that Mars, Nestle, and Hersey can only trace 24%, 49% and less than half of their global cocoa supply to the original farms, respectively (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019).

blog2020Jaime2To address these complex issues, chocolate corporations have implemented initiatives for more sustainable cocoa productions, however, they have been criticized for their methods and motives. In the 2000s, West Africa began diversifying their resources to other products such as rubber, a product that can grow in poorer soils and requires less labour, in order to lower their reliance on the cocoa market and increase income from other crops (Odijie, 2018). It was also encouraged because of the increased food demand caused by an increasing population and urbanization (Wessel & Foluke Quist-Wessel, 2015). With global demand for cocoa on the rise and the threat of lower production, large chocolate corporations vowed to implement new “sustainable” initiatives (Odijie, 2018). For example, they introduced fair-trade labelling, yet most farmers are required to pay for this certificate themselves, cutting into their profit and leaving them with less money (Carr, 2020).

Critics state that “a sustainability programme designed to preserve cocoa supply or stunt diversification in cocoa-producing areas is anti-developmental, especially as the product has no domestic use value” (Odijie, 2018), and it is believed that solutions for a more sustainable cocoa production will require changes to the entire industry (Wessel & Foluke Quist-Wessel, 2015). As consumers, we have the obligation to be informed about where our food comes from and the power to choose what impact the foods we eat will have. Until environmental and social sustainability can be addressed in the cocoa industry, we may need to stop eating chocolate.


Carr, T. (2020, Feb 13). The Bitter Side of Cocoa Production. Retrieved from

Gockowski, J., & Sonwa, D. (2008, January). The Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) Working Paper Series (Issue 6) - Biodiversity and smallholder cocoa production systems in West Africa. Retrieved from

Mammel, M. (2013, November 26). Child Slavery: The Bitter Truth behind the Chocolate Industry . Retrieved from

Odijie, M. E. (2018). Sustainability winners and losers in business-biased cocoa sustainability programmes in West Africa. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 16(2), 214-227.

Wessel, M., & Foluke Quist-Wessel, P. (2015). Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, Volumes 74–75, 1-7.

Whoriskey, P., & Siegel, R. (2019, June 5). Cocoa’s child laborers. Retrieved from

WWF. (2017). Bittersweet: chocolate's impact on the environment. Retrieved from


Nestlé. (2011, Oct 17). Working with the Fair Labor Association. Retrieved from:

Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. (2006, Nov 29). Cocoa production in Ghana. Retrieved from:


A wolf track a day… keeps the doctor away?

By Ella Parker

Pictures: Kai Breithaupt

It was early May 2020, and my partner and I set out on snowshoes along what, in warmer months, is visible as the ‘Grizzly Trail’, a hiking route in Tombstone Territorial Park in central Yukon. Evidently no humans had been here for weeks, because only faint imprints indicated the winding path that would lead us up the ridge. Not far along we began to follow a small creek bed and noticed the deep tracks of a moose and the snipped willows it had been browsing on. We kept walking and soon came across another set of tracks, but this time they were wolf.


The next thing we noticed was blood on the snow. We knelt down to examine the blood to determine where it came from. Perhaps the wolf had an injury? We looked up and less than five metres from where we stood, was a large moose carcass under a spruce tree. The intense smell of decaying flesh hit us then and would stay lodged in our nostrils for hours.

Fascinated, we set off on a mission for clues as to what had happened. We found many more wolf tracks and followed them up the hill to a packed-down area on the ridge where the wolf had bedded down for the night. On the way back we also noticed that the wolf had crossed over our own tracks from hours before. This meant the wolf was still in the area and likely intended to go back to the carcass for seconds. Our proximity to this mega-carnivore was palpable in that moment as we gazed back in the direction of the dead moose.



Left: One of the many wolf tracks we saw.


Right: The melted snow on the ridge where the wolf had bedded down for the night

Wolf tracks and EcoHealth

I might not have thought any further of the incident but being in the ‘Ecosystem Approaches to Health’ course compelled me to find the EcoHealth connections. Getting back to the car after our snowshoe, we felt exhilarated and rejuvenated by our encounter with the wolf kill and wolf tracks. We had been presented with a glimpse of an intact predator-prey relationship that had been operating for thousands of years in this ecosystem. EcoHealth recognizes that health is partially a product of our interactions with ecosystems, but how can I conceptualize my wolf experience through this lens? Could this stand-alone encounter, and others like it be contributing to my personal health?

Panelli and Tipa argue for an approach to health that focuses on how place and cultural-specific interactions with ecosystems can influence our well-being (1). My personal response to the wolf tracks was likely informed by my previous experiences and knowledge of the Tombstone Territorial Park. In my previous job working as an interpreter for the park, I learned that wolf species have been hunting on this landscape dating back to the Pleistocene era, roaming the tundra alongside woolly mammoths and other Beringian species that have since gone extinct (2). I also spent many weeks exploring similar alpine and tundra landscapes learning to appreciate and notice species large and small. Wolves are typically shy and mysterious creatures, not often seen by humans, making this a rare and exciting incident. My previous experience working, learning about and spending time in these ecosystems contributed to the awe, inspiration and benefits I drew from this encounter.


This connection to natural spaces is sometimes called ‘place attachment’ (3), and can lead to enhanced health benefits. Place attachment “arises when settings are imbued with meanings that create or enhance one’s emotional tie to a natural resource” (4). In turn, place attachment can lead to repeat visitation to natural areas and ensuing health outcomes. Research has shown that exploration and fascination of natural environments has been associated with health outcomes such as rapid recovery of mental acuity and can aid mental reflection (3). However, the specific role of wildlife experiences in emotional attachment to place is often overlooked and not well understood (5). However, Folmer and others researched bird sightings in the Netherlands and identified that seeing wildlife is likely an important component to forming emotional connections to the natural environment (5). The answer to my question, “could this wolf track encounter be contributing to my personal health?”, is a definitive: yes!

Not enough wolf tracks to go around?

Inevitably, we must also consider if it is sustainable for us all to benefit from these kinds of wildlife encounters. Unfortunately, one of the most serious threats to wildlife species comes from human-wildlife conflict (6). Further, growing anthropogenic disturbances and environmental change is putting our ecosystems in an ever more precarious situation. I have often wondered while hiking in Tombstone Park and encountering caribou, marmots or bears, whether the benefits that I derive from these experiences outweighs the potential harms of my impacts (additive with those of other recreationalists) on the landscape. Luckily, we are all different in what ecosystems and interactions we depend on for health and happiness. Are there any particular tracks or wildlife sightings that bring health to you?  

After we returned from our hike, we notified the park rangers of the wolf kill we had encountered. To protect future hikers from other predators that may be drawn to the area, the trail was temporarily closed down. This and other park policies to limit negative human-wildlife conflict is one of the ways that we can strike a balance to ensure we do not harm ecosystems while trying to experience them. Sadly, but probably for the best, we would be the only people to benefit from this particular wolf track experience.


1.         Panelli R, Tipa G. Placing Well-Being: A Maori Case Study of Cultural and Environmental Specificity. EcoHealth. 2007 Dec 1;4(4):445–60.

2.         Grey Wolf | Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre [Internet]. [cited 2020 May 19]. Available from:

3.         Wolf ID, Stricker HK, Hagenloh G. Outcome-focused national park experience management: transforming participants, promoting social well-being, and fostering place attachment. J Sustain Tour. 2015 Mar 16;23(3):358–81.

4.         Vaske JJ, Kobrin KC. Place Attachment and Environmentally Responsible Behavior. J Environ Educ. 2001 Jan 1;32(4):16–21.

5.         Folmer A, Haartsen T, Huigen PPP. Explaining Emotional Attachment to a Protected Area by Visitors’ Perceived Importance of Seeing Wildlife, Behavioral Connections with Nature, and Sociodemographics. Hum Dimens Wildl. 2013 Nov 1;18(6):435–49.

6.         Dickman AJ. Complexities of conflict: the importance of considering social factors for effectively resolving human–wildlife conflict. Anim Conserv. 2018 Nov 21;458–66.


Colonization’s Collateral Damage and the Sweet Blood of Indigenous People

By Marina Wanes

The ongoing impacts of colonization have created inequities in social, cultural, historical, economic and political determinants of health that play a major role in the diabetes epidemic seen in Indigenous populations1. Not only have we taken their land, but we’ve taken their health too. Before colonization, diabetes was virtually unheard of among Indigenous populations. But as lifestyles are quickly shifting from traditional to modern, the diabetes epidemic among Indigenous populations is becoming a great cause for concern.

Historically, traditional Inuit and Métis diets have been studied extensively for their benefit of fighting against chronic diseases. The high omega-3 content of traditional foods such as seal, whale, caribou, fish and berries were found to play a role in lowering levels of cholesterol and protecting against other chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes2. However, over the last couple of decades, the rate of morbidity caused by diabetes among Canadian Indigenous populations has increased significantly.

So, what's changed? 

Blog 2020 Marina 2

An Inuit man ice fishing in Nunavut

Environmental changes have resulted in the displacement of Indigenous communities, creating restrictions on hunting and fishing and the loss of harvesting capabilities. Colonization has added stress to the Indigenous communities with the development of residential schools, abundance of processed foods, and the increased cost of their daily living expenses. Indigenous children were exposed to unfamiliar diets and forced into modern day schools rather than living their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

In addition to these environmental changes, one notably popular genetic hypothesis that may be contributing to this epidemic is the “thrifty gene theory”2. This gene variant has been commonly found in Oji-Cree people of north-western Ontario and has been associated with the early onset of type 2 diabetes2,3. This genetic evolution originally occurred in response to the long periods of starvation caused by their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The “thrifty gene” worked to increase energy conservation to help during these periods of starvation. However, with the transition from traditional to non-traditional diets, this gene is having the opposite effect on Indigenous people. Consuming more energy-dense foods combined with lower levels of physical activities and the effects of this gene could partly explain this dramatic increase in the prevalence of diabetes among Indigenous populations in the last several decades3

Indigenous communities have become disadvantaged by the modernization that is impeding on their natural ecosystems by reducing their hunting, fishing, and harvesting abilities and rendering them reliant on low quality, processed foods. The prevalence of diabetes among Indigenous people is, on average, 4 times higher compared to the general population4. The severity of this problem is heightened by the existing stigma around diseases among Indigenous communities. The traditional Indigenous concept of health states that for something to be deemed a disease it must cause some sort of pain. In the case of diabetes, there are typically no symptoms of pain associated with it. And as such, diabetes continues to go on untreated among many Indigenous peoples5.

We need to work with Indigenous communities to find ways to tackle these issues and put a stop to the collateral damage imposed on them by colonization. With the help of Indigenous knowledge and government participation, we can reconcile this broken relationship between the communities and start actively working together. Organizations such as Diabetes Canada and the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative (ADI) are working to help improve the quality of life of Indigenous people and reduce the prevalence of diabetes and other diseases among them.

If you want to learn more, you can visit the two cites posted below for more information on diabetes in Indigenous communities,the%20general%20population%20(9).


  1. Slater, M., Green, M. E., Shah, B., Khan, S., Jones, C. R., Sutherland, R., & Jacklin, K. (2019, November 24). Morgan Slater. Retrieved from
  2. Leung L. (2016). Diabetes mellitus and the Aboriginal diabetic initiative in Canada: An update review. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 5(2), 259–265.
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2011, December 15). Government of Canada. Retrieved from
  4. Type 2 Diabetes in Aboriginal Peoples. (n.d.). Retrieved from Canada, age-standardized prevalence,the general population (9).
  5. Our History, Our Health   // . (n.d.). Retrieved from



Killing Us Softly with Denim Production

By Jenn Diederich

The new danger that hides under water bodies due to climate change

By Mohamed T Adam Mohamed

Plastic pollution a threat to the marine environmentare there bigger fish to fry?

By Sarah Robinson


Killing Us Softly with Denim Production

By Jenn Diederich

Jeans: we all love and wear them. They are a staple of our wardrobes and they work for most any occasion. But did you know that there is a darker side to denim? Not only does the process of growing cotton to make denim have a rather high carbon footprint, but the production processes of dyeing and distressing denim are killing rivers and humans alike at alarming rates.

jeansIt takes 1,500 gallons of water to grow the 1.5 lbs. of cotton it takes to make one pair of jeans (Amutha, 2017). And even though cotton is a natural fiber which is better for the environment than synthetics fibers, conventionally grown cotton is one of the most toxic crops in the world: more than 25% of insecticides and 12% of pesticides worldwide are used on cotton crops (Periyasamy & Duraisamy, 2018). These chemicals are harmful to humans, animals, and the natural environment.

Beyond the issues of water use for cotton crops and pesticides, the denim production process wreaks havoc on rivers and lakes near production facilities. Roughly 70 percent of Asia's rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by that continent's textile industry (Webber, 2018). And getting the “distressed” look involves several chemical-intensive washes that leads to heavy metals being deposited into waterways and causing high incidences of cancers, gastric issues and even brain damage for workers in the factories and the people who live nearby (Webber, 2018). In Lesotho, reject pieces of denim from nearby factories get burned in fields and the toxic effluent (blue dye) runs into the water supply (Hammond, 2015) affecting countless organisms.

Dye pollutionIt is hard to imagine something so seemingly innocent as a pair of jeans as contributing to climate change, the destruction of rivers and ecosystems, and death, but they do. And taking on corporations from a major industry can seem like a daunting task. Don’t get me wrong – they need to be taken on and need to change their practices, but as consumers, there are several individual-level ways we can mitigate some of the problems associated with denim’s high carbon footprint as well:

  • Substituting organic fibers for conventionally grown fibers uses less energy for production, has fewer costs, and emits a slightly smaller amount of CO2 gas (Periyasamy & Duraisamy, 2018). Buying denim made from organic cotton can help to reduce water use, pesticide use, and CO2 emissions.
  • Laundering denim accounts for roughly half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced (Periyasamy & Duraisamy, 2018) over the lifecycle of a pair of jeans. Washing your denim less frequently and line drying jeans can save a lot of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Repairing torn jeans rather than throwing them away and buying second-hand denim from thrift stores can help to reduce the demand for newly produced denim.
  • Pressuring denim manufacturers to clean up their acts: signing petitions, refusing to buy distressed jeans unless they are from a company that makes use of sustainable practices, et cetera can start to make a shift in this industry’s practices.


Amutha, K. (2017). Environmental impacts of denim. In Sustainability in Denim (pp. 27-48). Woodhead Publishing.

Hammond, R (2013). The dark side of denim.

Levi Strauss & Co. (2015). The life cycle of a jean: Understanding the environmental impact of a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans.

Periyasamy, A. P., & Duraisamy, G. (2018). Carbon footprint on denim manufacturing. Handbook of Ecomaterials, 1-18.

Periyasamy, A. P., & Militky, J. (2017). Denim and consumers’ phase of life cycle. In Sustainability in Denim (pp. 257-282). Woodhead Publishing.

Webber, K. (2018). The environmental and human cost of making a pair of jeans. Ecohealth.


The new danger that hides under water bodies due to climate change

By Mohamed T Adam Mohamed

no swimmingWe all enjoy our summer by doing water activities and eating fresh seafood without thinking that there may be dangerous bacteria swimming on our skin and living in our seafood. This danger came about due to climate change. There are many negative impacts happening due to global warming and Increasing temperatures in water bodies is consider one of the most critical. Vibrio spp can be found only in warm water bodies such as the tropical regions, but due to global warming, the areas of Vibrio spp presence increased to include some northern regions such as the upper areas of the US and Canada. These countries are dealing with a warmer and longer summer season which leads to the survival of Vibrio spp for longer periods in northern water bodies (science daily, 2017).  

Some species of Vibrio are considered pathogenic for humans and other species of Vibrio are pathogenic for marine animals. The species that can cause infection for human are Vibrio cholerae, V. vulnificus, and V. parahaemolyticus (Plaza et al., 2018).

Vibriosis is an illness caused by Vibrio spp after consumption of contaminated raw seafood or having a wound exposed to contaminated seawater and most infections occurred during the warmer months such as July and August. The symptoms of Vibriosis are watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, nausea, fever, and chills. These symptoms usually start after 24 hours of the infection and last in 3 days. People with weak immune systems are more likely to have severe sickness (CDC, 2018)   

Vibrio spp are responsible for many foodborne illnesses around the world. In 2011, there was a large outbreak for Vibrio cholera in Haiti which led to more than 93,000 people getting sick and more than 2100 persons died because of this outbreak (Chin et al., 2011).

oysters delicacy food fresh gourmet raw seafood shellfish 595412In 2015, there was an outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus on the west coast of Canada (British Columbia and Alberta) that linked to raw shellfish and most of the cases reported eating raw oysters. Health Canada, CFIA, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Health Canada investigated 67 cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections but no deaths were reported (Cision, 2015). The outbreak was linked to the ongoing warm weather during the summer which causes the water temperature to rise (BCCDC, 2015).

VibrioWhat the public should do to protect themselves from Vibriosis?

1- Protect yourself and your children by covering your wounds when you swim in lakes, rivers, ponds, seas, and oceans during the summer season. Always take a shower after swimming.

2- Do not drink any water directly from lakes, rivers, ponds, seas, and oceans. Always boil water first to ensure it is safe for consumption.

3- Municipal agencies should perform a regular check of the quality of the lakes, rivers, ponds, seas, and oceans during the summer season. If the level of contamination is high, a warning should be posted to prohibit any water activities.

4- Avoid eating raw seafood especially in the summer season due to high chance of presence of Vibrio spp. Cooking will defiantly kill Vibrio spp and freezing for a long period of time may kill Vibrio spp.

Fighting global warming will be very effective if we all fight as individuals and together as group. What is your role in helping to reduce the impact of global warming? Go green and use recyclable material and sustainable sources of energy, and be part of the community that fights against any anti-ecosystem practices. What is the role of the international community to help in reducing the impact of global warming? Minimize the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, make regulations to help reduce global warming, and fight against desertification by expanding green cover around the world.

For further information about the causes of climate change, visit the links below:

For further information about Vibriosis, visit the links below:

Or join the 8th biennial International Conference on the Biology of Vibrios (ICBV) which will be held in Canada at McGill University in Montreal in November 17-20, 2019


BCCDC (2015). Ongoing warm weather increases risk of illness associated with raw shellfish consumption. Retrieved from

CDC (2018). Vibrio Species Causing Vibriosis. Retrieved from

Chin, Sorenson, B. H,D.,P. Robins,C. Charles,...Yamaichi. (2011). The Origin of the Haitian Cholera Outbreak Strain. The New England Journal of Medicin, 364:33-42

Cision (2015). Public Health Notice - Outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus linked to raw shellfish. Retrieved from

Plaza, Castillob, Pérez-Reytora, Higuerac, Garcíaa, and Bastías (2018). Bacteriophages in the control of pathogenic vibrios. Electronic Journal of Biotechnology. 31, 24-33

Science daily (2017). Warming climate could increase bacterial impacts on Chesapeake Bay shellfish, recreation. Retrieved from:


Plastic pollution a threat to the marine environmentare there bigger fish to fry?

By Sarah Robinson

turtle plasticAccording to the United Nations, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans every year (UN Environment Programme, 2017). Plastic pollution has substantial negative effects on environmental, animal, and human health (Derraik, 2002; Rochman et al., 2016). Recently, this issue has received significant attention in the media; with high-profile films like Blue Planet II and viral social media movements like the #Trashtag challenge and #CleanSeas, it is no surprise that plastic pollution is considered by many to be the most important threat to the marine environment.

This year, a global alliance of almost 30 companies was established to “eliminate plastic waste in our environment.” The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) will invest $1.5 billion over the next 5 years to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced and improve recycling by promoting infrastructure, innovation, education, and clean up. Sounds wonderful, but is this campaign against plastic pollution simply a “quick fix” for companies hoping to appear “environmentally-friendly”? Is this issue overemphasized at the cost of other more urgent threats, such as climate change and biodiversity loss?

Beach strewn with plastic debris (8080500982)In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stressed the urgent need to limit global warming to 1.5oC, suggesting we have 12 years to make radical changes to our carbon emissions (IPCC, 2018). A new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warns of the unprecedented decline of nature and accelerating extinction rates (IPBES, 2019) The IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson, said, “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide” (IPBES Media Release, 2019). The IPBES report addresses five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts, in descending order: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. I fear that the war on plastic is a convenient distraction, masking the complexity of these environmental issues and effectively preventing large-scale changes that are required.

Plastic pollution in the oceans is an easy target—it is visually impactful, clean-ups produce tangible results, and simple lifestyle changes can be made to contribute to the cause. It is not my intention to question or depreciate the necessity of reducing plastic pollution, but to consider the danger of focusing on one environmental issue in isolation. I challenge you to consider the negative effects of a seemingly positive campaign. We will drive change in policy and industry—are we being manipulated by so-called “green” governments and corporations?


Derraik, J.G. 2002. The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Mar Pollut Bull, 44: 842-852.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2018. Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15).

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. 2019. Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. 2019. Media Release: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’.

Rochman, C.M., Browne, M.A., Underwood, A.J., van Franeker, J.A., Thompson, R.C., Amaral-Zettler, L.A. 2016. The ecological impacts of marine debris: unraveling the demonstrated evidence from what is perceived. Ecology, 97: 302-312. https://doi:10.1890/14-2070.1

United Nations Environment Programme. 2017. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year. UN Environment Assembly.



Demand for beer cans tied to ancestral bones washing ashore in BC

By Jenn Diederich

Green as a colour-blind approach to ‘activism’

By Bianca Dreyer

Leaded blood: is the Cerro de Pasco community left out?

By Stefany Ildefonso


Demand for beer cans tied to ancestral bones washing ashore in BC

By Jenn Diederich 

Aluminum: the miracle metal. Lightweight, durable, recyclable. It makes the beer cans we love to drink from and the airplanes we love to fly in. But what if there’s a darker side to aluminum production?

kenney dam imageAfter World War II there was a high demand for aluminum products in Canada, and in an unprecedented manoeuvre the BC Government decided to give the water rights of the Nechako River to a private corporation: Rio Tinto Alcan (formerly Alcan). The Kenney Dam was then constructed in 1952, creating the Nechako Reservoir, and powering Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelters (Royal BC Museum, 2013).

cheslatta gravesThere are always unintended consequences of humans trying to dominate the natural environment through resource extraction, though. First, let us address the ongoing legacy of colonialism and economic imperialism in Canada: 120,000 acres of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation’s territory were flooded immediately after the Dam’s construction, and they have had to endure almost yearly flooding since then. Loss of villages, vegetation, and spiritual sites (Dacre, 2016) are just a few of the ongoing traumas the Cheslatta have had to bear. Their ancestors’ bones have literally washed ashore due to flooding of their burial grounds (CBC Daybreak, 2015). Next, let us address the ecological impacts of this project. The Dam has had an immensely negative impact on the Nechako watershed: lower water flows mean warmer water temperatures, and this can be lethal to fish (Nienow, 2016). The Nechako is home to a population of white sturgeon who are now endangered due to industrial use and habitat degradation (McAdam et al., 2018) and efforts to increase the population are underway (Picketts et al., 2017). Loss of biodiversity, regular flooding, and a complete disregard for the Cheslatta’s land and ancestors – how much more damage does aluminum production need to cause before we take action?

inside alcans power chamberInside Alcan's power chamber, Royal BC MuseumSome questions worth asking ourselves include: why does a private corporation own the water of the Nechako River, and what can be done about the ongoing negative impacts this Dam has on the Cheslatta’s territory and the surrounding Nechako watershed? According to senior policy advisor Mike Robertson for the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, a cold-water release facility could help to rectify the ecological harms caused by the Kenney Dam (Nienow, 2016). Over the decades plans have been drawn up to build such a facility several times, yet it has never come to fruition. It is time to investigate why this is the case. Presently, a framework for negation continues between Rio Tinto Alcan, the BC government, and the Cheslatta people (Dacre, 2016) and only time will tell whether the BC government – or Rio Tinto Alcan – has to pay for the havoc this Dam continues to cause.


Dacre, C. (2016, September 12). Province working towards settlement with cheslatta over kenney dam. My Prince George Now. Retrieved from

Human remains wash ashore in nechako river flooding, rio tinto alcan blamed. (2015, June 3). CBC Daybreak North. Retrieved from

McAdam, S. O., Crossman, J. A., Williamson, C., St‐Onge, I., Dion, R., Manny, B. A., & Gessner, J. (2018). If you build it, will they come? spawning habitat remediation for sturgeon. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 34(2), 258-278. doi:10.1111/jai.13566

Nienow, F. (2016, June 15). Impacts of the kenney dam. Burns Lake Lakes District News. Retrieved from

Picketts, I. M., Parkes, M. W., & Déry, S. J. (2017). Climate change and resource development impacts in watersheds: Insights from the nechako river basin, canada. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe Canadien, 61(2), 196-211. doi:10.1111/cag.12327

Royal BC Museum. (2013, November 30). This week in history: Season 2 episode 2 kenney dam [Video file]. Retrieved from


Green as a colour-blind approach to ‘activism’

By Bianca Dreyer

I have never found the term ‘environmentalist’ to fully capture how I see myself or the work that I do -- What makes me an ‘environmentalist’ rather than a ‘humanist’ or something else all together? As I progressed in my doctoral studies, the discomfort with the term, as well as the larger movement, became more pronounced. This coincided with what I was learning about Canada’s colonial history as well as my place within it as a first-generation immigrant.

My reflections on this topic are motivated by my experiences teaching a university seminar on Psychology, Environment and Justice. I started reviewing programs and curricula that critically examine connections between social and ecological justice. However, I found that many initiatives focused on environmental education aimed to connect students with the “natural world,” while ignoring Canada’s colonial context. My views have resonated with that of critical geographer Baldwin (2009) who has argued that, “the concept of wilderness enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of colonialism’s most enduring symbols in Canada, an empty space, devoid of humans […] which is quite literally founded on the erasure of aboriginality” (p. 432). I am concerned that experiential land-based learning programs might inadvertently reproduce and extend structures of whiteness (McLean, 2013).

Scholars such as Kahn (2008) and Gonzalez-Guardiano (2005) assert that environmental education programs lack connection to social and political issues. And yet, the destructive elements of contemporary globalization— insatiable greed for resources, genocidal disregard for life, militarism, and racism – have linked these issues in North America since its invasion by European settlers (Churchill, 2003).

The construction of whiteness as a form of individual accumulation of resources relies on the consumption of land and resources, which makes the colonial relationship between white-settler society and Indigenous Peoples foundational to land-based struggles (McLean, 2013). In this sense, Canadian whiteness is not an export from Europe; rather it was forged through the colonial encounter (Milligan and McCreary 2011). 

Environmental education that solely focuses on the effects of environmental destruction therefore necessarily depoliticizes and silences primary causes such as colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy. Students are invited to combat environmental problems in socially acceptable, “comfortable” ways through activities such as recycling, biking, or buying from organic Farmer’s Markets. However, these solutions steeped in white, middle-class subjectivity do not challenge racialized systems of inequality (McLean, 2013). 

This approach to fostering individual behaviour change is especially prominent in my disciple – psychology. Psychologists tend to target individual problems one at a time without much consideration of the possible root causes, which is rather ineffective. Yet, this is a common approach to promoting sustainability. For example, psychologists might look at one behavior (e.g., turning off lights), examine how one might go about changing that behavior (e.g., prompts, cues, etc.), then implement the strategy and repeat for each behavior and each individual. This approach is inadequate for addressing my broader, structural concerns.

Considerations of who benefits from environmental destruction are absent, as are critical discussions about ongoing colonial narratives; the narrative of the “good” white person’s ability to save both the environment and people of colour most affected by unjust distribution of environmental destruction is predominant.

aamjiwnaang.oct2017One of the most powerful experiences for students in my class is the guest lecture by a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ontario. The reserve, only a 2-hour-drive from the university, is surrounded by petrochemical companies. The proximity of these polluting corporations has given Aamjiwnaang the nickname of “Chemical Valley.” Despite their short distance, students are often unaware of the situation of people living on this reserve; this has brought issues of environmental racism and injustice, thought to be problems primarily of countries in the developing world, to Canada. In this class, we collectively explore the role of political activism in sustainability work, especially the complacency of the Canadian law in upholding colonial injustices and continued destruction of land and Indigenous communities.

waterwalk.oct2017During one of these classes, the guest speaker suggested various forms of activism - some focused on working from within the system, some rejecting current laws altogether. As an instructor, I felt the need to assure my students that they should engage in activism that “they feel comfortable with.” Her response still leaves me a chilling residue around my heart. She said: “Why is it that you allow yourself the privilege of comfort? It is not comfortable for us that we can’t open our windows at night without fear of suffocation, that our children need to get rushed to the hospital because of unexpected contaminants in the playground or that we can’t fish in our rivers anymore.” Is there a place of comfort in activism? - This is a question I have never stopped thinking about. Ringing in my ears the sentiment of Audre Lorde, that the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.

I start my class with this quote by Lynton K. Caldwell:

“The environmental crisis is an outward manifestation of a crisis of mind and spirit. There could be no greater misconception of its meaning than to believe it is concerned only with endangered wildlife, human-made ugliness, and pollution. These are parts of it, but more importantly, the crisis is concerned with the kind of creatures we are and what we must become in order to survive.”

In taking my place as an educator on this land that does not belong to me, I continue to thrive towards a critical inclusion of race and anti-colonial theories into the curriculum so my students will be part of a generation of environmental activists that actively disrupt, challenge and transform environmentalisms colonial and racist narrative. I continue to fail, but next time I fail, I will fail better and I will never cease to try again.


Baldwin, A. (2009). Ethnoscaping Canada's boreal forest: liberal whiteness and its disaffiliation from colonial space. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 53(4), 427-443.

Churchill, W. (2003). Acts of rebellion: The Ward Churchill reader. New York: Routledge.

González-Gaudiano, E. (2005). Education for Sustainable Development: Configuration and meaning. Policy futures in education, 3(3), 243-250.

Kahn, R. (2008). Towards ecopedagogy: Weaving a broad-based pedagogy of liberation for animals, nature, and the oppressed people of the earth. In The critical pedagogy reader, ed. A. Darder, M. Baltodano, and R. Torres. New York: Routledge, 523–538.

McLean, S. (2013). The whiteness of green: Racialization and environmental education. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 57(3), 354-362.

Milligan, R., & McCreary, T. (2011). Inscription, innocence, and invisibility: Early contributions to the discursive formation of the North in Samuel Hearne’s A Journey to the Northern Ocean. In Rethinking the great white north: Race, nature, and the historical geographies of whiteness in Canada, ed. A. Baldwin, L. Cameron, and A. Kobayashi. Vancouver: UBC Press, 147–168.


Leaded blood: is the Cerro de Pasco community left out?

By Stefany Ildefonso

Cerro de PascoOn January 17th, 2017, the Ministry of Health of Peru invited the community of Cerro de Pasco to discuss a problem that has been going on for decades. Cerro de Pasco is a village located in the mountains where houses are built around a mine. Due to the presence of this mine and the lack of guidelines and law inforcement for the mining industry, individuals are now dealing with the consequences of this practice. Parents witness their children fainting and showing other symptoms of lead contamination: “Do you know what it feels like to regularly see your daughter faint while having breakfast and feel powerless about it?” Indeed, blood lead levels found in children living in this area can reach up to 4 times the acceptable level set by the Centre for Disease control and prevention standards (CDC 2017). The community has shown significant concern about this issue that affects everyone as they have noticed changes in children, animals, food, water and the environment in general. Because this issue has been going on for years, continuous pressure from community members and NGOs has finally reached politicians.

Cerro de Pasco muralCerro de Pasco mural, by Lorena MenduiñaAnd so, now what? This issue was already known. It was not a matter of awareness. Has the government left out these people? Why hasn’t something been done about it? The complexity of this issue requires participation from industry, the community, environmental scientists and politicians from several ministries. It not only affects human health, but also has unavoidable permanent consequences on the ecosystem. To add another level of complexity, malnutrition can make individuals more susceptible to absorbing lead, therefore increasing the probability of developing symptoms such as anemia. Considering that 43% of children suffered from anemia in the Pasco department – and acknowledging that anemia can be caused by several factors - we can agree that this a major public health issue (INEI, 2012). Some individuals would intuitively think that these people could move somewhere else to stop being constantly exposed to environmental pollution, but it is not that simple. One must consider the socio-economic context and the value attributed to the land, among other factors. Because a single intervention will not be sufficient to tackle this issue, an ecohealth approach including interventions from different perspectives could be beneficial in this context.

The very first meeting demonstrated an expression of interest to move forward with concrete actions, however, as of May 15th, 2018, the situation remains the same…


Centres for disease control and prevention. (2017). What do parents need to know to protect their children?.

Fraser, Barbara (2016). Swallowed by a mine: residents of a city in Peru live with the lingering effects of sprawling, toxic lead mine. Science World/Current science, 5 Sept. 2016, p. 14+.

Instituto nacional de estadística e informática. (2012). Encuesta demográfica y de salud familiar – Departamento de Pasco.

National geographic. (2015). High in the Andes, a mine eats a 400-year old city.

World Health Organization. (2010). Exposure to lead: a major public health concern.



Girls Rock Camp North: An Ecosystems Approach to Summer Camp?

By Shayna Dolan

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about the role that art can play in issues such as climate change, sustainability, and social justice. I have explored the utility of using art to communicate large-scale environmental issues as a way to engage citizens to take action. In this blog post I want to tell you about an exciting opportunity happening in Prince George this summer and how it has led me to think about art as not only a method of communication, but also as a valuable process in itself that evokes many of the principles of an ecosystems approach to health.

GirlsRockCampNorthGirls Rock Camp North is a volunteer-run, week-long summer program for selfidentified girls and gender creative youth aged 9-17, operating out of Prince George, BC from August 21-25, 2017. Camp founders describe the camp as

“…a grass-roots organisation that cultivates self-empowerment and positive selfimage in self-identified girls and gender creative youth through music creation and performance, skills sharing and building, and peer collaboration.”

The week-long day camp includes workshops on song writing, zine and poster making, positive self-image, gear set-up, technical training and more. The cost of attending the camp is on a sliding scale basis depending on each camper’s financial situation. Organizers explain that this feature acknowledges differences in wealth, income, costs, and privilege and works to actively address the economic disparities in the Prince George community and society. The camp’s website states,

“We believe in the power of music to create personal and social change, and we aim to expand opportunities for girls, women and gender nonconforming individuals by equipping them with the technical, social, and self-advocacy skills to live by their own terms with integrity and respect for others. Simultaneously, we aim to increase the number of girls who wish to participate in various music scenes, and strive to end the gender imbalance and challenges that self-identified women and minorities experience in the industry.”

ShreddingGenderNormsIt’s apparent how the ecohealth principle of Gender and Social Equity is explicitly addressed by organizers of the Rock Camp through their acknowledgement of unequal and unfair opportunities for girls and women in the music industry. The above image make it pretty clear that the camp intends to “shred” gender norms and provide a safe and welcoming space for girls to explore themselves through music. In addition to Gender and Social Equity I would argue that the camp usesSystems Thinking in the development of the camp. The organizers envision the camp as

“a sustainable, annual project that will encourage community building, as well as provide mentorship and leadership opportunities in Prince George and surrounding area.”

The camp appears to not only exist as a method to teach girls music skills but also as an opportunity to connect people and strengthen community as those involved build capacity. Finally, this endeavor is a great illustration of Knowledge to Action. Camp founders come from a broad range of skills and disciplines and bring to the project a keen sense of both local and societal issues impacting the health of girls. This camp is an example of an initiative that is actively working towards improving the health and well-being of girls in the community of Prince George.

Prior to being introduced to the world of ecohealth and engaging with these course concepts I would have viewed this camp as a really cool summer activity that a small town kid such as myself would have LOVED to take part in. It’s been an interesting process to see how I now see concepts such as gender and social equity, systems thinking, and knowledge to action in places and processes I wouldn’t have a few years ago. I’m curious to know, have you been seeing events and opportunities differently lately?

Thanks for reading!

An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure

By Charles Paco

The scope of my research is based on the unsafe drinking water within Canada’s Indigenous communities. I believe that the most effective blog posting I can write is one in which I am able to provide complex insight and thoughtful arguments given how well versed I am on the topic.

Blog PicWith respect to unsafe drinking water within Canada’s Indigenous communities, much attention has been given to water treatment in order to fix water quality after the drinking water has been deemed unsafe.  Lack of source water protection (SWP) within and upstream of Indigenous communities causes, at least in part, unsafe drinking water.  Source water protection is a part of the multi-barrier approach to clean drinking water that protects water sources like rivers, lakes, and wells from contaminants. The major issues noted with respect to source water protection include intuitional barriers, inadequate funding, lack of risk level characterization, and a lack of redundancy in the water supply.

The primary issue leading to inadequate SWP in Indigenous communities can be categorized as “institutional barriers”. In other words, the challenges radiating from the fragmentation of responsibility between the levels of government seems to be in effect with SWP. Along with competing resource interests with the Indigenous community members, another issue with governmental agencies seems to be a sense of complacency after water treatment facilities have been installed: the focus shifts towards fixing an issue rather than preventing it. There seems to be a notion to ignore SWP once treatment facilities have been implemented. With this band-aid approach and lax prevention there is a risk that contaminants introduced to the source water could exceed the operating specifications of the water treatment system.  The concept that treatment trumps prevention acts as a major challenge to safe drinking water in Indigenous communities.

The lack of funding from all governmental levels adds to the challenge in protection of safe drinking water. Indigenous communities are notoriously underfunded with respect to many aspects of their community’s resource management, including safe drinking water.  These financial constraints put on the communities cause the need for a triage approach in the quest for safe drinking water: underfunding requires priority to be given to immediate needs in the drinking water system before the needs of protection are addressed.  Immediate needs such as fixing the broken treatment technology and responding to a contamination take priority over proactive approaches such as SWP.  Further, due to the financial limitations in the communities, there is very rarely adequate capital for SWP once the price of damage control has been paid. This irony of funding going to damage control, although allocating money to prevention could prevent that very damage, acts as another major barrier to source water protection.

An additional barrier to SWP is a lack of ability to comprehensively assess the risk level when a contamination of source water occurs.  Many First Nation communities do not have source water technology that allowed for the characterization of pathogens, making it difficult to assess the risk level during an outbreak. There have been many reported inadequacies within bacteriological monitoring in Indigenous communities’ water systems.  In an article studying 56 of Alberta’s First Nations’ water systems, it was reported that when a risk was posed to drinking water safety, 98% of the source water systems had not been characterized for specific types of bacterial contamination such as Cryptosporidium spp. or Giardia spp (Smith et al.).  Without identifying the bacterial contaminant, it is very challenging to accurately determine the risk level posed to the community without resorting to assumptions.  If there is an inaccurate drinking water risk determination, it is impossible to know the extent of intervention needed, generating an obvious barrier to SDW.

There is not only a lack of detailed source water monitoring in Indigenous communities but also infrequent monitoring.  Health Canada requires that water quality to be sampled for bacteria a minimum of four times per month in a community with 5,000 people or less. However, one bacteriological sample per week to classify an entire source water system would hardly be acceptable in providing a reliable indication of water quality. This Health Canada requirement seems even more illogical for communities that have had previous challenges to drinking water safety due to outbreaks and contamination. The consequences of infrequent sampling are two-fold.  Not only is the community at risk for a disease outbreak in their drinking water, but it also causes a prolonged time period before water supply contamination can be detected.

Source water protection is probably the most challenging aspect when trying to achieve safe drinking water within our Indigenous communities, however it is far from unachievable. The difficulty stems from the fact that the water sources are ecosystems themselves, constantly interacting with thousands of species and being used by humans for other reasons in addition to being a source of drinking water. If we are able to tackle this issue and better protect the source water, it will simplify all other pieces needed to provide safe drinking water. 


  1. Dyck, T., Plummer, R., & Armitage, D. (2015). Examining First Nations ’ approach to protecting water resources using a multi-barrier approach to safe drinking water in Southern Ontario , Canada. Canadian Water Resources Journal / Revue Canadienne Des Ressources Hydriques40(2), 203–222.
  1. Morrison, A., Bradford, L., & Bharadwaj, L. (2015). Quantifiable progress of the First Nations Water Management Strategy, 2001 – 2013: Ready for regulation? Canadian Water Resources Journal / Revue Canadienne Des Ressources Hydriques40(4), 352–372.
  1. Smith, D. W., Guest, R. K., Svrcek, C. P., & Farahbakhsh, K. (2007) health evaluation of drinking water systems for First Nations reserves in Alberta ,17(2006).


Canada 150: A Bitter Slice of Watermelon to Swallow

By Marlee Vinegar

There's just one month until Canada celebrates its 150th. For me that conjures up images of lake-side cottages, barbecues, fireworks, and watermelon. For many across the country, the sesquicentennial is not quite as sweet. For some, it represents another erasure of First Nations' histories. For others, Canada 150 marks 150 years of colonization, complete with stolen land, broken treaties, residential schools, destruction of culture, tearing apart of families, and other atrocities. The city of Vancouver will be celebrating Canada 150+ with the aims to:

Vancouver island-  Acknowledge the Indigenous peoples who have been here since time immemorial

- Represent that there is history in this land that predates colonization

- Represent that Vancouver’s Canada 150+ experience is also about looking to the future, and all communities, Nations and peoples walking together as a stronger society than ever before

- Set the mark for what we hope to achieve in all cities and communities across Canada

- Present Vancouver with the opportunity to be its best, as a City of Reconciliation that reflects and recognizes Indigenous peoples and cultures (1).

The year-long series of events “signifies only the first step in Canada’s generations-long journey towards truth and reconciliation,” (1).

When it comes to reconciliation, I’ll own up to being too ignorant and ambivalent for too long. It's taken me a long time to come to grips with reconciliation as something that I needed to be involved with. I’m working on dissecting which aspects of my own (settler) identity and history enable parts of my brain to think 'this isn't my history, these weren't my transgressions,' and 'this isn't my problem' and 'I have no role in the solution.' 

There are also other parts of my brain that pipe-up with 'your history has allowed you to benefit while others continue to deal with inter-generational trauma and real human rights violations!' and 'you're part of the problem that continues to exist today!!' and ' what are you doing to become part of the solution?!!??!!' 

I proudly identify as a Canadian—because let’s face it, I don’t identify with the Eastern European countries that my great-grandparents called home—and with that I inherit all of Canada's history and become responsible for its future. Coming together to make a better future for everyone is part of what reconciliation is about, right (not necessarily a hypothetical question, I’m on a learning curve!)? As a public health professional driven by a strong belief in the need for health equity, I need to identify how I can support and promote health equity for Aboriginal peoples, including how I can better integrate an intersectional lens into whatever work I do. Knowing that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I sincerely hope that if I falter there will be people to help me course correct.

So, what does Canada 150 and reconciliation mean to you? Between the bites of burgers and slices of watermelon you enjoy while camping for free in Canada’s national parks, I implore you to find out.


1.        City of Vancouver, Government of Canada. About | Canada 150+ [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2017 Jun 1]. Available from:

Marlee Vinegar is a moose, maple syrup, and timmies lover, a wearer of many metaphorical hats—though very few actual hats— and probably eats more watermelon than you.

Follow @m_ch3cooh



Three of the blogs written in the context of the 8th CoPEH-Canada field school (2015; Montréal) were published on the "Semaine du Saint-Laurent" website (French only), in conjunction with the the David Suzuki Foundation, in the lead up to their 4th edition of the Saint Lawrence River appreciation week. 

Écrit par Lauren Yee, Bénédicte Calvet, Marina Favrim Gasparin, Charles Cardinal et Jolène Santerre