Our environment is in a state of emergency. Our planet’s biodiversity is declining rapidly as thousands of plant and animal species lose their habitats through reckless resource extraction and climate change. The human-caused warming of the earth’s atmosphere has already created millions of climate refugees and threatens to displace millions more in the decades ahead.
Earth Day, April 22, offers a chance to stop and think about the health of our planet. On the global calendar for 52 years, Earth Day is also an opportunity to consider the thousands of New Brunswickers working every year to preserve and protect their local environments.
Today, Earth Day 2022, the New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN) is celebrating key environmental champions with its annual NBEN awards. The award winners were chosen from nominations submitted by the more than 110 NBEN member and associate groups.
The NB Media Co-op contacted the award recipients to ask: What motivates you to do this work?
In addition to its four annual awards, this year the NBEN added a fifth to celebrate the network’s 30th anniversary. Roland Chiasson and Sabine Dietz won this award jointly for their past and ongoing contributions of time and expertise to the NBEN, and outstanding engagement to the environmental movement in conservation and biodiversity, climate action, and sustainability education.
Dietz, currently the Executive Director of CLIMAtlantic, Atlantic Canada’s climate services hub, has worked for more than three decades on species at risk and ecosystem conservation. Her motivation for this work is instinctual. “There really has never been a choice for me once I realized what we were doing (remember acid rain?), and what we have (all the wonderful things out there, the crazy weird and little ones especially),” she wrote to the NB Media Co-op.
Chiasson is a wildlife biologist and ornithologist and environmental educator for the Aster Group, an environmental workers’ cooperative. What motivates him? “Simply put, I feel strongly that it is the right thing to do for the planet (humans too). We have a responsibility to us and to the creatures we share this living space with.”
Nancy Juneau won the Phoenix Award for her leadership in the Acadian Peninsula’s environmental movement. In 2015, following a climate march in Inkerman for COP 21, Juneau organized local residents to create the organization Imaginons la Péninsule acadienne autrement (IPPA). Over the years, IPAA has conducted many events and mobilizations to raise awareness of environmental issues in the region.
Juneau is motivated by her love of the Acadian Peninsula and the desire to protect it and keep it as beautiful as it was when she first arrived here in 1977 from Ontario. She wants to leave her children and grandchild with a more sustainable future, she said, “one where any economic development decision must consider the human factor and public good.” Juneau’s involvement with IPAA fulfills her need to “be involved, to contribute, to improve” and to work together for a common cause. Finally, she said that being an environmental champion fulfills “the need to feel and foster hope and work for what I aspire to. I am convinced that thought, ideas, and actions create; that what we feed, grows.”
The NBEN’s Samaqan award, for dedication to protecting the waters and species that inhabit the waters, was won by the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council (GMRC). The GMRC, a non-profit organization with members from the First Nations of Eel River bar (Ugpi’ganjig), Pabineau (Oinpegitjoig L’noeigati), and Listuguj (Quebec), works on habitat management and stewardship, and research and collection of Mi’gmaq Ecological Knowledge.
The GMRC Executive Director John Murvin Vicaire said he spent a lot of time outdoors when he was growing up. “I often fished, hunted, picked hazelnuts, and went camping with my grandparents,” he explained. “Existing in a healthy environment was (and still is) important to me. Knowing that our work benefits the plants, animals, people, and the overall environment is what motivates me to do my best each day.”
The NBEN’s Gaia award is for dedication to the earth and species inhabiting the earth. Linda Stephenson won it this year, to recognize her efforts at habitat conservation in New Brunswick and across and Canada since 1998. Stephenson recently retired as vice-president of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
What motivates her environmental activism? “I grew up in a ‘green family,’ long before the words ‘conservation,’ or ‘environment’ were part of common vocabulary. My Mom and Dad had a deep appreciation of our natural world, and they instilled it in my sister and me,” Stephenson recalled. “I’ve always found peace and clarity in the quiet of the woods, and in the music of the water. Playing even a small role in helping protect that, for those who will come after me, is a privilege.”
Serge LaRochelle won an award this year given in partnership with the Société Acadienne du Nouveau-Brunswick (SANB) for his environmental leadership in French in the province. LaRochelle, a program coordinator with the Groupe de développement durable du Pays de Cocagne, has inspired thousands of students with his passion and commitment to natural landscaping and naturalization.
“I think it is the motivation of the teachers and the response from the students that keeps me going,” said LaRochelle. “When I see a child thrive in the garden, or a teacher beaming with energy when they are helping to plant a tree, I know we are doing the right thing. I get motivation from my colleagues at the Pays de Cocagne Sustainable Development Group as well as our partners at the various environmental groups in our region, including the Shediac Bay Watershed Association, Vision H2O, as well as the New Brunswick Environmental Network. I appreciate the engagement from the citizens of Cocagne who take action to protect our environment.”
Tim Leblanc Murphy, Executive Director of the NBEN, noted that “as the pandemic and war in Ukraine capture global attention, it’s comforting to know that people here at home continue in their efforts to protect our shared environment.”
Established in 1991, the NBEN’s purpose is to improve communication and co-operation among environmental groups and between these groups, government and other sectors. Rather than being an advocacy group, the NBEN provides educational opportunities for its member and associate groups and encourages the growth of the environmental movement in New Brunswick. On Earth Day, the NBEN released a video to mark its 30-year anniversary.
Susan O’Donnell is the primary investigator of the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.