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The ecosystem of the environmental movement


There are many times I’ve been criticized in my life. Having spent many years in politics, I’ve developed a tough skin and it doesn’t bother me that much.

But as a conservationist in CPAWS, I’m often told by supporters how much they appreciate the balanced, science-based approach taken by our organization. That’s always nice to hear. There are, however, some folks take me to task for being “too critical of government”. Yet others criticize me for being “too collaborative with decision-makers and industry”.

I like CPAWS’ reputation for being a reasonable voice in the environmental movement. I like the fact that we can be critical and solutions-focused at the same time. But let me tell you how important it is, in my view, that the environmental movement not adopt a monolithic ‘one-size fits all’ approach. That would be a disaster for all of us. I like to think of the environmental movement in Canada as an ecosystem. I guess that’s appropriate given our line of work.

If you think of a healthy ecosystem, it has a balance of species (both predator and prey), sufficient diversity of plants to feed the animals and filter the water they (and we) drink, etc. If there is an abundance of predators, the prey will likely disappear quickly. If there is an abundance of prey with no predators, they will quickly overtake the ecosystem and devastate the plant and animal life they consume for their own survival. If new growth is inhibited by an unbalanced ecosystem, then the habitat it creates for other creatures disappears. Every piece of the puzzle is needed or the system falls apart. That is what a “system” does, it functions in the service of all involved.

When access roads and industrial development create access for wolves to their caribou prey, there is an impact on population numbers. When moose are introduced in an ecosystem like Newfoundland where there are no natural predators, their population is left unchecked and their grazing of young trees prevents forests from regenerating.

The environmental movement would be ineffective if all of us were wolves. We would be equally ineffective if we were all moose. The diversity of approaches within the environmental movement is as important in human nature as biodiversity is in wild nature.

When I speak to our supporters, I’m always keen to find out what impact they want to have on nature conservation. There have been times when I’ve suggested that they support other environmental organizations that might better meet their goals when it comes to what they hope to achieve through their financial and volunteer support. Without the rest of the movement’s health CPAWS will struggle to achieve its own goals, just as others need us to be strong and effective too.

Likewise, not all environmental groups need to be involved in all of the same issues. If all of us play the role of trees in providing clean air and holding moisture, who will be there to produce berries and pollen? What will the sage grouse do without grasslands? What will the whales do without krill? We all work on emerging issues and we try and stay focused on the areas of our own expertise. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t tempting for all of us to rush to an emerging issue, but it is unhealthy for all of us to take them all on.

The environmental movement needs its diversity. That’s why I’m happy that CPAWS can play its part to the best of its ability without trying to become all things to all people. I’m honoured to be part of the ecosystem of a smart, diverse and healthy movement that works in the interests of our country, our planet and our own survival as a human species.