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Environmentalist in Residence

 

Environmentalist in Residence at the London Public Library
Jennifer Chesnut with Birch Tree

Introducing our 2022 Environmentalist in Residence Jennifer Chesnut

Jennifer is an environmental educator and activist. She is currently studying emotional responses to environmental challenges as part of a Master’s program in Education in Sustainability, Creativity & Innovation. She is a facilitator in the Work That Reconnects, a peer-led group process that supports moving through eco-despair to empowerment.
The Hueston Family Foundation, a registered Canadian charity focusing on animal welfare and environmental issues, is pleased to support London Public Library's Environmentalist in Residence initiative and environmental events with the Library in April.
The program is offered in partnership with City of London.
Join us online or in person to participate in events throughout the month:
April 2:
Eco-Justice: Social Movements for the Earth
View more in the Catalogue
April 14:
Eco-Emotions: Making Our Way Through Feelings in Response to the State of the Planet
View more in the Catalogue
April 21:
Eco-Consciousness: Thinking like the Earth
View more in the Catalogue
April 23:
Eco-Emotions: Seedy Saturday on Dundas Place
View more in the Catalogue
April 30:
Eco-Poetry: Using the Arts to Celebrate the Earth
View more in the Catalogue
May 7:
Eco-Activism for Youth
View more in the Catalogue

Do you have a question for Jennifer?

Thank you for the questions that you shared with Jennifer throughout the month of April. Her answers, along with the answers from our partners at the City of London are below.

Do you have a question about environmental issues or steps you can take to sustainability? Share your question with our Environmentalist in Residence, Jennifer Chesnut, using the form below. We'll share information from Jennifer and City of London experts every week to answer your questions here on our website during the month of April. We'll do our best to address as many questions as possible!

Take a look through some of the questions that have already been answered. Click on the question text to reveal the answer.

This is a great idea. I also love keeping nature journals at different points in my life documenting local wildlife, adding drawings and text. Sometimes I like to add poetry. What’s so great about a nature journal is that there is no right way to do it. It can be a fun activity that also is meaningful. It can be scientific, artistic, observational, there are many possibilities. I’ve been lucky to be able to keep nature journals with youth. One of my favourite versions of the nature journal is a Sit Spot Diary, going to visit the same area over a period of time and noticing how it changes over time, deepening connection with the trees, plants, and mammals. I’ve also done a Sit Spot from my window observing one of my favourite Maples, how she changes and who is living among her branches. In case the Sit Spot style is of interest, I’m sharing a link I found online about it: inmynature.life/ideal-sit-spot

I am not aware of a local group doing nature journaling but I think it would be a meaningful community contribution. Do you know about Meet-Up London as a way to connect on projects? Friends and I once established a social justice group using this platform. Also, have you tried reaching out to Nature London? This may be a possibility. I hear that the original nature club members were ardent sketch artists who drew their wildlife observations and made notes. I’ll share one of the many great nature poems by Mary Oliver. All the best with your nature journal.

Congratulations on your win! This sounds like a fantastic project. Are you working with the Pollinator Pathways project yet? pollinatorpathwaysproject.com Their mission is to make London as pollinator friendly as possible and provide resources and knowledge to Londoners making pollinator gardens. As for suggestions for plants, it is hard to tell at a distance without being more aware of the specific conditions you are working with such as type of soil, sunlight, etc, but I can share a few general suggestions. Asters, for example, the New England Aster, could be a good choice. There’s the Grey-Headed Coneflower, too. Have you considered adding native grasses, for example Big Bluestem or Little Bluestem? They can add a good winter feature providing cover for birds and others.

This is a great question. Have you considered Oaks? You could try Red Oak or Burr Oak, for example. Besides the great leaf shape and sweet acorns, they are known to be superior at supporting a variety of species. If you want to look up more information on native plants, a friend who is an experienced permaculturist, swears by this facebook group for finding productive native plants:

www.facebook.com/groups/OntarioNativePlantGardening

Thank you for your thoughtful question. The disposal of waste from used batteries is something to reflect on. It’s important that we move in the direction of a circular economy where possible, and battery waste can be a problem. Oftentimes, extraction of resources has a cost for the natural world, though this can vary depending on the extraction method, from more disrespectful practices like mountain-top removal to practices that gather resources without disrupting the whole ecosystem. At the end of the day, we are species that requires a variety of resources. When I find myself going down a rabbit hole of guilt, which happens from time to time, I try to remind myself that I need resources and I simply try to make good choices within what is possible. I find an attitude of gratitude for what the Earth is providing me helps me make wiser choices. But I am also aware that as a North American in this present context, I am tied into many unsustainable systems, mining and waste disposal being two significant ones.

I think the bigger issue at stake is the balance of the carbon budget, and that’s where changing how we travel and how we transport comes in. Over the past 140 years, human systems, based in fossil fuels, have raised the carbon levels from 280 ppm to 418 ppm (NASA, 2020). The planet’s carbon budget for staying within temperatures that are protective of complex species, including humans, is vital and we are well above it presently. Climate stability, primarily shaped by carbon levels in the atmosphere, is of great importance right now. As Antonio Guetteres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated this week, we are not on track to keep warming below the agreed upon 1.5 Celsius change, but in fact, more than doubling it – a dangerous situation for all our futures (Global News, 2022). That’s why doing what is feasible to promote renewable energy in our lives and in our cities and country is vital. I advocate for electric cars wherever possible. I love driving my Leaf. It’s easy to charge, quiet to use, and a great financial investment that pays itself back while also avoiding the stress at the gas pump. As for hydrogen fueled cars, our partners at the City have provided more information below.

Global News (April 4, 2022). It's "now or never" to thwart climate disaster, says new UN report. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mkzsKvf1w8

NASA, Global Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Planet, 2020. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/

From our partners at the City of London:
EV Batteries

The good news is that EV batteries are far too valuable to be thrown away. There are already plans in the works to reuse and/or recycle old EVs and their batteries.

EV batteries are typically replaced after they lose around 20 percent of their capacity, which means that there’s still up to 80 percent capacity remaining that can be reused for power grid energy storage. EV manufacturers such as GM, Nissan, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) have been running pilot projects with “second life battery storage units”. The EV start-up Rivian and the electric bus manufacturer Proterra design their battery packs to make end-of-life repurposing in mind. Used batteries have a significant cost advantage over new batteries in this power grid application. This article provides more information on this emerging second life market for old EV batteries.

EV batteries can also be recycled to recover the valuable metals and make new batteries. Stelco (a major Canadian steel company) plans to recycle end-of-life electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries at its facility in Nanticoke, Ontario. Using scrap steel is already a common practice in the steel industry, so this recycling plant would also recover the nickel, manganese and cobalt sulphates, lithium hydroxide and carbonate per year from batteries. This plant is expected to be in operation in 2023.

Hydrogen Batteries / Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cells, to date, have proven to be significantly more expensive for light-duty vehicles, both in terms of the vehicle technology and fuel production. Existing EVs can charge at home even with existing 120V wall outlets (about 6-8 km of range per hour), whereas hydrogen can only be supplied at dedicated fuelling stations that have yet to be built. Electricity is also required to produce hydrogen in the first place. In essence, fuel cells can be considered to be another form of battery, as the fuel cells provide electrical power for motors just like an EV battery does. Hydrogen fuel cells are expected to play a role in long-range heavy-duty applications such as inter-city freight, where the fast-filling capabilities of hydrogen tanks for the fuel cells can save valuable time over high-speed EV chargers.

For more information, go to plugndrive.ca

The problem of plastic is on many of our minds. Thanks for raising it here. There is some interesting experimentation happening at the municipal level. Please see information from our City partners below. Since plastics is a systems problem, this issue cannot be solved at the municipal level alone. For example, plastics that are difficult to recycle or upcycle are coming from businesses as standards of ecological care have been disregarded. Consumers can vote for company practice with our dollars. We can contact companies to applaud and critique reckless use of plastic. I know for me, I am very happy to be able to shop for groceries at London’s waste-free store – Reimagine Co: https://reimagineco.ca/. The federal government plays a key role in the transition from unhealthy plastic usage to conscientious use of necessary plastic. I wonder if you have come across recent reports on Canada’s transition away from single-use plastics? More information can be found here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/feds-ban-plastic-straws-bags-1.6293958

This federal action is a good start, but it appears the federal government is still preferencing global trading interests over a decisive move to change the use of plastics in Canada. A Member of Parliament told me that a hand-written note holds far greater weight than an email. The energy that goes into a personal letter is considered to be equal to 1,000 emails. Lobbying may be one of many ways that Londoners can make their point on plastics, whether that is directed towards elected officials or to CEOs of multinational companies. Boycotts have been used as an effective strategy as far back as the eighteenth century abolition movement. The collective refusal to purchase as a result of ethically-questionable practice takes a lot of effort to mount, but maybe we Canadians are ready to affirm our commitment to phasing out dangerous plastics for the many vulnerable species, the health of our shared waters and young people in need of a healthier home.

From our partners at the City of London: The City of London currently collects a very similar range of plastic packaging as other communities in Ontario. Plastic bags can be returned to many retail stores. Foam plastics through a Blue Box program have limited end markets at this time. In addition, the end markets currently pay very little towards the cost of recycling these extra, lightweight materials.

City staff do not believe we are behind other communities. In fact, we believe we are equal to or doing more than most cities in Canada. In 2019 we implemented a pilot project for hard-to-recycle plastics, including polystyrene take-out containers, cups, plates and bowls. The City of London was approached by Dow Chemical Company (Dow) and the Canadian Plastic Industry Association (CPIA) to implement the first pilot project in Canada using the Hefty® EnergyBag® program methodology. The pilot project focuses on the collection and processing and marketing (i.e., recycling or recovery) of flexible plastic packaging and hard-to-recycle plastics. The pilot project is not city-wide at this time and available for some curbside households that have their Hefty® EnergyBag® collected at the curb or some households drop-off at an EnviroDepot. Both collection methods have the Hefty® EnergyBag® sent to London’s Recycling Centre. At the Recycling Centre the bags are gathered, baled and shipped to selected end markets. The goal is to turn plastic waste resources into higher value applications ranging from making durable products, including composite plastic products like boards and panels, and fuel. The pilot project also offers the opportunity to support advancing new technologies that can make plastic feedstocks for new products in Canada and the United States. If you would like more information about the London Hefty® EnergyBag® project please visit: getinvolved.london.ca/HEB

Other important programs that include plastics are the London Waste to Resources Innovation Centre and the work being done to examine different kinds of plastics from both chemical recycling and conversion processes.

The City is following legislation at both the provincial and federal levels as they will impact what we do here in London. New provincial legislation will regulate changes to recycling in Ontario. We look forward to working with industry to expand plastic items being recycled since they will soon have operational and financial responsibility for the items that industry creates.

As of January 2021, the Federal Government under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) has legislation banning single use plastics. Food packaging made from plastics that are difficult to recycle are included. How this will be implemented is the responsibility of the Federal Government at this time.

This is such an important question for our times. It is hard to stay optimistic if we don’t cultivate optimism on purpose. Many people naturally feel overwhelmed by the climate and ecological crisis. Having some sense of grounded optimism is vital to participate in the great changes required. I cultivate optimism in several ways: awareness of the solutions, action, and processing my emotions like ecological grief.

First, as an activist and educator, I am very aware of the problems, but I also make a point of learning the solutions and sharing them. I read typical news reporting and solutions journalism. Solutions journalism is an emerging field where reporters recognize that the news has deep impacts on people’s sense of efficacy and so they don’t only report the problem, but also the bigger picture of what is being done about it (Kelsey, 2020). I find a lot of empowering news stories on: yesmagazine.org and goodnewsnetwork.org, for example. This is important because studies show that people are much more likely to act when they believe they have options, and by hearing stories of others making change, this improves our confidence and optimism (Kelsey, 2020).

Second, I take actions that I am drawn to and enjoy like eating plant-based, driving an electric car, and civically engaging. Getting involved with networks of activists is one of the best things I have ever done for optimism. It’s not easy, but it’s exciting and meaningful. I have made some of the best friends through civic engagement. Their determination gives me hope. Civic engagement really helps me feel less alone, and though I know more now than before doing activism, I feel more hopeful because I am ‘in it’ rather than stuck in overwhelming feelings like hopelessness. I see success in this regard as participation because the more people participate, the more we create trends that make the system shifts we want. But sometimes our feelings of overwhelm and despair prevent us from engaging in a way that might be empowering and meaningful for them. It’s important to just take an action. This is also the consensus from the mental health field advising on climate change (Burke, 2017).

Finally, I process my feelings about what is happening in the world around me through groups I belong to like workthatreconnects.org. What I mean by processing is that I acknowledge the feelings and talk about them. Emotional processing is an innate skill that all humans have which allows us to move from the stressful object of attention to focusing on the present moment (Baker, 2007) but in these difficult times, we sometimes need extra support to move through the feelings. Further, I know that we are living in extraordinary times and that they can weigh on us, so I try to care for my feelings through nature walks and the arts. I still experience heavy emotions about climate change and species extinction but I know these feelings are 100% normal and a sign of connection and awareness, so I try to give them some care and attention. That way, eco-emotions do not scare me nor do they often build up too much, and I can avoid the heaviness of despair. Eco-emotions, like any strong feelings, visit like a storm and then the sun returns. I know the clouds will come back but I move through hopelessness and into optimism through action, talking about the feelings, and knowing about the inspiring people and solutions for making change.

References

 

Wood smoke could pose a danger for those with sensitivities and definitely, if we were to be around it daily. Because people tend to have a bonfire sporadically and only for a few months of the year, I don’t believe this to be a dangerous form of air pollution. London does struggle with other particulate matter issues from industry nearby. I think if broader air pollution concerns are the main concern, focusing on industry regulation is more important than individuals having bonfires in warmer seasons. At the same time, safety is an issue, and people of course, need to be cautious about that.

We need to follow that impulse to bring like-minded people together for discussion and collaboration. Thanks for raising this theme. The problems facing us are systems problems. We can’t solve them in isolation. The Central Library as well as the City are striving to promote conversations on important topics related to the environment. It may be helpful to use existing structures to come together and build from that in ways that are meaningful personally. It was great to see many environmental organizations coming together at Earthfest on Earth Day. We can all contribute to this momentum as each of us has knowledge and passion to share in different areas. London Environmental Network provides various opportunities to connect with grassroots groups through their members directory. We can connect with others acting on specific issues here: https://www.londonenvironment.net/member_directory. I’m also glad to see that Green Drinks is back, a space to do exactly what you are calling for – gather together and discuss the issues. Also, stay tuned for future engagement activity related to the Climate Emergency Action Plan.

That’s great news that you are looking to create a pollinator garden at your apartment and that there is lots of space available to do so. Increasingly, people in London are planting pollinator-friendly gardens to support the lives and good work of pollinating species. You might want to check out Landon Library, as they started a seed library where members of the community can take seeds, plant them and then save some seeds to bring back and share in the fall. The London Public Library also hosts a plant swap in partnership with London Middlesex Master Gardeners every spring.

The dates this year are:

  • MAY 7: Beacock, Masonville, Sherwood
  • MAY 14: East London, Stoney Creek
  • MAY 21: Crouch, Central Library Passageway, Lambeth
  • MAY 28: Jalna, Landon
  • JUNE 4: Cherryhill

For more details on these plant exchanges view events in our catalogue

Further, there are some easy-to-come-by seeds of native species’ like Milkweed, the food of Monarchs. They can be gleaned from pod around the region. One place I have seen many of them is Euston Park, but they can be found in many locations. Of course, as we go to support life in gardens we plant ourselves, it’s important to take care when we repopulate plants and only take what we need. Purple Coneflower, Bergamot, Black-eyed Susan are other easy to work with pollinating plants. Thinking further about the light you have, the amount of moisture in the soil, and so forth is an important step for planning your garden. Have you checked out the awesome Pollinator Pathways Project group in London? They support people like yourself in getting a pollinator garden going. If you go to their resources page at www.pollinatorpathwaysproject.com/resources, they provide a step-by-step on how to make a pollinator garden and suggestions for different plants depending on soil and shade conditions. All the best with your garden!

There is much to be disturbed about with Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, such as the Inuit. Settlers have a responsibility to learn and to act in light of Canada’s dark past and continuing systems of repression. One book, in the environmental context, that has helped me have more understanding on the complexity of loss and trauma for the Inuit is "The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet" by Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Watt-Cloutier is a leading climate change, cultural change and human rights advocate in Northern Turtle Island and her book can be found in the London Public Library, linked from the title.

To answer your question, I have not woven stories of the Inuit into my climate change thesis specifically, though they are the folks who know more than anyone on this land that climate change is moving quickly. Not only do they experience continuing systemic injustices, as you refer to, like forced relocations, they also live the grief of climate change in their home now and as a result, are mourning loss of culture and land relationships (Cunsolo & Landman, 2017). Colonial culture is deeply intertwined with the ecological problems humanity faces today. Part of being a settler on a planet with an increasingly compromised biosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere as a result of an industrial way of life, detached from the reality of Earth, is to reckon with our ways of thinking and being, sometimes called ontologies. Indigenous ways of being and knowing, in alignment with Earth’s laws, is what we need now if we are to maintain conditions for dignified life of complex life forms. Thank you for highlighting the link between environmental issues and human rights of Indigenous peoples.

Cunsolo, A., & Landman, K. (Eds.). (2017). Mourning nature: Hope at the heart of ecological loss and grief. McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP.

Watt-Cloutier, S. (2015). The right to be cold: one woman's story of protecting her culture, the Arctic and the whole planet. Penguin Canada.

Retirement homes in Ontario are overseen by the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority which is an independent, not-for-profit regulator mandated by the government to protect the well-being and safety of seniors. More information about this group can be found here: www.rhra.ca/en When I scanned their website, I wasn’t able to find anything about sustainability, but a deeper search might turn up people focusing on this area and/or a contact that works with these issues. There may not be a straight path for making changes to their recycling system, though if you have relationships with people in this system or you work in this field, you can access your networks to help make an impact. You may want to start practically by offering support to improve recycling at a specific establishment, and/or talk to seniors themselves living in retirement homes to see how you can help them in achieving their green dreams. Many elders want to leave a better world for young people if they can and are given the opportunity.

Recycling is a respectful thing to do, but in recent years, I have been turning my attention towards how I might contribute to system change by keeping less plastic from being produced, especially since a lot of plastic is not being recycled and some types of plastic cannot be recycled at all. Recent studies show how little plastics are recycled. I will reference one from National Geographic below that discusses the fact that just 9% of plastic is being recycled globally. The Earth has too much plastic and we need to use less of it. Properly handling waste is a valuable part of the solution, but preventing new plastics from circulating is essential. It’s important that we tell the companies that we purchase from that we want them to use less plastic. Further, it’s vital to support producers who are moving away from plastics, like Reimagine Groceries (London’s single-use plastic-free grocery store), in our homes, businesses, and communities like retirement homes. All the best with your efforts. Thank you for your care on plastic.

Parker, L. (2019, July 5). A whopping 91 percent of plastic isn’t recycled. National Geographic Society. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/whopping-91-percent-plastic-isnt-recycled/

It’s exciting that you are venturing into pollinator planting. This is definitely a positive growing trend in London. Though we can’t change things with our singular actions, when we lean into trends that support a healthy planet, we have impact together. Have you checked out the Pollinator Pathways Project? They offer excellent resources for getting going with pollinator-friendly plants. I recommend you check out their resources page here: https://www.pollinatorpathwaysproject.com/resources. You might find enough information there to make decisions about your specific situation with the specific conditions you have – type of soil, amount of light and moisture, and so forth. Their website says that they get back the quickest on social media. As for clover, there are different kinds. For example, red clover is nice for tea and is also easy to dig up, though it is not native. Clover can be a good choice for fixing nitrogen, an important food for plants, but you might want to add greater diversity to your walkway to support more pollinators and greater resiliency. All the best in your planting.

It sounds like you are busy with much activity in your yard. That’s exciting. Plants, like people, have different needs and vulnerabilities. When you buy a new plant, if you are unsure of its specific requirements, it’s a good idea to inquire at the garden centre where you make your purchases. Make sure you are following the instructions that often come with the plant. They require different aspects of soil, sun, water, and food. Have you connected with your neighbours about their planting experiences since they may share some of the same growing conditions as you? Some plants are more vulnerable than others when transferred. Some can be separated by their root system with ease and some cannot. One option, if you are not already doing it, is to focus on perennials so that you don’t have to buy so many new plants every year. All the best with your garden.

Trees are really phenomenal in terms of their capacities and design! They balance carbon in our atmosphere, supporting stable climate, they provide medicine and shelter, provide food from sap, as you point out, and so much more. However, many tree species are under stress these days from global warming, drought, pathogens and other human-driven factors.

You are right about plants being good water filters. Plants with high water content can help our well-being with not only minerals, vitamins, and fibre, but also with water. If you want to replenish more with plants, I recommend eating veggies and fruits high in water content such as celery, cucumber, radish, watermelon. We have plentiful soil for growing many water-dense plants in our region. But let’s leave trees to do the fundamental tasks that support life systems, especially capturing carbon to balance our atmosphere at this time of climate threat. Trees need their water to survive.

Past Environmentalists in Residence

gabor standing in front of a house

Dr. Andrea Boyer

Dr. Andrea Boyer holds a PhD in Biology with a specialization in Environmental & Sustainability and is an Assistant Professor and researcher at Western University and Fanshawe College. She has contributed her expertise for five years with the Environmental and Ecological Planning Advisory Committee that provides technical advice to the City of London on environmentally significant projects. She volunteers with BirdSafe UWO and Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup events.

gabor standing in front of a house

Gabor Sass

Gabor is a recognized scientist, consultant, university instructor, writer and community builder who has lived in London with his wife for 19 years. He has worked as an environmental consultant for clients in industry, non-governmental organizations and different levels of government and as an advisor on environmental and planning advisory committees for the City of London. Gabor's community building includes leading initiatives like the Food Forests in Wood Street Park and West Lion's Park and the Pollinator Pathways Project, neighbourhood projects that have introduced residents to urban agricultural practices and current environmental concerns. Gabor and his family work at implementing sustainable practices into their lifestyle wherever they can.