From sustainable energy, to exhausting our transit options, to mass-producing and to consuming the planet’s resources, it’s fair to say the environment has gone through a lot of strain. Farah Motani, a 22-year-old and soon to be graduate from the Environmental Studies and History program at York University believes, truly, that everyone can make a difference.
Although she wants to continue her education in either Civil Engineering, Business and Sustainability or Environmental Law, Farah would also like to pursue her personal interest in independent research while travelling, volunteering and sharing her love of food. I was shocked but amazed to discover the amount of countries, cities and national parks she has visited. In honour of Earth Day, which was Tuesday, April 22, Farah and I discussed her views on the environment and the significance of the awareness initiative through an email conversation and photo shoot
What is your current occupation?
I currently work as a Sustainability Assistant for York Sustainability. My co-worker and I are responsible for promoting the different sustainability initiatives that York administration, students and organizations are working on with respect to the areas of waste management, energy consumption, food, purchasing, building efficiency, environmental education, transportation and water. I am involved in event planning, advertising, maintaining public relations, social media management, blog and report writing and weekly tabling to engage the York community about ways they can get involved.
This year we started the “Green Clubs” initiative, where student groups committed to sustainability can join to promote their events, network and learn about the different ways to make their respective group more sustainable.
Alongside my job as a Sustainability Assistant, I am a big supporter of volunteering. I am currently the Vice President of the Las Nubes Student Association at York University, where we managed to raise $5,000 to help build a community library in Costa Rica. This group provides fair trade and organic coffee, chocolate and baked goods to the York community through fundraising, participating in and hosting various events. I recently started volunteering at the Evergreen Brickworks as an Event Assistant, Community Greening Volunteering Leader, Garden Group Volunteer and Farmers’ Market Friend to help them with their weekly events. The Brickworks is a fantastic environmental organization that helps get people of all ages and experiences involved with sustainability on an individual level.
What is your future career plan?
I would love to work for an environmental organization or company as a Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, Auditor, Sustainability Coordinator and/or Consultant.
Why did you decide to study the environment?
Since I was a kid, I was always the “tree-hugger” in my family and I was obsessed with animals, especially dogs. I remember in elementary school, our teachers would take us to a nearby pond to collect tadpoles and caterpillars. We would watch them evolve before re-releasing them. Although I now do not support wild animal captivity, being able to engage with nature in such an intimate way really sparked my interest. I love environmental studies because it literally covers everything! I am also really interested in food security, environmental justice, waste management, city planning and sustainable tourism.
What was your favourite course and why?
Selecting one favorite courses for me is impossible, but my some of my favorite environmental courses include:
- Food, Land and Culture
- Environment, Media, Communication and Culture
- Environmental Law and Justice
- Environmental Auditing
- Human/Non-Human Relations
The thing about Environmental Studies is that there are many streams in which you can choose to focus. At York, students can choose between Environment and Culture, Environmental Politics, Environmental Management and Urban Planning. I picked Environment and Culture as it has both educational and political courses as well as some classes from the other streams – giving me a more rounded education. I love the Culture stream as it has really allowed me to learn how to teach people about environmental issues whilst gaining hands-on experience.
Why do you feel it is important to help the environment?
If we continue mass producing and consuming everything, we are going to use up all our resources and destroy this planet. I don’t think a lot of people realize this, but environmental issues are more than just conservation and wildlife management. The environmental movement includes basic human rights issues like why people of low-income and a minority race are subjected to live near environmentally hazardous industries, do not have equal access to resources/amenities or receive slower help when a natural disaster occurs. Why does fast food dominate in low-income areas but are non-existent in higher-income areas? Why are do we produce so much food, just to export it and re-import it? Why are there extravagant transit options in certain areas and expensive buses that come once every 45-minutes in others?
Social justice and positive development are intertwined with environmental issues. We are all impacted by these issues. Although melting glaciers in the Arctic are important, there are injustices happening in our own backyards.
What can we all do to do our part?
Small individual change can make a difference. Whether these small changes include taking the stairs, reducing your meat intake, turning off your lights, hosting an event in an easily accessible venue, carpooling, or composting; it all makes a difference! I think the most important individual change people make is reducing their consumption, and making sure what they do purchase comes from ethical and sustainable sources.
I do think education is important as well, so if you have time, read up on issues you are passionate about, watch documentaries/videos on them, contact researchers and professors who are doing work in that field for information and do other independent research.
However, as much as individual actions are important, we really need to work collectively and start questioning and properly monitoring corporations to make sure they are following ethical, environmental, health and safety policies in all of their branches; not just the ones in Western countries. To change a lot of the issues we face depends more on governments and corporations, but at the end of the day, they thrive off of people; so as long as people educate themselves and question where their clothing, food and household items come from, each individual action actually helps.
Why is Earth Day important?
I think Earth Day is important because it is a day for individuals, communities, businesses, organizations and governments to showcase what they have achieved in terms of being sustainable and ethical. The environmental movement became mainstream in the 1970s and was considered extremely radical; so to, 50 years later, have a day that countries worldwide celebrate and normalize is quite an achievement. I do think having days like Earth Day is important for raising awareness, but people really need to start making feasible changes that they can commit to on a daily basis. As York says, “Every Hour is Earth Hour,” because people should be taking action constantly.
What were your plans for Earth Day?
Unfortunately, I fractured my foot and grudgingly spent my Earth Day in the Orthopedic and Plastics department at North York General Hospital. But I was supposed to be spending my day at the York University Earth Day event! The Life Sciences building recently received a Leadership in Energy on Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. The event paid tribute to a number of sustainability champions and achievements across York’s campuses including the President’s Sustainability Leadership Award (which I was on the Review Committee for).
You can find out more information about York’s Earth Day initiatives, here.
What do you think is the biggest issue with our environment?
Firstly, it’s important that environmentalists, media and scientists stop portraying environmental issues in a doomsday-like perspective and start celebrating what solutions people are creating. I think these outlets should focus on the solutions so that concerned individuals are motivated to make change.
A lot of environmentalists are against technology, capitalism and development, but whether we like it or not, the world revolves around all of this. Rather than attacking corporations all the time, it makes more sense to work with them to offer sustainable alternatives that will still make money. I also believe that people need to reevaluate their standard of living and see where they can cut back.
I cannot really pinpoint the “biggest issue” with our environment because I think all environmental issues are extremely and equally important. Ultimately, I think once people understand the inter-connectivity of environmental issues with human rights and everyday social, political and economic life; they will be more inclined to take action.
There are so many people out there making such a huge difference on local, national and international levels; one simple Google search and I guarantee you will find ways to help or get help in your community and beyond. Individually, you just need to find what you are passionate about and everyone needs to work together to preserve our resources and landscape whilst respecting the rights of all human and non-human animals.
The following website gives great information on Canadian environmental jobs, volunteer opportunities, networks, organizations, companies, associations, networking initiatives and ways to get involved. Click here.
Farah encourages any readers to contact her should you like further information on how to reduce your individual ecological footprint or to find out how to get involved in your community! To send Farah an e-mail, click here.