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BLOG: Kids and Nature: Access Matters

Kids and Nature: Access Matters

If you’re like me and you grew up in the 90’s you will probably agree with me that we grew up in a crazy sort of transition period. I don’t know exactly what to call it, but if you look back to childhood in that decade it might appear to be one of the most confusing time periods for children since the turn of the 20th century. What I’m referring to is the drastic change that took place in regard to what children do for fun. I recall getting my fair share of experience splashing in puddles and climbing trees and exploring the local creek alone or with a couple of friends (yes, without adult supervision). Yes we watched our fair share of television, which consisted primarily of the Magic School Bus and Arthur, and we embraced the proliferation of handheld video games like the Gameboy Colour and the Nintendo 64, but we still stood on this fine line between “classic” outdoor childhood antics and the more docile habits of today’s children. I’m not going to go on a rant about “kids these days” and how there is something wrong with them in comparison to how kids grew up prior to this digital era. No, I want to argue that it’s not the kids that have changed, but rather the society of the adults who are raising them have changed and are responsible for how children live and behave today.


I recently read an intriguing book by George Monbiot, a trained Zoologist and writer for the Guardian, called How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, and Nature. In his book he dedicates a section on the lives of children today and their interactions (or lack thereof) with nature, specifically in the UK. He notes the decline of outdoor environments in which children play, the lack of community design with the child in mind, and profound effect that the exploration of nature can have on children. He quotes a study by the schools inspection service, Ofsted, in the UK, that reports that giving children the opportunity to have out-of-classroom experiences had several benefits such as raising motivation, personal development, and personal standards. I have to say that his point is clear when I look at the lives of my own younger siblings and the children in their lives.

With some exceptions, many of the school-age children that I’ve encountered here in urban southern Ontario seem to have very little experience outdoors. They may have been raised to believe that the outside is dirty or unsafe. They may not be allowed outdoors alone which can severely limit opportunities to explore and get your hands dirty. Mobile devices like iPads and smartphones are not inherently bad, but many children are given one of these at a very young age, and as I’ve observed it leads to a lot of couch-sitting and less motivation to go outside. It’s not the child’s fault though. Children don’t typically have the funds to purchase their own mobile device and they often don’t have a say in what they are allowed to do and where they are allowed to go. There is definitely a heightened sense of protectiveness among parents in regard to letting their children go out alone, and in some cases this is certainly justified. But parents don’t always have the energy or time to accompany their children on adventures down the street to the local stream or forest (provided one exists in their neighbourhood).

As a child I recall playing around the ephemeral ponds that would show up after a rain storm and building log bridges to cross them to avoid filling my boots with water. My younger siblings sought to play in the same places but one by one these natural playgrounds would get removed, often because it was noticed that children had the habit of playing there and for whatever reason that had to be put to an end. The provision of places in neighbourhoods for children to enjoy nature is something that we don’t think about very much. As George Monbiot mentions in his book, neighbourhoods are often designed by housing developers and without much thought for where children will interact with nature. This is particularly evident in suburban housing developments where a steel or plastic playground might be included by there are no forested areas left over or even remotely unmanicured areas to be explored by the neighbourhood’s youth.

According to a meta-study (a study of studies) by the Institute for European environmental policy, access to nature is linked to reduced depression and obesity. A study by the University of British Columbia found that adults are more likely to care for and protect nature if they have been given the opportunity to explore and appreciate the natural world as a child. Some feel the need to point the finger at children and often say that “kids these days” aren’t spending enough time outside and spend too much time in front of screens. The blame tends to fall on these kids for having a lack of imagination or some sort of perpetual habit for being bored. It’s not up to the children to design our neighbourhoods, provide places for them to explore nature, and get them learning outside of the classroom, it’s up to us as adults. It’s not children who have perpetuated the change from the monkey-bar hanging, puddle-jumping, fort-building children of the past, to the often bored, screen-bound children of today. It is society that’s changed. It is parents that have changed. If we want to ensure the success and health of our next generations, it starts with giving them more opportunities to explore the natural world that we were all born to interact with. We can demand more input as community members in the design of our neighbourhoods. We can support more outdoor education programs with our schools. And we can help our children find that natural space to explore and learn from. If we want the next generation to be healthy, to appreciate the natural world, and work hard to protect it, then it starts with giving them the chance to be kids in nature.

Devin Hock

About Devin Hock (KWIC Blog Contributor

Originally from Caledonia, Ontario, Devin is a recent graduate of Trent University's Environmental Science program. Devin's interests concern global and local environmental law and policy and how these subjects are conveyed and understood by the public. He is an avid whitewater canoeist and camper.


Isn’t Safe Drinking Water a Basic Human Right in Canada?

Water Faucet

How long was your last shower? Is the tap often left running while you do the dishes? How much time do you spend watering the lawn or washing the car? I can tell you that I’m definitely not he most conservative person when it comes to water, especially when it comes to a nice hot shower. I can also tell you that I don’t often think a lot about my water or where it comes from. Having it is a basic right isn’t it?

Safe and clean drinking water is likely the most underappreciated luxury that Canadians have access to, and why not? Canada only contains a whopping 7 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water! It’s easy to forget that most of us are very lucky, considering that the number of people living without access to fresh water hovers around the 1 billion mark. This might not be news to you, perhaps you have a relative or friend who has traveled around the world digging wells. What may shock you is the sizable number of people living without basic access to clean water right here in Canada, many of whom from First Nations communities.

According to the Council of Canadians over 100 drinking water advisories are in effect across more than 100 First Nations communities across the country. Many of these drinking water advisories have been in effect for more than a decade.  The fact that so many people have gone so long without access to clean water is mindboggling to me. How can a problem like this not be solved after so long? After all, basic plumbing and sanitation should be an easy fix, most people in Canada have it flowing right out of their faucets! You have to take a closer look to really understand the complicated situation that has been unfolding here for so many years.

According to the Council of Canadians report on the issue, the problem lies with funding. The Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is reportedly underfunded to install clean water infrastructure in Indigenous communities, particularly those in more isolated locales. While underfunding may a be a major player in this mess, mismanagement also seems to be a major contributor. The Ministry of Indian Affairs has, in recent years, been reportedly sending money back to the Federal Treasury Board marked as surplus, even though there are First Nations communities who are in dire need of water infrastructure upgrades.

The drinking water situation for First Nations communities has begun to look up despite the rocky path that has led up to today. In the 2016 Federal budget, the Liberal government has dedicated $1.8 billion over the course of five years to end the long-term drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities. While this news is definitely welcome and is likely a great relief to many communities, the question remains as to why it has taken so long for a government to take meaningful and direct action to address this issue. Water is a necessity of for life, so shouldn’t access to clean water be a basic human right? Should governments be responsible for making sure every community has the infrastructure to fulfill this right?

Devin Hock

About Devin Hock (KWIC Blog Contributor

Originally from Caledonia, Ontario, Devin is a recent graduate of Trent University's Environmental Science program. Devin's interests concern global and local environmental law and policy and how these subjects are conveyed and understood by the public. He is an avid whitewater canoeist and camper.


(BLOG) Canada’s Northern Communities: The Front Lines of the Struggle to Mitigate Climate Change

Canada’s Northern Communities: The Front Lines of the Struggle to Mitigate Climate Change

Just over one year ago we Canadians went to the polls to exercise our democratic rights and cast our vote for the individual who we wished to represent our riding in the federal government. We entered the voting booth, located the candidate on the list that we thought would best represent our interests and checked the corresponding box. This election would be different though. The government of the day had been in power for over a decade and, for a vast array of reasons, many Canadians desired some sort of change. The reason that we desired change varied widely between individuals. Some felt that our international image had become un-Canadian, others felt that we needed to give more attention to indigenous issues that had up until now been neglected, while still others felt that Canada’s flirtations with xenophobic policies were too much. One of the major issues for me and many fellow Canadians in the last election was climate change policy and how Canada was going to address the threat of a changing climate with the interests of all Canadians in mind.


The new Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to take climate change seriously and to take serious steps to address it in order to ensure the safety and security of current and future generations. Indeed the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and its ratification along with collaboration and agreements with the provinces and territories has given many of us hope, but it remains unclear exactly how much progress Canada is going to make, especially with the seemingly contradictory pipeline approvals in western Canada. The effects of climate change are by no means easy or simple to measure and since we are dealing with a massive, organic system, these effects are difficult to predict. There is one area where the effects of climate change are quite obvious, and that is in Canada’s north. Northern communities (primarily Indigenous communities) are and will continue to be witness to some of the most rapid and drastic changes to their environments due to climate change.


Several programs have been instituted by the federal government such as the ecoENERGY for Aboriginal and Northern Communities Program which provide funding to said communities for renewable energy projects. Others look to mitigate the inevitable changes that are taking place in the north by preparing communities and equipping them with the tools and knowledge necessary to cope with a drastically changing environment. The latter programs are likely the most important. You need not look any further than the Alaskan village of Shishmaref, whose residence had to vote whether or not to relocate the entire village because of rapidly encroaching sea levels. Northern communities in Canada face many of the same challenges as the residents of Shishmaref and will soon have to make similar choices. It’s difficult to imagine what it must be like to have to face the reality that your home may soon be submerged by the encroaching sea.


While the current initiatives offered by the Canadian government to assist northern communities in mitigating the effects of climate change are necessary and having a positive impact, the approval of pipelines like Trans Mountain and Line 3 which were approved just recently seems to contradict and invalidate any efforts by the government to assist those in the north. Northerners are facing not only the threat of sea level rise but also that of melting permafrost, changing weather patterns, and ecological instability. Many northern communities depend on the stability of the local ecosystem for food, and the effects that climate change will have on local animal and plant populations is uncertain. Approving pipelines that support the production of the very emissions that the government is has me scratching my head. The approval of emissions intensive projects such as these seem to demonstrate that the government’s priority is not to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change. The aforementioned programs to assist northern communities are only band-aid solutions while pipelines continue to be constructed and approved. To truly support northern communities in the fight against the effects of climate change would be to address the problem at its source, and that doesn’t mean approving projects that make the problem worse.  Trans Mountain and Line 3 would mean an increase in emissions by 25 megatons per day, which is by no means a drop in the bucket that is Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.  The greenhouse gas emissions of these projects will linger in the atmosphere for over a century, further exacerbating climatic instability and increasing the risk to vulnerable communities.


Last year Canadians voted for change, for climate leadership and climate leadership includes addressing the threats of climate change to Northern communities. So far the change in climate leadership has rendered mixed results. While the recent progress on the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is encouraging, the approval of major pipeline projects is not and begs one to question the legitimacy of Canada’s commitment to meaningfully address climate change and its effects on the most vulnerable of our citizens.  Will Canada do more to help northern communities, or will we continue to miss the point of climate change mitigation and avoid addressing the problem at its source?  Emissions intensive projects cannot continue to be approved on such scales while entire communities stand on the brink of disaster.


Devin Hock

About Devin Hock (KWIC Blog Contributor

Originally from Caledonia, Ontario, Devin is a recent graduate of Trent University's Environmental Science program. Devin's interests concern global and local environmental law and policy and how these subjects are conveyed and understood by the public. He is an avid whitewater canoeist and camper.


Should Host Nations Be Responsible for Educating Refugee Children?

The current refugee crisis has dominated the news for the past couple of years accompanied by images of destruction and displacement. While skimming yet another news article reporting on the clearing of a large refugee camp, known as “The Jungle”, in Calais, France, I noticed the photo of the family at the top of the page (If you’ve never heard of The Jungle in Calais see the link below, it’ll open your eyes to the scope of what I’m talking about). In the photo were several children. While the broad issue of the crisis is regularly debated and discussed, rarely are the details of the lives of these people, particularly the children, brought to the fore. Where have all of the children in this “Jungle” and other refugee camps like it been going to school? Is it the responsibility of host nations to educate the children of refugees?

It’s something that I had never thought seriously about before, and nor had many people that I’ve spoken with on the topic. According to a report published by the United Nations refugee agency this year, more than six million children under the U.N. agency’s mandate have no access to formal education. The report also notes that refugees are more likely to be out of school, five times more likely than the global average. In light of the current refugee crises around the world, such as the one emanating from Syria, it is easy to forget that an entire generation of a nation’s children are missing out on the opportunity and necessity of basic education. To better grasp the scope of this issue, imagine if Canada closed its schools for 20 years. The impact that this would have on society would be immeasurable, with a generation of citizens who lack the benefits and accompanying abilities provided by a basic education to contribute to society. It is important to remember that many of these children will one day return home to rebuild their communities, and going back without having had access to education will undoubtedly impact their ability to be successful in such a massive undertaking. These children will be heavily involved in rejuvenating and rebuilding their nation’s education and medical systems, governments, social programs, and economy. How will their lack of formal education affect their ability to carry out these monumental tasks? Even if they never return to their homeland they will still face an enormous challenge integrating into a new community without the benefit of a formal education.

The previously mentioned report does acknowledge that there has been some progress made by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and its partner groups by increasing the number of refugees attending school, but this progress has been severely overshadowed by the exacerbation of refugee crises around the world. In many places where these issues need to be addressed there is already a struggle by local governments to provide education. Issues like language barriers, lack of qualified instructors and educational materials bog down efforts to make real progress in continuing the education of children who have been forced to leave their homes and flee to neighbouring countries.

One solution comes in the form of nations, like Canada, accepting refugees and providing them with public education while they are here, but the challenge doesn’t end there. The diverse experiences and educational backgrounds (or lack thereof) means that settling into a foreign school can be a challenge. According to an article in the Toronto Star last year, when children arrive at school, some are attending classes for the first time. This academic challenge is often accompanied by a language barrier, some form of culture-shock, and sometimes unresolved psychological issues. It isn’t hard to imagine how growing up in a violent environment for much of one’s childhood might affect the ability of a child to begin attending a public school in a foreign country where such violence is not commonplace, nor is it difficult to see how challenging it might be to focus on school work while fitting in socially in a new country.

The education of refugee children is but one part of the larger and unfathomably complex issue of the so-called refugee crisis, but education for these children might prove to be the most important part of any solution. It’s easy to take a big-picture look at this crisis and think of big-picture solutions, but if an entire generation is to be saved from a lack of basic education, the smaller details must be considered more closely.

For information on local initiatives, the Peterborough New Canadians Centre website has a variety of resources and information. For more information on the United Nations’ work or to read the report referenced in this article visit the UNHCR website. Offering children the opportunity for an education during this time of crisis would, in my opinion, be a huge boon to a suffering community, but this undertaking is by no means a small one. With all of the above considered, the question remains: Is it the responsibility of host nations like Canada or France or Turkey to educate refugee children?

UN Links

Toronto Star - Schools Helping Syrian Children

New Canadians Centre Peterborough

Migrant Life in Calais


Devin HockAbout Devin Hock (KWIC Blog Contributor

Originally from Caledonia, Ontario, Devin is a recent graduate of Trent University's Environmental Science program. Devin's interests concern global and local environmental law and policy and how these subjects are conveyed and understood by the public. He is an avid whitewater canoeist and camper.



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