The Blue Dot Movement protects our right to a healthy environment. Discover the work it's doing, and how you can help.
When I was a child, summer vacation meant jumping in my family’s white Volkswagen van and hitting the road. As a city girl from Toronto, the trips I took with my parents across Canada created magical memories. I breathed mountain air in Yoho National Park, jumped ocean waves on Grand Manan Island, and ate ripe black cherries in the Okanagan Valley. Canada’s fresh air, clean water, and healthy food seemed limitless.
Trees, rocks, and water
I’m grateful to my parents that I experienced so much of Canada’s beauty firsthand, back in the days when we weren’t worried about the size of our carbon footprint. On one trip, I commented to my uncle about the natural beauty of BC. He looked at me and said, “It’s just trees, rocks, and water.”
Just trees, rocks, and water to some, and economic resources to others, but they’re the legacy we will leave our children and grandchildren. I hope we can find a healthy balance that treats Mother Nature’s wonders with the respect they deserve. Last summer, I joined the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Movement as a tangible way to work toward protecting the people and places I love.
Sadly, the Canadian federal government’s will to protect our environmental legacy has weakened. According to the 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, “timelines for putting measures in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not been met.” It also notes that Environment Canada doesn’t even have a system in place to coordinate greenhouse gas reduction targets with the provinces and territories.
The 2014 Environmental Performance Index, a joint project of Yale and Columbia Universities, ranked Canada 24th out of 178 countries overall. But in individual categories measured, Canada ranked
- 20th for wastewater treatment
- 36th for household air quality
- 52nd in marine protected areas
- 71st for excessive exposure to PM2.5 (fine particulate matter)
- 104th for change in forest cover
The Conference Board of Canada had a harsher assessment of Canada’s environmental record. It ranked Canada 15th out of 17 peer countries and gave it a C grade.
A priority for Canadians
But how do Canadians view the environment? Seventy-three percent of Canadian respondents believe that “public health, safety, and the protection of the environment should be the government’s top science priorities,” according to a 2013 Environics Research poll.
However, 69 percent of Environment Canada scientists surveyed believe that Canada’s doing a worse job of protecting the environment than it did five years ago.
Roughly five years ago, I heard the term “body burden” for the first time. I was researching an article for alive and learned that Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental action organization, had been conducting body burden tests on Canadians since 2006.
These tests showed that average Canadians, like you and me, carry a chemical cocktail inside us. We contain toxic substances such as stain repellents, flame retardants, lead, and pesticides—and it’s not just adults.
Babies are born with chemical burdens. In 2013, Environmental Defence tested the umbilical cord blood of three newborns in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. In their report, Pre-Polluted, they revealed that each of the tested babies was born with 55 to 121 toxic compounds, some of which were possible cancer-causing chemicals.
For many of us, and I count myself in good company here, our cats and dogs are our babies, too. In March 2013, I wrote an article for alive on the toxic body burdens our pets bear. I learned that dogs exposed to lawn chemicals may develop bladder cancer and lymphoma. Second-hand smoke can cause cancer in our canine companions, not just in our human family members.
At the time, I lived on a busy city thoroughfare where I heard the constant sound of cars, trucks, and trains. Every day, I found myself on the balcony wiping black grime from my white patio table. I began to suspect that breathing in vehicle exhaust and being bombarded with noise couldn’t be healthy.
Cancer’s in the air
Then, in October 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.
Air pollution had already been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases; now researchers stated definitively that increased exposure to air pollution and particulate matter caused lung cancer.
While many of us do all we can to minimize our risks, cancer touches all our lives, whether personally or through someone we know. I decided to minimize my risk and leave the traffic behind. I moved to a healthier environment where I’m surrounded by trees and green spaces.
Enter Blue Dot
In the late spring of 2014, I received an e-newsletter from the David Suzuki Foundation. They were looking for volunteers who lived or worked in Richmond, BC, (where alive’s office is located) who care about the environment. I answered four or five questions and sent off my application.
Then, one early Saturday morning in June, I walked into a classroom, unsure of what to expect. Seven residents of Richmond, like me, had set aside their weekend plans because they wanted to do something positive for the environment, something to do with “Blue Dot.”
For two intensive days, we learned about each other’s backgrounds, studied the rise of social movements, and shared our stories. We learned that, as members of the Blue Dot Movement, we’d be working to garner support at the grassroots level to entrench the right to a healthy environment in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But first, we’d start close to home.
As the first Blue Dot group in Canada, we set a goal to persuade Richmond city council to pass a declaration stating Richmond’s citizens had the right to a healthy environment. And we decided we’d do it by the November civic election.
I’ve never had an experience like that weekend. We discovered that everyone in that room, regardless of our occupation or background, shared a passion for protecting the people and places we loved. We wanted to ensure that our children and grandchildren had access to fresh air, clean water, and healthy food.
And, most importantly, we believed we had the power to make it happen.
How did we reach this place of solidarity and vision? We had lots of help getting there. Dan Grandone, a community organizing and leadership development trainer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, inspired us by teaching us about the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. Grandone taught us how the bus boycott lessons could apply to our social movement. (Yes, suddenly we were involved in a social movement!)
Inspiring each other
We were also inspired by Michiah Prull, director of communications and public engagement for the David Suzuki Foundation. For Prull, creating the right to a healthy environment isn’t just his job; it’s personal. As a young child, Prull had leukemia, and that experience had a profound impact on his life.
“While I was lucky enough to recover, the experience left me with a lasting appreciation for the fragility of my life and an urgent desire to make the most of it. The simple truth that cancer taught me is that life is precious and that my greatest responsibility is to make the most of the time that I have,” he says.
“Every year in Canada, environmental hazards lead to tens of thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses. To me, every one of these represents a family just like mine struggling to protect those they love and to build a brighter future. And so, cancer taught me to make the most of my time, and to spend it ensuring that as few families as possible have to endure what mine did.”
Sharing a vision
Sophika Kostyniuk, national organizing manager of the David Suzuki Foundation, was also one of our Blue Dot trainers. She identifies herself as “an environmentalist, a humanist, and someone who’s been in this [environmental] movement since I was born. My parents focused on healthy living and natural foods and travelling around North America [also in a Volkswagen van], so I was always exposed to the natural environment. And it really formed my core values.”
In 2014, she became the first David Suzuki staff person to work on the Blue Dot Movement. She says she helped “craft a strategy to bring the notion of environmental rights to Canadians, how to talk about it with people in their own communities, with their local decision makers. The very first place we started testing this messaging and training was in Richmond, BC.”
Making it happen
Perhaps the most inspiring moment of our training occurred on Saturday afternoon when a distinguished silver-haired man walked into the room. We tried to stay calm while David Suzuki and his wife, Tara Cullis, spoke to us about their dream to secure the right to a healthy environment for all Canadians.
Our Blue Dot group spent the summer attending local events and sharing our message with the citizens of Richmond. Many people expressed surprise that Canadians don’t have the right to a healthy environment. We collected almost 2,000 signatures, which we presented to Richmond’s parks and recreation committee, who unanimously voted to take our petition to Richmond city council.
Richmond was just the beginning. In the fall of 2014, David Suzuki embarked on a cross-Canada 34-stop Blue Dot Tour. At 78 years young, Suzuki, Canada’s environmental rock star, teamed up with a who’s who of Canadian music and culture, including musicians Feist, Barenaked Ladies, and Neil Young; and cultural icons such as writer Margaret Atwood and artist Robert Bateman, to spread the Blue Dot message. Kostyniuk accompanied Suzuki on the tour, which she describes as “extraordinary.”
“David Suzuki says it’s the last time that he will undertake a cross-Canada tour to speak with Canadians in their communities. To have had the opportunity to connect with him and the tour in Halifax, Waterloo, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver was so powerful,” says Kostyniuk. “I led the training events in each of those communities, where we have community organizers to lead the charge and build the movement from the ground up.”
Sharing our values
For Kostyniuk, being able to “meet Canadians on their home turf, learn about local issues, and learn about the differences in cultures and approaches” was what made the Blue Dot Tour so special. But despite our differences, the one thing that she says united all Canadians she met was a shared sense of values.
“To see the positivity and the hope ignited in these groups of volunteers was absolutely phenomenal,” Kostyniuk says. “The really incredible thing about this campaign is that it seems to appeal to every demographic. Youth have been such a key component of this campaign. They’re finding that their voices matter just as much as anyone else’s. You don’t have to be of legal voting age in order to participate in the right to a healthy environment program.
“Youth in high schools, youth in universities, and even youth in elementary schools are speaking out about their right to a healthy future, their right to a healthy environment, and the need to protect the most basic things: fresh air, clean water, healthy food. It’s really sparking the imagination of youth.”
Changing the Charter
Youth are getting involved at the municipal level. The next step will be persuading provinces to enact legislation, with the ultimate goal of gaining the support of 50 percent of Canadians in seven provinces so that a challenge can be made to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This will enshrine the right to a healthy environment as an inalienable right of all Canadians.
According to environmental lawyer David Boyd, incorporating this right into the Charter would
- ensure environmental protection is a core, fundamental Canadian value
- protect Canadians’ health from environmental hazards
- preserve Canada’s natural wealth and biodiversity
- clarify all levels of governments’ responsibility to protect the environment
- acknowledge that environmental rights are core elements of indigenous law
- keep up with evolving international law
To date, more than 67,000 Canadians have signed the online petition at bluedot.ca to express their support for the Blue Dot Movement. If you, like 98 percent of Canadians, believe that nature is essential to human survival, and that this includes the right to fresh air, clean water, and healthy food, you just may want to join me and “go Blue.”
Why should you join?
Richmond Blue Dot team leader Carolyn Quirt says, “Being involved in the Blue Dot Movement has made, and continues to make, one of the greatest impacts on my life. It’s so great to meet and work with like-minded people who care for nature and want to protect the essentials for survival on Earth. There have been many paths I’ve walked so far in life, and this path is the right one.”
Why Blue Dot?
The name is inspired by the iconic photograph of the Earth taken from the Voyager I space probe on February 14, 1990, at the request of astronomer Carl Sagan.
Stand up for the environment
Go to bluedot.ca and click the “Join Us” tab. By checking the volunteer box, the David Suzuki Foundation will be able to communicate with you about Blue Dot.
Did you know…
…that more than 110 countries around the world have already adopted the right to a health environment in their constitutions?
Richmond goes Blue!
With the support of the local community and the enthusiasm of a growing group of volunteers of all ages, Richmond Blue Dot achieved our goal. On October 14, 2014, Richmond city council unanimously adopted the right to a healthy environment.
Blue dot communities
Some of the municipalities that have adopted the right to a healthy environment so far include
- The Pas
- Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie
In the Northwest Territories