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Jeff Roberts: On the green team
PHOTO: OWEN EGAN
Jeff Roberts, 23, isn't the kind of guy to sit around complaining. Not for long, anyway. Fuelled by his love of nature and passion for the environment, the fourth-year student in North American Studies has been lobbying to improve McGill's record on environmental issues.
"I have always really liked the outdoors," the Vancouver native says. "There were lots of forests and canyons near where I grew up." Camping was part of his family's activities when he was a child.
The difference in mentality towards the environment struck him when he came to Montreal. "It just really got to me one day that there was no green space," Roberts says. Here you have nothing but noise and concrete. Mount Royal is a nice park, but it's overused and it's hard to get any feeling of spiritual renewal there."
Montrealers also have a "disposable culture." The use of Styrofoam cups and plastic grocery bags is prevalent everywhere, he notes.
"I found myself complaining about the environmental situation in Quebec and figured I should do something about it," he says. "The more I learned, the more compelled I felt to stay involved."
While universities like Stanford and Tufts in the United States and Canadian institutions like Waterloo and the University of Victoria all have environmental policies, McGill has no such thing. Roberts wanted to change that.
About two years ago, he joined forces with other students in QPIRG and led a campaign on campus to get senate to adopt a motion saying that it will establish an environmental policy.
Roberts' group, Greening McGill, gathered nearly 3,000 names on a petition presented to senate. It ran in conjunction with a postcard campaign addressed to Principal Shapiro.
The motion passed last spring and the Senate Committee on Physical Development subsequently formed an Environmental Policy Workgroup. Composed of students, academic staff and non-academics working in services directly concerned with the environment, the committee will draft a policy and develop a list of priorities and projects.
Developing a framework is a good first step, Roberts says. "We're drafting policies and plans, but it's another thing to implement them."
Some of the concrete actions he would like to see McGill take on the path to a more environmentally friendly campus include: better recycling, waste reduction, a mandatory three-credit course in environmental literacy, composting and buying green goods. For example, the university could ask that 10% of each department's purchases be recycled products, he suggests.
"McGill should be taking the lead on this, not following," he says. "The interest is here, but you need a structure to oversee it. The support is there from the bottom up, but we need help from the top down."
On-campus support for environmental issues was evident at a Festival of the Environment held on March 27 that Roberts and his group organized. Provincial Liberal Party environment critic Robert Benoit came to speak and 12 McGill departments, including geography and engineering, created exhibits that were on display in Leacock 232.
The environmental movement has widened beyond its stereotypical hippie image to include activists who are professionals in their fields. This demonstrates increasing public concern with the issue, Roberts says.
"People turn on their televisions and are starting to clue into what's happening with endangered species and climate change," he says. "They've started thinking about changing our cities."
Roberts is making changes, too. He is taking a year off after he graduates in June. He plans to spend a year in San Francisco, with his American girlfriend, to get back to the west coast.
It will give him the opportunity to indulge in his favourite outdoor activities: hiking and mountain biking. Then he wants to go to law school to study environmental law. "I want to carry things further," he says.
McGill isn't the only place he'd like to green. He thinks people's understanding of environmental issues increases if they have access to nature.
"If you give people the green space, they enjoy it and develop an environmental ethic," he says. "Everything is so packaged that people don't see the connection with the land."
We decided to go where the Greeks and Italians and the Ashkenazi Jews sent their children to school.
The future of fundraising: $AMO$A$
Attention McGill Fundraising Committee: The way to students' wallets is through their stomachs — hungry, harried and fond of Indian cooking.
Samosa sales are today's de rigueur fundraiser for student groups, and as it turns out, the quickest cash-grab on campus.
"For a small-scale thing, it's pretty profitable," said Aliya Mawani, head of the International Law Society. "It just depends on how many you want to buy. McGill Women and the Law were sold out within 15 or 20 minutes a couple of weeks ago. I was there with bells on."
In shunning the traditional bake sale, student groups have turned to local restaurants to produce the wares that raise club funds. Samosa suppliers, such as Tandoori Village on Prince Arthur Street and Pushap Sweets, sell the potato-based snack to non-profit groups at a reduced price — $28 for 100, rather than the usual $33 — and deliver them for free.
Between studying and running McGill clubs, what student ever had time for baking anyway?
According to students, the lure of the samosa goes beyond convenience: they're described as "inexpensive," "delicious" and "very different than anything at the cafeteria." Apparently, Miraval has something to learn from these enterprising students too. Groups commonly charge 75 cents to one dollar per samosa but with competition for students' hunger high, three-for-a-toonie value packs are also promoted, dipping sauce included. That's close to 200 per cent profit!
Daljit Mohan of Pushap's, a family-run Indian restaurant and pastry shop in Park Extension, fills out so many orders for McGill student groups that the address for the Student Union Building is on the tip of his tongue.
"The McGill Cricket club mobilized the trend a few years ago," he recalled. "Now we send down an average of 600 samosas a week."
That, to me, is one of their great accomplishments and that's why native people across the country are asking for treaties, so they can have some recognition and monetary compensation and start building their own institutions.
Food for the hungry just a click away
A quarter cup of food for the hungry is but a mouse click away. Sponsors of the Hunger Site, including Sprint and OnHealth.com, cover the cost of sending such staples as rice, wheat or maize to countries in need each time a visitor hits the "Donate Free Food" button.
"Every 3.6 seconds, someone dies of hunger: 75 per cent are children under 5," one reads in blue at the top of a world map. In the time it takes to read the sentence, more than one country has dimmed to indicate a death from hunger. The graphic gesture is based on the statistic that 24,000 people die of hunger each day.
While website visitors can make only one donation per day there is no limit on the number of days on which a donation is sent. The eight to nine sponsors may vary from day to day and each pays half a cent per quarter cup of food donated.
The United Nations World Food Programme, which has projects in 82 countries, distributes the donated food. This frontline organization provides food to save lives in emergencies and for development projects. It works hard to keep its administrative overhead to less than nine percent, according to the website. Some 5,000 staff workers operate throughout the world.
Donation totals on the site indicate how many people have donated. The number of daily donations ranges from 200,000 to nearly 400,000 which translates to between 350,000 and more than one million cups of food!
The Hunger Site began on June 1, 1999, and is found at: www.thehungersite.com.