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It is an almost comic stroke of irony that McGill's Environ-mental Officer, Kathleen Ng, finds herself implementing the greening of McGill from a stark, windowless room on the sixth floor of the Chancellor Day Hall. Hers is a cell of an office, cast in a fluorescent glare that might better serve McGill Security for the occasional criminal interrogation. "I tried to grow a bonsai tree in here," Ng says, "but it didn't go well."
Yet in this barren microclimate where other carbon-based life forms have failed, she has flourished. Since filling the newly created position last February, Ng has overseen a passel of sustainability initiatives put forth by McGill's Senate Subcommittee on the Environment, many under the Rethink banner. These are heady times. Recycling is happening everywhere. There are bikes being shared on Macdonald Campus and affordable Eco Logo paper and cleaning products available through Purchasing. Facilities Manage-ment is monitoring McGill buildings for energy efficiency and School of Environment students are studying the feasibility of composting in the residence halls. An Allégo transportation study will look to alleviate the traffic and parking crunch, and the Turflawn project will plant heartier plants where grass has perennially languished. Even the annual Frosh bacchanal saw reusable commemorative steins and a "no mug, no beer" policy replace the dumpsters of Styrofoam throwaways.
But Ng is the last to claim kudos. "I'm ashamed to receive credit," she admits. "I'm really a liaison officer. I just find the relevant people and resources from across the university and try to get them to work together."
That's easier said than done. Environmental Officer carries a job description that would take several pages (printed on both sides, of course, in accordance with the coming recto-verso paper conservation project). Ng is budget officer, web master, public information director, spokesperson, environmental lobbyist and educator. Most of all, she is the pragmatic fulcrum of the environmental movement at McGill: she connects students, administrators, service personnel, faculty members and external organizations to make green things happen.
"I'm a professional generalist," she states proudly, citing her McGill bachelor's degree in physiology with a minor in management, and ongoing continuing education studies in finance, accounting and information systems.
As for the environmental orientation, it is probably etched on her DNA. "I was always like this," Ng says. "I was that kid in high school with the recycled folder that said 'save the planet.' "
Growing up in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the Ng household operated under its own unwritten environmental policy. The family hung plastic sheeting on the windows in winter and always turned off the lights behind them. Ng's mother composted vigorously for the vegetable garden and her father was an old-school recycler. He even rolled his own logs for the fireplace from old newspapers and some wire. "My parents were war children and kind of hippies, so they were taught not to waste anything and make the most of what they had," Ng says. "And I think that's what environmentalism is: trying to live your life without harming the environment or wasting its resources."
"I see McGill the same way," she continues. "We are an educational institution, so it's all the more important that we are as sustainable as possible. We have to use paper, for instance. But if we can use both sides of every sheet, we can continue our regular daily operations while making a much smaller environmental footprint."
So McGill will continue to green, even through winter. And Ng's personal office greening project? "I'm not sure if anything will ever grow in there," she says. "Maybe seaweed."
They cannot separate, as we do, the body doctor from the mind doctor"
Imagine a classroom in which lions roam, wildebeest snort and anthills tower above your head. Chances are you wouldn't be in the Arts Building. You wouldn't even be out at Macdonald campus. But you would still be at McGill.
Now in its twelfth year, the Canadian Field Studies in Africa (CFSIA) Program will be run by McGill for the first time in 2004. The original host, Vancouver's Langara College, is still a partner, along with five other universities.
Geography professor Thom Meredith says that McGill "now has full academic control over [CFSIA]. That will only strengthen it and make it more dynamic."
The pedagogical safari starts in January. Students will study natural and social sciences while travelling through East Africa, from tropical rainforests to deserts to the pell-mell of urban life. All of this will be done as safely as possible, with clean food, purified water, showers and latrines provided every step of the way. Cooks, instructors and a medical doctor will accompany the group of 40 to 60 participants. The school oversees all the equipment, from trucks to tents.
Students study anthropology and archaeology, and can examine the birds and fish of Africa through ornithology and marine biology courses (some prerequisites required). At the end of the safari, there will be a chance to take scuba diving in the Indian Ocean. Past participants found the program not only thoroughly enjoyable, but also more valuable academically than regular classes at their university.
As one student told Meredith, the program "makes the textbooks come to life." Because of the change in administration, this year the application deadline has been extended until December 1.
For more information, go to www.mcgill.ca/africa. Information sessions on CFSIA will be held the next two Wednesdays, November 19 and 26, at 4:00 pm, in Burnside Hall, room 426.
"There's every reason to hope the dip that occurred in the 1990s is being reversed."