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Metro Talks: WWF-Canada's David Miller on how to make an environmental impact

From stopping climate change to protecting endangered species, the tasks are daunting. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up, says the former mayor of Toronto.

David Miller served as mayor of Toronto from 2003-2010 before deciding not to seek re-election.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

David Miller served as mayor of Toronto from 2003-2010 before deciding not to seek re-election.

It’s easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed by the environmental challenges our planet is facing.

From stopping climate change to protecting endangered species, the tasks are daunting.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Everyone has the power to make a difference — in many cases right in their own backyards.

It’s one of the key messages David Miller, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, spreads every chance he gets.

Because, as he puts, “people want hope.”

“They really want to be part of something and know what they can do to make a change,” he said. “There’s an incredible thirst for this.”

Miller dropped by Metro’s offices to talk about the environmental threats we’re facing and what can be done.

Trees

The urban canopy matters for biodiversity, animals, birds and people.

It’s “extremely important” to provide shade and cool the “urban heat island” that is the concrete jungle.

“There is a beauty and a majesty in trees that speaks to your soul in an urban environment,” Miller said.

What you can do:

People need to be inspired “to do their part,” said Miller, and protecting and restoring the urban canopy needs to become a priority in cities across the country.

Think before you cut down a tree in your backyard and plant native trees on your own property where possible.

“When someone wants to cut down a tree in a neighbourhood and people come out en masse, that feeling needs to happen collectively,” he said.

Wildlife

Miller warned of a “looming crisis in wildlife” that we’re not paying attention to.

While we’ve been focused on climate change, two thirds of the world’s population of wildlife will be gone by 2020 if we don’t act now.

“This is a really serious situation and it hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves,” he said.

What you can do:

Luckily, “nature has the capacity to rebuild if we let it,” said Miller.

Globally, this might mean supporting conservation efforts for animals like the Siberian Tiger or the Snow Leopard.

But you can also make a difference in your own backyard or on your condo balcony.

Planting native species is one way to preserve biodiversity in an urban landscape.

WWF-Canada has programs such as In the Zone Gardens, to help with this.

“If you plant something that helps a relatively small species thrive in an urban area, you’ve made a real difference,” Miller said.

“Not everything is a panda but they all matter.”

On the Great Lakes

Miller said this is perhaps the biggest issue in Canada-U.S. relations right now, with President Donald Trump’s recent proposal to scrap funding for Great Lakes restoration.

“This actually needs to be number one on the list because the long-term risk to Canada is unmatchable by anything else,” he said.

Given the Trump administration's lack of attention to science or facts, this is an area where “it would be easy for them to make a very stupid and historic mistake,” Miller said.

Canada is going to have to find a way to “manoeuvre the U.S. government into honouring the Great Lakes compact,” he added.

“And if not, they’re going to have to replace some of the funding. It’s too critical to the economic health of the country.”

What you can do:

Get involved in a shoreline cleanup.

WWF-Canada helps people organize them across the country as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

“That has a really specific positive impact on nature, in particular plastics,” Miller said.

WWF-Canada’s Loblaw Water Fund also offers small grants to people trying to protect and improve local bodies of water.

Power of cities

Canadian cities have been leaders on climate change, Miller said, and “we shouldn’t lose sight” of all the successes.

While the province and the feds often talk to each other on climate change and other issues, “cities aren’t seen as partners,” Miller said.

What you can do:

Talk to your neighbours and take a community approach when it comes to gardening and planting native species.

“Act collectively,” said Miller.

Volunteer with one of the many small NGOs that work to protect urban ecosystems.

Miller’s rules

David Miller has made his own lifestyle changes to become more environmentally friendly. These are some of the rules he lives by.

— He doesn’t drink bottled water and plants native species in his garden.

— He uses Bullfrog Power electricity and gas at home, which uses methane gas from landfills.

— He and his wife have sold their car and walk or take transit instead.

— While plane trips as part of his duties as head of WWF-Canada add to his carbon footprint, Miller tries to take the train when he can and avoids flying out of Billy Bishop Airport, which he called “a park masquerading as an airport.”

This weekend WWF-Canada hosts its annual CN Tower Stair Climb for Nature. There’s still room to register for the Sunday event. Visit their website for more details: http://www.wwf.ca/

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