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Complicated Choices

Among the many challenges and issues associated with environmental sustainability, it’s no secret that one issue – climate change – can be a frustrating struggle for environmentalists. Science supports its existence, a majority of people believe it’s happening, and both groups think more should be done to stem its damaging progress.

Their bane, fossil fuel, contributes to climate change and pipelines moving oil and natural gas to different points on the North American continent are at best a hazardous means of delivery.

Yet, there is a perceived, if not real, lack of action to counter this movement. Can it be attributed to a lack of environmental education or is it more about a lack of environmental ethics? Like so many other issues we deal with in life, maybe it’s about choices and how the need to be understood before resolution can be achieved.

When people make choices, they weigh the different values the items present and choose based on what can give them the optimal level of value or utility. For example, if there are two products in the grocery store that fulfill the same purpose and one is cheaper by $1 – the more expensive product is eco-friendly – then it might be worth $1 more to help the environment and get the most value.

To some people, however, the benefit environmental worth might not be worth an extra buck. Maybe they’re simply having a rough time, money wise, or loyal to a specific brand because they know it works well, or maybe they live in a community where it is socially frowned upon to have that kind of thing in their home. A dollar may seem a trivial amount, but what if the cost difference was more? $5? $10, $100 or more, even millions of dollars?

What if the cost difference allowed you to better your community? Interestingly, the flow of money is a big factor for Joe Dion, a hereditary Kehewin chief from the Cree band of the Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta, Canada.

Dion also is president and CEO of Frog Lake Energy Resources Corp., an oil and gas exploration and production company wholly owned by members of the Frog Lake Band.

He supports climate efforts and respects the people of Standing Rock. His dilemma, however, is the oil pipeline running through his community -- a major source of revenue that significantly betters the Band’s quality of life and well-being. His choice is valued more so than the environmental implications.

The proverbial other side of the coin.

As an advocate for sustainability, we know it’s important to balance viewpoints of an issue to find a positive means to its end. Facing the Future curricula enables students to approach those issues with critical thinking skills and, further, with an eye on a sustainable future.

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