University of Calgary


April 8, 2009

International EcoConference aims for policy change

Mishka Lysack is orgainizing the International EcoConference: Building Bridges, Crossing Boundaries.

Mishka Lysack is orgainizing the International EcoConference: Building Bridges, Crossing Boundaries. / Photo: Ken Bendiktsen
“Are we here to simply consume as much as we can and dump it all into landfills, or is our calling to become guardians and protectors of the earth?” asks Mishka Lysack, a lifetime environmentalist and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work (FSW) at the University of Calgary.

Lysack is organizing the FSW’s International EcoConference: Building Bridges, Crossing Boundaries, which is scheduled for May 7-9, 2009 on campus. The EcoConference will bring professionals, practitioners and students together for an interdisciplinary dialogue about environmental issues. Keynote speakers include David Orr, author and professor in Environmental Studies at Oberlin College; Joanna Macy, internationally respected author of ecological issues; and Nettie Wiebe, an educator and political advocate for environmental ethics.

Lysack says environmentalism needs to be integrated into all practices, since practical components like recycling or and waste reduction, can be just as important as the therapeutic components. Many clinicians are now incorporating the environment into therapy and one’s connection with the environment can have a huge impact on mental and physical health. “When people re-connect to the environment, they often feel less stressed and have a greater sense of belonging and purpose,” he says. Since stress can exacerbate any illness, it is easy to see how taking some time to enjoy nature can be beneficial to our health.

There are many things that people can do to cut down on everyday waste. However, Lysack cautions that, given the severity of today’s environmental issues, simply changing your personal lifestyle isn’t enough. He says, “That would have been enough if we had listened to David Suzuki talk about it in the ‘80s, but our world is too far gone now. Today, we need to focus on public engagement, education and community building.” He hopes that the upcoming EcoConference will inspire and educate others to lobby for policy change in relation to the environment.

With proactive and preventative environmental policies in place, we could easily lessen the impact of natural disasters, says Sandra Engstrom, Master of Social Work student at the U of C. “It seems like people need to put a face to environmental catastrophes in order to do something about them. Hurricane Katrina got a great deal of attention once images of human suffering began to surface. We have to inspire people to want to make change before disasters strike, and that can only happen when our policies change.”

Lysack says children are very much in-tune with environmental issues. He was recently challenged at a presentation when a nine-year-old girl asked: “If you adults know what’s happening to the environment and that it needs to change, how come you’re not doing anything about it?” He found himself at a loss for words, but now admits, “We are undermining the survival prospects of our children and on some level they know it.”

To find out more, or to register for the conference visit:

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