Tackling climate change through volunteerism

How one Environment, Resources, and Sustainability student is creating waves of change

For many of us, tackling climate change on an individual level feels daunting: Where do I start?  What could I even do to make a difference?

Ashoke is an Environment, Resources, and Sustainability (ERS) student looking to make the fight against climate change feel more attainable by spreading the message that any positive action we each take – big or small – can catalyze change. “When it comes to what we can do at an individual level, I think it’s important to realize that it’s the small things that count,” he says. “I know it’s hard to imagine that turning off your lights every time you leave your room can play a significant role in saving the planet, but it’s not about the action itself, it’s about the ripple effect it creates. Eventually those ripples add up and they can create a wave of change.”

Taking action

In ERS, students explore how our world is not only geographically linked, but is systematically connected: meaning an impact in one area – positive or negative – will be felt in another. While the problems facing the Earth are intertwined, so too are the solutions. Equipped with this knowledge, it’s not uncommon for students to possess the desire to take action, but not the knowledge on how to get started.

The answer? Community involvement.

Joining forces with likeminded, motivated individuals in volunteer roles allowed Ashoke to see how together, our actions create global impact. “Volunteering and being involved in community initiatives isn’t just something for your resume,” he says. “It helps you grow as a person by building character, developing new skills and embrace new challenges.”

Ashoke was a member of the University of Waterloo’s volunteer student delegation for COP24, the Conference of Parties for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, through the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change. While at COP24, Ashoke explored his interests in clean energy, economics, and systems designs. COP24 also challenged his perspective on climate change, exposing him to new ideologies, experiences, and solutions.

Ashoke also lends his time to the United Nations Association in Toronto. As a Sustainable Building Consultant, he researches the sustainable building industry in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Collaborating with local city councillors and industry professionals, Ashoke’s work informs these stakeholders about international strategies that have the potential to work in the city.

"I believe that every day you should aim to do something that brings you one step closer to be in a position to succeed, and that starts with working from the ground up. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty and make sacrifices if you want to see long term success."

Audio advocacy

Through the work he’s done in both his program and volunteer roles, Ashoke realized that there was a disconnect between the research he was reading and how that information was being shared with the public.  He saw the need for a translator: a resource where people could learn about environmental issues, free of academic jargon and political filters.

To fill this gap, Ashoke created a podcast and blog called I Speak 4 the Trees, where he shares in-depth conversations with friends and colleagues with listeners, exploring the ways they’ve taken steps toward living more sustainable lives. Through this platform, Ashoke hopes that people who aren’t necessarily environmentalists will begin to see their role in the fight to protect our planet. 

Ashoke, sitting in studio, interviewing a guest for his podcast

"In order to relate to people and really get them to connect, you have to find a way to appeal to all audiences. It’s about making environmental issues and solutions more accessible so that everyone can get involved. You don’t have to be a tree hugging hippie to save the planet: it’s the job of everyone, not just one person."

Creating a splash

For anyone searching for ways to make a difference, Ashoke’s advice is to simply “just do it.” The environmental movement is growing – and fast. There are plenty of opportunities for all of us to start making waves.

"The first rule of ecology is that everything is interconnected and that’s something that has been the core foundation of the way I’ve approach my undergraduate studies. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities that either fit your current skillset or will help you learn a new one. I know it can be hard to try new things in new environments, but you have to be willing to take that next step and put yourself out there."

To learn more about Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, and how you can take action through your studies, visit our admissions website.

Story by Sierra Aston