In honour of Earth Day this Saturday, we've highlighted a few local movers and shakers who are saving the world one small step at a time. What's the connection? Meditation and mindfulness leaves us more present and aware of our day to day experience. A big part of this is becoming more aware of our impact on the world around us as well.
There are many ways to live mindfully and live sustainably and today, Victor shares his journey with Urban Planning
1. Tell us about yourself.
I’m a 20-something from Vancouver who obsessively organizes everything in his life. You can usually find me on my bicycle, doing yoga on the weekdays, or tasting all the various local IPA craft beers in the city. At the moment, I’m investing some time in myself and travelling the world. I recently came back from a four-month trip across Europe, and I’m about to leave for eight months to Asia and Australia.
2. Tell us about the work that you do.
I’m an urban planner and I work with communities to plan and design their neighbourhoods and cities to make them more sustainable and better places to live, work, and play. My work focuses on what communities can do to reduce their ecological footprint and address the impacts of climate change, such as promoting more sustainable modes of transportation so that walking, cycling, and transit are the preferred way to get around.
Currently, I am a researcher in the Health & Community Design Lab at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. We work with governments, transportation agencies, and public health authorities to help them better incorporate aspects of health in their planning and infrastructure investments in order to improve people’s health and wellbeing, and the environment. For example, I recently completed a study evaluating the environmental benefits of Vancouver’s bicycle infrastructure using a case study of the Comox-Helmcken Greenway in the West End neighbourhood. We tracked a group of people for three years and found that those living near the greenway drove less and biked more after the greenway’s construction, which resulted in a significant reduction of harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
3. How do you think Mindfulness plays a role in the work that you do?
When you’re trying to save the planet, it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation. “How can I make a difference as a single person?”
When I was working in the Philippines, my team and I attended a meeting with local officials in a small district vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Extreme rain storm events were already overwhelming their local infrastructure. After a major rain event, many residents would be unable to get to work due to flooded and inaccessible roads, affecting their livelihoods. One of the officials pleaded that we convince the Canadian government to send money to help their community. I politely nodded, but in my head I knew I was really in no position to do something like that.
And when looking at our neighbours down south, it’s incredibly disheartening to see the current administration’s efforts to dismantle the important Obama-era climate and energy policies. There are plans to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, with several programs and a significant portion of the agency’s budget to be on the chopping block. Moreover, there continues to be a discrepancy between basic reality and understanding on climate change, with a significant portion of the public rejecting the mainstream consensus that climate change is real and a result of human activities.
For those working in this field, it’s no surprise then that feelings of powerlessness, frustration, cynicism, and anger can be commonplace. There is a small area of research that looks at the mental health of those working on environmental issues. Environmental work can contribute to emotional distress, and for those who aren’t aware of their mental state, they may unconsciously process it publicly, negatively affecting themselves and their colleagues. We can’t afford to let ourselves to become paralyzed in the face of one of the biggest human rights challenges of our time. How can we better support ourselves in this line of work?
For me, being mindful is about taking care of myself, so that I can take care of the environment.
When our brains are off balance and aimless, we do ourselves and our planet a disservice. You want to do as much as you can to help make the world a better place, but there are real personal and professional limits to what you can do. Only when we’re fully present and mindful can we continue to do work that we’re passionate about, and help contribute to creating a more sustainable and just society. A movement has to be sustained in order to realize the change we want, so the first step is to sustain yourself.
4. Earth is great, but if you had to live on another planet – which one would you pick?
Saturn. Weekend camping trips to the planet’s 62 moons and views of the rings sound wonderful.
 Nijhuis, Michelle. (2011). “Do environmentalists need shrinks?” Grist. Retrieved from: http://grist.org/living/2011-06-22-do-environmentalists-need-shrinks/