Biology, Environmental Education, Science Education

Educating Ourselves in the Life of the Land – An SFU Biologist’s Journey

September 15, 2020

By Dr. Mark Fettes

In environmental education, teachers constantly confront the tension between the local and the global. In today's interconnected world, no one can pretend that what happens an ocean or a continent away has no impact on the place where one lives. And yet it is of vital importance to get to know that place intimately, to build relationships with its waters and soils and plants and animals and birds - otherwise “environment” remains an abstract term with little personal meaning.

SFU biologist Lynne Quarmby’s new book “Watermelon Snow” dwells in this tension. The central narrative unfolds on a schooner in the high Arctic, where Quarmby is studying the algae, normally green, that produce red pigments in response to global warming as a kind of sunscreen. Others on the ship, artists of various kinds, respond in their own way to the beauty and fragility of the northern landscape. But Quarmby is also recovering from the harrowing experience of her fight against pipeline expansion here on Burnaby Mountain — an expansion that threatens to bring many more oil tankers through the Salish Sea, the place she considers home.

I first got to know Lynne at SFU because of our common interest in science education. More recently, we have discovered a shared connection with Gabriola Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands, where I have been building a community-based project in land-based learning for reconciliation over the last few years. Her book, I think, is her response to essentially the same educational challenge: how to educate ourselves and our children to live here, on unceded Indigenous lands, in ways that honour and protect the life of the land - and thereby ourselves.

Dr. Mark Fettes is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University and Scientific Director of the Centre for Imagination in Research, Culture and Education. He trained as a biochemist before becoming an educator. He has been involved in community-based research in various parts of British Columbia for almost two decades, with a particular focus on Aboriginal, environmental, imaginative and place-based education.

Dr. Lynne Quarmby is a Professor in the Faculty of Science, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. She is an activist and was a candidate for the Green Party of Canada. She authored Watermelon Snow, Science, Art, and a Lone Polar Bear to bring to light the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.