Hometown: Victoria, British Columbia
Major: Combined Honours in Environment, Sustainability & Society and International Development Studies with a minor in Spanish
For Caroline Merner, activism that surrounds sustainability and climate justice is fundamental to her life.
“I think that everyone should have the right to a healthy planet and a healthy environment,” she says. “I think that we can do that by working together. As an environmentalist, I think everyone should have these values too.”
Merner works as co-director at the Dalhousie Student Union Sustainability Office, an umbrella organization for sustainability initiatives on campus such as The Loaded Ladle, the Dal Urban Garden, and the DSU Market. She works with sustainability societies, planning events and funding opportunities for students with innovative ideas on campus.
Her passion for the environment blossomed in high school, when she started a community garden and a recycling program.
“That really gave me a sense of belonging,” she says. “I feel like that was early beginnings for me, and I really love being involved in environmental initiatives and any conservation program.”
Merner has done environmental work both locally and globally, motivated by the like-minded people she works alongside who share her passion and energy for climate justice.
“I just started as a volunteer at the DSU Market,” she says. “I always tell people it’s never too late to get involved, even if it’s just once a week helping unpack some boxes of vegetables. They’re always looking for volunteers.”
Merner is helping coordinate a May 2017 cross-country bicycling trip. While the annual cycling trip usually extends from Victoria, BC to Quebec City, next year marks the 150th anniversary of Canada and will extend all the way to the Maritimes.
“I went as a high school student my first time, and then I was a peer mentor the second time, and now I’m helping recruit students—and when spring rolls around, we’ll be training them too.”
While the mission of the trip is to promote active living, Merner’s personal mission is to promote biking as a sustainable means of transportation.
“I wasn’t a biker at all before I got involved,” she says. “That’s often how things happen: you just get interested, connected to the right people and you push yourself. It’s all mental. I’m excited for new students to have that same opportunity.”
Merner is a member of the Youth Advisory Group of the Canadian Commission for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Through this experience she was able to go to the UN headquarters in New York with the first group of youth working on the sustainable development goals.
“The one that personally interests me the most is sustainable development goal 13, which is climate action,” she says. “I was really excited to be surrounded by people from 120 different countries, who could come together from such different experiences but have a passion for the same goals.”
Through this role, and while studying abroad in Peru last year, Merner was also able to attend the fourth World Congress on Biosphere Reserves.
“In Canada, we have a lot of concerns about pipelines,” she says. “But in Peru, there are concerns about the ethics of mining, forestry, and the Amazon. They’re having to deal with these issues right in their backyard.”
In September, Merner travelled to Hawaii as a Youth Ambassador for the Canadian Committee for the International Conservation of Nature (CCIUCN) at the World Conservation Congress.
When working towards climate and environmental justice, Merner puts an emphasis on not overextending yourself, and having a balance.
“In environmentalism, you can get burnt out if you’re too concerned or too involved. It can be overwhelming sometimes. You definitely need to take breaks, take little retreats.”
She is passionate about involving others who are care about the environment and want to find their way, calling it ‘rewarding’ when she can share her passion with someone else who understands.
“It’s not all doom and gloom about climate change,” she explains. “When you’re studying sustainability, you’re actually learning about a lot of positive initiatives that are happening, and new innovative technologies that are solution based. It feels very tangible to be doing good work.”