This year's A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium had a keynote speaker who was out of this world — literally.
On the final day of the symposium, former astronaut and Canada's first space station commander Chris Hadfield told a packed gathering of conservationists that seeing and photographing Earth as the space shuttle in which he travelled circled the globe at 25 times the speed of sound, gave him a special perspective on our world.
"I had to argue to get windows [in the space station]," he said. Through those windows he took thousands of photographs that he shared with millions back on Earth via Facebook and Twitter.
"You can see water like I've never seen it before," he said, calling the beauty "surreal."
The Great Lakes look like a puddle, Hadfield said, although they hold 20% of the world's fresh water.
"If you have five cups of water from around the world, one of those cups is from the Great Lakes," he said, adding, "we are trying to understand the difference in water levels [in the Great Lakes], and it is complex."
He cautioned about ignoring the changes in water levels, pointing to the Aral Sea in Russia as the worst example in the world. Once the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea is almost dry as a result of deliberate policies to direct the water to irrigation, shown in photos Hadfield shot while in space and brought to illustrate his talk. (Here's a link to Hadfield's Aral Sea photos: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=703468786337528&set=a.157475407603538.32702.151680104849735&type=1&theater)
Hadfield said part of his personal mission is to raise peoples' awareness of the environment and to convince them that conservation and stewardship are essential.
It means changing the perceptions and behaviour of a lot of people, but that can be achieved, he said, pointing to the fact that education and awareness have both made it socially unacceptable to litter and created a demand for airbags in vehicles.
No government, with its short horizons, is going to be able to achieve this, he said. It's up to organizations such as the A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium to help people become better caretakers in conserving the environment.
"Climate change is normal," he said, but we need to focus on whether a changed environment is going to be sustainable for people.
A.D. Latornell Conservation Symposium is an annual environmental event held at the Nottawasaga Inn, just east of Alliston. The symposium provides a forum for practitioners, policy makers, non-government organizations, academics and businesses to network and discuss the challenges and opportunities in Ontario’s conservation field.
Photo shows Chris Hadfield speaking Nov. 22, 2013, in front of screen showing photo taken in space.