Life: Fighting for the environment

In Grade 11 a young Farrah Cooper was introduced to the work of award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki.

"I knew that very moment," she says in a phone interview from her home in Markham, "that there were bigger problems in the world than yourself and that I wanted to do something about it."

Up until 15 years ago, becoming an environmental engineer was what the class nerd would study, or at least that was the perception. In an attempt to marry her passion with a dose of reality, Cooper decided to arm herself with an engineering degree and take it from there.

"With subjects like math and science under my belt I saw more options," she explains. "Besides, when I graduated from my high school the syllabus was different. We had the Ontario Academic Credit (OAC), which meant that we stayed in school an extra year as opposed to what it is today. We did not have subjects then that focused solely on environment studies. So I had to make the most of what was offered."

Cooper completed a degree in Engineering and Management from McMaster University in Hamilton, a unique five-year program that combines the technical training of the engineer with a business education for management.

"Even though I studied chemical engineering I did not want to work in a plastic company or oil company. My passion was to work to protect the environment as well as keep my feet rooted to the ground."

Upon graduating, Cooper went onto work at Senes — an environmental consultancy specializing in nuclear energy and environmental sciences. It was there that she realized how important it is to balance the present need for people to have jobs with the future needs of protecting the environment.

"This trade-off is a delicate balance," says Cooper, a mother of a recently born baby girl. "For example, we do need solar panels to harvest the sun's energy, we do need to garner wind energy, we do need to move away from using fossil fuels like coal and oil. But we also need to create jobs."

"So though I am not at the forefront of creating any of these jobs, I am trying to reduce the harm that is caused by, say, burning fossil fuel. We are a long way from harnessing wind energy. It is our plan for the future, but my job is to reduce the harm our current practices are causing."

Cooper's job is to:

  • Advise government on setting workable guidelines

  • Help companies implement these governmental guidelines

  • Make sure companies and households across Ontario meet the benchmarks set out by the government

  • Get approval from the government for projects that meet environmental specifications, among other.

A lot has changed since Cooper graduated. Heavyweights like Al Gore are now at the forefront of creating awareness about protecting the earth.

But for Cooper the reality check lies in the fact that during the global economic crisis of 2008, every single industry took a severe beating. But the environment industry was not hit as badly. "At least we are not out of work. Positive changes to our air, water and land will require a herculean [superhuman] effort spread over several generations, but I know we will get there."

Teenaz Javat Teenaz Javat is a journalist living in Mississauga, Ontario. She works for the CBC and freelances for newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad.