Daring & Dedicated: Meet the Scientists and Organizers Who Are Rewriting the Rules

Article excerpt

The Fire Fighter

JESSICA ERNST spent a quarter-century as an environmental consultant to Canada's oil and gas industry before she became its sworn enemy. What literally sparked her outrage was the flammable tap water from the aquifer below her property in Rosebud, Alberta, which Ernst blames on methane contamination from Encana's "risky and experimental drilling program," aka hydraulic fracturing.

In 2007, Ernst filed a $33-million lawsuit against the Alberta government and energy giant Encana, alleging that regulators "failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes they had established and publicized," thereby threatening the health of people, property, livestock and their shared water supplies. In October 2013, Alberta's chief justice finally green-lit the case for trial, but absolved the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) because the province had previously granted its regulator statutory immunity.

Ernst told The Tyee why she has no choice but to appeal: "Chief Justice Wittmann ruled that the ERCB has a duty to protect the public, but not me. I am the public; we all are. Without water to bathe in, the public's well-being declines--as mine has for years. Without water to drink, the public dies, so do all individuals--including Justice Wittmann and his loved ones. There is no frack worth that."

To back up her claims, Ernst also released a report in June 2013 that compiles 10 years' worth of scientific facts and findings about the dire impacts of fracking on groundwater.

ernstversusencana.ca

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The Activator

A WANNABE ASTRONOMER turned intrepid anthropologist turned proactive suburban theorist, Jill Grant wasn't sure of the mark she wanted to make on the planet until she got all the way to Papua New Guinea. There she saw people who "needed clean water, access to health care, control over their resources" and strategies to tackle a host of development issues. "I thought it was better to have the skills to help people cope with the challenges they were facing, rather than just study their cultural practices."

So Grant returned to Canada, completed a second masters' degree and spent the next two decades teaching environmental planning at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). In 2001, she helped launch Dalhousie's Community Design program--the first of its kind in Canada--when NSCAD joined with Dal's Urban and Rural Planning department. She continues to interpret suburbia and the complexities that bind public and private spaces via the university's Planning Theory and Practice website, and in 2008 she was recognized by the Canadian Institute of Planning for her work to bridge the discrepancies between theory and practice.

Most importantly, Grant still teaches students the opposite of passive observation.

theoryandpractice.planning.dal.ca

The City Streamliner

WHEN SADHU JOHNSTON was hired as Vancouver's Deputy City Manager in 2009, he praised the city's livability and sustainability credentials and said he felt "like the city is poised to really push this agenda. I want to be part of that." It was quite a compliment from a man wrapping up six years as Chicago's first-ever Chief Environmental Officer, during which he'd deployed a world-class municipal climate change plan.

As a Vancouverite, the 39-year-old dual citizen has become a next-level champion of practical strategic adaptation. He's guided impressive puzzle pieces into place, including a successful organic waste diversion program, one of the continent's most ambitious building codes and the 2020 Greenest City Action Plan--Vancouver's blueprint for becoming the planet's urban sustainability benchmark.

Yet Johnston's deepest influence comes through his efforts to share the expertise of leading urban planners with those playing catch-up. …