Sass brings sustainable message to community

First, take little steps. Start composting. Walk more often. Install a dual-flush toilet. Ratchet the air conditioning back a couple of degrees.

That’s how Geography professor Gabor Sass suggests Londoners can start to reduce their carbon footprint, before they stride towards more significant changes.

“I frame it as ‘small steps to sustainability.’ We have huge challenges ahead of us and if we tell people to get rid of their cars and replace their furnace right away, it just isn’t going to happen.”

Sass, an environmental scientist, was named the London Public Libraries inaugural environmentalist-in-residence for a six-week stretch that ends this month.

During that time, he has run five public workshops, answered online questions about environmental sustainability, spoken to school groups and generally been a go-to resource for the community. Workshops have included tips on water conservation, waste reduction, urban agriculture and pollinator habitats. A session on active transportation is planned for May 7.

Sass said it was an honour to be asked to take on the temporary job, which is supported financially by the library and Hueston Family Foundation. He sees his work as part environmental education and part advocacy.

“We want to get people to think. We have an ecological footprint – every species has an ecological footprint – but ours is so much bigger.”

Geography professor Gabor Sass

Debora Van Brenk // Western NewsWestern Geography professor Gabor Sass, who uses rainbarrels to water his extensive gardens as part of his ecological practices, has been named London Public Libraries environmentalist-in-residence for six weeks this spring.

And Sass and his family walk the talk.

They grow native flower species to help pollinators. They grow their own vegetables – rhubarb is fresh from the garden this week – as well as fruit and nut trees like apples, plums, pears, pawpaws, hazelnuts and chestnuts.

The gardens are fed by eight interconnected water barrels that collect rainwater from the eaves.

When his family first moved into their current home and converted the lawn to gardens (the main one is shaped like a bass clef, an homage to their love of music), they embedded infrastructure for a geothermal heating/cooling system around the house and hope to convert from natural gas heating this year. Their water heater is solar-powered.

They walk, cycle or take a bus wherever they need to go – going car-free as a necessity when they couldn’t afford a vehicle is now a choice.

Outside their picket fence, they have created a food forest, where neighbours can glean fresh fruit and vegetables and they have helped motivate others to do the same. He has plans to erect a greenhouse and install a pond.

One small step and then another. “I did it bit by bit. Like nature, it’s always transforming itself.”

Despite advocating people to start with small steps, Sass is convinced incremental change will not be enough to save the planet from our individual and collective excesses.

Governments, industry and individuals all need to make dramatic change to stop or reverse the effects of climate change, he said. “The problem is we’re trying to grow exponentially on a finite planet, and we can’t, and I think that’s the lesson homo sapiens need to learn.

“We are in a time of crisis. I support these declarations of a climate emergency because our home is on fire, our Earth is on fire, literally. So, yes, let’s call it an emergency.”