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DOWN TO EARTH: Shades of uncertainty

Head online to find easy do-it-yourself instructions to your own reusable masks and ear savers

Jenny Howell

Special to the Observer

I’ve been thinking about nuance a lot recently. Recently the plan for a September reopening of schools was announced, and the concept of cohorts and learning groups.

This is now getting more complicated than staying home, washing hands and keeping distances. I then read many angry online comments after the announcement and it reinforced how humans want things black and white; they don’t like the fuzziness of guidelines and suggestions and many variable situations, perhaps changing as we go along.

I have watched as Bonnie Henry tries to explain the nuance of the mask issue; yes, they can be very effective if worn correctly, not for too long, in certain ‘close contact’ situations and as an adjunct to other COVID protection measures. Then I watch in the grocery store as people pull at the front of their masks and next touch a tin on the shelf or pull masks down from their noses to talk to friends, standing well under two metres apart and I get why there is a reluctance to insist on us all wearing masks all the time as an easy answer.

READ MORE: Do I have to still save water with all this rain?

By now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with conservation issues. My role is to get people to use less water, which is actually an easy message. ‘Turn off the tap’ is pretty straightforward, relatively black and white and people easily understand that protecting the town aquifer long term is important. Oliver Berger and Mary Forbes work on garbage reduction, and that starts to get a bit more nuanced; i.e. ‘is it garbage if I can recycle it?’ ‘What if three people use it first before it becomes garbage?’ ‘I didn’t put all this plastic packaging on this product I really need…’ To persuade us all it’s a good idea to try and reduce the amount of garbage we make becomes more complicated, and changing behaviours that much more difficult.

Then we get to the related but even more complex issues, such as climate change. By now, I think most of us recognize it is and will become an increasingly significant problem affecting the quality of our own and our kids’ lives.

There is no simple instruction we can all follow that will make everything all right again; this is a long way from ‘turn off the tap’, or ‘wash your hands.’

I hope what the pandemic has given us instead is a respect for experts, leadership and allowing people the room to do what they are trained to do. People with years of training and experience in a field really do know more than the rest of us and have the understanding of the depths and nuances behind the simpler messages that filter down.

B.C. has also done particularly well with a message of co-operation, encouragement and support. We have invested public money and resources to have highly knowledgeable people in every field for the benefit of us all; maybe one good thing to come out of this pandemic is a renewed trust and appreciation of expertise, cooperation and education as we face the multiple challenges of climate change.

Conservation tip: Head online to find easy do-it-yourself instructions to your own reusable masks and ear savers!

For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at or visit the website at

Jenny Howell is a Water Wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.

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