Royal Roads University professor wins $50,000 Molson Prize

Sustainable community development is a simple concept, if you ask Royal Roads professor Ann Dale.

“You know the Hippocratic Oath, ‘do no harm’? It’s part of that,” she said. “Not maximizing your interventions in the environment, but optimizing them.”

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On a more academic level, she described it as a three-pronged approach that integrates ecological, social and economic imperatives.

Dale will receive the $50,000 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize for the Social Sciences for her work on the subject at a ceremony Wednesday, during UVic’s Congress 2013. Also receiving the prize this year is Ojibway author Richard Wagamese, for his work in the arts.

Environmentalism was a natural fit for Dale, who described herself as a tomboy, growing up, who loved the outdoors.

She began teaching at Royal Roads in 2000, after “falling in love” with the campus, which boasts ocean and mountain views. And although she moved to Ottawa in 2004, the same year she was named Royal Roads’ first Canada Research Chair, she continues to teach virtually.

Both online tools and the arts are ways to build community, Dale said.

And she has blended the two together, through her blogs, website, as well as HEADTalks, a YouTube channel that communicates current research through a mix of expert interviews and animation.

“I’m really honoured to have an award from the Canada Council for the Arts, because I’ve tried really hard to integrate arts into my research,” she said.

Through artistic elements, she hopes to emphasize beauty over the doom-and-gloom discourse surrounding environmental issues.

The selection committee described Dale as “one of Canada’s foremost academics in sustainable community development, an activist within the environmental movement and an innovator in environmental education and civic engagement.”

Dale said she plans to use the prize money to work on a follow-up to her 2001 book, At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century.

Since she wrote the book, challenges continue within the movement pushing for sustainable community development.

“We’re addicted to fossil fuels, so we’ve got to end that addiction or it’s going to end us,” she said.

“Are there alternatives? Yes. Are there solutions? They’re all over the place, you just have to go on TED Talks or YouTube to see all the innovation happening.”

Policy changes will require politicians and staff to work together at all levels of government, she said.

“We’ve got to scale up those innovations and speed the knowledge faster between communities, on how to do it.”

Part of the challenge is in changing the way we define progress, she said. Such economic indicators as gross domestic product are not effective measures.

“Divorce is good for GDP: You have two homes, lawyers’ fees. But that’s not measuring what’s really important to Canadians,” she said.

Still, individuals have power to participate in community-building, too.

“First of all, get to know your neighbours, because it’s about connection: connection with one another, connection to the animals we live with and connection to the place we live,” she said.

“If you get to know your place, you’ll understand it. If you understand it, you’ll love it. And if you love it, you’ll protect it.”

Her second piece of advice? Start with small steps. Instead of driving to work, walk. Instead of a grass lawn, plant wildflowers. And follow the model of her doctoral supervisor at McGill University, who would pick up litter as he walked through campus.

“I used to think, ‘Oh what’s he doing that for?’ Now I pick up the litter on my campus, because that’s what counts. It’s not just about your private property, it’s about the commons.”

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