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Waterloo Quality

Biosphere reserves: Earth to Waterloo

The Niagara Escarpment is one of 15 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada. Photo: Simon Wilson

“The only serious possibility for a future for our children is to figure out ways to have jobs and the environment at the same time. Biosphere reserves are doing that in practice.”

George Francis doesn’t have enough fingers to count how many of Canada’s 15 biosphere reserves he’s explored and analyzed over the years. But he knows how many more there are to go.

“I’ve visited all but one,” says the retired environment and resource studies (ERS) professor, who still keeps an office on campus. “I have a good sense of what they look like on the ground.”

And for good reason. Francis has been deeply involved in studying biosphere reserves and furthering the cause since the late 1960s and early 1970s while working with the United Nations. He’s been the chair of an international committee and more recently helped build and launch the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association.

Biosphere reserves are special areas of land, or even coastal waters, that have found a way to combine environmental protection and sustainable jobs. They’re not national parks, or environmental museums, as many people assume.

“There’s no way you can have part of the world kept natural and another part exploited to the hilt. So the only serious possibility for a future for our children is to figure out ways to have jobs and the environment at the same time. Biosphere reserves are doing that in practice,” says Robert Gibson, the ERS department’s principal investigator for its Biosphere Sustainability Project.

Today, Waterloo professors and students are researching how these links work at Ontario’s reserves. Meanwhile, Francis will continue to visit and review Canada’s iconic landscapes from Alberta’s mountainous Waterton to B.C.’s craggy Clayoquot Sound for UNESCO.

“People are learning how to live better in their own place,” he says. “That’s important.”

> Waterloo Biosphere Sustainability Project
 

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