We harm the environment at our peril, Bondar says

Roberta Bondar speaks at the Enbridge Famous 5 speaker series. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

With the wisdom of four degrees and a trip into space behind her, Dr. Roberta Bondar was on stage in Sarnia recently urging high school students to get informed, respect one another and save the planet.

The next generation’s choices need to be educated ones if we’re to save our natural resources and ourselves, said Bondar who was keynote speaker at an Enbridge Famous 5 event at the Holiday Inn.

“I’m concerned about the finite resources we have on the planet,” said Canada’s first female astronaut. “We need to think about how to minimize the impact on other life forms in the way we live from minute to minute.”

Bondar was on the space shuttle Discovery mission in 1992 and realized a dream she’d had since growing up in Sault Ste. Marie. After the space flight, she headed an international space medicine research team at NASA for 10 years and later co-founded The Roberta Bondar Foundation to engage Canadians with the environment.

She is a respected advisor to industry and government and continues to accept speaking engagements all over the country. Whenever she talks in public, she requests the presence of high school students.

In Sarnia, 162 secondary students representing every local high school listened to Bondar whose relaxed speech was full of good humour and jokes. In total, about 400 were in attendance.

“We have to make sure we don’t do things that are ill-informed,” she stressed. “Vote for whoever you want to vote for, but make sure you understand their policies on the environment because it’s going to come back and bite you in the long run.”

Students today can look forward to having much more access to information than the last generation to make sound judgments and develop policy, Bondar added.

When asked if she was ever afraid as she hurtled through space, she said yes.

“Fear is not a bad thing.  It makes you stop and think, but you have to be able to control it and you do so by being well informed and professional,” she said.

“Something would have to be really wrong with your head” if you’re not afraid when sitting in a spacecraft travelling eight kilometres a second, added Dr. Bondar, who is also the world’s first neurologist in space.

“What you have to do is come to grips with it. I try to look at the pros and cons.”

She acknowledged there is risk in everything we do, even mundane activities like driving down a highway.

Risk and fear can be minimized with good training and by knowing the science, she said.

“That’s why I plead with everybody in this room to learn one scientific thing a month. It provides some answers.”

Bondar, who is an Officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of 25 honourary doctorate degrees, is also an accomplished photographer. Her experience in space left her with a unique appreciation of Earth and the environment, she explained.  Her hope is to inspire respect and admiration for the planet through landscape photography, especially of Canada’s national parks.

“Passion for the environment isn’t enough,” she said.  “You have to have a strategy, a plan and people.

“For me, the plan is to get out and show more of this country and encourage people to take thoughtful images of the natural environment we need so much.”

The Enbridge Famous 5 speaker series pays homage to five Albertan women, all activists in the mid 19th century who championed the rights and welfare of women and children.

Each year, the series features inspirational and extraordinary women.  Next up is filmmaker Patricia Rozema who will speak Sept. 29.