Cassandra Elphinstone is as off-the-grid as a youth gets these days.
She doesn’t have a cellphone or iPod and while her family has a computer at home, she doesn’t spend much time on it.
The Grade 12 Dover Bay Secondary School graduate doesn’t watch any television, either.
“I don’t know where people find time to do that,” said Elphinstone.
Instead, she spends as much time as possible outdoors – hiking, climbing or on environmental projects.
Through her school’s environmental club, she worked on everything from stream restoration work to tree thinning. Her efforts helped her school win a national contest sponsored by Staples, an honour that came with $50,000 for a new computer lab.
Last summer, Elphinstone went on a month-long journey around the Arctic with the Students On Ice program, which provides students, scientists and educators from around the world with educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. The program is intended to foster a better understanding of the natural world and the challenges it faces.
“There were biologists [on the trip] who had put the blue whale on the endangered species list,” said Elphinstone.
Visiting Inuit villages brought home for her how much human activity is changing the world – she talked with one girl whose friend had fallen through the ice and died while hunting at a time of year when it was historically frozen solid.
On the trip, Elphinstone founded the GAIA (Green Association for International Activism) network to unite school-based environmental clubs and empower youth around the world to act and speak out to create a sustainable planet.
“One of the things that shocked me was how easy it was to do,” she said. “Everyone had connections and those connections would talk to their connections.”
Elphinstone organized an Environmental Day of Gathering – one of several around the world – in Diana Krall Plaza last March to raise awareness about environmental issues, sustainable living and poverty in third world countries.
She authored a section of the recommendation paper written by the Students On Ice Alumni Delegation for the United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit, which took place in June.
When Elphinstone was not working on environmental issues, she was out enjoying nature, competing with the school’s track and field club, tutoring, and participating in math and science competitions.
She enters the integrated science program at the University of British Columbia next fall with the help of a national Schulich Leader scholarship worth $60,000.
After university, she wants a career that involves helping to protect the natural environment she loves so much.
“I’m interested in studying grizzly bears and protecting their habitat,” said Elphinstone.