The E4A Community Comes to Life: 4 “Holy S#*t” Moments (by Geoff Garver)

I had the privilege of being part of the creation of E4A from its early stages.  In 2012, our proposal to Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) didn’t make it past the first stage.  So, we submitted another “letter of intent” in 2013.  Four “Holy S#*t” moments tell the story after that.


“Holy S#*t” moment #1.  In June 2013, SSHRC invited us to submit a full proposal!  In (gulp) 3 months.  And, they said, make it real – show us that you have a real partnership, not a lead partner or two with other partners slapped on at the end.  Fortunately, the core team at McGill, University of Vermont and York was solid and already had a track record of engagement, and of course we had let other potential partners know about the proposal.  But the next 3 months were a grueling effort to build a solid, genuine partnership proposal, with committed institutional partners and individual collaborators, and a compelling vision and plan with clear and achievable goals.  And a detailed budget, with at least a 50% match from our partners for the $2.5 million we were seeking.  And something called a Multi-Directional Knowledge Mobilization Plan (take your time, say it slowly, and you can probably get it – we eventually did and it’s a pretty great thing!).  So, we put our ideas on paper, pushed and pulled among our growing team of engaged players (yes, there were some key knots to unravel) and we finally had a full proposal.  Words on paper.  A community envisioned and planned for but – who knows?  Not long before the deadline (minutes, not hours), we pressed send.  I’m pretty sure the amazing Alejandra Zaga Mendez and I went out for a beer or 2 after that.  And then we waited.


“Holy S#*t” moment #2.  Stephen Harper was Prime Minister of Canada.  Our SSRHC proposal was built around ecological economics – a pariah in much of the world of economics, and not exactly in tune with the Harper government’s view of the human-Earth relationship.  Honestly, I didn’t think we had a chance in hell.  But, we had started some recruitment efforts just in case.  The second “Holy S#*t” moment when we found out in April 2014 that SSHRC granted ALL of the funds we requested had two faces:  unfettered jubilation plus sheer terror about the challenge ahead!  In that moment, the elusive challenge of building a strong community that synergized all of the elements we had put down on paper became joltingly real.  We had the first E4A annual partnership meeting in June 2014 – mostly E4A partners, but also a few of the first E4A students in the water cohort.  Summer 2014 was about setting the stage for 2014-15: coordinating remote-linked E4A courses, rounding out recruitment of the Water cohort and planning for an initial retreat with them, starting the search for Community Scholars, etc.  Busy, exciting!


“Holy S#*t” moment #3.  You build a Field of Dreams.  You plan a party and wonder if people will show up and enjoy themselves.  You fear failure and hope for the best.  In early September 2014, the E4A Water Cohort of 11 students met together for the first time at Peter Brown’s Blackwood Farm in Franklin, Quebec.  As someone who had put words on paper not knowing whether or how the E4A community could come together, it’s hard to describe the magic about that weekend.  One really cool and immediate outcome was that a couple of weeks later, Jen Gobby from McGill, Alvi Palazuelos from York and Phoebe Spencer from UVM were together at the People’s Climate March in New York wearing E4A t-shirts (thanks Alvi!) – a community taking sprout!  So many E4A activities have built on those first occasions to bring the E4A garden to life – E4A retreats, E4A courses and meetings, student internships, Community Scholars with names and life experiences and knowledge, in-person and web-linked workshops and conferences.  E4A Project Manager Dina Spigelski has done wonders to make all that happen. One example of the expansion of the E4A community: after taking a leave from E4A and pretty much everything else to finish my PhD at McGill before time ran out (uh-huh, some of us are like that), in late 2016 I got re-engaged as coordinator of E4A research on law and governance (oh…yes, I got my PhD).   That’s been wonderful – especially working with amazing people from both E4A and the newly established Ecological Law and Governance Association (ELGA).  I’m pleased to be a member of the ELGA steering committee.  My engagement with E4A and ELGA reached a high point when a joint E4A/ELGA workshop on moving from environmental to ecological took place October 17-18 at the McGill Faculty of Law.

2014 People’s Climate March, New York



“Holy S#*t” moment #4. The 2017 E4A annual partnership meeting took place at McGill on October 19.  E4A partners were there, in person and by video, and the importance of E4A’s role in highlighting their work and connecting with the full E4A community was clear.  But, what wowed me were the shining stars of E4A, its students – now over 40 in number and growing!  They are the heart and soul of E4A and its vision for a better future.  I cherished reconnecting with the E4A superstars I have gotten to know and was inspired by meeting E4A students I had not met.

The E4A community is alive and well, and I hope it continues to grow and pave pathways of hope toward a better future.


2017 E4A Partnership Meeting, Montreal


Geoff Garver is an adjunct professor in interdisicplinary studies on environment and sustainability at McGill University and Concordia University. He also coordinates law and governance research for the Economics for the Anthropocene Partnership (e4a-net.org). He completed his PhD in 2016, with his thesis, Law for the Anthropocene: An adaptive eco-bounded legal system for a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship. He has a B.S. (chemical engineering) from Cornell University (1982), a J.D. cum laude from Michigan Law School (1987), and an LL.M. from McGill University (2011). From 2000–2007, he was Director of Submissions on Enforcement Matters at the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. District Judge Conrad Cyr. Geoff co-authored Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy (2009), and has several published articles and book chapters. He was raised in a Quaker family in the countryside south of Buffalo, New York.

Leave a Reply