KINGSTON – An Odessa student has won a national competition by injecting a little humour into an otherwise serious subject.
Nat Arney, a Grade 11 student at Ernestown Secondary School, was a winner in the video category of an annual online environmental journalism contest to pick Canada’s Next Green Journalist.
It is a national competition, sponsored by an environmental action organization called Environmental Defence Canada, that invites students in three age categories to submit essays, photos or videos on environmental issues. This year’s contest keyed on litter and waste management.
While other entries were of a more serious tone, Arney chose to have some fun with the topic.
“I always do that,” said the 16-year-old. “I like doing funny videos like that. It’s a serious topic, but I made it funny at the same time.”
He had shown his finished video to his friends. They had liked it and thought it was funny, but Arney didn’t expect to hear anything more from the contest organizers after he turned over his work to his teacher for an online submission.
Then, about a week ago, his teacher told him he had won.
“I was just super excited. I didn’t think I was going to win or come anywhere close,” he said.
It was a complete family production done in a single weekend just after Christmas. His mother, Darlene, did part of the voice-over as did his brother, Dawson, who also had a starring role. Even their dog, Cooper, had a cameo.
The video was a tongue-in-cheek promotion of the fictional “Garbage B Gone”, a tool that supposedly attracted cast-aside litter to the nearest garbage container.
In the video, litter magically jumped from the ground into the container, thanks to a little sleight of hand.
“It had a string attached to the pieces of garbage and I pulled them out of the garbage,” explained Arney.
Running the tape backwards in the final cut made it appear the garbage jumped by itself into the containers.
It is not until the final scene that the viewer is told the video is not to be taken seriously, but a commitment to protecting the environment should be.
Jen Mayville, with Environmental Defence, said about 100 submissions came in from across Canada for the contest.
She was part of the judging and was impressed with Arney’s “outside the box” thinking on his video.
“We thought it was really clever and funny,” she said. “It got the message across.”
She also noted the quality production values of the work.
Arney’s winning video has now been entered in an international Young Reporters for the Environment contest, an annual competition that gets hundreds of submissions from around the world. The winner gets an all-expenses-paid trip to report on an environmental education mission.
Arney said his interest in the environment was piqued when he signed up for teacher Kevin Firth’s Energy Tech focus program last semester. He is also taking English, automotive and math classes.
The Energy Tech course relates to creating energy, and then using it wisely while considering the effects on the environment.
Firth found out about the contest last fall.
“We were doing part of our environmental science program and you are looking for things that are challenging and interesting for the students, and this presented a variety of ways to address an environmental issue,” he explained.
He turned the contest into an assignment for the students.
“It was easy to fit into the curriculum because it directly relates to how we treat the environment.”
He knew Arney would be interested in the video portion of the contest.
“In the past, Nat had shown some of his videos he had done and I could see he had a talent there.”
He liked the finished video so much he even showed it to a staff meeting at the school.
“It just made me laugh,” he said.
He said he was impressed how Arney had used humour to get his message across.
“Often, powerful stories are told where they bring the audience in a story and make them laugh and now (that) you have their attention, here’s the message. And Nat’s story did that very well.”
Only one other person in his class did a video, said Arney. The others did essays or photos.
As well as getting the chance to go on the international environmental trip, Arney also won a waterproof camcorder and his school gets $500 to go towards its environmental initiatives.
Firth thought the money could go towards their composting efforts or help pay for a greenhouse they are renovating, buying soil or new gardening tools.
Arney said he plans to take the Energy Tech course again next year.
“It think it’s cool, some of the things you can do to help out.”
Arney’s video can be seen on the Environmental Defence website at