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“Climate Change is NOT a hoax” (B. Obama) blog #4: David Miller lectures to students in Climate Change Science & Policy (ENVS 3400)

While it's possible for university students to spend all of their time outside of scheduled classes, so as to be learning even more (perish the thought!), by attending additional guest research seminars and lectures, most students don't take advantage of opportunities to hear well-known speakers who come to campus.

Realizing this, Annette Dubreuil, the IRIS co-ordinator, spearheaded an effort to bring invited speakers, who will be of interest to the broader community, into the classroom, and to open up these lectures as IRIS events. Last Thursday, former mayor of Toronto, David Miller spoke to students in Dr. Kaz Higuchi's course, Climate Change Science and Policy (ENVS 3400).

Originally, Kaz had discussed convening a panel to debate opposing views on climate change, but David categorically dismissed this option; as he put it - the climate skeptics funded by corporate interests don't need another platform.  In case you're wondering, Dr. Higuchi is a climate scientist who recently retired from Environment Canada's Adaptation and Impacts Research Group. He has been teaching in the Faculty of Environmental Studies for several years, and he is very concerned that academics from all disciplines learn how to debate and handle arguments for and against climate change.

David Miller, who has been teaching at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University based in Brooklyn, showcased his oratorical skills in a tour-de-force lecture about how Toronto and other cities are mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

It was a text book lesson in how to explain, very clearly, evidence-based policy that leads to actions which are beneficial for people, the planet and, profits. Citing many statistics and studies, as he laid out the challenges facing cities, David described and explained the steps that Toronto took while he was mayor. He described Change is in the Air, the 2007 Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan, as well as other Toronto city plans, and how they are driving action on combatting climate change.

David also explained some fascinating, green jobs technologies, including one in which heat is extracted from sewage - this also has a high "ick" factor. He challenged the audience of students, faculty and staff to come up with a snappier name for the company and product - International Wastewater Heat Exchange Systems (IWHES)! (Check out the awesome video on their site).

We filled one of the gorgeous new lecture halls in the recently opened Life Sciences Building which is built to LEED silver rating standards, on the Keele Campus. After a 45-minute lecture, students lined up to ask David questions, for 45 minutes, about all kinds of sustainability, climate change and social justice issues. After the talk, I asked Roger Keil, director of York's CITY Institute, who was sitting behind me, why he hadn't asked a question, he quipped "what for? the students did a great job!"

And, after all the questions were finished, David stayed for a bit longer, and chatted informally with students, many of whom were keen to have their photos snapped with him. Enrique Miranda (Student Engagement co-ordinator) and Ramsen Yousif (President) of the Undergraduate Political Science Council executive, a co-sponsor of the event, are shown above left, with the former mayor.

At the end of the day:

Score one for a brilliantly delivered explanation of evidence-based policy.

Score two for articulate speakers who can explain the science and connect the dots for making the social justice case clear, when it comes to climate change.

Score three for former politicians who live on in more ways than in old fridge magnets (that's my super-duper green fridge at right, on which we have a collection of old magnets, including one from when David Miller was our city councillor - back in 1995). One student remarked after the lecture "I just learned more about municipal planning in this lecture than I did all year!"

The lecture will soon be available on the IRIS website, in case you missed it and want to hear what David had to tell the students.

Dawn R. Bazely

COP17 Launches in Durban, Canada wins 1st and 2nd place fossil awards for bad faith

On November 28th, another round of climate negotiations started and so far, the prospects are bleak. Canada, has received international attention for rejecting Kyoto and refusing to sign onto another commitment period. On the first day of the negotiations, Canada earned the First Place Fossil of the Day for failing to support a Second Commitment Period for the Kyoto Protocol, and abandoning its current participation in Kyoto. It also took Second Place Fossil due to Environment Minister Peter Kent's open refusal to make a 'guilt payment' to poorer countries, despite the  role of Canadian tar sands oil in rising greenhouse gas pollution. The United Kingdom received Third Place for helping to move tar sands oil into Europe.

Summer Internships in Sustainability Do Exist!

As an MBA student at the Schulich School of Business at York University interested in sustainability, I started to wonder late this spring what summer internship opportunities are actually available in The City of Toronto? As my friends and colleagues, one by one, received internship offers at financial institutions, consulting firms, consumer packaged goods companies etc. I began to wonder; maybe the summer internship in sustainability was just an urban myth? An experience reserved for the sibling of a friend of a friend…

I can now say, from firsthand experience, that there are opportunities to work in Sustainability. You just need to find them!  Talk to anyone and everyone you know – and even people you don't - and let them know what you are looking for. I was able to secure a 16 week internship with the City of Toronto Environment Office (TEO) supported by a grant from York University and the Knowledge Mobilization Unit.

In addition to blogging on the IRIS website, my primary focus is on Climate Change Adaptation. Adaptation? You ask, as you scratch your head quizzically? What is that? I thought we were focusing on mitigation, you know, reducing our Greenhouse Gas emissions?!?

Well, you are right, we are still focusing on reducing our GHG emissions, but TEO is also recognizing that our climate is changing and we are currently experiencing more extreme weather events (remember all that rain in May or the record breaking heat on June 8th??). There was a great article in the Globe and Mail on Saturday June 4th, 2011 that further explains adaptation and actions currently being undertaken in Toronto

I have been at TEO for just over a month now, so I can say with some credibility, that it is going to shape up to be a pretty exciting summer!  I am working on some really neat projects with regards to Climate Change Adaptation in the Toronto region and with the upcoming Live Green Toronto Festival on July 16th.

In the coming weeks I hope to be able to update you on my projects!

Is there a connection between animal rights and sustainability?

Her Excellency, Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada's participation in a community feast in Nunavut, in which she helped to gut and eat seal, has ignited a storm of protest from animal rights activists.  As it turns out, I have some experience interacting with our local animal rights activists.  The research that I have done on the ecology of deciduous forests in Ontario in the last 20 years has brought me into contact with people with widely differing knowledge about and values relating to animals, including animal rights activists opposed to the reduction of high deer densities in small forest patches. Consequently, I have developed an interest in the questions of, whether and how, animal rights activists perceive their activism to be related to questions of the environment, climate change and the research fields of animal behaviour.

Here's some of what I have learned:

1.  Animal welfare differs from animal rights.  I am a strong advocate for animal welfare.  At Oxford University, where I did my doctorate on Animal Behaviour in the Zoology Department, I was lucky to get to know Prof. Marion Dawkins, an internationally-recognized expert on animal welfare. Most people that I know agree that the basic principle of animal welfare is a good thing.  As a result of my research experience, I hold, what I am sure many people would consider to be a number of radical opinions about pet ownership.  For example, I  generally disagree with the idea of urban dwellers  owning "working" dogs such collies, because, having worked with these dogs, I have seen what they are bred to do: they actually need huge amounts of exercise and they love to "work" - as in sheep herding, etc. - which they don't get much of as city-dogs.  But, I am not a supporter of animal rights - and I don't think dogs should have the same rights as humans!  This is an important point of clarification early on with animal rights activists.

2.  Most animal rights activists with whom I have spoken, are generally unaware of the broader issues surrounding biodiversity, ecology, ecological footprints and sustainability.  I usually encourage them to kick-start their broadened education by reading the international Convention on Biological Diversity.  In the case where animal rights activists do adopt scientific language, and refer to academic research, I have found that they often end up in similar territory to that which I have observed is occupied by representatives of groups such as climate-change deniers whose funding may be somehow linked to the lobbyists for big oil: their use of the primary and secondary literature is highly selective and biased.

3. There are many inconsistencies between the words and actions of animal rights activists.  Apart from the usual questions that I have, such as, why focus on seals and not cockroaches(?), I have observed that many animal rights activists are quick to accuse others of being disrespectful to them, but are, themselves, very comfortable with making extreme public statements attacking other people's values - such as "shooting a deer is barbaric".  I firmly believe that all voices and views must be brought to the table when it comes to considering sustainability, but, this does not absolve those voices from being held accountable for rude, disruptive and disrespectful behaviour.  Additionally, as an academic, I tend to pay rather less attention to uninformed, idealogically-driven, extreme opinions than to informed, nuanced opinions that take account of grey areas.

Dawn R. Bazely

Canada, a climate change safe haven?

The UK's Independent reports that a British consultancy Maplecroft has scaled the world's nations along a climate change vulnerability index. The Climate Change Risk Report places Canada at the top of its list of Northern countries that will have the greatest ease in weathering the climate crisis, while sub-Saharan Africa will receive yet another mortal blow.

Given this recurring pattern of disparity, Canadians must ask themselves what their high-energy lifestyle (with energy consumption per capita eclipsing the US) will cost the world. This time with their greenhouse gas emissions and huge ecological footprints, Canadians are directly driving a climate catastrophe in the equatorial belt where most of the world's people live while escaping most of its effects.

For the most part, our abundance of land, water, and energy has given us Canadians a level of comfort and complacency unparalleled in the world. The Canadian North has been even more fortunate with a miniscule population sitting on top of vast natural resource reserves. Fortunately, protected area and alternative energy planning are quite advanced in the Northwest Territories, although energy-intensive and resource-based development are threatening to eclipse this progress. In Alberta, the picture is quite different with the province's unseemly and unsustainable rush to develop its tar sands, a ruinous path thankfully challenged by the recent Youth Climate Summit in Edmonton.

Interestingly, the Independent asks in a follow-up article whether Brits should think about moving to Canada. If the future holds even what even the most conservative climate change models predict, we may see a lot more people flocking to Canada as ecological refugees. For a look at this future, see David Brin's 1990 novel, Earth, with the founding of Little Nigeria in the Yukon.

Canadians come second to last in green consumer survey

Check this link to a CBC news item that places us second to last in a fourteen-nation survey of green consumer choices. Conducted by the polling firm GlobeScan for the National Geographic Society, the Greendex confirms Canada's enormous per capita ecological footprint as represented most visibly in our large homes and car culture when compared to countries like Brazil, China, and India.

However, the findings of the survey are somewhat too obvious. We are either the top or second highest consumers of powers in the world, fueled by both our general affluence and our cold climate. A more accurate ranking of Canada's progress can be made by comparing us to Scandinavian countries (although, they are obviously far in advance of our American-influenced high consumption lifestyle).

Still, useful information can be gleaned from the survey of 14,000 individuals that weighs both extent footprints and consumer intent. You can likewise calculate your own score from the survey web site.

Excellent Water Articles in today’s Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Mag

There are 3 excellent articles by Andrew Nikiforuk, John Lorinc, and Eric Reguly, plus a book review of Dry Spring by Chris Wood, in this morning's business mag. They all discuss how demands for water in Canada (and the world) are impacting the environment, business and ordinary people. It's well worth the price of today's newspaper (And, no, I am not being paid by the Globe to promote their paper!). The first, Liquid Asset, by Andrew Nikiforuk, is a great follow-up to the recent doc about the Tar Sands, aired on CBC. If you haven't yet read Vandana Shiva, Maude Barlow and Marq de Villiers, these articles will get you up to speed on the issues, fast.

When we began collaborating with colleagues from the National University of Mongolia, I was really struck by how little water Prof. Sonya Nergui used when she washed her hands in the sink at my house! Water conservation and respect for water is utterly ingrained in her culture. Canadians can learn an awful lot about water conservation from our Mongolian friends and colleagues.