Students worried for interdisciplinary programs

With an academic review underway at the Faculty of Arts and Science, student groups are expecting large spending cuts to interdisciplinary programs at U of T. A previous external review in March 2008 had recommended that the university re-evaluate the role of traditional interdisciplinary programs and take steps to control the growth of new programs. The three-member committee, comprised of faculty from other universities, noted that U of T had added 15 new interdisciplinary programs since 2005 and argued that such expansion was unsustainable.

At a town hall meeting organized by the health studies and equity studies student unions on Tuesday, students saw the review as part of a general trend towards undervaluing interdisciplinary programs at U of T, especially following recent cuts in South Asian Studies.

Attendees discussed how to respond to the review. In attendance were members of academic student unions for women and gender studies, Caribbean studies, and South Asian studies, as well as TYP students and UTSU execs. (Disclosure: Two Varsity staff members are also execs of the South Asian Studies Students’ Association.)

“The decisions being made in the review are affecting every single aspect of student life on campus,” said Faraz Vahid Shahidi, a third-year student. “Everything from what sort of programs are available to how many faculty we have and what kind of research is available to us.”

The current review calls on each college to submit a five-year plan to the Dean’s Office by Dec. 15. Colleges are asked to argue compellingly for their programs and “not to assume that the status quo will necessarily apply in the future.”

“If the university were to lose the more critical programs that focus on things like equity, the diversity of programs offered at this school would really suffer,” said Marrison Stranks, president of the Health Studies Student Union.

University officials, however, cautioned against speculating about how the review will affect individual programs.

“It is very important for students to understand that there are no foregone conclusions in this process,” wrote professor Suzanne Stevenson, vice dean of teaching and learning, in an e-mail.

Stevenson, who sits on the committee that will evaluate the colleges’ plans, said that the allocation of funds will depend on a case-by-case evaluation.

“We expect detailed and feasible plans that clearly indicate how the unit will help us to achieve the Faculty’s goals in the areas of undergraduate and graduate education and research,” she wrote.

In response to objections brought forth by the student groups stating that they have not been appropriately consulted in the process, Stevenson said that individual programs were explicitly required to speak with students.

Stranks said many students are still not aware that their programs are on the chopping block.

“I think because [Health Studies is] a small program, and we have a director who’s informed about these issues and wanted to involve students, we were given more background information than other course unions,” she said. “[I]n other course unions, having spoken to them, it was a much more passive process where students were giving feedback and not aware of the repercussions of the review.”

Stranks said she thinks student participation in this process should be mandatory.

“We should have voices in what programs are offered,” she added.

Professor Paul Hamel, director of health studies at University College, also felt that the review would entail significant changes for the faculty.

“I think [the review] does have some very strong bearing on what programs are going to be mounted and the type of university it’s going to be in the near future,” he said. “What it’s doing is providing people with an opportunity to cut things that they’ve wanted to get rid of for a long time.”

The prospect of such cuts drew impassioned reaction from the attendees at Tuesday’s town hall.

“Really, though, why we advocate for [critical and area studies] programs is just the emphasis on what’s intrinsic to the mandate of the university,” said Shahidi. “In the university’s mandate, it talks about critical thinking and engaging with one another in ways that are challenging and novel. These programs cater to this sort of environment.”

The committee that evaluates the planning submissions will meet from January to March next year and implement any changes on an ongoing basis.

Happily Everlea after

On a dreary Sunday evening, I meet with the recently-relocated Kingston band Everlea. As I arrive at the Leslieville apartment of guitarist Casey Shea and singer Justin Dubé, Shea opens the door and immediately offers me some jalapeño poppers. I notice tickets to the band’s upcoming Mod Club show lying on the living room floor. The band is visibly excited to see their name on a professionally printed ticket as a headliner for the first time.

“We’re trying to impress you,” says the soft-spoken Shea, humble and sarcastic at once.

The whole band has congregated to be interviewed, save for the newest member, bassist Pat Maclean, who hasn’t yet relocated to Toronto. (He’ll be moving in with drummer Brendan Soares next month.) I take a quick look around the modest, well-kept apartment, hoping to find evidence of rock star debauchery. I’m very disappointed—no beer pyramids or coked-out groupies, just polite girlfriends and appetizers.

We break into the interview without formalities, and the conversation flows seamlessly. Dubé, the consummate androgynous frontman, reveals a few tidbits about his hometown, raving about Kingston’s finest restaurants. When Shea offers me a beer, it triggers a Pavlovian
response—I finally remember to turn on my recorder.

“So which bands do you hate?” I investigate, attempting to stir things up.

The guys politely giggle at the incongruity of such a question—making fun of other bands just doesn’t make sense to them. I mention recent emo-scene punching bags Stereos. Every band hates Stereos, right?

“Some bands adjust their style to what’s cool at the moment—I don’t think that’s a bad thing—but it’s just not us,” Dubé answers, without a hint of resentment. That’s the closest thing to a disparaging remark I can coax out of them. Something’s not computing—a band that won’t take cheap shots at Stereos, and has jalapeño poppers ready for their guests? I’m suspicious. Are they holding a hostage captive? Have any of them killed a man?

Why is Everlea so nice?

Despite Everlea’s upcoming show, things haven’t always gone so smoothly for the four-piece. The band recently parted ways with their label, Glassnote Music (home to Parisian synth-rockers Phoenix, among others). The story behind their departure is all too familiar: A&R person responsible for signing band departs label, leaving band in limbo. But Everlea doesn’t seem to think they got a raw deal.

“Being on Glassnote afforded us many opportunities,” Dubé notes.

Their relationship with Glassnote led to them signing with powerhouse booking agent The Agency Group. It’s hard not to see the bright side when you are touring cross-country with Secondhand Serenade and opening up for Taking Back Sunday at the Kool Haus.

Dubé adds, “They still own that record, and we keep in contact. We just won’t be releasing any more records with them.” Sounds like the mythical mutual break up we’ve all heard about. In Everlea’s emotionally stable world, being “just friends” can work just fine. Don’t expect Everlea to look for a rebound, either—they’re content biding their time and growing independently.

“The best time to sign a deal is when you don’t need one,” Dubé believes. Instead of worrying about their label situation, Everlea has turned their attention to honing their craft. The band doesn’t shy away from writing songs with a mass audience in mind.

Dubé candidly describes his developing song-writing process. “Lately I’ve analyzed songs and tried to figure out the universal elements that make them great,” he explains. “I just want to find a connection—a universal meaning to my lyrics. Take my experience and take it from a personal to a universal level that everyone can understand. It took me a long time to stop being insecure and self-conscious. The goal is just to write good songs.”

But sometimes, writing good songs isn’t enough. In a saturated music market, simply being good at what you do isn’t going to help you find success. But Everlea believe their honesty and commitment is what separates them.

“I think bands more than ever have to be genuine,” Dubé argues before being interrupted. The generally subdued Shea interjects, “Some bands make great albums; they just don’t keep with it. It’s all about persistence.”

I ask Everlea a more difficult question: “Do you ever think about fucking life and quitting this music shit?”

In unison they agree, “Yes.”

When prodded about what they would do if they weren’t in Everlea, they draw a collective blank. It appears their thoughts of quitting aren’t as legitimate as their desire to continue.

“Casey would be a crane operator,” Dubé busts Shea’s balls as he shoves some homemade lentil loaf in my mouth.

“I don’t wanna be a crane operator, man. If I wanted to be anything else I wouldn’t be doing this,” Casey rebuts. Soares chimes in, “I love this kind of lifestyle.” He kept quiet during most of the interview but he knows when to pick his spots: “These last few years have been the best of my life.”

Why is Everlea so nice? The answer is not as sinister as I speculated. They love what they do.

Everlea plays the Mod Club with Crush Luther on Saturday, Nov. 21. For more information, visit

Publish and perish?

Are news blackouts necessary during kidnapping cases? Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, who was kidnapped last year, thought so. Fowler led a panel discussion with heads of news outlets at Innis College on Tuesday. The Canadian Journalism Foundation hosted the event.

Fowler is special envoy of the UN Secretary-General to Niger. On Dec. 14, 2008, an al-Qaeda group in Niger kidnapped him and his colleague, holding him for over 4 months. Fowler criticized news agencies for covering his kidnapping, which he felt gave his captors useful information and brought his family “gratuitous pain.”

“I think the easiest solution is the blackout [for kidnapping cases],” said Fowler. He said a blackout worked for Melissa Fung, the Canadian journalist who was kidnapped by armed men in a refugee camp near Kabul. She was held captive for 28 days before tribal leaders negotiated her release. “[A news blackout] probably did have something to do with the difference between [her] 28 and [my] 130 days,” Fowler noted.

Fowler said that if policies about blackouts are not possible from a media solidarity point of view, then news agencies should consult the government, other media outlets, and kidnapping experts before making a decision to run the story.

The other panellists were Stephen Northfield, the foreign news editor at the Globe and Mail, Robert Hurst, president of CTV News and Current Affairs, and John Cruickshank, publisher of the Toronto Star and former head of CBC News.

“Our default as a media organization is to publish,” said Northfield. “It is a position of the Globe that we will not knowingly publish information that will lead to the harm of an individual. It is impossible to be able to gauge the unintended consequences of the publication of anything.”

Northfield concluded that there were no easy answers for holding back on publishing, and that there is a sliding scale when it comes to blackouts.

“I wish there was a rulebook, […] but there isn’t. In each case it’s completely individual. There are all sorts of relative issues,” Northfield said.

Hurst, the most commanding voice of the discussion, defended news organizations and underlined how much discussion takes place before running a story.

“I would like to offer to this room today, and to Mr. Fowler, how seriously we do take these issues in the newsrooms. We talk about them a lot. We discuss it. We debate it. We talk about the pros and cons.”

Cruickshank addressed the problem of containing news stories, but defended the merits of blackouts in certain situations.

As the head of CBC News when Fung was kidnapped in October 2008, Cruickshank was responsible for taking control of the situation and getting other Canadian news organizations to refrain from reporting on Fung’s abduction.

“This is not about suppressing information,” said Cruickshank. “The term ‘blackout’ is an insidious term.” He then offered what he thought was a better definition: “This is delaying.”

“We do in fact suppress information routinely: confessions, stories about suicides, any number of the kinds of stories that we have made by the decisions in public interest to suppress.” Cruickshank added that he expects a consensus soon on how to respond to kidnappings of political figures and journalists.

The last word came when Paul Hunter, who reports from the CBC’s Washington bureau, spoke from the audience. “We have an opportunity now to make up a plan,” said Hunter, who was involved in keeping the Melissa Fung kidnapping under wraps.

“Start the blanket: no active kidnaps get covered and then finesse it. I’m a bit worried that we’ll find ourselves here in another year and somebody else will be kidnapped and we won’t have a protocol or code in place.”

Lieutenant Werner

Werner Herzog would like to make something very clear about his new film, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. You know that 1992 film called Bad Lieutenant? The one directed by Abel Ferrara, starring Harvey Keitel, and the “inspiration” for Herzog’s film (at least according to the studio press notes)? Forget about it. There’s no relation.

“I know you changed the location from New York to New Orleans,” says a journalist at a roundtable interview with Herzog during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, “but how else did you make this remake your own film?”

“Explain ‘remake,’” intones Herzog gravely in his deep German accent.


“What is a remake? Explain it.”


He leans forward, and continues talking in a foreboding monotone. “Explain it. You are the one who is challenged now.”

“Uh… well, it’s based on the film by Abel Ferrara…”

“No, it is not. How is it based on the film by Abel Ferrara?”

The journalist is practically quivering. “Uh…well, it has sort of a similar…I mean…”

“It is not. What is similar? Not one scene.”

“You’re right. It’s not similar,” she interjects.

“Okay, so why do you use that term?” A pause, before his voice lightens. “Because it is floating around?” Herzog’s famously frowning mouth breaks into a smile, and everyone laughs. “It was just a title that was owned by one of the producers, and they hoped to own some sort of a franchise. It’s nothing to do with the other film.”

No kidding. Both films centre around a corrupt police lieutenant plunging into sex, drug, and gambling addictions, but where the original was gritty, intense, and charged with Catholic guilt, Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is more of a weird, over-the-top ride. If the lieutenant were asked to make a film about himself while at his most intoxicated, it would look something like this.

The film is set in a pungently atmospheric post-Katrina New Orleans, a nightmare version of the city where prostitutes are on every street corner and the sun shines on the demolished Lower Ninth Ward so brightly that it’s almost cruel.

“The screenplay was written either for New York or Detroit,” says Herzog, “and there was a purely financial reason. The producer, Avi Lerner, said, ‘Could you consider to do it in New Orleans? Because we have these fantastic tax incentives in Louisiana.’ And I said, ‘Sure! Wonderful! Can’t get any better! Let’s move it along!’”

“You can see that the city in a way is a leading character,” he continues, “but I always avoided [having] the kinds of New Orleans clichés: Bourbon Street, and jazz musicians, and you just name it. There’s dozens of clichés that I circumnavigated…I think New Orleans apart from the postcard clichés becomes very palpable.”

This is one of the best movies of the year, but here’s the real surprise: it’s the funniest movie Herzog has ever made. Framed by a brilliant, maniacal lead performance by Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant starts as a standard police procedural drama and quickly, unashamedly descends into crazy-town. Who but Herzog would fill a cop drama with lines like, “Don’t you have a lucky crack pipe?” Who else would have the lieutenant say, “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” and then actually show a corpse’s soul dancing? Who else would be mad enough to have our hero hallucinate iguanas, and then linger on the iguanas in extreme close-up for a full minute?

Herzog describes Bad Lieutenant as a new kind of film noir. “In the classic ’40s, ’50s film noir, the darkness is an all-pervading, oppressive force that stifles everything. In this film noir, it’s all joyful: a bliss”—he practically licks his lips on this word—“a bliss of evil…[Cage] asked me why is [the lieutenant] so bad? And I said, ‘Oh come on, don’t bore me with conceptual questions! Let’s focus on one single thing: there is such a thing as the bliss of evil.’”

“It seems to me,” I say, “that you took the archetypes of film noir and sorta kicked them into high gear.” He smiles broadly. “It’s probably in overdrive! It’s somewhere beyond it. It spins not out of control, but it spins into a different stratum.”

An octogenarian journalist chimes in. “I don’t understand this ‘bliss of evil.’ I’ve never felt it. I’ve felt bliss of goodness, but I don’t get ‘bliss of evil’ at all.”

For a moment it appears that Werner Herzog, that fearsome warrior of cinema, willing to risk life and limb to pull a steamship over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo or climb an active volcano in La Soufrière, is actually at a loss for words. He smiles again. “Uh…you are speaking of personal life, and I am speaking of movies—figments of fantasies. So, sure, we have to make a distinction.” A pause. “And you have probably lived a blessed life so far.”

She shrugs her shoulders and shakes her head. Herzog sighs. “Well, whatever…”

*Bad Lieutenant is in theatres Nov. 20.*

Got an idea?

If you have an idea that would improve student life on campus, there’s a fund with your name on it. The Good Ideas Fund gives students and student groups awards of up to $1,000. The application requires background information, a project description, a budget summary, promotions plans, and intended outcomes. Those who receive funding also have to submit a final report upon completing the project.

“It’s really about us fulfilling our mandate to the university to provide student engagement and student programming,” said Jennifer Newcombe, coordinator of programme and assessment at Hart House.

Fund applications are evaluated by a five-student committee, selected every August based on past involvement and diversity in demographics and faculty affiliations.

Priority is given to activities or projects that are open to all students and promote cultural diversity and collaboration among student groups. Applications for the fund have been steadily rising. So far, 26 have been submitted this academic year.

“The most challenging piece for students is the timeframe. Either they haven’t heard about the fund, or they haven’t submitted an application far enough in advance […] to use the resources to the maximum,” said Newcombe. “Budgets can [also] be a bit of a challenge for people.”

The fund currently has an annual budget of $20,000 and finances everything from small undertakings to large conferences. It also provides guidance on organization. “The fund is really committed to making sure that students who apply are aware of other opportunities on campus,” Newcombe said.

A day-long conference on “Decolonizing our Minds,” held by the Equity Studies and Caribbean Studies student associations on Feb. 21, received funding from the Good Ideas Fund as well as the Arts and Science Students’ Union and the New College Student Council. The conference featured academics, community activists, and artists in a series of panel discussions and presentations.

“The conference was looking at education and the space that we have for critical thought […] and re-analyzing it from an equity studies standpoint and looking at it as a site of oppression for many people,” said Isabel Lay, the current president of the Equity Studies Student Association.

“It was very important to have access to this fund. Especially the location that our union and [where] the students that we work with are coming from—our students are the most marginalized body of students at this university—it tends to be tricky to get funding,” said Lay.

Oxfam U of T also received funding, for a Women’s Day documentary screening of Sisters on the Planet and a candle-making workshop for 30 attendees. The event received $80. Participants had the option of donating candles to a local women’s shelter.

“One of the big issues of us getting money for this is that we wanted to get materials that are ethically sourced, which obviously can cost a little more sometimes,” said Leanne Rasmussen, co-president of Oxfam U of T. “It was nice having the Good Ideas Fund. We could get the best materials from a good source and not have to worry about how we were going to come up with the cost to cover that.”

Grecian dream

“The way I see it, I’m directing Shakespeare for my 70-year-old dad,” laughs Jeremy Hutton, director of Hart House Theatre’s upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “My dad always falls asleep during movies, he always has, ever since I was a kid. So basically when I’m directing, I stage it as if I’m trying to keep my father awake for the whole show. And if I can do that, I feel like it’s a success.”

Hutton sits in the bowels of the theatre, stroking a newly-sprung scruffy beard and smiling nervously. In the brick-laden underbelly of Hart House, the sounds of a matinee performance of Romeo and Juliet echo from above, prompting Hutton to pause every so often and scan the room thoughtfully. Hutton has worked for Hart House Theatre for five years, directing their annual Shakespeare show. This year, he takes on the energetic and beloved comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream with what he describes as the best cast he’s ever had at Hart House.

“The cast is big, and I feel pretty lucky to have this kind of talent. They’re strong actors who make strong choices. I mean, we’re not just standing around and resetting Shakespeare.”

His rendition of the well-known tale of crossed lovers and fairy tricks takes place in Athens in the late 19th and early 20th century—a period which Hutton believes exemplifies the paternal and repressed society that Shakespeare portrayed.

“It’s barren, stuffy, dark, mean, patriarchal, and then this gypsy caravan pulls up onto the stage, and this chaos of colour enters the world. The lovers leave this world into the forest, where they have license and possibility,” Hutton explains. “With possibility comes licentiousness. And the fairies give them freedom. It’s free, transient, moving and flowing. They go to a place where anything is possible and everything is permissible.”

Hutton explains that they’ve hired specific dancer/actors to play the roles of the gypsy fairies. He also promises that by the end of the play, all four of the lovers will have lost most of their clothing. But, he continues with a wry grin, there won’t be any breasts or genitalia in the show.

“I mean, my original idea was just to get them all naked and covered in body paint, but the theater wouldn’t go for it,” he deadpans. “I mean, boobies!” He stops.

“No, there’s no boobies, and I didn’t actually want them naked,” he back-peddles, as a member of the publicity team looks up from his desk with a concerned glance.

“But seriously, the show is energetic, dead sexy, and not your grandmother’s Midsummer… there’s obviously a lot of sexual humour, and I have great actors who are ready to exploit that aspect. And I’m ready to go down that road as long as it’s hilarious—and not awkward. It’s a hard line to toe, especially because we have a few high school matinees lined up, with grade nine-ers. If things get too risqué, we get some teacher complaints.” He pauses for a moment. “I think we might actually get a few this time around.”

“As a director, I like a sense of play,” he explains. “I find that if actors aren’t enjoying what they’re doing, the audience can definitely tell. Even if I’m doing a horribly depressing tragedy, I want the actors to have fun, and I want the energy to spark.”

All in all, Hutton has come a long way from his first experience with A Midsummer’s Night Dream, where he led a chorus of Pucks and donned bright green trousers, a silver cape, and nothing else.

“I got quite a few bruises during that show,” he muses.

*A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at Hart House Theatre from Nov. 20 to Dec. 5. Student tickets are $10-15. For more information, visit*

Best poets’ society

“I don’t like the idea of characterizing my own poetry. I like sitting in the middle of it and thinking of it as being incomprehensibly vast and various.”

Professor Albert Moritz speaks slowly, searching with determination for the perfect combination of words in conversation. As the poet, academic, and former journalist speaks about the written word, Moritz’s reverence for craft and passionate opinions about the role of poetry in society almost mask a disarmingly wry sense of humour.

The professor of Victoria College’s Vic One program, who has written poetry his entire life, recalls with irony his first poem: a lyrical eight lines written in ballad form, celebrating the pastoral pleasures of working in his garden.

“I was very close to nature,” he states solemnly, before breaking down into a small smile.

His passionate undertakings have taken him from his career as a poet working part-time gigs in journalism and advertising to get by to a successful publishing career. Moritz was awarded the Griffin Prize in poetry in June for his collection The Sentinel. The award honours one Canadian and one international poet a year, and past winners have included Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.

More recently, Moritz just finished working as the guest editor for the second annual collection, The Best Canadian Poetry in English, which launched on Nov. 11.

Moritz gestures to his packed bookshelves, cluttered with stacks of literary magazines covered in post-it notes.

“You can see some of the remains of the project on my shelf,” he explains. “I went through all of the issues printed in 2008 of about 54 magazines. It was a hard work, because it was a lot of work. But it was good to survey a year’s work across Canada. And while you can’t claim that there isn’t a lot of material that’s mediocre and boring, there’s a surprising amount that’s very good.”

“I look for the combination of energy or power with perfection,” he continues. “Often people think those two things are separate. But that separation is a cliché of our time, and represents nothing but weak thinking. Something that is excellent is going to maintain the maximum power within the maximum finish. It will have both energy and beauty.”

The Best Canadian Poetry in English contains 50 works by 50 separate Canadian authors. A list of the magazines surveyed appears in the index of the collection, as well as a note from each author represented. Moritz also authored an introductory essay about the state of Canadian poetry today.

“Although there’s many things that you can discover in the anthology, there is a kind of theme of a great respect for being. This respect comes through a focus on a specific subject, and a respect or veneration for the things that exist, and that we see. It might be a person observed in the street, or some kind of an old abandoned building, but there is this respectful attentiveness towards the ‘thing’ and its relation to reality,” he says as he begins to explain the role of poetry in society.

“Poetry is the combination of looking with venerating attention at reality, and at the same time, by that same method, provoking shipwreck in human concepts,” he explains. “Poetry is freer than other human endeavours. It’s the place where you’ll find truth spoken. You’ll see inspiring things, and terrifying things, and you’ll go beyond reality into a realm of concepts. In this way, poetry is the most central human endeavour. That is also why it is the most ignored.”

Moritz explains that for him, the hallmark of good writing or creating is complete absorption. Writing poetry is his entrance into “a time that is both outside of time and before time.” His passion and reverence for the craft is refreshing, and his rhetorical awareness of the meaning of poetry is compelling.

Ultimately, Moritz explains that poetry is not limited as an intellectual endeavour, and that no creator functions under the pressure of considering the impact of their creation on society. Instead, poetry and poetical inspiration are available to everyone, all the time. Often there are moments of awareness that some notice, and others miss.

“I might be standing somewhere—and I think that almost everybody has had this kind of experience—and suddenly, from up in front of you flies a bird, and maybe it’s a bright red bird, but because you’ve been startled, or because of your receptivity at that moment, it suddenly seems to you an appearance out of nowhere like a messenger sent to you. And at least for a moment, you think, you’ll remember it always. And maybe you’ll realize that in every moment, and in every appearance, there could be the vastness and wonder that you felt. That’s inspiration.”

*The Best Canadian Poetry in English is published by Tightrope Books.*

Sex, food, and climate change

Roughly two centuries ago, British thinker Thomas Malthus famously predicted that human overpopulation would result in food shortages and mass famine. “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man,” he said. For a long time, his idea that mass famine would overtake humanity was rejected out of hand by those who pointed to industrial agriculture and vastly increased crop yields. Industrial agriculture proved him wrong, or so the textbooks said.

Malthus’s ideas are now back in vogue as global food futures are uncertain, due to a devastating combination of fresh water depletion; drought caused by climate change; the collapse of the world’s oceans; an increase in fuel prices (as global oil supplies peak); soil erosion caused by excessive pesticide use; and the replacement of agricultural lands by biofuel crops.

From 1940 to the present, the world’s human population more than doubled to about 6.6 billion, and is projected to be about 10 billion by 2050. An International Panel on Climate Change report says that by 2080, 1.1 to 3.2 billion people will experience water scarcity, 200 to 600 million will be starving, and 2 to 7 million people each year will experience coastal flooding. The population is expected to plummet after the year 2050 due to famine, drought, disease, and war, exacerbated by climate change and peak oil.

Curbing overpopulation to mitigate climate change is also contentious due to the widely held view that reproduction is an inviolable right, and fears that coercive measures will be used to limit populations, like those used in China. The counterview holds that reproduction ought not to be considered an inviolable right when we’ve already exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet, and the consequences are inevitably so tragic.

One solution is to simply prevent unwanted pregnancies. Contraception is widely viewed as a viable and necessary solution by most people who write on this subject. According to the London School of Economics, contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green technologies.

But there’s a dispute over whether efforts to curb population growth should be a priority while those in the industrial north are still consuming many times more than those in the global south, and are responsible for global warming to a much greater degree.

George Monbiot, columnist for The Guardian and environmental activist, recently criticized those who talk about overpopulation while neglecting to mention the north-south inequity on greenhouse gas emissions. “While there’s a weak correlation between global warming and population growth, there’s a strong correlation between global warming and wealth,” he said.

Responding to Monbiot is Ryerson physics professor Helmut Burkhardt. He says, “It’s important to expose the misconceptions that only overconsumption is the cause of ecological problems, and not overpopulation. A drastic reduction of the few overconsumers, and reasonable and just increase in consumption by the numerous poor will raise the world average consumption of resources in a planet already suffering from ecological stress near the tipping point.”

In other words, even if we greatly reduce our carbon footprints in Canada while China and India continue to urbanize and industrialize, we will not be able to avoid the much-feared “tipping point” of catastrophic climate change, with disastrous consequences for all.

The reality is that if the practice of contraception is not widely adopted, another type of population control will be implemented: mass murder. Richard Heinberg, author of Powerdown, posits several types of future communities. The type he calls “Last Man Standing” neatly describes an all too common attitude among the over-privileged of the world: let the developing world—namely sub-Saharan Africa—die, and we will hoard all the resources for ourselves. This might also be called the fascist solution to overpopulation. The reality is that corporate and government inaction on climate change—including the Harper government’s failures on this front—already represents this morally callous depopulation program, albeit indirectly.

A study titled Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost, says that every seven dollars spent on family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a ton. We are still at a critical point in history when we can rationally discuss sane options, such as contraception and family planning education, and implement them with relatively little cost.

Science for Peace presents a Public Forum on Food and Population on Friday, Nov. 20, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Koffler Auditorium, 569 Spadina Ave.