The Varsity brings you snippets from last Saturday’s day-long Climate Change Conference, organized by Science for Peace, Students against Climate Change, and UTERN, which supports environmental groups on campus.
Climate change and society
“Why is nature regulated and degraded under capitalism?” asked York University professor Greg Albo. Politics today is dominated by neo-liberalism, he argued, and environment policy is thus regulated by market mechanisms.The lecture was at times dry and didactic–Albo was much more effective when he stopped reading from notes and just talked to the audience.
From research funding to public space, corporations have been increasingly woven into the physical and social fabric of educational institutions. Corporate involvement in university research and commercial funding of our buildings can negatively affect the type of research conducted, noted one participant: “It’s not a left-wing/right-wing issue. It’s about freedom of thought.”
Speakers Dr. Leslie Jermyn, professor emeritus John Valleau, and Angela Reigner of UTSU, urged students to question their role. They pointed out that corporations have the ability to dictate research topics and can suppress research that negatively affects their image, thwarting open discussion and debate–the purpose of universities.
Environmental racism and climate change
This discussion focused on the pervasive effects of climate change and the ways in which structural inequalities are reproduced at the physical and social level. Professor Cheryl Teelucksing from Ryseron said that discrimination against racialized minorities is manifested in all structural issues, including the environment.
Teelucksing gave the example of low-income areas, such as Regent Park, that are thought as “coloured spaces” have on-going environmental problems, like poor garbage management and bed bugs. Ben Powless, co-founder of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, discussed the ways in which climate change has a disproportionate impact on indigenous peoples and minority groups, who are often seen as hindrances to economic growth.
Climate justice, he said, seeks to promote equitable solutions to climate change by dismantling the roots of environmental racism. The guest speakers were eloquent and knowledgeable, raising important questions about the power relations in our society such as who decides our rights and who can pollute?
Danny Harvey advises you not to listen to U of T administrators when they say they’ve tried to ensure the buildings on campus are sustainable.
“We’ve had a building binge,” said Harvey, a U of T geography professor. “Every new building is a golden opportunity to do it right, and you only get it once.” Buildings and transport account for a third of carbon dioxide emissions, according to his Handbook on Low-Energy Buildings and District-Energy Systems.
While Harvey acknowledged U of T’s isolated efforts at sustainability, he says it has lacked a systematic and coordinated policy. He gave the example of the
brand new $100-million Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Building. Its south side adorns a double-skin façade, which can facilitate passive ventilation. “But on the west façade, is your regular hermitically sealed glass façade with no shading. It’s going to overheat and require air-conditioning.”
—Naushad Ali Husein
An activist education
In Toxic Trespass, OISE prof Dorothy Goldin-Rosenberg explores how kids are affected by the “chemical soup” civilization lives in.
“Everybody is drinking tritium in their water. Tritium is a carcinogen, a mutagen,” said Rosenberg. Cancers are difficult to trace to their causes, because the effects of radiation are not immediate. But a large portion of the cancer problem is due to involuntary exposures to radiation like tritium,” she said. “We have to stop nuclear expansion in this province.”
Rosenberg’s interest is in education around the solutions and politics of social issues. She introduces her graduate course at OISE, TPS 1837, as an “activist kind of course,” where students not learn about and talk about the issues around them. “I want to hear how are they going to integrate these issues into their research, into their writing, into their communities.”