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UTSC PhD candidate awarded scholarship for climate crisis research, community service

Brian Pentz won AbbVie IBD award for research on reforming Canada’s fisheries in the face of climate upheaval
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Brian Pentz’s research has centred on the impact of the climate crisis on fisheries. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN PENTZ | IMAGE HAS BEEN CROPPED
Brian Pentz’s research has centred on the impact of the climate crisis on fisheries. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN PENTZ | IMAGE HAS BEEN CROPPED

In the 1990s, Brian Pentz witnessed the socioeconomic consequences of the collapse of Atlantic Canada’s cod stock while growing up in Halifax. These early experiences inspired him to pursue a lifelong research career in marine biology and ecological conservation.

Pentz is a PhD candidate in Environmental Studies at UTSC. He was awarded the AbbVie IBD Scholarship by Crohn’s and Colitis Canada in August for academic excellence and community service as a graduate student.

The urgency of overcoming the climate crisis

The ocean is a familiar subject to Pentz. After graduating from Dalhousie University in 2008, he worked as a terrestrial field biologist. But the ocean seemed to pull him back, as he moved on to earn a Master’s degree focusing on marine biology research from the University of Edinburgh in 2014.

“We have an ocean that is warming,” said Pentz to The Varsity. “We have an ocean that is acidifying… Both have serious consequences for life in the ocean, for microbial life all the way up the food chain.”

Pentz emphasized that there are “practical reasons” for humans to be concerned about the deteriorating conditions of the ocean.

The New York Times reported that the warming ocean is killing marine ecosystems, raising sea levels, and intensifying the destructiveness of hurricanes. An op-ed in The Times further reports that acidification is causing harm to human health and the economy by heightening the toxicity of certain algal species and hurting the shellfish industry.

Pentz has delivered conference presentations to communicate his research on the impact of the climate crisis on the world’s fisheries. After graduation, he aims to continue research as a postdoctoral fellow. He hopes to eventually become a professor of environmental studies. 

Policy, not science, is the limiting factor, says Pentz

Real world problems are not lost on Pentz, who spends much of his time in and out of classrooms and academic conferences. He has strong views on the climate crisis as well as its impact on biodiversity and the world’s oceans.

Pentz recognizes the difficulty of tying a line from a scientific report to major reform in government policy. He emphasized that a lack of adequate governmental policy is a limiting factor that prevents societies from adequately responding to the ecological challenges of the climate crisis.

However, Pentz has noted positive signs of change around the world.

He reflected that the global research community has the potential to guide reform by policymakers, especially in local governments. Influential reports include those from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Pentz also made note of the positive trend of reducing the costs of producing renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

Pentz wins scholarship for excellence while living with inflammatory bowel disease

As Pentz has conducted environmental research and presented his findings, he has lived with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a disorder that causes chronic inflammation in the digestive tract.

The gaps in his day are filled with fatigue, nausea, and a loss of appetite caused by the condition. He frequently experiences low levels of energy.

When he was 13 years old, Pentz was diagnosed with IBD. He noted that he didn’t have anyone with IBD to look up to at the time.  Now, he mentors other students with IBD and can empathize with their experiences of surgeries and medications to manage the condition.

As an accomplished environmental researcher and science communicator who has pursued a rigorous research career while finding time to empathize with students living with IBD, Pentz is a shining example of excellence and leadership in his community.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.