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UTM to participate in Global Climate Strike

Teach-ins, banner-making workshops, documentary viewing among organized events

UTM to participate in Global Climate Strike

UTM will be holding a series of events in support of the Global Climate Strikes taking place on September 20 and 27, which coincides with the upcoming United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit that aims to present viable plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change is clearly one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time… The Strike represents a pedagogic moment that UTM wanted to be part of,” wrote UTM Media Relations spokesperson Nicolle Wahl to The Varsity.

Classes at UTM will not be cancelled on the days of the strikes. However, in an email, former acting Vice-President and Principal Amrita Daniere encouraged faculty to be mindful of the walkouts and to remind their students to request accommodations should they participate.

In coordination with local groups, UTM is arranging drop-in workshops for making banners supporting climate justice, one-hour sessions with professors from various facilities, and TED-style climate talks.

An event titled “Meltdown: A Climate Change Summit” will be hosted at The Maanjiwe nendamowinan Building on September 24, bringing environment and health experts, including former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dr. Diane Saxe, to discuss the impact of climate change on health.

The week of Climate Strike events will conclude on September 25 with an outdoor screening of ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch  a multiple-award winning documentary focusing on the Anthropocene Working Group.

As part of a global effort, the Climate Strike aims to “declare a climate emergency and show our politicians what action in line with climate science and justice means,” according to its website. The global strikes are inspired by school strikers, like activist Greta Thunberg, who has been leaving class every Friday since last August in protest of the climate crisis.

In a video in support of the Global Climate Strike, Thunberg said, “This shouldn’t be the children’s responsibility. Now the adults also need to help us, so we are calling for them to strike from their work because we need everyone.”

Climate change is clearly one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time

U of T faced criticism in 2016 when President Meric Gertler opted not to divest from all fossil fuel companies, instead choosing to assess investments individually.

The UN Climate Action Summit, occurring the same week as the strikes, is urging world leaders to enact plans that address more than just fossil fuel mitigation and encouraging countries to move forward in fully transitioning to sustainable economies. This includes prioritizing renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind, and removing subsidies for fossil fuels.

The UN also emphasized that these climate action plans must not add to economic inequality and that those negatively affected by shifts toward renewable energy production must be given new opportunities.

UTSG and UTSC have not announced any events for the Global Climate Strike. A full list of UTM’s Global Climate Strike events with dates and locations can be found on their website.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Save the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto

Moving the program into the Daniels Faculty will be detrimental to climate-change research

Save the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto

U of T is in the final stages of its plan to eliminate the Faculty of Forestry and move its staff, faculty, students, and programs into the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design as of this July. A news release from the university said that “The proposal would go through the governance process beginning on May 9.”

The abolition of the Faculty of Forestry as a standalone faculty is one of the worst ideas in U of T’s history. In an era of climate change, forests are the key to sustaining life on Earth. They sequester carbon, emit oxygen, filter precipitation, absorb rain, and protect ecosystems from erosion. We need forests. U of T should show pride in the Faculty of Forestry, and invest in it.

The Faculty of Forestry’s proud history began in 1907 as Canada’s oldest forestry faculty. Plaques displayed in the Earth Sciences Centre attest to the faculty’s men who gave their lives in World War I and World War II.

By the turn of the 20th century, settlers had cut down much of the forest on the Oak Ridges Moraine, and east to Northumberland County. The topsoil proved too thin to support agriculture and blew away, resulting in mass desertification and devastating annual floods in Port Hope and other communities.

Foresters knew what to do. They mobilized the government of Ontario to set up a network of tree nurseries across Canada. A massive, province-wide campaign to plant trees ensued. To this day, red pine plantations in a wide band of the northern GTA attest to the wisdom of this prescription. After the mass reforestation of the Ganaraska River Valley, the floods in Port Hope ceased. In 1968, Premier John Robarts planted the one-billionth tree: a sugar maple grown at the St. Williams provincial government nursery. Robarts also gave his name to the university’s flagship library.

Robert Wright was appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Forestry in July 2017. The university appointed him to abolish the stand-alone faculty, and he has worked hard to achieve that goal. During his first 18 months, the dean did not meet with forestry students as a group to discuss this goal or to solicit feedback. He held a town hall to discuss the restructuring only after the 34 students who enrolled in the Master of Forest Conservation in September 2017 had completed their course work and left the school.

Thus the assertion of the U of T provost, Cheryl Regehr, that “we are strongly committed to using these consultations to identify the best structure for forestry-related academic programs at the University of Toronto,” rings false.

In a recent open letter, my colleague Ben Filewod, a PhD candidate in forestry, spelled out some concerns over this transition. The Faculty of Forestry has gained recognition across Canada for its expertise in promoting the bioeconomy; for example, researchers have succeeded in making car parts out of nano-cellulose. Other research uses soil amendments to help forests, and other labs at U of T find new ways to defend forests from invasive species. One lab raises caterpillars who feed on invasive the dog-strangling vine.

Forestry companies and governments rely on the expertise of centres such as the Faculty of Forestry. A 2016 external review noted that “the University of Toronto’s program is designed to produce graduates qualified to move rapidly into research or managerial/policy-making roles.” Folding the faculty into a subordinate role in another faculty, with no dean to advocate on its behalf, risks reducing U of T’s leadership role in forestry research in Ontario. Schools in Quebec, New Brunswick, and British Columbia are ill-equipped to take its place.

Forestry overlaps with architecture in two areas: urban forestry and the use of wood in buildings and design. This leaves out, for example, the study of Ontario’s huge forested areas, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, and the boreal forest that covers most of the province and generates tens of thousands of jobs.

Large, healthy, contiguous, diverse forests are more vital than ever to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We need a dedicated unit at the University of Toronto to tell the government how to enhance and improve our forests. The U of T community must wake up and save its Faculty of Forestry.

Peter Kuitenbrouwer will graduate with a Master of Forest Conservation from the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto in June 2019.

Where have all the activists gone?

In light of U of T’s most recent sustainability plan, campus climate activism needs to step up

Where have all the activists gone?

At a moment when youth-led climate activism is dominating the media landscape, such advocacy is conspicuously absent on U of T’s campus.

This is especially peculiar in light of the fact that recent campus climate action has demonstrated that student activism has the potential to compel those in power to consider arguments backed by popular student support and cogent, empirically-sourced evidence.

In 2015, UofT350, a climate activism group, embarked on a well-organized and focused campaign. They aimed to convince the university to divest their stocks in fossil fuel companies to limit carbon dioxide emissions. After three years of sustained climate action, the group succeeded in lobbying the Governing Council to establish the Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels.

The Committee found that in accordance with U of T’s stated mission to lead the battle against climate change, the university should financially divest from organizations that flout sustainable resource extraction practices.

U of T President Meric Gertler responded to the report published by the Committee by announcing that he would skirt its findings and abstain from complying with its heavily substantiated recommendations to divest.

Instead, he opted to establish another advisory committee, whose recommendations do not indicate that the university is planning to demonstrate meaningful action at a level appropriate to combating climate change.

It would be reasonable to feel helpless in the face of institutional power that seems determined to permit the devastation of our planet. However, as tuition-paying students of an institution which posits itself as a champion of knowledge and innovation, we cannot allow a setback to discourage our efforts in demanding substantive change.

In the coming academic year, student activists should look to the strengths and obstacles of UofT350’s action, and coordinate a renewed campaign with a specific strategic goal. Such a campaign would hopefully be one that attempts to incorporate groups across campus which also advocate for student interests, such as U of T’s Indigenous communities or our incoming student governments.

Leap UofT has made sporadic attempts at reviving the divestment movement, culminating in a “Divest Fest” this past April. If there is to be a significant response from the university’s administration, it is crucial that actions such as petitions and protest events are coordinated with clear objectives in mind and sustained consistently over the long term.

Campus activists should not be deterred by a perceived failure of the earlier divestment campaign. UofT350 succeeded both in placing the issue on the highest desk in the land and obtaining significant recognition that their demands for divestment were legitimate, and those successes cannot be overlooked.

There are also notable examples of youth-led climate activism across the globe that have gained substantial ground which students might look to for encouragement.

Several major countries in the European Union, including France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, tabled a joint proposal earlier this month to increase the Union’s budget expenditure on fighting climate change from 20 per cent to 25 per cent. The proposal cites as a motivating factor “the recent mobilization of young people” across Europe, referring to the mass student walkouts initiated by sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg.

Closer to home, 350.org — UofT350’s parent organization — is currently preparing to roll out its Canadian Green New Deal campaign, which aims to put specific and attainable strategies for sustainable economic development on the radar of politicians running in this year’s federal election. Their campaign will be primarily spearheaded by young people across Canada.

These movements demonstrate that meaningful public policy in the direction of progress is, for the most part, attained through well-organized popular action. The results will rarely be as far forward as one may hope for, but that should only be motivation to reorient, reorganize, and continue to push the envelope further.

Anna Osterberg is a second-year Master of Teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.