In Photos: When we push back

Young and old mobilize for the Global Climate Strike

In Photos: When we push back

U of T students join the Global Climate Strike at Simcoe Hall







Fridays for Future leads a teach-in at Hart House









Alienor Rougeot handing a green pin to the youth attending the Friday’s for Future Teach In





(from left to right) ASAP Science host Gregory Brown, and his friend







How does the carbon tax work?

How carbon pricing in Canada is set to address the climate crisis

How does the carbon tax work?

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change was introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October 2016 in order to meet Canada’s obligation for reducing carbon dioxide emissions under the Paris Agreement. The plan aims to get Canadians and businesses to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels by placing a fee on each tonne of emission. It allowed all provinces and territories to implement their own carbon pricing scheme that would satisfy the federal benchmark.

On October 23, 2018, the federal government declared that Ontario would levy a federal carbon tax to address the climate crisis. The federal carbon tax is a fee that consumers pay when they purchase carbon-based fuels, which came into effect this April.

According to the Ontario government, the average Ontario household will pay $258 per year in 2019–2020 in carbon fees. This price is slated to go up to $648 per year in 2022–2023. 

To help people with the financial burden of the carbon tax, the federal government introduced The Climate Action Incentive payments. Under this approach, households will receive a rebate at the end of the year after they fill out their tax returns. In Ontario, the average household will receive around $300, and factors like family size will be taken into consideration.   

“If you are very wealthy, if you consume a lot, then you will [pay],” said Jessica Green, an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, in an interview with The Varsity. “But that’s precisely the kind of behaviour that we want to dissuade.”

One of the alternatives to the carbon tax is the system known as the cap-and-trade. The cap-and-trade program puts a limit on carbon dioxide emissions that a company can produce per year.

In fact, Ontario had already been under the cap-and-trade program. It came into effect on January 1, 2017, but as of July 3, 2018, it was terminated under the Ford government. In Ontario, if a corporation generated more than 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, it had to participate in the scheme.

When discussing the advantages and disadvantages of different fiscal policies that the federal government could implement to address the climate crisis, Green said that, “We can have discussions about which one is better, but ultimately that depends on how many allowances you release or what the price is that you set your tax at.”

“There is no doubt that the cap-and-trade system is much more complicated to administer than a tax,” she added.

At the same time, the effectiveness of the carbon tax as a way to battle the climate crisis also remains questionable.

“Taxes or cap-and-trade systems are not going to do that, particularly at the price point at which they are now,” said Green. 

A recent report by the World Bank came to the conclusion that globally “both the amount of emissions covered by carbon pricing and the prices levels are still too low to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

In order for the carbon pricing initiative to be effective, it should be priced “at a level consistent with achieving the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.” The World Bank estimates this price to be at least $53 per tonne of carbon dioxide by 2020 and $66 per tonne of carbon dioxide by 2030, compared to the current price set at $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Carbon pricing alone is the drop in a bucket in actually addressing the climate change,” said Green.

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

How is greenwashing regulated in Canada?

The rise of false marketing to environmentally-conscious consumers

How is greenwashing regulated in Canada?

A study from Ryerson University in May found that out of 23 brands of wipes that were marketed as “flushable,” 21 were, in fact, not safe to flush and did not disintegrate.

This is an example of greenwashing. Greenwashing refers to the practice of falsely marketing products or services as environmentally friendly.

In 2014, a survey found 86 per cent of Canadian adults bought ‘green’ products and services, and that environmental claims would often drive a consumer’s decision to purchase a product or not.

“There is a significant amount of corporate greenwashing in the marketplace, and consumers face a significant challenge discerning genuine environmental programs from corporate spin,” wrote Professor Josée Johnston, a researcher at UTM who studies consumer culture and environmental sociology, in an email to The Varsity.

Greenwashing is commonly used in the marketing of cleaning products, health and beauty products, home appliances, paper products, and more.

One common example of greenwashing is “compostable” take-out containers. In Toronto, for example, even products that are considered compostable elsewhere often end up in landfills.

“In Toronto these items cannot be composted because we do not have the facility to compost them,” wrote Chelsea Rochman, a professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. “If they are just using city waste management — they go to landfills and will contaminate a green or blue bin.”

Who is buying ‘green’ products?

The 2014 survey also found that a large number of millenials in Canada look to buy environmentally-friendly products.

“A significant segment of Canadian and American consumers are concerned about environmental issues, and channel those concerns through their buying decisions,” wrote Johnston. “Young consumers are often particularly concerned about the environment, and may choose environmentally-conscious products, especially if they are also products that they carry a cache of being authentic, cool, or delicious (in the case of food products).”

How is greenwashing curbed?

In 2008, the Competition Bureau of Canada — an independent law enforcement agency — published guidelines for environmental claims in advertisements. The guide requires advertisers to avoid vague or misleading language, to include verifiable and specific information, and to provide relevant context in their claims. Greenwashing, according to the Bureau, is illegal.

For example, claiming a product is ‘all-natural’ is vague, especially since the concept of what is and what isn’t natural is up to the company. In Canada, such claims are not regulated by Health Canada.

A 2015 study found that even products that “evoke nature” by using blue or green colors in advertisements or by incorporating bird sounds into commercials can mislead consumers. This is what’s known as “executional greenwashing.”

The Bureau issued an alert in 2017 warning businesses about making vague or misleading environmental claims, citing the growing “momentum” of the “green wave.”

Research has shown that companies with good and bad environmental track records will often employ very similar green marketing and public relations efforts,” wrote Johnston. “This suggests that green policy decisions can’t be left to consumers and voluntary corporate efforts, but need to be regulated by environmental state actions.”

How can consumers educate themselves?

According to Johnston, resources like The Better World Shopping Guide could help consumers make more informed choices when making purchases. Johnston also suggested that consumers check whether a company is a Certified B Corporation.

For companies, becoming a Certified B Corporation is a rigorous process. At present, there are 255 Certified B Corporations in Canada. Launched in 2009, the certification evaluates companies based on their treatment of employees, the community, and the environment

Take the example of takeout containers: Rochman suggests consumers check with establishments whether their compostable products are taken to a composter.

However, aside from reporting greenwashed products to the Competition Bureau, consumers can’t regulate what’s on the market.

“Consumers who want to make a difference should lobby their elected officials to protect the environment through laws and regulations,” wrote Johnston. “No system is perfect, but the marketplace (without state intervention) is not the perfect place to try and create sustainable, socially-just ecosystems.”

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

Editor’s Note (September 23, 2:11 pm): A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to “Certified B Corporation” as “Plan B Corporation.”

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

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

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.

Students of the world, inquire within for climate-related emergencies

Get off your ass and get to class — we’ve got a world to change!

Students of the world, inquire within for climate-related emergencies

Those of us born into the age of the internet — the true ‘digital natives,’ as they like to call us on the World Wide Web — have quite the reputation around town. Respected disseminators of journalism, irreputable spreaders of libel, and  media outlets across the continent love to conjure up the now-ubiquitous image of the tottering ‘millennial’: eyes glued to a screen irreverently, missing the world around them as it blurs past.

Certainly, all of the world worth seeing occurs in one singular instance, in one particular place — it couldn’t possibly be that there are worldviews worth accessing beside your own!

News, media, gossip, or whichever word applies best in the circumstance run on these generational perceptions, eager to please a target audience that is increasingly dissatisfied with a changing world, but unwilling to take the necessary steps to change it themselves. For all of you following along at home, making the inevitable social connection to the phrase ‘changing world’: if you thought of the climate crisis, well, you’d be correct.

Our climate is shifting, becoming erratic, and changing faster than what many animals can adapt to via natural selection. Few other periods of world history have experienced something as drastic in the manner we’re observing, and it’s because of human activity.

This is a fact accepted by all but the most willfully ignorant of a generation that has been watching the real-time death of the planet’s one and only shot at life, for the entirety of their own.

To cut the rot out of the core, it’s become similarly apparent that this generation must intercept the climate crisis at all levels: cultural, socioeconomic, and systemic.

The youth of this planet are paralyzed in their image as oblivious bohemians who are too artificial for a world not quite plastic-perfect enough for them.

The educated, the ‘good ones’ — the ones for which the climate crisis is a given — experience a special kind of ignorance: a pleasurable bliss provided by intellectual security.

‘Of course’ our world is stuck in a collection of aging, fragile, and outdated systems that endanger the lives of billions, every day that they’re allowed to operate.

It’s thus us, the educated ones, who must take up the charge and become the vanguard to fight the climate crisis, in place of a generation who cannot or will not use their education.

So why should you care about the climate crisis in this context? Why should it matter to you, as a student, and to the University of Toronto? In this one singular instance, in this one particular place?

The answer:

Despite what everyone might have you think, you hold all the cards: oodles of time left on Earth; the ability to think critically, support an opinion, and communicate effectively; and a nice shiny honours degree under your belt.

If not, do it for an emotional reason: for the kids of the future. If not for an economic reason, or for your own selfish advantage in a world nobody is prepared for, then to use an absurdly expensive degree and make use of half of a decade.

Get out of the classroom with your unsustainably-printed diploma and make a difference in your industry of choice. You have the brains, you have the experience. And more than anything, you are capable as all hell.         

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

In the Spotlight: Matthew Hoffmann

Political science professor talks divestment, individual efforts in climate crisis

In the Spotlight: Matthew Hoffmann

Starting his university career as a student of environmental engineering, Matthew Hoffmann found that while he was designing systems to clean up pollution, his attention was diverting to the society that created the pollution. Flash forward 20 years, and he is now Professor Matthew Hoffmann — not a professor of engineering, but of political science.

Alongside his teaching duties at the St. George and Scarborough campuses, Hoffmann is the co-director of the Environmental Governance Lab (EGL), served on President Meric Gertler’s Advisory Committee on Divestment, and is an overall expert on global environmental governance.

The Varsity sat down with Professor Hoffmann to talk about his climate advocacy at U of T, his views on the climate crisis, and the work being done at the EGL.

The President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment

“Disappointed” is how Hoffmann described the result of his work on the President’s Advisory Committee (PAC) on Divestment. Sparked by a 2014 petition calling on the university to divest from fossil fuel industries, the PAC was charged with reflecting on U of T’s role in addressing the climate crisis.

Speaking on his experiences in the run-up to the PAC’s final report, Hoffmann said that members “really dove deeply into divestment and thought a lot about how we could reconcile what some of the differing interests [were].”

Ultimately the PAC recommended that U of T divest from fossil fuel companies that “blatantly disregard the international effort to limit the rise in average global temperatures to not more than one and a half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages by 2050.”

This recommendation, Hoffmann described, was not “a rejection of divestment, nor was it a wholesale acceptance of the petition. It laid out some pretty strong principles about when divestment should be pursued.”

“Divestment is not going to stave off climate change by itself”

In the end, Gertler decided to reject the committee’s recommendations and instead pursue a case-by-case approach to evaluating fossil fuel investments in accordance with environmental, social, and governance factors. While Hoffmann believes that it was an overall good move and that the university has been moving in the right direction since its rejection of divestment, he maintains that U of T could have and should have gone further with its climate policy ambitions.

“Divestment is not going to stave off climate change by itself, but divestment is one of those tools that we can start to use to change… and one of the things we have to change is how capital is allocated in our society.”

Do individuals matter?

Hoffmann makes an effort not to focus on how individual people should be acting in response to the climate crisis. In his view, the burden of solving climate change is all too often unjustly put on the shoulders of individuals.

While Hoffmann conceded that our current fossil fuel emissions “come from the everyday activities of millions and billions of people,” what many might not understand is that “the choices that people make are not free.”

“You don’t get to choose to not live in a fossil fuel-constrained world. You don’t get to choose to live in a world where automobile transportation is the dominant mode of transportation to get to work, to get to school, to do anything.”

So, if not individuals, then who is to blame for our current situation? In Hoffmann’s view, the corporate structures around us, perpetuated by the actions of governments and businesses, are ultimately responsible. Those actions can be as obvious as extracting fossil fuels or funding the companies that do, but they can also be much more inconspicuous. For example, Hoffmann believes that the politics of road and city design are just as important to the climate as decisions around pipeline construction.

In the face of governmental and corporate influence in the environment, it may be easy to feel powerless as an individual. However, collective action might be the key to substantive change.

“It can’t just be individual changes… you have to make them visual and you have to make them social. So don’t just change your light bulbs, don’t just fly less, don’t just drive an electric vehicle… if it’s not affecting how other people think, then it’s a very small change.”

Environmental Governance Lab

The EGL is a research hub run out of the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. It is supervised by Hoffmann and his colleagues Professor Steven Bernstein and Associate Professor Teresa Kramarz.

Hoffmann described the EGL as not only a place of research but also a place of community and public outreach. The lab runs seminars for the students and faculty of the U of T community, as well as public events to communicate climate research to a broader audience. 

One example of the interesting research coming out of the EGL is its large-scale decarbonization project. This project studies the political processes and outcomes of decarbonizing cities and communities. 

Hoffmann explained that sometimes, in an attempt to decarbonize, a city might switch to burning natural gas, which emits far less carbon. In doing so, the city has an overall improved emissions output — but, in reality, he argued that “[they] are further reinforcing fossil energy extraction and fossil energy systems and [they’ve] done that at the same time where [they] have said [they’re] improving.”

This initial drop in emissions and subsequent plateau can decrease the motivation to take further steps, in what Hoffmann called the ‘improvement zone,’ in which communities can easily become stuck. 

While there are many reasons to fear the climate crisis, Hoffmann, who has dedicated much of his life to studying it, has not yet surrendered to despair. Although he admitted that some days he feels optimistic and some days he feels the opposite, he is pleased that climate studies are growing in popularity. 

A just transition

Hoffmann made it clear that to avoid a climate catastrophe, societies must decarbonize and transition away from fossil fuels. However, what that transition should look like is more of a question of justice and equity. 

“The iron law of climate change is that those least responsible for causing the problems face the largest impacts from it,” Hoffman said. The climate crisis is doubly hard to tackle when you also consider that it is not simply one problem — “it’s modern life that we’re trying to transform.”

It is in this context that Canada, and the world, are operating in regarding climate change. In Hoffmann’s view, this context leads to one solution to the climate crisis: a just transition.

He argues, for example, that we shouldn’t advocate to shut down extraction in the Alberta tar sands immediately, as that would be too much of an economic disruption. To him, a just transition means that “the people and provinces that are dependent upon fossil energy extraction can see living the good life in a post-carbon world.”

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

If reconciliation and the climate crisis are to matter, U of T must divest from fossil fuels

U of T’s investments render its global leadership on the environment questionable

If reconciliation and the climate crisis are to matter, U of T must divest from fossil fuels

U of T holds a leading role in environmental sustainability practices. It has presented a number of initiatives which place students on the forefront of addressing the climate crisis.

The initiatives use knowledge and resources provided by the university to create a network that promotes sustainability practices and tackles climate issues globally.

However, some of U of T’s actions, most notably its investments in fossil fuel companies, are cause for calling this supposed leadership role into question.

This past July, President Meric Gertler attended a summit in Paris along with 47 other universities, who collectively comprise the U7+ Alliance. During the summit, the alliance voted unanimously to adopt six principles, ranging from efforts to “train and nurture responsible and active citizens who will contribute to society, from the local to the global level,” to “solve complex global issues through interdisciplinary research and learning.”

With its notable involvement in global summits and conferences, as well as the commitments made in the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability’s 2019 annual report, it is clear that U of T is a global leader when it comes to environmental and sustainability efforts.

However, in many ways U of T is acting in conflict with its own principles and values in how it is using its resources. When our money is put into industries that directly contribute to the same problems we are looking to combat, it creates a disconnect between promises made by the U of T bureaucracies and the actual actions implemented by them.

U of T promises to “address environmental issues and challenges, including sustainability and climate change,” and yet, according to Toronto350, a campaign group which calls on the university to divest from fossil fuel industries, it is heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, with “a significant portion of our ~$1.5 billion endowment devoted to this unsustainable industry.”

While U of T promises to “share [our] best practices with each other and other institutions around the world,” Toronto350 shows that we are invested in stock holdings in the “200 fossil fuel companies around the world with the largest reserves of coal, oil, and gas.”

U of T promises to “promote inclusion and opportunity while fostering ‘evidence-based public debate’ to combat societal polarization,” yet it is investing in the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred Indigenous land in Hawaii. There, dozens of protesters, including 33 Native Hawaiian elders, have been arrested and continue to face confrontation by the police.

Promises like the ones mentioned above — which comprise half of the core principles the U7+ Alliance voted to adopt — can be seen as great strides toward environmental stewardship and sustainability. But investments in fossil fuel companies and disregard for Indigenous land rights betrays our promises toward these goals.

As an institution that holds a marked role in the global academic community with regard to environmental sustainability, U of T must do more to take responsibility and divest from these unsustainable and unethical companies.

True leadership would mean holding ourselves accountable to the promises we have made as a collective alliance with other institutions around the world. We rally other countries to partake in these initiatives with us, yet at the same time we hold investments that do not reflect our supposed values and principles. By prioritizing profits made from such investments, we pose a threat to the very cause we claim to fight for.

While so many of our environmental initiatives are progressive, U of T cannot continue to present itself as a leader while hypocritically investing in harmful industries. Rather than continuing to invest in fossil fuels, U of T should shift its investments into the renewable energy sector. This would not only better reflect our status as a leading university in sustainability practices, but might influence other universities to adopt clean energy initiatives. U of T must sincerely commit itself to the sustainability movement to be a true global leader.

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

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

“The overriding story of our time”: The Varsity’s pledge to cover the climate crisis

We are joining over 250 media outlets around the world in the Covering Climate Now initiative

“The overriding story of our time”: <em>The Varsity</em>’s pledge to cover the climate crisis

In 2015, governments around the world signed onto the Paris Agreement to address the climate crisis. They agreed to implement plans that cut greenhouse gas emissions such that the rise in global temperature this century remains below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  

But since then, governments and institutions continue to delay investing in a bold and sound climate strategy that significantly reduces emissions. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2014–2018 have been the five hottest years in recorded history. As of July, 2019 is set to take either the second or third spot. 

Canada is at particular risk: it is warming at twice the rate of the global average. A Council of Canadian Academies report from July indicates that the crisis poses major threats to Canada’s physical infrastructure, coastal and northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems, and fisheries. Extreme weather events, like the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires, are occurring more frequently and are more severe. In Canada, the economic cost of the crisis is measurable in the billions

That is why, this week, The Varsity has joined over 250 media organizations around the world in the Covering Climate Now initiative. A joint initiative of The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review, the campaign is intended to engage media outlets in a week of sustained climate coverage in the leadup to the crucial United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23. At that summit, world leaders have been called on to submit “concrete, realistic plans” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

The crisis is closer to home than we may think. Institutions like U of T are complicit. In 2016, President Meric Gertler controversially decided to refuse divestment from the fossil fuel industry, the overwhelming contributor to the crisis, and yet continues to present U of T as a global leader on environmental sustainability. 

Emissions historically produced by the industrialized north are the major contributor to the current crisis, though the global south is now also producing considerable emissions.  Despite this historical imbalance, vulnerable populations in the global south and Indigenous people around the world, including in Canada, are the ones who are disproportionately impacted. 

The climate crisis is real, it is here, it is urgent, and human beings are culpable. If we cannot rely on our governments and institutions to take necessary action, then ordinary citizens must tell the truth and call them out, and we, the media, must lead this charge.

Covering Climate Now

We are one of only four newspapers in Canada to participate in the initiative. The Toronto Star, our Queen’s University peers at the Journal, and our Ryerson University peers at The Eyeopener will also engage in climate coverage this week. Other Canadian magazines, journals, and digital news sites also chose to participate.

At The Varsity, climate coverage is nothing new. However, to participate in an initiative that treats the climate crisis with the global, collaborative, large-scale attention that it deserves is unprecedented for us. 

Between September 16 and September 23, The Varsity will publish at least one article every day to draw attention to the crisis. This editorial is the introductory article to our series, and each day of the week will feature a different section’s coverage: News, Comment, Business, Arts & Culture, Features, Science, and Sports will all participate. 

Like The Nation, we hope to convey that the climate crisis “is not just one more story but the overriding story of our time.” With coverage from all seven of our sections, the climate crisis affects us in all facets of our lives.

Our commitment to climate journalism

This week will be the beginning of an expanded effort to cover the climate crisis, especially as it concerns the U of T community. We will continue to cover efforts made by student activist groups and youth climate activists, such as the Fridays for Future campaign and Leap UofT, and hold the U of T administration accountable to its complicity the crisis. 

U of T groups and students will participate in Global Climate Strikes scheduled to take place this month, in line with the UN summit. The Varsity will be there to tell those stories.

Our Science section has just launched a “Climate Crisis” subsection to consistently cover the issue. Our style guide is being updated to ensure that the passive language of ‘climate change’ is avoided. Instead, we will henceforth use ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency.’ After all, when the world falls into a recession, we call it an economic crisis; the troubling state of the planet ought to proportionately receive an alarm, too. 

Finally, we will also be dogged in correcting any form of false balance surrounding the climate crisis: for example, any form of skepticism or denial of the crisis will be contextualized as false. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus on the matter, and journalists must fairly attribute weight to sides in a given story on the basis of evidence. For this crisis, the facts cannot be debated, politicized, or treated as partisan. 

In sum, we hope that the Covering Climate Now initiative will inspire our editors and contributors this year, and for years to come.

Deciding the next four years 

The need for climate journalism is also crucial in the context of the upcoming Canadian federal election. Consider when, last month, Elections Canada (EC) warned environmental groups that advertising the legitimacy and severity of the climate crisis could be deemed partisan. Such ‘partisanship’ could require such environmental charities to register as a third party with EC, subject them to scrutiny from the Canada Revenue Agency, and potentially jeopardize their tax status. 

This ‘partisan’ ruling, and blatant suppression of climate speech, was a result of the position of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, according to an EC official which espouses climate denialism among other far-right views. That is the unfortunate reality of climate discourse today. Whereas our leaders should be debating how to best tackle the problem, we are stuck at debating the reality of the issue itself. 

Inadequate approaches to the climate crisis are not exclusive to fringe politics. Our supposedly progressive prime minister, Justin Trudeau, offers voters a paradox: he believes that Canada can reduce emissions and address the crisis while it continues to invest in pipelines, extract Alberta’s tar sands, and empower the very cause — fossil fuels — which is responsible for the crisis.  

The climate crisis is not debatable, and it is certainly not resolvable through halfhearted policy. Furthermore, ‘the environment’ cannot just be another issue among the myriad of other issues in this upcoming election. Rather, the crisis is entangled with other concerns that voters may have — like economic growth and development — and, in fact, presents us with an opportunity to re-envision how we organize ourselves on this planet. Taking care of our environment is necessary to have a viable economy; economy and environment go hand in hand. 

Indeed, the crisis is not about economic sacrifice, but about transformation. It is about divesting from fossil fuels and using our technological ingenuity to immediately and fully transition into alternative sources of energy. It is about embracing the future, and restructuring our economy in a way that will create new, sustainable sources of livelihood. 

The role of media, then, is to cover these positive opportunities that the crisis provides and to challenge politicians who are impeding our progress. Ahead of this federal election, the crisis is a top concern for voters, and media must commensurately cover the issue. This is about deciding the next four years — and taking immediate action to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. 

As U of T students, we must recognize that we are the future. Soon, we will be graduates, workers, and leaders in our community, country, and the world. It is us who will inherit the planet, and it is up to us to create a sustainable planet for those that come after us. Let’s vote accordingly. 

And journalists, including student journalists, must be committed to responsibly telling the story of our lifetime. That is why we are dedicated to Covering Climate Now. 

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

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email