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What is the future of sustainability science?

by Lorenza Mezzapelle March 30, 2021
What is the future of sustainability science?

Concordia’s fourth annual sustainability conference evaluated the climate crisis on campus and beyond

Hosted by the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, in collaboration with 4TH SPACE, Concordia’s fourth annual sustainability conference took place from March 15 to 19.

The five-day series, Sustainability and the Climate Crisis, which was hosted via Zoom, featured a variety of lectures, workshops and discussions centred around the progressing climate emergency. Topics included global warming, loss of biodiversity, renewable energy, and examined Concordia’s position in addressing the aforementioned issues.

Guest speakers included professors, undergraduate and graduate students from various disciplines, including the departments of Biology, Communication Studies, and Geography, Planning and Environment.

The week kicked off with a series of presentations centred around Current topics in sustainability science. Graduate students in the Advanced Seminar in Environmental Science course presented their research and the potential ways in which certain solutions can tackle sustainability issues. 

Among the presentations was Brian Armstrong’s research on the importance of small-scale subsistence fisheries. Armstrong’s research is done in partnership with the Cree Nation Government and the Hunters and Trappers Association and explores food security, funding for hunter-trappers, and Indigenous knowledge of food sustainability.

“I believe cataloguing and understanding these initiatives and relationships can put fisheries and food security back into the greater context of cultural wellbeing, environmental stewardship and belonging for long term, intergenerational sustainability,” said Armstrong, adding that, on a greater level, this would entail fostering partnerships, respecting Indigenous communities, and reevaluating the way settlers conceive their role in the world.

In the next discussion, Insects: Indicators and agents of global change?, panellists examined climate change from an entomological perspective. More specifically, Concordia Professor Emma Despland discussed how climate change has been disrupting insect ecosystems and causing mass outbreaks.

Despland explained how warming temperatures lead to an influx of insects to a specific region, in turn, causing damage to forests as a result of the insects’ eggs — or larvae — feeding on growing and underdeveloped bark. Thus, this disrupts not only the insect’s ecosystem, but forestry as well.

From a more economical perspective, Concordia Professor Damon Matthews’ lecture Implications of the remaining carbon budget for climate policies and emissions targets offered an overview and analysis of carbon budgets and how this data and information is applied in creating corporate policies and targets. The carbon budget is essentially the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to prevent the Earth from warming above its threshold.

Whereas in Emission targets and a challenge to capitalism?, postdoctoral fellow Anders Bjørn and PhD candidate Daniel Horen Greenford discussed how applying science-based emission targets and considering alternatives to capitalism can potentially help the climate crisis. Science-based emission targets are goals developed by businesses and corporations in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For a more biological approach to the climate crisis, Climate Change and Natural Systems, and The future of biodiversity in a changing planet explored the ramifications of human impact on forestry, marine life, and its threat to ecosystems in general.

In one of the presentations, Clara Freeman-Cole delved into protected areas, such as national parks. Freeman-Cole described the concept of landscape fragmentation, a process by which habitats are broken up into smaller areas as a result of infrastructure, agriculture, and natural resource extraction, among others.

Sahar Alinezhad’s discussion on the importance of community gardens as a tool to promote social wellbeing, and Jacques Simon-Mayer’s research on remote mapping and monitoring of chlorophyll levels in the water were among the other panels that presented findings on the future of sustainability in Canada.

In PhD candidate Alexandre Pace’s lecture, he presented his research about recording the events of climate change via the observation of tree rings, whereas Clare O’Neill Sanger delved into her research about pollen records. The two presentations offered a glimpse at the ways in which the observational analysis of living systems can provide us with information about the climate crisis and state of the environment for the past, present, and future.

Later in the week, Concordia Professor Pedro Peres-Neto, whose research centres around community ecology and biodiversity from a statistical and theoretical approach, discussed the Earth’s declining biodiversity. He further discussed the difficulties and concerns where policies and models are concerned, and the ways in which these models aid in understanding these occurrences and phenomena.

Building on Peres-Neto’s discussion, Lilian Sales, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biology, delved into her research, which uses statistical and mathematical models as a means of further understanding the distribution of various species on different scales. Species distribution models (SDM), mentioned throughout both Peres-Neto and Sales’ discussions, are models which use locational data of species in order to better understand and predict their locational distribution.

Of course, while considering the climate crisis on a global and national level is of great importance, it is equally as important to recognize the ways in which we can take action on a local level. Various discussions introduced viewers to initiatives for climate action on campus and in academia. 

Climate action at Concordia: A panel discussion aimed to educate students about Concordia’s Sustainability Action Plan, which was launched in 2020. The plan presented the university’s vision and plans to divest from greenhouse gases and reduce waste. The presentation centred primarily around a Q&A session wherein students could ask questions about the five-year plan and its implications.

For those interested in careers focusing on the environment and sustainability, Careers in Sustainability offered students a glimpse at the various paths that can be taken upon graduation. The talk featured Faisal Shennib, Concordia’s environmental specialist at the Office of Facilities Management, Katerina Fragos, manager of sustainability and climate change at multinational accounting firm PwC, and Anthony Garoufalis-Auger, climate emergency organizer at Rapid Decarbonization Group, a non-profit organization. The panel demonstrated the ways in which students can become actively involved in the climate crisis, even without a formal education in science.

To end the week off on a more interactive note, attendees were invited to join the Climate Emergency Committee for an engaging game of Climate Geopardy. The committee consists of students and professors from the department of Geography, Planning, and Environment who are aiming to raise awareness about the climate crisis throughout the province via a series of workshops, lectures, and events. 

The game, which takes a similar form to the popular American game-show, Jeopardy!, was meant to educate the public on the current climate emergency and its underlying science. By introducing scientific concepts and research in an engaging manner, players were able to educate themselves and test their knowledge, all while putting an entertaining spin on an important issue.

The series left viewers with a variety of topics to think about, both where personal and institutional changes and policies are concerned. The speakers and presenters offered a well-encompassed glance at a simultaneously distressing and hopeful possibility for our future. Regardless of one’s area of expertise, one thing is certain, the future of the climate emergency is in our hands: as citizens, students, scientists, consumers, and beyond.

The recorded lectures from Sustainability and the Climate Crisis are available for viewing on 4TH SPACE’s YouTube channel. To learn more about 4TH SPACE and for more information about upcoming events, follow them on Instagram and Facebook.



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