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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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Climate Stories: An Inuk Perspective

Jason Sikoak hosted a workshop at 4th Space on Nov. 20 about Indigenous art and climate justice.

An Inuk Perspective, with Jason Sikoak is an event part of the five-year project led by Elizabeth Fast, an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Concordia.

The project is called Land as our teacher, and, according to Fast, it occurs “to create land-based programming by and for Indigenous youth to understand the impact [of land-based teachings].” Her initiative has a lot of collaborators, as well as an Indigenous youth advisory council, as she explained.

Land as our teacher is not about raising awareness to non-Indigenous people, but forming a safe space to promote exchanges between communities and connection with nature.

Uniting nations through their roots is a great way to heal Indigenous difficulties, according to Fast. She agreed that Indigenous perspectives have a wholesome and sustainable approach in relation to the environment and community, to name a few.

She also explained how meaningful the project is, especially for Indigenous youth who grew up disconnected from their culture and land for reasons related to colonization.

Fast is driven by offering Indigenous youth land connectedness she did not experience growing up in Manitoba. Understanding the interaction with nature shaped an essential part of Indigenous peoples’ language, culture and identity.

“Some land-based teachings have been lost,” Fast said.

This initiative is purposefully addressing problems within Indigenous communities such as lateral violence, Fast said. It is the result of various assimilation and discrimination policies from the Federal and Provincial governments. According to Indigenous Services Canada, about 30 Indigenous communities across the country still don’t have access to clean water to this date.

Fast acknowledges the lack of education regarding Indigenous knowledge and culture and encourages a focus on Indigenous perspectives. She reiterates her support of The Indigenous Directions Action Plan, a Concordia based initiative, which promotes decolonization and Indigenization of the University with concrete steps.

This workshop was also meant to acknowledge art as a vehicle for social and environmental progress. Its facilitator, Jason Sikoak, who is from Nunatsiavut, an Inuit territory in Newfoundland and Labrador, taught attendees on how to make painted designs on fabric bags. He stressed the importance of making sustainable art with reusable and recycled material.

Sikoak’s perspective on climate change is based on territorial exploration with his father who witnessed the deterioration of the land over the course of his life. The artist started to address environmental issues with his art after his brother got arrested during the Muskrat Falls protest in Manitoba over the Lower Churchill project.

The ongoing hydroelectric project, next to Muskrat Falls in Labrador, requires the flooding of a 41-square-kilometre reservoir for the dam. This reservoir is home to soil and plants which contain mercury, and flooding can release carbon that fuels a process called methylation. According to an article published by the CBC, this phenomenon generates the formation of methylmercury, a neurotoxin linked to health problems. It can poison food supplies, especially fish, which is essential for Inuit survival.

Hydroelectricity is seen as a great green alternative, but it actually devastates Indigenous lands, explained Sikoak. Flooding thousands of hectares of forest destroys the fauna and flora as well as impacting the population who depends upon it.

Sikoak insisted on the importance of everyday behaviour regarding a sustainable lifestyle such as avoiding single-use items, buying local, and using reusable bags.

In addition to individual behaviours, collective initiatives such as environmental art proposed by Greenpeace and climate strikes are creating more exposure. A significant example is the climate march on Sept. 27, with approximately half a million protesters in the streets of Montreal demanding for the government to make environmental changes.

Regardless of an individual’s understanding of the state of the environment, the workshop demonstrated that we are directly affected by climate change and it is only by uniting that we can redefine governance and the way large corporations operate.

“We can’t eat money,” Sikoak said.

 

Photos by Cecilia Piga

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Arts

Saving the environment, one craft at a time

 Children around the world work together to design for a sustainable future

The fifth annual edition of the Global Children’s Designathon took place on Nov. 16 at 4th Space, bringing together 40 children from Montreal to work with others around the world. The children – from seven to 12 years old – worked to develop creative solutions from various Sustainable Development Goals related to food and climate action.

After brainstorming their plans, the youngsters brought their designs to life, using simple electric motors, micro bits, LED lights, sensors, and recycled material.

They worked in groups, developing alternative shelters and projects that would deliver food to those in need, pick up waste, and more, all powered by solar energy.

Although, the prototyping process did create a fair amount of waste. Bringing 40 children together working with the Designathon team, a pizza lunch, snacks and oh so much hot glue  is bound to be a messy time.

4th Space was well equipped with proper composting and waste disposal, urging everyone to mind their waste and clean up after themselves throughout the process.

But such an activity can lead to one asking themselves, how can this possibly be good for the environment?

Such crafting empowers children; they too have a role to play in shaping our future, not just scientists and politicians. They develop skills, creative and critical thinking, communication, collaboration, digital literacy and a deeper understanding of the world.

Occurring around the world at the same time, the Designathon sets aside time to Skype with children working towards the same goals in another country. This year’s young Montrealers, though still quite sleepy at 9 a.m., Skyped with young Arubans, who were excited to see the snow on the corners of Mackay St. and Maisonneuve Blvd.

In addition to the crafting process, Designathon conducts research, recording the children’s shared concerns, solutions and the language they use surrounding the crises. Sometimes, these simple prototypes are adopted by companies and, in consultation with the young designers, can be developed into a product or service. In order to facilitate this kind of cross-pollination, the Designathon team records the children as they present their ideas, making them available on their website.

While the Global Designathon occurs only once a year, the organization continues to work with schools throughout the year to develop their “changemaker” curriculum.

In this way, these children become part of something greater than themselves. It might seem simple or even silly at first, but the impact of this kind of education is no joke.

 

 

Photo by Maxime Lapostolle.

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Arts

4th SPACE is as flexible and adjustable as a bento box

A multidisciplinary addition to Concordia’s downtown campus

Concordia University’s 4th SPACE will be carrying out programs encompassing a variety of topics from avant-garde video games to open discussions about Indigenous cultures integrated in artificial intelligence during the upcoming months.

The explorative platform begins with a collaborative process between the school faculty and Concordia’s student associations, but it extends to more than a museum for school projects. After one month of its official launch in January, 4th SPACE revealed its interactive workshops to all passersby. The studio also features space for screenings and prototype installations presented by the university’s faculty members and students. Furthermore, its schedule offers roundtable events, an opportunity to spark conversation between guest panelists and the audience, that usually takes place in the center of the facility.

“Our collaborators, who will be researchers and students, take up residency in the SPACE, then they will transform the venue using specialized furniture,” said Knowledge Broker Prem Sooriyakumar. Designed to be as flexible and adjustable as a bento box, the venue can shift from a traditional science lab to a stage for visual art performances. “The way we’ve conceptualized the 4th SPACE is meant to be an agile space, meaning it can transform itself to the topic we are exploring for that set period,” Sooriyakumar continued.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Sir George Williams Affair and Black History Month, the integrative studio has just hosted a commemoration of the Affair, Protests and Pedagogy.

On Jan. 31, the second evening of Protests and Pedagogy, Dorothy Williams’s workshop aimed to educate participants a card game she created. Williams is a historian and author of the only book that studied the history of black Canadians from New France era to 20th century Montreal, The Road to Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal. Her game, The ABCs of Canadian Black History, is a familiar combination between the classic bingo and childhood trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh. Instead of anime monsters, these cards feature prominent black Canadian figures and organizations such as successful entrepreneur Wilson Ruffin Abbott and the Victoria Pioneer Rifles.

Following Protests and Pedagogy, the 4th SPACE will be hosting Landscapes of Hope on Feb. 19 and 20. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Curated by Concordia’s Art Education professor, Vivek Venkatesh, and Communication Studies professor, Owen Chapman, Landscape of Hope is a two-day program in which the first part will be a workshop held at the 4th SPACE on Feb. 19. The workshop gives Concordia undergraduates and CEGEP students a space where they can voice their thoughts on racism and cyberbullying. The program will proceed with a visual and musical art performance led by the undergraduates and graduates of the university’s Communications Studies, Art Education, Music Therapy and Education departments on Feb. 20 starting at 5 p.m.

Affiliated with Concordia’s SOcial Media EducatiON Every day (SOMEONE) project and international touring festival Grimposium, Landscape of Hope aims to teach workshop participants and viewers digital resilience in relation to online hate speech.

Since 2016, Professor Venkatesh and the SOMEONE research team have garnered worldwide attention by sharing elementary to post-secondary students’s narrative on cyber racism through music, theatre and other art mediums. Their project, Landscape of Hope, demonstrated success at their official premiere in Norway last year.

On March 4, 4th SPACE will be housing Arcade 11 in collaboration with Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre (TAG) and the Montreal Public Libraries Network. The arcade will feature experimental video games and “each game would have some kind of research component whether it was the technology involved, the experience or type of play,” said 4th SPACE coordinator, Douglas Moffat. Visitors will also have the opportunity to discuss these topics with the indie video game developers.

This event welcomes people of all ages; parents can mark this event in their to-do list of fun March break activities with their children. From retro arcade machines to a VR gaming experience, Arcade 11 is also the perfect opportunity for Concordia students to play and unwind after a study session for finals.

Taking place from March 18 to April 12, the studio’s planning team will carry out an exhibition centered around artificial intelligence. 4th SPACE will provide a platform for its visitors to reflect on the concept of Indigenous practices within AI. There will also be room for discussion about the hopes and fears of the innovative technology that is frighteningly powerful and limitless.

Since the studio’s opening, many Montreal residents and university students have come to see the new topic  4th SPACE was exploring. Successfully mirroring Concordia’s dynamic and inclusive climate, what was once a dark and forgotten corner at the downtown campus has regained a pulse.

Protest and Pedagogies was held at the space’s last event, a presentation surfacing the traumas and silences of 1969’s Sir George Williams Affair and the reparative work involved post-affair on Monday, Feb. 11. For more information, visit 4th SPACE’s schedule of activities & events.

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