Breakthrough research offers solution for environmental dilemma

As part of her award-winning research, Dr. Soodeh Abedini designed a system she believes holds the key to solving two big environmental challenges.

Concordia University PhD researcher Soodeh Abedini’s system not only reduces the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, but it also converts them into a usable source of methanol. Abedini was able to test this conversion in a lab using greenhouse gas collected from a Quebec wastewater treatment plant.

In 2016, research by Zulfirdaus Zakaria and Siti Kartom Kamarudin highlighted that “methanol is a clean and renewable fuel source that contains a large amount of useful energy and is in great demand as an intermediate source of green energy.”  

Zakaria and Kamrudins research describes a device known as a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell which theoretically “directly converts fuels such as methanol into electrical energy via zero-emission fuel combustion.” Abedini hopes to include a similar fuel cell that has comparably low emissions as an addition to her system.

As part of her PhD research, Abedini began engineering the system which, according to her, could be integrated in a variety of industries.

“We don’t need to change any operation system, there is no difference between a system that’s adjusted in the wastewater treatment or the cattle farms,” she explained.

While the collection method of the greenhouse gases may vary from industry to industry, the operating system remains consistent, Abedini says. For instance, farms would need a ventilation system to collect the biogases released by the livestock.

Greenhouse gases are one of the primary concerns in dealing with climate change. The presence of these gases traps heat from the sun in the earth’s atmosphere, leading to increasing global warming.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the amount of “carbon dioxide [is] now more than 50 per cent higher than pre-industrial levels.” Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, as it is released as a byproduct in many different industries. According to the NOAA however, it’s most commonly released with the burning of fossil fuels such as oil or coal as a source of energy. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more greenhouse gases can lead to “more severe heat waves, floods, and droughts,” as well as rising sea levels. Carbon dioxide and methane are the most common and therefore most damaging greenhouse gases followed by nitrous oxide.

Abedini’s research focuses on converting both carbon dioxide and methane into usable methanol. This not only targets and captures emissions, but also decreases the reliance on burning fossil fuels as methanol can be used as a greener energy source. She even believes that methanol can be used to prevent certain bacteria in water treatment plants from releasing nitrous oxide. 

Now, she is working on bringing her design to the market and has signed up for the Quebec Climate Solutions Festival for the second time. She hopes to win again this year by submitting her pilot. While confident in her design, she acknowledges the problems ahead.

“A lot of industries hide their production of the greenhouse gas because if they report the real production, they have to pay more money for carbon credits,” Abedini said. 

Once her system hits the market, Abedini hopes to expand her product into other industries such as refineries, landfills, and the cement industry. 

“Another thing that I hope will be possible in the next year is, proposing this system to another province of Canada, for example, Calgary, because in that province, we have a lot of petroleum industry and refineries,” she said.

If systems such as Abedini’s become mainstream, she hopes they could play a significant role in reducing Canadian emissions and global warming.


Less is more: Activists denounce greenwashing over the future EV battery plant

When it comes to lowering emissions, these environmental activists say car culture will always stand in the way.

In the overcast afternoon of Friday, Feb. 2, environmental activists held a demonstration at the construction site of an upcoming electric vehicle battery factory, Northvolt, located in Saint-Basile-le-Grand in protest against the project.

Organized by activist coalition Rage Climatique, the group of around 50 people held up road traffic on Chemin du Richelieu as they marched and danced from the McMasterville train station to the nearby entrance of the Northvolt site. They expressed their indignation at a project they feel will result in far more ecological harm than good. Signs reading “For the environment against greenwashing” showed the group’s skepticism of this project that aims to lower the car industry’s emissions. They claim it will inevitably cause ecological damage to the local environment, and perpetuate Quebec’s culture of car reliance.

In September, the federal and Quebec governments approved a $7 billion project with Swedish company Northvolt to build a gigafactory that will manufacture electric vehicle (EV) lithium-ion batteries from start to finish in Quebec. The factory site is located in Saint-Basile-le-Grand, 30 km east of Montreal. This project is Quebec’s largest private investment in the province’s history.

Member of Rage Climatique Yolann Lamarre asked: “When we destroy the wetlands and encroach on the territories of endangered species, is this really what we call an ecological transition?”

Clad in crafted bird masks, the lively gathering blocked the way of construction workers wanting to move in and out of the grounds. The crowd cheered “L’air, la terre et les rivières ont besoin de révolutionnaires” [the air, the land and rivers need revolutionaries] while individuals distributed hot chocolate and hand warmers.

Environment studies student Benjamin Savard traveled by a bus organized by Rage Climatique to get to Saint-Basile-le-Grand from downtown Montreal. Savard protested what he feels is the government’s misuse of provincial budgets, “knowing the massive amount of funding being put into this project while our public transportation is deteriorating from lack of investment.”

The project has not been as wholeheartedly accepted by the public as it has by the CAQ government. On Jan.18, the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE) and three citizens took the matter to Quebec courts to halt what they say is a project that will bring major ecological damage to the area. The CQDE argued that the battery plant’s construction will destroy the high diversity of flora and fauna unique to this wetland habitat.

“This project perpetuates a culture that prioritizes individual car reliance,” Lamarre said. “This leads to pollution from car production, mineral extraction and all the extra energy needed to do so, plus the pollution from building more dams on Indigenous land.”

On Jan. 23, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ké announced that a lawsuit has been filed to demand the federal and provincial government’s consultation with the Kahnawà:ké community  about the Northvolt battery plant.

On Jan. 26, the Quebec Superior Court rejected an injunction requested by the CQDE last month to halt construction. The Court ruled that the company’s measures to make up for the plant’s destructive nature are sufficient, like planting almost three times the amount of trees cut down and a $4.7-million investment to restore wetlands elsewhere.

The lack of consultation of the nearby communities is a major concern of Saint-Basile-le Grand resident Christine Lambert. The first time Lambert heard of Quebec’s investment in the Northvolt EV battery gigafactory was in the newspapers.

She said community consultation meetings did not take place before the project announcement and that her community feels blindsided: “We don’t know how the aqueduct will be built, we don’t know the impact on our roads, we don’t know if our schools will overflow with the arrival of workers, the impact on our clinics, on our services. We are in the dark.”

On the same day as the protest, Northvolt announced that it will create a citizen liaison committee to open a line of communication with the public in the coming weeks.

But to protesters like Savard, the issue with projects such as the Northvolt battery gigafactory is that they maintain the status quo of energy consumption instead of finding ways to decrease it. Savard said: “We’ve arrived at a point where our economy is so energy-intensive that it has passed the planet’s limits.”


Concordia’s climate-smart approach to education

How experts at Concordia evaluate the university’s response to the climate crisis and its sufficiency.

At a time when the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, educational institutions such as Concordia University are at the forefront of integrating climate action into their academic and operational frameworks. The need to adapt and respond to these environmental challenges is reshaping the landscape of education, prompting a reevaluation of traditional practices, and spurring innovative approaches to sustainability.

At Concordia, this shift is evident in the efforts to incorporate climate change understanding and adaptation into the curriculum. Dr. Alexandra Lesnikowski, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment, leads this charge. “My expertise is around the notion of climate change adaptation. Essentially, I study how governments and other types of actors are responding to the unavoidable impacts of a changing climate,” she explained. Her work underscores the importance of equipping students with the knowledge and tools to navigate a world increasingly shaped by climate-induced changes.

Lesnikowski, who also leads a team of researchers at the Concordia Climate Change Adaptation Lab, emphasized the evolving nature of educational responses to climate change. “We [researchers] essentially look at how we deal with things like extreme heats, floods and wildfires, and some of the changing environmental risks that we’re seeing evolve around us now,” she said. This approach is not just about understanding the phenomena, but about developing practical solutions at the community and policy levels, such as creating resilient infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events, formulating policies for sustainable urban planning, and implementing community-based environmental education programs.

However, Dr. Mitchell McLarnon, a faculty member of Concordia’s education department, offers a contrasting viewpoint. He expresses concern about the university’s “hyperactive optimism” approach to climate action. McLarnon stresses the importance of recognizing the environmental cost of modern practices, such as the digitalization of data. “How many people are deleting their emails? Things aren’t in the cloud—they live in a data farm that requires a lot of cooling,” he pointed out. 

In response to such concerns, Lesnikowski acknowledged the ongoing discussions within the university about the environmental impact of academic practices. “Yes, I think we’re seeing increasingly that universities and research disciplines more broadly are having this conversation about what the environmental implications are of our sort of business-as-usual practices concerning travel, certainly, but also material resource intensity for things like research programs,” she stated.

As Concordia navigates these challenging waters, the perspectives of experts like Lesnikowski and McLarnon are crucial. While Lesnikowski focuses on educating and empowering students to be agents of change in a climate-impacted world, McLarnon calls for immediate, tangible actions. 

Their insights reflect a broader dialogue in the educational sector about the role and responsibility of institutions in combating climate change. The steps taken by Concordia today will not only determine its sustainability, but also shape the environmental code of conduct of its students, the future guardians of our planet.


Climate activists and students unite: Rage Climatique week culminates in protests across Quebec

Furious youths, students and activists joined forces to protest against climate injustice. The week-long events invited militants to engage in direct actions.

Over a thousand protesters voiced their anger against climate injustice in the streets of Montreal on Sept. 29. Eighteen student unions from colleges and universities in Sherbrooke, Rimouski and Quebec striked and protested the same day. 

This demonstration happened two weeks after similar marches in New York and Vancouver which echoed one of Quebec’s largest marches in 2019, during which Greta Thunberg inspired approximately half a million Montrealers to fight against global warming.

But with 1,500 protesters according to the SPVM, many participants weren’t satisfied with this mobilization. Sexagenarian Monica Schweizer admired the loud crowd, holding her “Act Now!” sign. “I wish there were more people,” she said. “I wish there were more of our generation.”

Next to her, her friend Raman Kashylp agreed: “Grand-parents should be out here. This is the legacy that we’re leaving behind. And that will be remembered only by the destruction that it caused.”

The fury of Rage Climatique’s anti-capitalist organizers captivated the crowd. “We need to take over the streets, we need to take over the sidewalks, we need to take over the city and destroy those who are destroying us!” Covered by a mask, the speaker accused the government of continuing to invest in luxury companies like Bombardier private jets, while asking the public to recycle and compost. A single private jet emits five to 14 times more CO² than an airliner.

One day before the march, Prime Minister Trudeau and Quebec Premier Legault announced the construction of a $7 billion electric vehicle battery factory by Northvolt, co-founded by former Tesla directors. The government’s investments in green technology and innovation clashes with Rage Climatique’s call to shut down the capitalist system in order to preserve life on Earth.

The marches and protests across Quebec were the culmination of the Rage Climatique week.

“People are looking for ways to get organized, to get into this eco-anger to have a better capacity to act,” said organizer Olivier, who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity.

Rage Climatique held a week-long series of workshops, lectures, discussions and documentary screenings to engage individuals in the climate cause beyond a day’s march.

Some anonymous non-violent actions claimed by Rage Climatique have been reported during the week, such as green paint sprayed on the HEC Montreal building, accusing the business school of greenwashing. 

Protests also targeted the Royal Bank of Canada highlighting its leading role in fossil fuel investment. Some activists deflated SUV tires, leaving messages on the windshield similar to report of offense forms, mentioning “the driving of a vehicle emitting excess CO2 endangering human, animal and plant life.”

To prepare for the protest, over eighty young adults gathered at Parc La Fontaine on Wednesday, Sept. 26. The Rage Climatique group and attendees openly exchanged safety and legal tips. “There is strength in numbers,” Rage Climatique speaker Mims said. 

The anti-capitalist group stressed the importance of direct action with strong symbolism, while giving advice on protection from arrests and repression. “I don’t want to scare you,” said Mims while explaining the SPVM’s repression tools. “But I want you to be well informed.”

Marielle Loson-Poitier, experienced climate activist, voiced her concern about extreme actions that could discourage participation. “If we say from the start that there’s a chance of arrests, I’m sorry, but the vast majority will say ‘I don’t want to be arrested,’” she said. “We’d like it to remain a peaceful demonstration so that people feel safe wanting to take part.”

With firm kindness, Rage Climatique replied: “There are different types of protests with different levels of risk, so that everyone, with what they’re prepared to do or not, can choose the protest that suits them.”

The Queer anti-capitalist collective P!nk Bloc held a workshop exploring the links between LGTBQ communities, feminism, the exploitation of nature and minorities. Seated in a circle on the grass, the attendees discussed capitalist, scientific and religious ideologies, and their roles in current social norms.

P!nk Bloc led the march along with Rage Climatique, which peacefully ended on Saint-Laurent boulevard at the corner of Boulevard René Levesque with music and dance. Protestors sat down blocking the two streets, hoping that the government would respond to their week-long efforts.


A Summer of Climate Catastrophes has forever changed my Position on Climate Change

A tale of two climate crises and how the effects of climate change differs across the world.

The first time I experienced temperatures above forty degrees Celsius was in July while I was representing Concordia at the Thessaloniki International Media Summer Academy in Greece. The second was two weeks ago after a heatwave in Montreal and parts of Quebec caused the city to experience record-high temperatures.

When I look back on this past summer, it seems that every significant experience that I had was somehow underscored by climate catastrophes. Whether it was going to the park while Montreal had the worst air quality in the world or exploring the CJ building as it flooded, it’s a stark reminder that the climate crisis is a part of our new reality.

Before this summer, my views on climate change could be summarised by the phrase “optimistic ignorance.” Don’t get me wrong, I knew that climate change was a major challenge facing humanity and would require tremendous social action to combat its worst of its ramifications. And yet, I still believed that the dire warnings of climate scientists espoused of dead zones and societal collapse would not come to pass.

The cognitive dissonance required to hold these two positions simultaneously could only come through my privilege and background. Experiencing the effects of climate change in two vastly different countries has provided me with a unique understanding of how our collective understanding of the climate crisis reflects our circumstances. 

In Quebec, the public’s response to record high temperatures was to demand for the provincial government to service all public schools with air conditioning. Meanwhile, in Greece, I watched as the people were forced to adapt their lifestyles to deal with the heat. Businesses and social services would close during the highest heat of the midday sun.

The most startling example of this occurred when I was in Athens during the peak of July’s heatwave. As I walked down the street, my self-centred concerns, anxieties, and frustrations regarding the temperatures were quickly humbled when I came across a refugee struggling to find shade in the city. Beside her was a young girl, barely over the age of 10, wearing a pitch black robe lying in the middle of the street, too weak to sit up. 

It was the first interaction I had with displaced peoples. It’s a scene that still haunts me to this day, a reality that most of us in the Global North will be sheltered from. A reality that has permanently altered my relationship to the climate crisis.

Despite my newfound perception of the climate crisis, I refuse to partake in climate nihilism, or the mindset that nothing can or will be done to address the current crisis. It’s infuriating to witness those in the Global North, who enjoy the advantages of our modern world while being shielded from the repercussions of their actions, readily accepting defeat.

It’s up to us to engage in the hard work that is needed to bring social and infrastructure reform to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis and embrace the sacrifices to our personal lives that will come with said changes. At the very least, we owe it to those who are the most affected to not give up.


Summer of infernos

Amidst the intensifying impact of climate change, Canadians endured nightmarish journeys, unforeseen expenses and heartwarming acts of kindness.

Renowned for its vibrant summer festivals, Montreal bore witness to a disturbing transformation this scorching season. Azure skies became the canvas for relentless infernos, shrouding the city in smog and smoke, a poignant reminder of fires sweeping not just across Canada, but the world.

Among those affected were Concordia University students, enduring a nightmarish ordeal that left a trail of devastation. 

For Joshua Iserhoff, a human relations student, this summer became a harrowing nightmare. His family embarked on a frantic odyssey from one threatened community to another, pursued by the flames.

The journey from Montreal to their home in Nemiscau along the Billy Diamond Highway was fraught with tension. Despite some reassuring forecasts, the unpredictable nature of wildfires always loomed. 

“Rabbits [were] running on the highway because they’re running as well,” Iserhoff recalls. “And that’s the safe place that they could find.”

Due to the fires, their endeavour involved additional hours on the road and in hotels, incurring unexpected expenses, a heavy burden, especially for a student. Their families rallied to provide support, easing the financial strain.

Their escape began on July 11 after attending a wedding in Ottawa, heading northward. At the Matagami Gate, a crucial checkpoint on the private Billy Diamond Highway, they received the all-clear from the toll attendant, oblivious to the impending danger.

Iserhoff had been driving his sister’s car when in mere seconds, the winds intensified, carrying a blinding wall of smoke and flames, plunging them into darkness, cars threatening to lift off the ground. Panic set in as he glanced at his own family in the other vehicle. 

Unable to communicate through open windows due to his daughter’s asthma, Iserhoff’s wife used soaked towels as makeshift respirators for their children, a life-saving suggestion by Iserhoff’s mother. Fortunately, an elderly stranger saw them struggling and offered N95 masks, providing a glimmer of hope.

Survival instincts took over. “I have to drive,” Iserhoff told his wife after switching cars to join his family. “She covered [the kids] with a blanket, and opened the iPad. We were singing in the cars.”

Despite putting on a brave face for his children, it was a traumatic experience. “It does something to your humanity,” Iserhoff said.

Out west, creative writing student Jess Thodas confronted an advancing wildfire that jumped across the lake that separates East and West Kelowna. “We went out with my dogs to the lake”, Thodas recounts. “We started noticing the sky was turning red.”

Reliant on sporadic emergency alerts and Twitter updates, she relied mainly on messages from within the community to stay safe.

All flights were grounded, runways reserved for water bombers. More than a week of cancellations later, Thodas finally boarded a flight back to Montreal, leaving her concerned for her family.

Thodas embarked on a challenging 20-hour journey, which involved a night sleeping at the airport with her dog. Unable to relax until reaching her apartment, Thodas just collapsed on her bed once she’d made it.

Photo courtesy of Jess Thodas
Photo courtesy of Jess Thodas

In the midst of this crisis, Dr. Rebecca Tittler, a forest ecologist who teaches at the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and in the Departments of Biology and of Geography, Planning and Environment and coordinates the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre at Concordia, provides insight into the situation.

She points out that while wildfires are a natural part of forest ecosystems, this year’s early and severe onset can likely be attributed to the hot and dry conditions caused by climate change. “We must remember that trees naturally burn, releasing what they’ve stored, unlike the greenhouse gases emitted by humans altering the climate,” she explained. 

Dr. Tittler emphasizes the pressing need to address climate change and safeguard communities in isolated forested areas and enhance evacuation measures, underlining that firefighting efforts prioritize protecting human lives due to the vastness of Canadian forests.

Despite these stories of resilience in the face of nature’s fury, each new blaze serves as a stark reminder of our shared vulnerability and the urgent imperative to confront the growing impact of climate change.

Cree Nation of Wemindji – Photo courtesy of Bradley Georgekish

Veranada: a secluded gaucho lifestyle threatened by climate change

Without rain the grass doesn’t grow, and without it the sheep won’t make it through the winter

Veranada is a film highlighting a remote community in the mountains of Argentina. With the summer season coming to an end, the local shepherds have to relocate their flock of sheep, looking for water.

Malargüe, a city in the Argentinian state of Mendoza, is the home of Don Arturo, a lifelong shepherd. His lifestyle and that of a few other gauchos — the Argentinian version of the American cowboy — is threatened by the effects of climate change.

The 2020 rainfall season in the Andes mountains, which separate Argentina and Chile, marked the fifth consecutive year of below-average precipitations. Some hoped that El Niño would bring more wet days, but unfortunately, a dry spell looms ahead.

Without water, the various rivers that slide through the chain of mountains and valleys cannot supply all the communities and ranches.

At the end of the Veranada, the summer season for those who herd animals in the mountains, Don Arturo packed his limited belongings onto his horse and took his sheep someplace else, hoping to find a more suitable location to settle with the animals.

“I didn’t know going there that they were struggling with climate change, I realized very soon that they were. And it was a very big concern to them. Their way of life, as they see it, it’s kind of threatened,” explained producer and director of Veranada, Dominique Chaumont, after the screening of the film at the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM).

Living a life that is as old as the country’s founding days, these gaucho communities have no other method of communication than a radio that is always turned on, transmitting messages between citizens from towns away.

From warnings of storms to seeking employment, to wishing a happy eightieth birthday to a father living in another town, the radio is the only thing that keeps the community connected with the outside world.

In the film, the simple tasks completed by the gauchos on a daily basis are shown through a series of long, patient still shots — some even being several minutes long. The narrative creates an immersive experience of this centuries-old way of living.

Filming in a town that exists outside of modernity brought a set of constraints to the three-people team that consisted of Chaumont’s project.

While working without electricity, living in a tent and navigating the mountains on horseback, the producer and her two companions had to pack wisely and lightly — something that the film’s protagonist does every day.

With only two cameras and two solar panels, they had to turn the cameras on only at specific times to ensure the best use of the battery.

In total, about seven and a half hours of footage were gathered in a span of three weeks, while the filmmakers lived alongside the gauchos, earning their trust.

Chaumont, a native of Mendoza, 300 kilometres away from Malargüe, discovered a way of life that most in her native country don’t even know about. She also discovered what it’s like to live on the brink of extinction.

“That was their concern, and that was their story. And I wanted to tell their story,” she said. 

Community Student Life

Fridays For Future at Concordia University

Concordia students are making a difference in the fight against climate change.

September 23 marked the latest protest for climate justice organized by Fridays For Future in Montreal. This month, Concordia University marched for climate justice, along with many other schools. 

Fridays For Future is a movement that was started by climate activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg was 15 at the time when she helped initiate the movement back in August 2018. She, along with other activists, sat in front of the Swedish parliament for three straight weeks to protest the lact of action for our climate crisis.

Students at Concordia University actively took part in a strike on Friday, Sept. 23 to protest against climate change.

The Concordian was present at the climate march to document the protest and speak with students about their involvement with climate justice.


On the morning of the march, students assembled on the Reggies bar terrace behind the Hall Building at Concordia. 

Speeches were given by  students who work at the Hive about the purpose of the day’s march, demanding two things: 

  • Ban fossil fuels by 2030, in terms of production, processing, exports and imports. 
  • Impose a massive tax on the wealthy while  reinvesting into public services and social programs to ensure decent living conditions for all.

As the speeches concluded on the Reggies terrace, The Concordian met up with Concordia student Octavie Doherty-Haigh. Haigh gave her thoughts about why she was participating in the march.

“I came here to the climate march today, because I know that change needs to happen. I know that during the pandemic, there’s been so much of a shutdown and that’s why it’s important to be here in person,” Haigh explained.“I know that consuming meat is one of the biggest contributing factors to CO2 levels rising, so I’ve taken meat out of my diet. I also plant trees during the summertime.”


Students from Dawson College soon joined Concordia students to begin the climate march.

Concordia, Dawson, and McGill students marched together to the George-Étienne Cartier Monument situated on Mont-Royal. 

At the monument, all the participating schools and organizations assembled. 

The Concordian spoke to three other students about their involvement in combating climate change.

Anna Abbott explained how individual change can make a difference in the community. 

“I do believe in individual change, I take the public transport when I can. I’ve been vegan for six years now. Bigger movements like this are so important to engage the community,” Abbott explained. 

Many of the students at the climate march are actively switching to a plant-based or completely vegan diet in order to combat climate change. Others at the climate march simply just turned up, like Concordia student Gabriel Casola.

“I am not doing much to combat climate change in my own life. I am here at this event and I am more than happy to be involved,” Casola said.

At the monument, a speech was given by the President of the National Committee for the Rights of First Nations Normand Pilot. 

Pilot spoke about how as a community, we have to take care of Mother Earth and how future generations won’t have a chance if we don’t.

Everyone at the protest wanted to have their voices heard. Over 130,000 students were in attendance.


Fellow Concordia student and theatre major Julia Pye summarized protesters’ thoughts on the event succinctly:

“I think the most important fight in climate change is the vote. I think that the government holds all the power and if we don’t get young people out there to vote, it’s going to be a horrible thing. Even talking to people around here so many people don’t know about the Quebec elections. I think educating the youth on that is the most important and knowing who you are voting for can literally save the planet.”

See More Photos From The March:

Community Student Life

Scenes from a Climate Strike

Pictures and sounds: An up-close look at the annual march for climate justice, Fridays for Future

What does a climate March sound like?

The state of Quebec’s supply chains in the face of climate disasters

How they can be fortified and how Canada can mitigate climate disaster impacts

Climate disasters have clear impacts on the environment, but they also disrupt supply chains across Canada.

The flooding in B.C. in late 2021 was the “most costly severe weather event in the province’s history,” according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. As the flooding occurred prior to Christmas and much of Asian-made consumer goods entered Canada through the Port of Vancouver, Quebec’s supply chain for Christmas shopping was disrupted due to delays in delivery.

Dr. Satyaveer Chauhan, a Concordia professor who specializes in supply chain and business technology management, said that although the disruption is over, there is still a ripple effect on Quebec’s supply chains as they had to be readjusted.

During the floods, shipments had to be rerouted through the United States, as many roadways were shut down due to flooding and landslides.

Dr. Brian Slack, a Concordia professor in the Geography, Planning, and Environment department, mentioned how regional factors determine the local severity of the climate crisis.

“The port of Montreal is likely to be significantly less impacted than Vancouver by climate change and other factors,” said Dr. Slack. “We have no serious mountains between the port and the customers, [which] is the factor that amplifies environmental impacts for Vancouver.”

The lack of transportation options through B.C.’s mountainous regions can cause a logistical problem as the roads are susceptible to flooding and landslides.

Although the mountains are a factor in environmental disaster response, the environmental impacts ultimately stem from the climate crisis.

The frequency and severity of climate disasters have increased globally over the past 50 years, and in Canada, the average cost per disaster jumped by 1,250 per cent since 1970. Supply chain disruptions stemming from complications in sourcing, production, transport, and destination markets are a part of that cost increase.

It’s clear that Canada must be more prepared to mitigate the impacts of future climate disasters, and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) agrees.

A new expert panel report from the CCA released early 2021, goes into detail about the consequences of climate disasters in Canada. Although the country is especially susceptible to climate disasters, the consequences of the disasters “are not inevitable — they are the result of choices that put people in harm’s way,” said Scott Vaughan, chair of the Expert Panel on Disaster Resilience in a Changing Climate.

While the report discusses different strategies to combat the climate crisis, it also mentions that the private sector can “improve their competitiveness by assessing and managing the disaster risks they face in a changing climate by building in supply chain redundancies.”

Dr. Chauhan noted a similar approach to improving Canadian supply chains.

He cited an example of how Home Depot has bulk distribution centres and holding facilities on the East coast of the United States in preparation for hurricane season, so that their supply chain is not disrupted by any hurricanes.

While fortifying Canada’s supply chains is important, the most critical factors to consider here are the mounting risks associated with climate disasters, which ultimately lead to potential disruptions.

Eric M. Meslin, president and CEO of the CCA, said that “Building disaster resilience hinges on a coordinated strategic approach involving government, businesses, and the public.”

The report outlined several strategies, including investment in disaster risk reduction, supplying decision makers with prompt access to data on climate disasters to better inform decisions, and climate-proofing buildings and infrastructure through improving building codes and engineering practices.

One of the most important proposed strategies included in the report is changing Canada’s “[continued] underreliance on Indigenous and Local Knowledge and the underutilization of disaster-related expertise developed by Indigenous organizations and in Indigenous communities.”

This devaluation of important information undermines Canada’s disaster resilience efforts, and increases the effects of supply chain disruptions in Quebec and across Canada.

Graphic by James Fay


Where should Montreal plant its coveted 500,000 trees?

The city’s government must find a place for the urban forest it promises by 2030

As Christmas trees begin gradually disappearing from windows this time of year, the opposite may soon be true for trees just outside them. With an urban forest in mind and a shovel in hand, will Montreal’s government be planting near you?

The city’s Climate Plan is promising half a million more trees on the island by 2030. However,  as the Government of Canada’s website explains, large-scale tree planting is often not as simple as it sounds. It involves ensuring that “the right tree is planted in the right place, for the right reasons.”

Determining the right place when it comes to tree planting is something that Carly Ziter, urban ecologist and assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of Biology, is wholeheartedly invested in. Ziter’s research focuses on “ecosystem services,” or the services that flora could provide to people within urban environments.

“One of the reasons I focus on urban areas is that you are providing benefits directly to people where they live,” said Ziter, who had cycled to the university’s greener Loyola campus despite the snowy start to the November day. “Things like reducing temperature during heat waves, reducing flooding, improving air quality, improving mental health and wellbeing.”

The tree oath is part of the city’s vision for a “green Montreal,” with a three-pronged mission: to combat climate change, bolster the ecological resilience of the island, and improve quality of life for residents.

As a part of that tree oath, Soverdi, a tree-planting non-profit organization based in Montreal, will be planting 200,000 of those trees on non-municipal land, which takes up 66 per cent of the city’s total land area according to Soverdi’s General Manager Malin Anagrius. Private and institutional land is Soverdi’s main focus, explained Anagrius, and a greening of Montreal cannot be possible if there is an exclusive focus on parks, or cutting through sidewalk pavement to plant trees.

“That’s the traditional tree planting when you think about trees. It’s either the side of the street or in the forest,” said Anagrius. “But what we do is that we try to see it otherwise and try to make a little mini forest behind different kinds of land.”

The non-profit collaborates with boroughs, land owners, and companies to fund the sprouting of these mini forests in locations such as schools, hospitals, and industrial areas.

“Trees can be integrated into a lot of different spaces,” explained Ziter, “and so even if we don’t have enough space for, you know, a larger green space or a park or a garden, we might have enough space to plant a tree.”

In spite of its versatility, the location of a tree is paramount to maximizing its benefits and can present several challenges, as outlined in Montreal’s 2021 Nature and Sports Plan. One challenge is the “availability of required spaces for planting.” The government is also committed to identifying and planting trees in zones which are vulnerable to heat waves, since greening would help prevent overheating.

For Christopher Vaccarella, president of Concordia’s Political Science Student Association, the question of place was an easy one to answer. In keeping with the association’s first sustainability policy, Vaccarella and his partners successfully planted 250 trees in Montreal last year.

“​​All of our tree planting projects were in elementary schools,” shared Vaccarella proudly, sitting at a Second Cup Café in downtown Montreal. He donned a forest-green fleece jacket, a colour absent from the storefronts of many cafés downtown.

“But what I found interesting was all of them are in the East End, which is what we preferred because that’s an area neglected by the city.”

Vaccarella’s heavy endorsement of planting trees in the east comes as no surprise. Just this October, a CBC article analyzing a 2015 study on Montreal’s tree canopy revealed significant disparities across the island. The wealthier neighbourhood of Mount Royal, with its median income of $110,000, boasted a 40 per cent canopy cover. In the east, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and its median income of $40,000 had a canopy cover of just 11 per cent. Reasons mentioned in the analysis  include real estate values, lot sizes, and differences in property tax revenue.

“If I had 500,000 trees in Montreal, I would certainly focus on improving what we sometimes call tree equity,” said Ziter. “[We should] focus on reducing some of those disparities in the canopy cover and ensuring that low canopy, low green space areas did receive the majority of those trees.”

Soverdi is doing their best to ensure just that, as their operations continue taking root in areas like the east end of Montreal.

“It costs a lot more too, to plant in the city than to plant in [a] rural environment,” said Anagrius, whose organization Soverdi has planted 85,000 trees in Montreal since 2014. Trees need to be bigger in order to withstand a metropolis’ tougher conditions, and in many cases, obstacles like asphalt have to be removed to make planting possible.

Location also breeds all sorts of complex decisions concerning appropriate tree species, Ziter explained.

But greener may not always be better. Vaccarella expressed worries over eco-gentrification, a phenomenon that associates greening with snowballing real estate and rent values.

“Just here,” Vaccarella claimed, pointing to the grey pavement adjacent to the Second Cup coffee shop. “You can fill that with a tree and it’ll probably shoot up the market value by a couple of hundred bucks.”

Indeed, when announcing the $1.8 billion greening project in May, Mayor Valérie Plante emphasized the allure of an urban forest for tourists and investors. The greening is a point of focus in the city’s post-pandemic recovery plan, which could exacerbate government-led gentrification.

“One thing that’s really important is thinking about, as we implement greening projects or policies, are we also thinking about corresponding social mechanisms or policies that will help people to stay in their communities?” asked Ziter. She believes that these mechanisms could include rent freezes, subsidies, and a more community-led approach.

Still, that disparity may be bridged with the city’s development of 110 km of “green corridors” connecting large parks and living spaces across the island. One of those corridors will branch out from Bois-de-Saraguay Park in Ahuntsic-Cartierville to Angrignon Park in Le Sud-Ouest.

“You’re going to get a lot more people that can access that kind of thin strip of green space than if you had that same amount of land kind of condensed in, you know, a square or a circle where it’s really only serving people in that particular area,” said Ziter.

This “linear greening” would also benefit wildlife as the corridors create safe paths for their city-wide movements. For the urban ecologists, the location of a tree should not only have humans in mind. “I would also want to think about areas where we could try and maximize the impact for both people and other biodiversity,” explained Ziter.

Towards the end of last year, tragic events in British Columbia concerning the knock-on effects of wildfires, floods, and deadly mudslides have once again drawn attention to issues of soil stability. Reforesting is one viable solution, though it represents a vastly different and much larger scale of tree planting according to Ziter.

Anagrius hopes the topic of reforestation will be addressed by the federal government and their own 2030 arboreal aspirations.

“With the two billion trees project from the federal government, I think there’s enough trees for everyone,” said Anagrius. “We just have to find the space to plant them.”



Visuals by Madeline Schmidt


Tackling worldwide issues requires a new definition of proximity

COVID-19 tested our ability to care for strangers, and this test will only continue as we face climate change

I scoured the internet for the name of the first man to die of COVID-19. I learned that he was a 61-year-old man from Wuhan, China. I learned that he was a regular at the live animal market, he had previously been diagnosed with abdominal tumours and chronic liver disease, but I couldn’t find his name. He’s a number; he was patient zero. His heart failed on Jan. 9, 2020, and since then, there have been over 5.5 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide.

As consumers of news, there is always a disconnect when reading about events happening overseas.

These stories lack one of the seven ideals in newsworthy journalism: proximity. If you want people to read your articles, you need to report on issues that affect your reader or their communities directly. A man died of a virus in China, why should I care?

At this point, the answer to that question should be clear.

After that first death in Wuhan, it only took three weeks for the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency, on Jan. 30, 2020.

Every single person on the planet was affected by COVID-19 in one way or another, and as the world becomes more globalized, there will be more of these worldwide issues that affect all of us. What we thought of as “proximate” is no longer relevant.

The problem we’re facing is that these new types of global issues are blurring geographical borders, but we are all still inclined to care more about issues directly affecting our family, friends, and neighbours. It’s hard to care about strangers overseas.

In international news reporting, we need to be connecting readers to issues by fabricating a sense of proximity. This would lead to better global awareness and a deeper understanding of events that will inevitably affect us all.

Personal narratives can be used to “reduce” distance and diminish the disconnected feeling we get from reading about foreign issues.

Having journalists report on people’s lives in a more intimate way can make it easier for audiences to empathize with the subjects — even those from far away, and even when they are not directly affected.

About two months into the pandemic, NBC News published a story about 60 lives in 60 days, which told the stories of some of the first American victims of COVID-19. They outlined other hardships the victims overcame in their lives and provided testimonies from loved ones. While this project didn’t receive an overwhelming number of likes on social media, the comments posted in response were genuine. Strangers were mourning these deaths.

However, in some cases, cultural or political barriers don’t allow us to gain the insight we need to make these connections.

Obviously, reporting operates differently in China.

Whether the country was trying to downplay the virus in January 2020 as they did with SARS in 2003, or whether the government’s official statements were delayed due to its complex, rigid system, it is possible that patient zero’s name purposely wasn’t shared. But not sharing his name was a disservice to the rest of the world.

If you had told me he left behind a wife or kids, it would’ve made me think of deaths that occurred in my own family. It would’ve brought about a fleeting wave of sadness, and it would’ve sparked an emotional connection.

Award-winning writer Walt Harrington wrote that more intimate journalism stories open “windows on our universal human struggle,” — and death and mourning are inevitable for all of us; it’s relatable. Sure, patient zero’s personal details wouldn’t have been all that relevant in reporting the spread of the virus, but readers abroad would’ve been able to connect.

COVID-19 isn’t the only ongoing global issue. Climate change is creeping up on all of us. And I mean all of us.

Developing countries have been suffering for decades from earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters as a result of global warming. And if that’s not enough to make you care, the recent floods in British Columbia are an indicator that these problems are not as far away as they may seem.

Sound familiar? The virus once felt far away too.

COP26, the most recent UN climate change summit, is one example of a collaborative effort — however flawed it may be. After 26 gatherings, the Earth should be in better shape, but what we do benefit from is the exposure to those people affected by climate change.

James Cadet, the Minister of Environment of Haiti, spoke in French about how their lives are “intimately linked” and their economies are “interdependent.” It doesn’t matter how far away Haiti may seem; COVID-19 wasn’t bothered by geographical borders, and climate change won’t be either.

Haiti is a vulnerable country and undoubtedly feels the intense consequences of climate change. Hearing first-hand about the hardships faced from a Haitian native creates a new type of proximity in which listeners feel closer to and empathize with the speaker.

Some journalists have turned to different forms of media to fabricate this sense of proximity.

Mia Lindgren, Professor and Dean at Swinburne University of Technology, discusses the effectiveness of audio media in storytelling. Mediums like radio and podcasts create proximity with the human voice. Hearing the warmth in the voices of strangers makes it easier to relate and sympathize than it would be through a piece of text.

Ear Hustle, a podcast which is recorded and posted by current prison inmates, is a perfect example of how technology has made it much easier to keep up with people beyond our own geographical and social borders.

Listeners can feel the pain, sadness, or guilt in the voices of the podcast host and guests. Audio storytelling achieves the element of proximity outlined in the principles of successful, newsworthy journalism.

Not knowing the name of COVID-19’s patient zero created even more distance in a situation where it was already difficult to connect. What if he wasn’t just a faceless victim? What if we had the opportunity to feel for him more deeply, 11,000 kilometers away?

If Wuhan wasn’t reported on, the situation could’ve been very different once COVID-19 reached North America. If there wasn’t communication across various nations, it’s possible that vaccines would not have been developed as quickly as they were. People need to be aware of events happening internationally – that’s how solutions are found.

This lesson learned from our pandemic response can be applied to every sort of global issue. Solutions will require worldwide collaboration, so again geographical proximity becomes irrelevant.

The Montreal Protocol is the most impressive example of this much needed communication and collaboration, as it is the only UN treaty to ever be ratified by all 197 UN-recognized countries. This collective agreement to protect the ozone layer came into effect in 1989. Among its notable achievements, it has led to the phaseout of the production and consumption of 98 per cent of ozone depleting substances. Global cooperation led to fixing global-scale problems — weird!

The traditional definition of proximity is no longer relevant in deciding what is “newsworthy.” As our problems get bigger, we have to widen the scope of our concern accordingly. Journalists have the power to create a feeling of proximity through their storytelling and make us care — something the world desperately needs as we face unprecedented, worldwide issues. The stories of those already affected by climate change must be shared, because we saw what happened when the world couldn’t sympathize with patient zero.


Graphics by James Fay

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