3 Take-aways: What I Learned at Canada’s Climate Change Symposium

Written By: Hanna Smit, JGI Canada
Category: From The Field

I attended the recent Climate Change Symposium, organised by Sustainable Kingston, with some trepidation. This is a pretty daunting topic.  So I was relieved to hear the speakers at the symposium offer welcome perspectives that emphasized what we can do and how we can be part of the solution to global warming.

Lauren Saville, manager of JGI Canada’s Roots & Shoots program, and I travelled to the conference to showcase the community projects that young people across Canada have been doing with their Roots & Shoots groups to address sustainability. Lauren also announced that the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada is in the process of creating resources to support local initiatives that focus on sustainable food solutions.

Lauren with a trusty JGI representative

Our message couldn’t be more timely.  As noted by Dianne Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, “Climate change is here already.” According to her office’s report on climate action in Ontario, the province is warming faster than the global average. Average temperatures are expected to rise by 2 to 4°C by 2050. With these changes manifesting as forest fires, floods, droughts and other extreme weather conditions, Dianne Saxe says that we need to adapt and prepare for what’s coming.

Don’t panic. There are things we can do. Here are three key takeaways from the day-long conference:

1. Make More Sustainable Food Choices

Dietician Anneke Hobson explained that of 100 proposed solutions for climate change, reducing food waste and moving towards more plant-rich diets rank in the top five most effective ways of mitigating or slowing global warming. Lauren’s presentation expanded on this.  She outlined four ways that individuals could make an impact by modifying their eating habits: consume less meat and dairy; waste less food; purchase (when possible) seasonal and local produce; and choose organic options. Each of these strategies – alone or combined – can result in considerable reductions in carbon emissions and rates of deforestation and can also slow wildlife decline.  Canadian youth have been putting this in practice through their participation in Roots & Shoots programs by planting pollinator friendly gardens and implementing school-wide composting programmes. Dr. Goodall, a vegetarian herself, always encourages individuals to eat less meat.

2. Become a Citizen Scientist

With the scale of climate change often overwhelming and disheartening, it can be difficult to know where to start. Katrina Furlanetto, Watershed Planning and Engineering Manager at the Catarqui Region Conservation Authority, provided a hands-on solution, saying that she’d like to see residents get involved in citizen science now more than ever. According to Katrina, everyone “can be the eyes and ears of our environment” and report noticeable changes to organizations like CRCA. In this way, changes to local ecosystems that would otherwise go unnoticed can be monitored and evaluated, then incorporated into long term strategies. Across Canada, citizen scientists have supported a wide variety of projects, from mapping the diversity of butterflies and birds, to monitoring ice formation patterns, and even reporting marine animal sightings.

Diane Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, addresses the full auditorium

3. Speak Up!

Each presenter encouraged the audience to continue discussing climate change outside of symposiums and conferences, emphasising the need for more community engagement and more voices heard and represented through local government. Dianne Saxe advised people to find a way to connect with politicians, and ask what they can do. Too often, she added, “Canadians are too shy and believe if something needs to be said, someone would have said it already – this is not true.”

Dr. Kyla Tienhaara, an Associate Professor in the School of Environmental Studies and Department of Global Development at Queen’s University, expressed her concern that universities still invest in fossil fuels. She plans to join students asking for divestment, encouraging the audience to do the same. “I implore you to think beyond the individual, get together with like-minded people and get out on the streets.”

Panel discussion on the effects of climate change across sectors

As Dr. Jane Goodall has said, “Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play, every individual makes a difference,” and this is being seen on a global scale with a growing movement of youth activism groups. Weather broadcaster Chris St. Clair cited 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future protests and Extinction Rebellion as two examples that are keeping climate change and political accountability at the forefront of the news cycle, making “climate change the biggest story of [his] lifetime.”

Although we are already feeling the effects of climate change, we can still take meaningful action to slow global warming, and keep the planet safe for future generations.