What Should We Do About Climate Change – Interdisciplinary Learnings from the CIGI Workshop

The Climate Change Workshop, hosted at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), in partnership with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and Interdisciplinary Climate Change Centre (IC3), was an opportunity to generate discourse on the many interpretations and solutions of climate change.  Professionals discussed climate change from their own lens of expertise; fostering an environment of diversity.

This diversity is important, and as Sarah Burch, our advisor pointed out, brings the global problem to a local scale and subjective interpretation. We are able to attach a personal story as to what climate change means to us, and what we, as individuals, are capable of doing to address the issue within our own communities. We need to reframe climate change in the context of sustainability, create a vision for the future, and integrate change that is both mitigation and adaptation based in the current situation; as recommended by Sarah.

Burch and John Baez, a Professor of Mathematics from the University of California, highlighted the significance of access to education, from using MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as a platform for educational outreach, to the issue of knowledge accessibility, especially in sharing academic research. Questions were also raised as to the validity of certain research outputs based on possible alterations that may come into being as various actors hold their own personal interests at heart (Chris Russill, Professor of Journalism from Carleton University). So, we then wonder, what is the scientific community really being asked to bring to the table, as a scientist inherently enacts various roles as an academic, policy advisor, and most importantly, as a citizen. It is important that we be critical and scrutinize findings we may come across and understand how they may have been influenced.

Byron Williston, a philosopher from Wilfrid Laurier University, drew a more human component to addressing climate change and discussed the importance of the virtues of cooperation – eluding that courage, justice, compassion, and truthfulness are imperative for humans to adopt in times of dire need. Mike Hulme, a climate and social scientist from King’s College in London, also brought it back to the individual and suggested we ask the questions what am I/we doing and what ought I/we be doing as both an individual and as a collective, leading to the pluralization of pragmatic climate change action.

University of Waterloo Geographer Jean Andrey focused on a comparative analysis of how incremental change versus transformative change plays a role in bringing practical and interdisciplinary solutions. The discussion centered on the gap between scientific findings and policymaking, and how it can be ensured that more radical thinkers are supported in the climate change community. While we can transition in some aspects, for example in the energy sector (as highlighted by Jatin Nathwani, the Executive Director of Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Energy) to enhanced geothermal, greater renewable storage, smart urbanization, and off grid electricity access – are we inherently needing a more radical societal system shift?

Maybe such radical changes will lie in Western University’s Political Scientist Radoslav Dimitrov’s recommended forms of persuasion – which can create effective negotiation strategies at the local, national, and international scales.  In order for such persuasion to be successful, he discusses the importance of not framing climate change as an environmental problem but a human problem; while simultaneously highlighting the economic opportunity that arises from climate change action, as opposed to the costs associated with it.

Susan Elliot, the Dean of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, drew insight that climate change is a public health and behvarioual concern. Issues such as wind turbine development being associated with health concerns deserves greater research support in order to transform such concerns into climate change opportunities. We should also draw inspiration from successes of the past, for instance, how the tobacco industry was tackled, and the rapid behvarioual change that transformed society from associating something harmful for ourselves and others as trendy to disgusting. Therefore, the need to reframe the climate change issue is yet again brought to light, and Elliot spoke about the process of knowledge creation, synthesis, dissemination and mobilization, whereby academic knowledge can be translated to elicit behaviour change amongst the public.

Nonetheless, John Baez acknowledged that we have four scenarios that the future may entail. He is optimistic that “we will adapt”, and believes we must come to terms that we will live in a hotter environment and under a different set of conditions that exist today, indicative of a changing anthropocene period defined by human emissions output since the peak of the industrial revolution.

All in all, the presentations were deeply insightful and provoked exciting discussions about the varied perspectives on climate change, from philosophy, political science, urban planning, journalism, and education, to engineering and mathematics. It was interesting to see the proposed climate change solutions from these different lenses. The knowledge cycle of how the issue is researched, perceived, and communicated from the academic community to the general public, and the perceptible gaps in this process, were discussed. This conversation only reinforced the pluralistic nature of climate change. While the need to position the elusive topic of climate change in a way that underscores its human dimension and allows people to personalize it, care about it, can hopefully produce individual level practical action, a paradigm shift is nonetheless required to transition towards a collective systems level change.

Authors: Glenn Milner, Melanie Klein & Puninda Thind

Photo: Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA)

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Kai says:

    Fantastic synthesis of an extraordinary diversity of perspectives, and both the synergies/dissonance between them. It’s critical for us to consider such a broad issue through multiple lenses as we move forwards towards solutions, understanding that it will be a diversity of approaches to change, not just a single thrust forwards, that will ultimately lead the way. Excellent synopsis of a complex, exhilarating weekend – thank you!

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