If you’re like me, you actively used Facebook over the winter break and may have noticed a trending topic very close to our hearts: climate change, specifically the recent international climate talks in Paris.
While Canada’s plans to combat climate change have often been dubbed “ambitious” or “unrealistic”, the government anticipates that the largest hurdle they may face is gathering public support.
“While the outcomes of the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] may not affect initiatives that we see campus-wide, it certainly does increase global awareness of issues that we can help promote on campus,” says Eashan Karnik, the UTMSU sustainability coordinator.
Although many students remain skeptical about the role the university is playing, Karnik says, “Students and individuals on campus can encourage positive outcomes by advocating for environmental causes and ensuring that their local community leaders are notified of key issues affecting us.”
An example that comes to mind is the recent decision regarding fossil fuel divestment at U of T. After a year of consultations following the presentation of a petition to the Office of the President by the U of T chapter of Toronto350, an advisory committee at U of T has recommended a targeted divestment of some fossil fuel companies. Although the final decision has yet to be announced, strategically, following the COP21 conference in Paris, this may be the major push towards Canada’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy in the next 50 years.
Karnik mentions being approached by Earth Flag 2015 to send a UTM-inspired flag. After collecting 400 signatures from students in support of improving environmental health, UTM secured its presence at COP21, with the flag being stitched alongside flags from campuses all over the nation.
He further says, “Our responsibilities can exist in a variety of forms, and many of these are small changes that we can make in our daily lifestyles.” Referring to related projects on campus, Karnik suggests how reducing our carbon footprint is as simple as being conscious of the amount of excess and unnecessary waste we create.
An example would be the UTM Ecological Footprint and Campus Sustainability Assessment Project, which had been supported by the Department of Geography for five years, supervised by Dr. Tenley Conway. The project analyzed and published progress reports with calculations concerning ecological footprints and the assessment of campus sustainability.
The most recent publication reports “a significant increase in the food footprint”, identifying that meat and dairy products are the most commonly consumed food products. The report also identifies natural gas to be the major contributor to energy production on campus.
Following the suggestions made in the progress report regarding the establishment of bottled water–free zones on campus, Karnik says, “Our ban on plastic water bottles has actually made us one of the first universities to have taken the step forward in limiting plastic waste.”
Karnik describes the increasing use of recyclable and CSC-certified packaging for the food options on campus as the new standard for eating on the go.
Initiatives such as the MiWay transit pass and the RideShare programs have been integral towards promoting the use of public transportation and smart navigation around campus.
Volunteer events for local environmental causes like those through SAGE and Student Life’s tree planting initiatives are examples of active involvement of student organizations promoting awareness on environmental issues.
Additionally, the UTM Green Team works in collaboration with the UTM environmental affairs office to increase eco-friendliness on campus. As part of a tri-campus initiative, the team implements Green Courses, which seeks to recognize courses that reduce their impact on the environment, focusing on paper reduction.
“I really was not very environment friendly when I joined the Green Team,” says Bansari Patel, a third-year student with a double major in biology and environmental studies.
Patel describes how she learned that sustainability is in fact a habit of small daily activities, collected together. “Now I unplug my laptop charger when it’s done charging, because it still consumes electricity. And don’t throw your used paper plates in the recycling bin—they don’t need it!” she adds.
“COP21 and other climate change forums may always help guide our global leaders into a world in which environmental responsibility is the highest priority, but our role as students shouldn’t rely on these,” says Karnik, emphasizing the need for communities to ensure that environmental protection is not an afterthought, and should not fall to rapid technological advancement and exponential resource depletion.
“Environmental importance will always exist and the significance of these initiatives will always be essential,” Karnik says.