The UTM campus presented an academic approach to climate change last week with the Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice, and Action (STTPA) conference.
From October 16 to 18, participants attended three full days of keynote speeches, panel sessions, training workshops, poster presentations, and a tour of the UTM campus.
Organized through the collaborative efforts of U of T professors, directors, and students, the inaugural conference brought together scholars, professionals, policymakers, stakeholders, business executives, Aboriginal leaders, non-governmental organizations, and advocates of sustainability.
The dominant conviction of the conference was that sustainability can only be achieved through the continuous practice of encouraging constructive relationships between technological, natural, and social structures, whilst preserving the ecosystem and the prosperity of future generations.
Organizers and participants gathered with the shared understanding that this can solely be accomplished through the cooperation of all disciplines and specializations, which the STTPA conference brought together this past weekend.
The conference featured eight keynote speakers, their ages ranging from eight to 83, and 320 presenters.
The keynote speakers on the third day of the conference were sociology professor Scott Frickel and the President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council John Cartwright.
“Sustainable societies of the future require sustainable cities,” stated Scott Frickel in his speech about exposing discreet hazards in urban cities.
Frickel also drew attention to “the importance of history for thinking about the present and the future.”
John Cartwright, in addition to his many professional accomplishments, has led many social, climate, and economic justice campaigns.
“I don’t have to tell you that the crisis is real. Canada is warming at twice the global rate and the evidence of that change, whether there are fires, floods, heatwaves, or droughts, is getting harder to deny,” said Cartwright.
In his speech, he highlighted the significance and role of community, investment, and workers in the path towards sustainability and climate justice.
Ellen Berrey, a professor of sociology at UTM, chaired a panel focused on far-right attitudes towards environmentalism and how their policies impact sustainability.
The first presentation featured a study she had worked on with five undergraduate students in which they discussed the right-wing populist movements and the impacts of conspiracy theories on environmentalism.
Berrey and the students gave the example of the anti-agenda 21 movement, which was “short-lived but in its own way, surprisingly impactful.”
Their presentation focused on their study of the sociology of social movements and how people make meaning of the politics of sustainability.
“Conservative culture and the political ideology of white rural America deeply informs this movement,” said Kristen Bass, one of the undergraduate presenters. “They come to understand local sustainability plans as threatening their values and ways of life.”
Alexandra Rahr, the Bissell-Heyd Lecturer in American Studies at the Munk School’s Centre for the Study of the United States (CSUS), was a panel chair for one of the concurrent sessions.
“Sustainability strategies are largely led by scientists, by social scientists, by practitioners, and by policy experts. But the role of humanities thinking in sustainability is much less clear” said Rhar on her speech focusing on the role Humanities play in sustainability.
“Sustainability, as we know, requires a mass social and cultural shift, so it’s worth investigating other social movements. Social movements that have succeeded, and social movements that have failed,” said Rahr.
She also discussed the aspect of urgency that is present in sustainability discourse and quoted Jonathan Edwards, a puritan era preacher, stating, “The breath of hell itself is upon us.”
“The conference went much better than we thought it would be,” Shashi Kant, Director of the Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program and the Chair of the STTPA Conference Organizing Committee, told The Medium.
“We did not advertise anywhere other than on our website,” said Kant. “So we know that people are looking for sustainability.”
When asked about his feelings about the future of sustainability, especially after the STTPA Conference, Kant expressed his optimism on the topic, particularly due to the diverse nationalities of the participants, stating “we have people from more than 25 countries present.”
The STTPA Conference brought together multiple generations, disciplines, and occupations in the path towards a better and more sustainable future.
“No academic discipline, corporation, country, First Nation, government, or organization can achieve sustainability alone,” said Kant. “We all have a role to play in the path towards sustainability.”