Climate experts host discussion at U of M

Latest in Visionary Conversations series focuses on consumerism and the future of the planet

In the wake of a recent swell in climate activism and the renewed discussion around environmental issues over the past several months, the latest entry in the U of M’s Visionary Conversations series discussed climate change.

The Visionary Conversations panel invites experts from a variety of fields to discuss important issues with each other and an audience. Past conversations included “The power of one: what’s my responsibility as a global citizen?” and “What does an accessible Manitoba look like?”

The most recent panel on Nov. 6 — inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg — was titled “Declaring a climate emergency: What happens now?” Panelists included U of M professors Myrle Ballard, David Barber and Zou Zou Kuzyk, along with Climate Change Connection project director Curtis Hull.

U of M president David Barnard opened the panel with an acknowledgement that environmental issues are not being effectively managed.

“At times, we seem to have lost our sense of stewardship over our planet,” he said.

“Our sense of responsibility to help it thrive for the generations to come, but we have not lost our voice.”

Audience members were not only able to listen to the panel but were invited to raise questions of their own.

When asked how society can make shifts toward addressing the climate without putting further strain on marginalized communities, Barber argued that without attacking climate change, we will not have a chance to work on social issues.

“There won’t be an opportunity to deal with some of the social justice issues that you talk about,” said Barber.

“And of course, the poorer people on the planet are going to suffer the worst, and that’s already starting to happen.”

Ballard, an Indigenous scholar, brought up an example of small-scale change from her own home community. Infrastructure in many homes is not built to be energy-conscious, with poor insulation that does not allow for efficient heating.

“If you go to these communities, you’re going to see firsthand what these homes are like,” she said. “They’re not up to par. And we talk about climate change, these are the things we need to change right here in our own backyards.”

Ballard also noted the evolutionary changes her ancestors were forced to make, including moving from utilizing dogs to less environmentally-sustainable motor vehicles.

Barber acknowledged the unsustainable world of today compared to the sustainable, traditional practices of many Indigenous peoples, and said society must move away from the idea of making the land subservient and toward living harmoniously with it.

According to Barber, per capita, Canada is one of the biggest non-renewable energy users on the planet. However, a study referenced by Hull found that the majority of Canadians, while concerned about climate change, are not willing to spend five cents more per litre on gasoline toward green programming.

The panelists agreed that as important as acknowledging one’s own impact is, the ordinary citizen cannot be given anywhere near all the blame.

Barber pointed the finger at consumer culture and the increasing depletion of the world’s resources, and the large corporations that operate within capitalist society.

Despite the damage that has already been done to the ecosystem, Hull was confident about the future.

“The energy that’s been brought to this problem by the youth has invigorated me, and invigorated action overall to rekindle the spark,” he said.

“I think this is going to grow, and I think we’re on the edge of that.”