Two experts on a Memorial University climate inaction panel say individual action is not enough to curb climate change.
CORNER BROOK – Two academics argued that climate change is best tackled collectively during a panel session on climate change inaction hosted by the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University on Feb. 8.
Dr. Elizabeth Schwartz and Dr. Mark Stoddart spoke at a presentation held by MUNalum, Memorial University’s alumni organization. They said collective efforts at a municipal and provincial level must be taken to contend with climate change.
Schwartz studies municipal policy in relation to climate change. She said transformative climate action would have to go beyond government targets and would change the way people live. Schwartz also said it would be costly.
She said one of the major changes that would have to be made is to the energy sector, adding that it must be done while minimizing harm.
“If we are, in an extreme case, closing down the oil and gas industry,” Schwartz said, “we need to figure out how we can equitably and justly make sure that no one is left behind by that change.”
Though Schwartz sees reducing society’s reliance upon carbon-based fuels as a necessary action of curbing climate change, she stated that there are obstacles.
She found that for politicians to stay in power, they have to balance radical agendas with their own popularity.
This can be difficult for politicians as Schwartz noted that people will not typically vote for what may cause a negative impact on their lives, such as the economic impact of switching from oil and gas to green energy.
Schwartz also noted that people often disregard climate change since it may not directly impact them at the moment.
However, she said there are ways to divert the effects of climate change with current technology, such as with transportation.
“We have tons of old technologies like light rail trains and buses and other kinds of mass transit that are not considered new technologies but massively reduce the amount of fossil fuel we use in our society.”
The sub-national level
Stoddart, a sociology professor, focused on how different groups impact conversations about climate change.
He found that while government and the media acknowledge the issue, the discussion is simplified to business solutions that may not address the issue of fossil fuel dependency.
Stoddart said he believes this is in part because of Canada’s reliance on oil and gas for economic growth. Canada is ranked 61st on the Climate Change Performance Index.
He said that not all countries are like Canada in this regard. EU countries in particular have a stronger environmental policy despite also relying on oil and gas.
However, Stoddart believes that collective, sub-national change is what may turn the tide for climate activism.
“We may find more political efficacy in terms of moving the needle on climate action by engaging with the sub-national levels of government.”
Stoddart uses British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia as examples of sub-national governments that are climate leaders in Canada.
Although individual change is helpful, Stoddart remarks that collective action is of vital importance.
“Support climate leaders at the municipal level, at the provincial level, at the national level,” said Stoddart. “It is a multi-level game.”