Thursday, January 28, 2016

Laurentian shows Paris is about all of us

The recent Paris international climate agreement has drawn cheers and jeers. On the jeering side are of course climate deniers of all sorts, asserting climate change either isn’t happening or isn’t caused by us so we shouldn’t be making any climate agreements or taking any related actions. But as I pointed out earlier, this line of reasoning is nothing but stubborn ignorance, so let’s set that aside.
Other jeers come either from those who either feel the agreement is too weak, lacking binding mechanisms to enforce reductions or having targets that won’t reduce emissions enough even if met, or from those who feel the targets are too ambitious and it will hamstring our economies if we try to reach them. Luckily, both can be refuted by the same line of evidence.
Basically, vast reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are possible, as soon as we make a real effort to achieve them. And while national or global targets may seem unreachable, if each actor takes care of their own piece of the puzzle, it all comes together. There is a role for every individual, family, business, institution, town or city. When each of us pledges to meet a target and make a sincere effort, our combined efforts will add up to a solution.
I hereby pledge...
One example: Laurentian University, which has programs at Barrie’s Georgian College. On December 16th of last year, the Paris Pledge for Action was released, and on December 22nd, Laurentian became the first university in Ontario, one of the first in Canada, and one of the first 1000 organizations worldwide to sign this commitment to work to reduce emissions immediately and meet or surpass the goals of the Paris Agreement. If every other educational institute or board does the same, an entire sector will be working on these goals, and other sectors can and will follow.
Laurentian was quick to sign because they are already working to reduce GHG in many ways. Just a couple of years ago they hired their first Manager of Energy and Sustainability and since then she has been sparking initiatives across campus to save energy, reduce waste, and boost sustainability.
Because provincial regulation mandates all post-secondary institutions track energy use, Laurentian has existing baseline measures as they create and work toward reduction targets building-by-building and campus-wide, and can benchmark against other Ontario institutions which must meet the same reporting standards. Hence universities compete to earn kudos (and save money) cutting energy use and related emissions. It also puts them in good stead as the province brings in a new carbon pricing cap-and-trade regime.
While initiatives are voluntary, making them popular and widely accessible achieves significant reductions. Examples include regular forums with rotating themes allowing all stakeholders to come together to explore challenges and ideas and share best practices. Laurentian partners with groups like the Rainbow Routes trails association, reThink Green / Eat Local, and the Commuter Challenge; some professors make any student caught with disposable bottled water bring cookies for the whole class. Campus residences collect and redistribute furniture or other useful items left behind by graduating students, instead of throwing it all out.
Ideas and programs are broadcast via campus email and newspapers, forums, bulletins, news releases, student groups, and Twitter. And beyond their local achievements, the university also contributes globally with research & technology, providing tools for others to reduce GHG.
If one institution can do all that, reducing GHG while having fun and saving money, imagine what can be done if we each sign our own Paris Pledge. Before you know it, we’ll reach and blow past the non-binding Paris targets and find that surpassing them and getting to where we really need to go is easier, cheaper and less painful than we’d ever expected. Just like Laurentian’s example, let’s stop arguing if it can or should be done and get on with doing it!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Climate change action needed now"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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