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York Students Passionate on Climate Change but what’s a COP17?

Posted by enrique in COP 17

With the final stages of COP17 getting underway at Durban the IRIS team were curious to see exactly what the York  U community thought about climate justice. Exactly what kinds of promises would they like their governments to make at Durban? And what’s standing in our way for a more sustainable society?

To find out, the IRIS team set up a table at York U for November the week of the 21st to chat with anyone willing to share their views on climate change. We asked strangers to write down their ideas onto a large sheet of paper so others could maybe build off their thoughts and develop a mind map for sustainability. There really was no telling what the York population would think.

One reoccurring theme articulated by the students was the concern for endangered species; specifically polar bears. I suspect the latest Coca-Cola campaign had some role to play in bringing this concern to the forefront of our society. While there had always been an awareness of this issue, it was fascinating to see the scope to which ideas circulate and percolate through our media outlets.

Of course, Climate justice entails so much more than polar bears and the York U community certainly did not lack the imagination to show this.

By the third day of tabling I struck up a conversation with a student who when asked about climate justice, told me that her interests were really more centred on economic issues. The anonymous student then turned around and walked to the library. It was too bad I couldn’t have chatted with her longer. It would of allowed me to share at least some of the points jotted down on our mind maps. One of my favourite constructions included the connection of global warming to climate justice which was followed by a relationship to sinking cities, refugees and unemployment.  This message resonates deeply with a large number of York members, who underlined economic and social problems as being inherently linked to global climate change. This was also emphasized in conversation with Eric Miller; a Professor of Environmental Economics at York. He stopped to chat with IRIS later on that day to note the dangers in believing that one can dichotomize the relationship between the planet and trade. To do so, is to forget that our material base of production relies on the use of natural resources.

This point was further expressed on our mind maps as students and faculty members highlighted the finite amount of resources available on our planet. This point not only challenges our current trade principles for being environmentally myopic but also raises the question: Is this the way we want to organize production? Is this the way we want to organize societies?

For the few students I engaged with who worried that students were simply apathetic on the issue, my only wish is that they had the moment to meet with some of the faces that built our maps and the IRIS team tabling behind them. When I tabled with IRIS volunteers like Ewa Moodlinsk, Alex Todd, Leandra Aguiar and Michelle Alexandra, I was overwhelmed by their passion in engaging with anyone who could spare the moment to discuss climate change, COP17 and all the actions we can take to develop a more sustainable future.

The mind map was a testimony of the York community’s concern for climate justice. Many of the illustrations on the map encouraged personal actions like going vegan, using reusable bottles and leaving the car at home. Other statements called for governments to hold corporate actors accountable for their crimes on the planet and to shift investment away from things like military and tar sands towards the development of solar and wind energy in Canada.

Another thought that was imprinted onto the mind map was Awareness. One of the mind map participant who underlined this thought, explained to me that awareness involves more than a list of facts on climate change. More than that, she believed that our governments and media have a duty to better package the sustainable alternatives we have in our lives. I had to say that I agreed with this point. From conversation with students, very few were aware about when COP17 took place and even fewer students were aware of its existence.

The York community is filled with passionate minds who want to build a world that doesn’t compromise the lives of future generations. What’s left is a need to foster this spirit with a type of leadership that doesn’t shift environmental responsibility onto developing nations. Canada needs a government who will encourage sustainability and discipline renegades on the environment. Maybe Coca-Cola can cram that onto their next can.

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