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The Future of the Environment with Nigel Roulet

Our March Zoom event was a great success with 29 attendees. Nigel Roulet, Chair of the Geography Dept. at McGill gave a very clear presentation on the current status of the threats to the environment, the realities of climate change and how we can try to mitigate these effects. As he emphasized, we are doing this for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Nigel started his talk with a quick overview of environmental concerns and then went over some environmental problems that humanity has had some success in controlling because they were comparatively more limited and their solutions could be more clearly targeted: the use of DDT, local eutrophication, acid rain and sulfur dioxide emissions. In comparison, the problems we now address are more pervasive and complex:

• Air and water pollution
• Ocean acidification
• Biodiversity and conservation
• Plastics
• Land-use change
• Ozone depletion
• Food and water insecurity
• Climate change
• Acid deposition
• Eutrophication

Why are some of these problems different?

• Complex problems with multiple interactions and feedbacks: neither the causes and effects nor the solutions are clear; uncertainty is much higher.
• Resolving them will require new approaches in governance, economics and society.
• The problems and the solutions span generations; some impacts may be immediate, but problems remain long-term. The benefits of acting will not be seen by us, but by future generations.
• Individual and collective actors are important; everyone needs to reduce their environmental footprint.

Among the images Nigel shared was this one of the areas (in dark brown) around Vancouver that are expected to be under water by 2100 (https://coastal.climatecentral.org/ ), and the following Climate Change Tracker https://climateactiontracker.org/global/cat-thermometer/

Nigel noted that “human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above preindustrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.” He asks if we are capable of mitigating and adapting by:

• changing consumption and patterns of consumption – energy and well-being;
• thinking of complex systems;
• learning to deal with uncertainty;
• seeing the environment is an integral part of our social ,cultural, political and economic systems;
• finding solutions that are ethical, fair, just and embody equity;
• all of us acting – locally to globally;
• maintaining and sustaining hope – coping with environmental anxiety.

Nigel Roulet’s recommended readings:

Buck, Holly Jean. Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough. Verso, 2021

Hawken, Paul. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Penguin, 2017

Hayhoe, Katharine. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. Atria, 2021

Ray, Sarah Jaquette. A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet, University of California Press, 2020

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