VOIX DU COLLÈGE – It’s not business as usual for vegan businesses

Kendra Coulter, Brock University

In contrast to growing apprehension about trade wars, a rapidly expanding sector of the economy is offering a more hopeful picture: vegan businesses. Scarcely a week goes by without news of a new vegan business.

Diverse plant-based restaurants are popping up in communities of all sizes. Innovative vegan foods are becoming more accessible and changing at-home meals.

Dairy producers are transitioning to plant-based milks. Vegan hotels are beginning to provide appealing getaway options. Admittedly, I find vegan handbag lines particularly stunning and enticing.

This trend is not surprising. More and more people are looking to purchase products that don’t cause animal suffering and death. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the myriad health benefits of plant-based eating. Plus, research is making it crystal-clear that industrial animal agriculture is a major driver of climate change, and that removing animal products from our diets is one of the most significant things we can do on a daily basis to protect the environment.


Despite not accessing the same level of public subsidies as animal agriculture, or having established and well-funded lobbyists and marketing boards, Canada’s humane economy is thriving, and we are home to many creative plant-based leaders.

Some companies are being bought by international conglomerates keen to capitalize on this growing market or to keep their competitors in check.

More than a few are receiving global attention because of the quality of their products, and are poised for even greater success, such as London, Ont.-based Nuts for Cheese. All indicators point to continuing expansion of vegan businesses and increasing investment in research and development.

Plant-based diets are becoming more popular, and international conglomerates are taking notice.

While the commitment of vegan businesses to animal well-being is laudable, is this where ethical commitments stop?

Do vegan businesses aim higher?

In addition to interest in a more sustainable economy that doesn’t harm other species, as a labour scholar, workforce and social concerns are also significant for me. Are vegan businesses reproducing bare-minimum labour standards and conditions, or aiming higher?

As part of mapping the trends and striving to answer these and other questions, my research assistants and I have been interviewing small and medium-sized plant-based business owners and employers across Canada. The findings are noteworthy.

Virtually all have a twinned interest in animal and environmental well-being. Through insistence on organic and/or local sourcing, sustainable energy sources and even careful selection of cleaning products, ecological priorities are being integrated into the foundation of business operations. Any increased prices are accepted by most as a necessary cost of this non-negotiable priority.

Many of the entrepreneurs are also committed to simultaneously being allies to local groups working on equity and social justice issues, facilitators of community and educators who invite people to think differently about food and sustainability.

When it comes to labour issues and the prospects for more humane jobs, the picture is mixed although, on the whole, more progressive than many non-vegan sectoral peers.

Some pay higher than minimum wage

Many of the entrepreneurs importing ingredients from the Global South regularly seek fair trade and other social responsibility certifications.

In a few cases, pay for direct staff was higher than the minimum wage and industry standards, a step seen by some of the employers as integral for promoting productivity, loyalty and respect. Beechwood Doughnuts in St. Catharines, Ont. stands out for providing full benefits to most of its workforce.

Working conditions in vegan businesses clearly vary, and a number of employers explicitly identified labour as an area they seek to improve in order to become more thoroughly ethical businesses.

This is commendable and crucially important. Vegan businesses ought to be just workplaces and support fair treatment for workers across the production chain, including the migrant workers whose labour makes so much plant-based food possible.

The speed of growth in the plant-based sector reinforces the need to stay on top of emerging developments, as well as to learn from workers and other jurisdictions.

Will vegan businesses create their own associations or marketing boards for shared marketing, lobbying and research? Will the public sector invest in this promising economic arena to encourage innovation and expansion? What role will labour organizations play in the humane economy? What compelling products have yet to be developed?

The ConversationWithout question, there are encouraging developments and signs, as well as important open questions. The most significant of which is: Can the future be humane? For the good of humans, other species and our planet, let’s hope the answer is yes.

Kendra Coulter, Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence; Chair of the Labour Studies Department; Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Brock University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Oh, Canada! The Canada jay gets its name back in time for the holiday

David Bird, McGill University and Ryan Norris, University of Guelph

It is the Year of the Bird and Canada is celebrating its 151st birthday, yet again, without a national bird.

Canada has many great candidates for its national bird, but the Canada jay (Perisoreus canadensis) seems like the logical choice. Will the restoration of its old name — used for almost two hundred years before it was dropped in the 1950s — be enough to stimulate the federal government to adopt the species as a new national symbol?

Even when it was called the gray jay, Perisoreus canadensis not only garnered enough votes to place a solid third in a national poll ran by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) two years ago, but was also declared the best candidate overall to become our national bird.

One cannot help wonder how many more Canadians would have voted for the bird, had it been called by its rightful name, the Canada jay.

Which begs the question: How did the bird earn the name, gray jay, and more important, how did it get its old name back?

From Canada jay to gray jay and back again

The name, gray jay, was imposed in 1957 when the Nomenclature and Classification Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) published an updated list of English bird names in its fifth official checklist of North American birds. For many years prior to 1957, common names were only ascribed to subspecies, when they existed.

Despite the American spelling (gray, not grey), the new name was generally accepted by a generation of Canadian ornithologist and birders. But it became an issue when the RCGS chose Perisoreus canadensis to be our national bird.

Obviously, the original name, Canada jay, dating back to 1772, would have been much more appropriate for a Canadian national bird. It raised the question of why the AOU changed its name in the first place.

Dan Strickland, former chief park naturalist of Algonquin Park, who has been studying the bird since the 1960s, decided to find out why.

How the Canada jay got its name back

Strickland spent many hours at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, examining the AOU’s old files.

After a thorough search of past letters and minutes of meetings, he concluded that “in 1957, the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist Committee had no valid reason for taking ‘gray jay,’ then the name of an obscure west coast subspecies, and imposing it as a new overall species name for this iconic Canadian bird, rather than continuing with ‘Canada jay’ the traditional name that was then at least 185 years old.”

He then wrote an excellent and detailed article on how the Canada jay lost its name for Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. He became the lead author of a proposal to argue the case that the Canada jay’s name should be restored, which was submitted to the North American Classification Committee (NACC) of the American Ornithologists’ Society (AOS) in December 2017.

The committee’s deliberation did not take long. On June 21, 2018, the AOS issued its 59th Supplement to the Checklist of North American Birds where it announced that the Canada jay was getting its old name back!

This was, of course, fantastic news for “Team Canada Jay,” a group of ornithologists, naturalists, politicians, musicians and general bird-lovers from across Canada, working hard to petition the federal government to make this bird a national symbol.

Why the Canada jay and why a national bird?

The vast majority of the Canada jay’s range falls within Canada’s borders. Canada jays are found in every province and territory.

They are friendly and inquisitive, readily coming to the hand. They are also highly intelligent by bird standards, and adaptable and tough enough to forgo migration and breed even during our chilly winter weather.

One could not design a better national bird for our country!

And why do we need a national bird, you may well ask?

Well, birds are important to society in myriad ways. Birding (a.k.a. bird watching) continues to be one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America, representing a several billion-dollar growth industry.

One in five Canadians spends an average of at least 133 days a year watching, monitoring, feeding, filming or photographing the 450 or so different kinds of birds that live in our country.

We install feeders and bird houses in our backyards, we buy bird identification books and binoculars, and we take trips specifically to see birds and attend hundreds of bird festivals all over North America.

With their friendly and inquisitive manner, Canada jays never fail to captivate visitors to Canada’s boreal forest.
(Amy Newman)

Birds also eat pests, pollinate our plants and crops, disperse seeds; their eggs and meat feed us, and their feathers keep us warm.

Birds have saved human lives not just by serving as literal “canaries in coal mines” but also by warning us of global environmental health hazards such as carcinogenic pesticides and industrial byproducts.

And what about their intrinsic value? How many great writers, artists, filmmakers — even aviators and astronauts — have been inspired by the beauty, the song and the flight of these amazing unique creatures?

Birds can also take credit for uniting nations. In 1789, when George Washington became the first president of the United States, the founding fathers chose the bald eagle for the country’s official bird because of its fierce beauty and proud independence. Americans today revere their national bird.

Oh, Canada!

A list of national birds indicates that 106 of the world’s 195 countries have official birds.

But Canada is not listed — we do not have one!

Our country does have other national symbols. We’ve got official national animals (both mammals, beaver and horse), a tree (maple), and two sports (lacrosse and ice hockey). Why not a bird?

2018 is the “Year of the Bird” and thousands of ornithologists and bird-lovers from all over the world will gather in Vancouver in August. What perfect timing for our federal government to officially adopt a national bird!

And what better bird could one find than the aptly named Canada jay?

The ConversationThe authors would like to thank Dan Strickland for his input on this article.

David Bird, Emeritus Professor of Wildlife Biology, and Director of the Avian Science and Conservation Centre, McGill University and Ryan Norris, Associate Professor, Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Children’s health must come first

By Catherine Gidney and Gabriela Tymowski-Gionet

Education Minister Brian Kenny’s decision to stop the sale of chocolate milk in New Brunswick schools has raised the ire of a provincial milk consumption lobby group, Milk2020, whose chairperson has characterized the move as “a stupid idea.”

Milk2020 unites producers and processors of milk and is supported through funding and administrative assistance by the New Brunswick Agriculture Department in its effort to promote the province’s dairy industry. It speaks for numerous businesses

that ensure a safe and sufficient supply of milk, support local farms and ensure local jobs.

Those interests often align with nutritional recommendations from the provincial and federal government. But let’s be clear: their aim in this instance is to promote the interests of the dairy industry, not the health of our children.

How did chocolate milk enter school cafeterias? When did this occur and how? Why is it offered? Who profits by it? Our historical understanding of New Brunswick educational policy, much of which underpins our contemporary situation, is sadly lacking, as is our knowledge regarding the origins of school lunch policies more broadly.

In other provinces, chocolate milk entered school districts in the late 1940s and early 1950s through an explicit campaign by the dairy industry to increase milk consumption. Industry representatives approached educational authorities district by district, offering chocolate milk as an option. The entry of chocolate milk into schools didn’t go unnoticed. Trustees in parts of Ontario and Quebec instituted bans on the grounds that it was less nutritious than white milk, given the sugar content.

In Toronto, debate raged for several years. Recognizing that chocolate milk was less nutritious than white milk, by 1949 that board had put in place a policy of selling chocolate milk for a higher price in order to discourage its consumption. In 1953, the

finance committee of that board passed an outright ban on the beverage, a motion delayed by the board as a whole after a presentation by the Canadian Dairy Industry Suppliers’ Association that emphasized the “hardship the move would have on the industry.” The board persevered, and, prioritizing children’s welfare, put the ban into effect later that year.

Recent research by health economist Phil Leonard makes clear that such bans may be successful in improving the health of our children, a serious concern given that New Brunswick continues to have one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the country among both children and adults.

In the decades that followed, chocolate milk’s reputation underwent a revival, though this was primarily because it could be championed as a healthier alternative to soft drinks, which made their entry into schools in the 1970s and 1980s. The soft-drink invasion was representative of a widespread pattern in which various industries have gained entry into schools through persuasion, tempting financial offers to cash-strapped institutions, and the growing acceptance of fast-food culture.

In Alberta, both Calgary and Edmonton schools relented and allowed chocolate milk back in schools, albeit a lower sugar and fat version in Edmonton. The dairy industry worked hard with intense public-relations campaigns aimed at children – a morally problematic approach – and the school boards capitulated.

For New Brunswick, the ban on the sale of chocolate milk in schools is a good start but it doesn’t go far enough. Allowing fast-food franchises to provide hot-lunch programs undercuts classroom teachings about nutrition and healthy food practices.

Unwholesome cafeteria fare and fundraising activities equally reinforce a fast-food culture that’s deleterious to children’s health now and in their futures. Moreover, it teaches life-long lessons in poor food preparation and consumption practices that will be challenging to eradicate, and will almost certainly increase health-care costs.

The New Brunswick minister of education is encouraging school districts to continue revising and adjusting their food policies. The evidence from soft-drink exclusivity campaigns of the 1990s and first decade of this century – where individual schools and school districts signed contracts with vendors in return for monetary compensation – suggests that such methods leave too much power in the hands of industry, and too little in those of the schools themselves. Those opposed to such policies were often left ill-informed and powerless, as were the teachers, parents and children directly affected.

Only strong provincial evidence-based nutrition policies can ensure long-term protection against commercial influence in our schools.

The debate between the ministries of education and agriculture is a reminder that industry lobby groups mustn’t be allowed to set the agenda within departments of health or education. The health of our children must come first.

Catherine Gidney is an adjunct research professor of history at St. Thomas University.

Gabriela Tymowski-Gionet is an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

This article was originally published in the Telegraph-Journal.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Canada’s Paris-pipeline paradox

Markus Hecker, University of Saskatchewan and Jackie Dawson, University of Ottawa

The Canadian government’s decision to purchase Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project shortly after ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change creates an interesting paradox and a national challenge.

The environmental implications of pipeline development have already caused British Columbia and Alberta to feud, culminating in an outright trade war between the two provinces. Canadians are clearly divided on energy and climate politics.

The pipeline would increase current capacity by 590,000 barrels per day to deliver oil and gas to national and international markets. The government, as well as many Canadian businesses and citizens, have argued that this is critical for economic growth and the nation’s near-term prosperity.

On the flip side, these decisions have a significant impact on the ability of Canada to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets and to move towards a “greener” economy.

The fundamental question that needs to be solved is: Can Canada move towards a green economy and meet the GHG reduction targets of the Paris agreement while simultaneously expanding the fossil fuel economy via public ownership of what was the Kinder Morgan pipeline?

What are the risks?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used concerns about safety and the climate to justify the approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion project. When he signed off on the project in 2016, he said “if these projects aren’t built, diluted bitumen would be forced into more rail tanker cars for transport.”

Pipelines are considered to be one of the greenest forms of cargo transport. GHG emission rates are lower by pipeline than by train, for example, and there’s a smaller risk of oil spills because there are fewer transfers.

Yet the environmental costs of a pipeline accident are considerably greater than they are for spills after a train derailment. Pipelines leak larger volumes of oil and it’s more difficult to respond to the spills in a timely manner, particularly for underground pipelines and remote areas.

Critical flaws, global implications

Final approval of the Kinder Morgan project was based on Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) conclusion that it “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

The NEB analysis focused on the potential regional and local-scale environmental impacts from the construction and operation of the pipeline. It did not include any systemic emission-based impacts resulting from oil production, oil consumption or shipping and transportation activities.

The NEB’s focus on immediate and local implications at the exclusion of national and global-scale emissions is reflective of a common but critical flaw of our seemingly universal outlook on environmental issues around the world. That is, there’s a tendency to fail to consider a full evaluation of potential impacts.

An assessment conducted by Environment and Climate Change Canada estimated that the added 590,000 barrels per day in pipeline capacity would result in an annual increase in GHGs equivalent to 13 to 15 megatons of CO₂.

In order to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2℃ — as per the Paris Agreement — an estimated 74 per cent of Canadian crude oil reserves must remain unexploited and advanced carbon capture and storage measures would still be required.

The path forward

So how could Canada resolve the paradox between its Paris commitments and pipeline ownership?

As a start, all revenue that emerges from the pipeline should be put directly into an environmental fund. The fund would be used to support research and technology development as well as programs and infrastructure aimed at reducing the sources of GHGs and enhancing carbon sinks that store carbon dioxide.

In other words, the pipeline could fund emissions reduction strategies and initiatives that just might keep Canada on track with its Paris commitment.

Even if implemented effectively, using pipeline revenues to support GHG reduction strategies will not solve the country’s persistent ethical dilemmas or the mixed messages sent by the federal government on climate politics.

The challenges are complex. They range from human health impacts to socio-economic benefits. They include concerns over access to markets and job creation. But also the cultural and trust issues associated with the pipeline’s impacts on Indigenous lands and local communities, and promises made by the Government of Canada in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

There are no definite answers, but one thing is clear — the Paris-pipeline paradox is unlikely to be reconciled anytime soon.

The ConversationMembers of the College of the Royal Society of Canada’s Working Group on Healthy Environment & Society assisted in the writing of this piece.

Markus Hecker, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Predictive Aquatic Toxicology, University of Saskatchewan and Jackie Dawson, , University of Ottawa

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Killing sharks, wolves and other top predators won’t solve conflicts

Robert Lennox, Carleton University; Austin Gallagher, University of Miami; Euan Ritchie, Deakin University, and Steven J Cooke, Carleton University

In French Polynesia, fishing is an integral part of everyday life. The people living here fish on the flats and along the reef using nets, hooks and line, harpoons, spearguns and traditional artisanal traps.

They fish for food. They are also seeing the benefits of using their traditional knowledge to guide recreational fishing tourists — a business with potential to improve long term employment security.

Abundant sharks in the lagoon led to questions about their contribution to the fishery and whether it would help the fishery if they were targeted. This is a question that is often on the minds of humans when they encounter predators.

As an ecologist working with the fish populations in French Polynesia, I went looking for research about what happens to an ecosystem when a predator is removed. Are the responses predictable? Does it work? Can we make generalizations?

Our new study, published in Biological Conservation, surveyed the research on predator removal and identified several interesting — and perhaps unexpected — trends.

Humans and other predators

Predators are among the most charismatic animals on Earth — lions, eagles and sharks adorn many human symbols. On land, in the air and in water, predators fascinate and inspire, they are quintessential representations of nature’s majesty and might.

In spite of their ecological, economic and cultural significance, predators are among the most heavily persecuted animals, due to conflict with humans and their assets.

Predators attack and kill livestock, hunt economically important prey and can kill or injure people or be perceived as a threat to human safety. These conflicts may motivate humans to try to manage predators to lessen the damages.

One of the oldest and most rudimentary methods is to cull or remove them, even though predators are already rare and some are threatened with extinction.

The motivation to remove predators is easy to understand, but what if predator removal does not even achieve the desired outcomes?

In balance

Predators are essential to ecosystems because they regulate prey populations. Without predators, prey can become over-abundant. This can result in damage to local plants, as well as disease outbreaks that can spread to domesticated animals.

Top predators like wolves dominate small predators like coyotes, keeping those populations in check too. Without predators, ecosystems become unbalanced in many ways because plants, herbivores and small predators change in response to their loss.

In a perfect scenario, successful predator removal would strike a balance. It would reduce conflict and be sustainable, but not cause the predator population to disappear entirely. However, our review of 141 studies of predator removal revealed that success is rarely achieved.

Livestock attacks weren’t always reduced when predators were removed, and the human-wildlife conflict remained. On top of that, new predators often moved into vacated territory and recolonized areas where others had been removed. For example, when caracal (a type of wild cat) and leopard were culled in South Africa, predator conflicts on farms increased.

Caracals and other predators have been blamed for killing sheep and goats in South Africa.
(gundy/flickr), CC BY-NC-SA

A small number of studies have shown successful removal of predators without harming the predator population, and led to increases in the prey population. However, these examples of success were generally from the Arctic where wolves were removed to increase caribou or moose numbers. In that scenario, there are fewer links in the food web, possibly making responses more predictable.

Generally, however, the responses were unpredictable and removing predators often failed for one reason or another.

Coexistence, not conflict

Ecosystems are complex networks of species. They include plants, decomposers, naturally subordinate predators (such as feral cats, foxes and coyotes), pathogens, predators and their prey. Together, they all play vital roles in regulating each other.

When humans remove predators, the effects are consistently negative. The action can, for example, fracture wolf packs into smaller units, or increase the reproductive rates of coyotes to produce even more offspring. This can have knock on effects, including an increase in disease, plant damage if herbivore populations explode and even an increase in the number of collisions between large herbivores, such as moose, and vehicles.

Instead of killing predators, there are other measures we can take to reduce conflict and learn to live with wildlife. In parts of Alberta, biologists are encouraging landowners to use electric fencing around bee hives and chicken coops to fend off bears. These types of non-lethal solutions can be tested and may often be more effective than removing the predator.

Other studies have suggested that “rewilding” an ecosystem — that is, reintroducing species into the ecosystem — can reduce conflicts. When their prey are abundant, the predators have less interest in nearby livestock. One study showed that lynx conflict with farmers increased when their natural prey, roe deer, were scarcer.

Essential elements

Instead of removing predators to manage human-wildlife conflict, we should be looking towards non-lethal alternatives. Using deterrent devices (lights, sounds or flapping material) can keep predators away from homes, fields and livestock.

A predator-proof corral in the South Gobi desert in Mongolia keeps livestock safe from snow leopards and wolves.
(Ksuryawanshi/Wikimedia), CC BY-SA

The services that predators and functioning ecosystems provide to humans are of enormous value, and we would be wise to work hard to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all.

Predators aren’t only symbols, they are essential parts of healthy terrestrial and aquatic landscapes. And beyond what we value, we should feel an imperative to preserve the diversity of life we share Earth with, most of which precedes our own evolution.

Of course, there will be times when predator removal may be necessary to protect people and their interests. Interventions that champion the principles of coexistence between humans and predators may be more successful and justifiable approaches to managing wildlife.

The ConversationEfforts to protect predators or proactively promote their return, rather than continue contributing to their decline and extinction, are among the greatest conservation challenges we face.

Robert Lennox, PhD Candidate, Carleton University; Austin Gallagher, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Miami; Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, and Steven J Cooke, Professor, Carleton University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Un vrai compromis est possible au sujet du pipeline Trans Mountain

Peter Dietsch, Université de Montréal

L’expansion du Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX) divise la population et elle est devenue un des enjeux les plus controversés en politique canadienne. D’un côté, les défenseurs de l’expansion soulignent les bénéfices économiques pour le Canada, et pour l’Alberta en particulier. De l’autre, les critiques font valoir l’empreinte écologique des sables bitumineux ainsi que les risques associés au transport du pétrole.

Devant un désaccord si profond, la question des compétences des différents ordres de gouvernement est caduque. Le fait de savoir qu’Ottawa a le pouvoir de trancher ne nous rapproche guère d’une solution acceptable. Il faut un compromis réel.

Le débat a jusqu’ici été centré sur plusieurs controverses qui, malgré leur pertinence, le détournent de la question fondamentale : comment mesurer les coûts et les bénéfices de TMX ? Est-il même possible d’attribuer une mesure financière à la valeur d’un écosystème aussi riche que celui de la Colombie-Britannique ? Le processus d’évaluation de projet de TMX a-t-il été transparent ? Les Premières Nations du Canada ont-elles une voix réelle dans ce processus ?

Même s’il était envisageable de trouver des réponses satisfaisantes à ces questions — ce qui serait pour le moins optimiste —, de simples « oui » ou « non » ne représenteraient certainement pas un vrai compromis. Quel serait-il, alors ?

Oléoduc plus taxe carbone

La réponse du gouvernement libéral à cette question est que l’oléoduc sera construit en même temps qu’il appliquera une taxe sur le carbone avec un prix par tonne d’émission de CO2 qui passera de 10 $/tonne aujourd’hui à 50 $/tonne en 2022. Le but de cette mesure est de respecter les engagements canadiens à l’égard de l’Accord de Paris sur le climat.

Une taxe sur le carbone peut effectivement aider à réduire les émissions, mais peut-on la combiner au projet TMX pour façonner un compromis acceptable ? Pas vraiment. Nous savons que le pétrole des sables bitumineux est particulièrement polluant. Avant sa combustion, il produit de trois à quatre fois plus d’émissions que le baril de pétrole standard. Nous savons également que pour avoir une chance de limiter le réchauffement climatique à moins de 2 °C, la proportion d’énergie renouvelable devra passer de 30 % à 80 % de la production énergétique totale d’ici 2050.

Le reste relève des principes de base de la science économique. Si on impose une taxe sur le carbone, c’est pour qu’elle ait un effet sur le secteur d’activités dont les émissions sont les plus élevées afin, bien sûr, de les voir chuter. Au Canada, ce sont clairement les sables bitumineux.

Cela nous laisse avec deux interprétations possibles des événements récents. La taxe carbone telle qu’elle est proposée est inefficace et devrait alors être augmentée dès aujourd’hui ; ou, pour une raison ou une autre, TMX a été soustrait entièrement à la logique économique de la taxe carbone et sera construit pour des raisons politiques plutôt qu’économiques. Dans le premier scénario, le gouvernement fédéral est hypocrite quant au respect de l’Accord de Paris. Dans le deuxième, les contribuables financeront un projet qui risque de ne pas être rentable et qui ne le serait certainement pas avec une taxe sur le carbone qui a des dents.

Or, ces deux interprétations contredisent l’idée que TMX associé à une taxe sur le carbone est un compromis réel.

Une solution

TMX ou pas, les sables bitumineux ne représentent pas une stratégie à long terme pour l’Alberta. Les réserves les plus accessibles ayant déjà été exploitées, leur qualité sera en déclin dans les années à venir et le pétrole ne sera bientôt plus compétitif par rapport aux énergies renouvelables. En partie du moins, on peut imputer aux cycles électoraux de quatre ans l’engagement aveugle de la province envers le pétrole.

Une façon de mettre en équilibre l’intérêt économique et les impératifs écologiques d’aujourd’hui consiste à subventionner la transition de l’économie albertaine vers un avenir plus diversifié et durable.

Un calcul simple l’illustre. Selon le gouvernement de l’Alberta, à peu près 140 000 personnes travaillaient dans le secteur extractif de la province en 2017. En supposant que l’on veuille financer la formation de 25 % d’entre eux (35 000 personnes) dans un autre secteur pendant les cinq prochaines années au coût de 50 000 $ par personne (un montant généreux, considérant qu’une partie pourrait être assumée par le secteur privé), le coût total d’un tel programme serait de 1,75 milliard. C’est à peine plus du tiers du montant que le gouvernement semble être prêt à verser à Kinder Morgan pour TMX. Qui plus est, Ottawa pourrait inviter la Colombie-Britannique et les autres provinces à contribuer à ce projet.

Une telle formule demanderait des concessions des deux côtés. D’une part, l’Alberta devrait abandonner TMX. Rappelons ici que plusieurs oléoducs sont déjà en place et que l’économie albertaine semble se débrouiller assez bien sous le statu quo. D’autre part, la Colombie-Britannique et tous ceux qui sont motivés par des considérations environnementales seront également forcés de faire une concession sous la forme d’une contribution financière.

Il est stupéfiant qu’un gouvernement qui ne laisse passer aucune occasion de souligner ses engagements en faveur de l’environnement et des Premières Nations laisse passer une telle occasion. Le gouvernement de Justin Trudeau devrait s’ouvrir à un compromis réel.

Cet article a été originellement publié dans Le Devoir.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Birds wearing backpacks trace a path to conservation

Samantha Knight, University of Guelph and Ryan Norris, University of Guelph

With the arrival of spring, we look forward to the return of hundreds of species of migratory songbirds from their wintering grounds.

Sparrows, swallows, warblers and thrushes, among other songbirds, will be returning from their wintering sites anywhere between the southern United States and distant South America.

Some of these birds will return with a small “backpack” that has recorded their entire migration from their North American breeding grounds to their wintering grounds and back.

Birds provide important ecosystem services, such as preying on insects, dispersing seeds, scavenging carcasses and pollinating plants. Unfortunately, there have been dramatic declines in many migratory songbirds over the past few decades, with some of these populations dropping by more than 80 per cent.

If we are to find ways to slow or reverse these declines, we must first figure out what’s causing them. Climate change, habitat loss and predation by cats are among the leading causes of bird declines.

But with the vast distances these birds move over the course of the year, it can be difficult to pinpoint the main cause for a given species — and where it’s occurring.

Migratory connections

To answer this question, we need to know where individual birds spend their time throughout the year.

We have a good idea of the range — or the total area — the birds occupy during the breeding and wintering periods. But ranges are composed of many populations, and we still have a very poor understanding of how individuals within each of these populations are connected between seasons.

Individuals from different breeding populations may remain segregated during the winter. For example, some ovenbirds winter in the Caribbean whereas others spend their winters in Mexico and Central America.

Or a bird may mix with individuals that originate from other breeding populations, such as bobolinks that mix in South America during the winter.

These patterns of migratory connectivity have critical implications for predicting how migratory songbirds will respond to environmental change.

Habitat loss — deforestation, for example — in one place can have different effects. If habitat loss occurs in a wintering area where breeding populations mix, it may have wide-ranging, yet diffuse, effects on the breeding populations. But if the habitat loss occurs in a wintering area that is occupied by a single breeding population, the effect may be more focused.

For example, habitat loss in South America will likely have range-wide effects on bobolinks, while habitat loss in the Caribbean may only influence a portion of the breeding populations of ovenbirds.

Backpacks for birds

We know that the breeding and wintering populations of most species mix to some extent, but we don’t know by how much or where in the range that occurs. By understanding the migratory network, we can predict how populations across the range will respond to future changes in the environment.

How do we determine where particular individuals go? This is where the tracking “backpacks” come in handy.

These devices, known as “archival light-level geolocators,” weigh less than one gram and are small enough to be carried by songbirds.

A geolocator fitted onto the back of a tree swallow, using a harness that loops around the bird’s legs.
Dayna LeClair

Geolocators record ambient light levels every few minutes while in use. We can then use the geographic variation in sunrise and sunset times as well as day length to locate the individual bird.

We can figure out the bird’s longitude — its east-west position — by comparing solar noon, the midway point between sunrise and sunset, with the time of day (using Greenwich Mean Time). We calculate its latitude — its north-south position — from day length.

Each backpack provides a year’s worth of daily light levels, and a glimpse into one bird’s annual journey.

Tracking tree swallows

In 2011, we began deploying geolocators on tree swallows at 12 sites across their breeding range, from Alaska to Nova Scotia and North Carolina.

These iridescent blue birds with bright white bellies can be seen foraging for flying insects in marshes and fields across Canada and the United States in the spring and early summer. Like many migratory songbirds, tree swallows are experiencing population declines in parts of their breeding range. It is unclear what is driving these declines, however they coincide with declines in several species of birds that also feed on aerial insects.

By 2015, our team, comprising 27 collaborators, had retrieved more than 140 of these devices. We tracked these birds from the breeding sites to their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, Florida and the Caribbean.

With this information, we developed the most comprehensive songbird migration map to date. We found evidence for a high degree of mixing within three distinct migratory flyways between the breeding and wintering grounds of tree swallows.

The tree swallow migratory network.
Norris Lab

The tree swallow network

When we analyzed the network, we discovered that tree swallows migrated between their breeding and wintering grounds using three distinct migratory flyways: West of the Rocky Mountains, down the Mississippi River valley and along the Atlantic coast. Breeding populations within these flyways mixed extensively with one another at migration stopover and wintering regions.

We identified important regions within these flyways, such as areas in Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota and the U.S. Midwest, where tree swallows from many different breeding populations congregate. Such areas appear as critical connections within the whole network.

Now that we know more about the connections between breeding and wintering tree swallow populations, we can use this information to investigate threats to declining populations across their range. For example, using chemical markers, range-wide connectivity has been described in eastern North American monarch butterflies and then used to identify the primary threats in this declining population.

The ConversationThis spring, as the migratory songbirds return, take a moment to think about the amazing journey these birds have taken since last autumn — while wearing their backpacks.

Samantha Knight, Lab manager and researcher, University of Guelph and Ryan Norris, Associate Professor, Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – How the hard work of wild animals benefits us too

Kendra Coulter, Brock University

Like other nature lovers and rural residents, I have been marvelling at the many animal courtships and other mating preparations that accompany the arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

The brilliant-red male cardinals who seek out the best seeds and then tenderly feed their female mates, beak-to-beak. The robins who dutifully solicit and assess building supplies as they carefully construct their nests. The squirrels who remember which nuts have been buried where — and whose organizational skills rival the best administrative assistants.

A red squirrel is seen in this photo nibbling on a nut. With spring upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, watching wild animals hard at work is a reminder of how we benefit from their labour.

Along with my endless delight in watching chipmunks stuffing their cheeks to refill their networks of food burrows, as a labour studies scholar, I also recognize that these dynamics are examples of work.

Wild animals work. They work hard.

The idea of work still tends to evoke particular images of manual and blue-collar jobs, but the realities of people’s livelihoods have always been and continue to be much more diverse. This is true for people and animals alike.

Daily life for wild animals involves an elaborate and constant series of tasks and challenges.

Subsistence work

Finding food and water. Locating appropriate shelter and protection from the elements, in all seasons. Trying to avoid predators, including humans, our vehicles and our weapons. Navigating landscapes that change dramatically and become even more dangerous with every new road, building and pipeline, not to mention the droughts, floods and other weather events that result from climate change.

Raccoons and other animals have to negotiate a number of man-made issues as they seek out food and shelter.
Erwan Hesr/Unsplash

This is subsistence work. This is the work wild animals do to survive.

The dynamics become even more challenging when you add reproduction to the mix. Whether guarding a nest of chicks or a den of cubs, animal parents must be vigilant and highly attuned to myriad sights and sounds. The young must be guarded, fed, comforted and taught.

Young animals are not only taught to survive, they are also taught how to thrive and negotiate the social realities of their species, and often their particular community. This includes the need to understand relationships, social expectations, hierarchies and ways of communicating. This is care work.

Every animal mother is a working mother

The slogan “every mother is a working mother” was coined by feminists who wanted to draw attention to essential, and often overlooked and devalued, unpaid domestic labour.

Feminist political economists now use the term social reproduction to highlight the countless daily tasks carried out in homes and families, predominantly by women. These tasks ensure the maintenance of whole generations of people — and subsidize every society and economy.

I argue that animals also engage in social reproduction.

Biological reproduction is just the beginning. The effect of animals’ subsistence and care work is the social reproduction of their young, their group and their species.

In fact, I suggest we recognize that wild animals are also integral to what I call eco-social reproduction: The subsistence and care work they do contributes to the maintenance of ecosystems.

For example, the World Wildlife Fund points out:

In tropical forests, elephants create clearings and gaps in the canopy that encourage tree regeneration. In the savannas, they reduce bush cover to create an environment favourable to a mix of browsing and grazing animals. The seeds of many plant species are dependent on passing through an elephant’s digestive tract before they can germinate. It is calculated that at least a third of tree species in central African forests rely on elephants in this way for distribution of seeds.

In other words, the subsistence and care work elephants do daily in order to survive and raise their young also benefits other species and their ecosystem: It’s a process of eco-social reproduction.

A least a third of tree species in Africa are thought to rely on elephants for distributing seeds.
Harshil Gudka/Unsplash

Creatures great and small contribute to eco-social reproduction through their daily labour. Those chubby-cheeked squirrels and chipmunks? They are also invaluable seed-dispersers.

And humans are directly affected, most obviously by bees and other pollinators whose daily subsistence labour pollinates about a third of our food crops.

Thinking about wild animals and their actions in this way offers a different perspective on our multi-species communities. If a raccoon leaves a messy mural of orange peels and tea bags on your driveway, you could pause and recognize that she or he is, like you, working to survive and care for loved ones, and perhaps feel some empathy alongside the irritation.

Start seeing animals differently

Animals’ dietary choices also result from need rather than greed and, unlike ours, are not fuelling climate change.

Recognizing the complexity of the lives of the other species with whom we share this planet can also be part of expanding our webs of compassion and solidarity.

We should broaden our intellectual horizons by integrating Indigenous ways of knowing, the social sciences and scientific approaches, as we pursue deeper knowledge, and, most importantly, more ethical action, including in political and economic arenas.

We have many opportunities to see animals differently and more carefully.

There is an axiom that often circulates about the behaviour of Homo Sapiens: “Humans: We’re not the only species, we just act like it.” Let’s not.The Conversation

Kendra Coulter, Associate Professor in Labour Studies and Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence; Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Brock University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Ego is the Enemy, especially for Academics

by Madhukar Pai

To accomplish the world-changing work we set out to achieve as academics, we need to get our egos under control

“Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego” – Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” is an old saying attributed to Buddha. I just finished reading a book, Ego is the Enemy, that I wish I had read at the start of my academic career. But, it is still not too late for me, as I still have a fair bit of my academic career ahead of me. I can change and get better.

As I read the book, authored by Ryan Holiday, I could not help but reflect on the critical importance of the subject for academics like me. Let’s face it. Academics, like all people, have egos. While I have no data to prove this, I suspect egos of academics are probably bigger than folks in other professions! We die to see our names in print, we fight for credit, awards and funding, we like being called ‘experts’, we ‘profess’ whenever we get an audience, we brag about our H-index and the size of our research labs, we feel validated when others cite or use our research work, and we are gutted when our research is scooped.

These traits, I guess, are ‘naturally selected’ to help us get into and thrive in the competitive academic world we live in. But there comes a time in an academic’s life when the ego might threaten to get out of control. The runaway ego can then become an impediment to the academic’s continued growth and impact. Ego becomes the enemy of success. Holiday’s book provides a stunning array of examples, from all walks of life. Holiday himself is a case study in his book.


Everyone has seen the destructive power of monstrous academic egos – every department in every university can recount tales of legendary ego battles between academics. In fact, departments have been fractured into warring ‘clans’ because of such ego battles! Promising academic careers have ended because of ego clashes. Students’ lives have been devastated by the inability of academics to work together. Outstanding science has never seen the light of the day, because researchers could not agree on authorship, or put science higher than their quest for glory and credit.

Given the importance of this topic, you would think that universities would routinely offer workshops to their faculty on “how to conquer their egos.” Holiday’s book, in fact, could form the core of such a course. Sadly, I have not heard of any such offerings in academic circles.

All of us need to learn strategies and tactics that help us conquer our egos. A good place to begin is with a screening test. Can we use warning signs to detect an over-inflated ego? A positive screening test might help in designing strategies to conquer the ‘enemy within.’ So, here is my initial stab at a list of 12 important warning signs.

Our academic egos are probably spiralling out of control, when we:

  1. stop reading and learning from other’s research
  2. stop seeking input from colleagues and students
  3. can’t tolerate criticism of our research, or take scientific criticism as personal attacks
  4. stop citing others and make our papers mostly about our own work
  5. no longer take the time to meet students and junior colleagues who want advice
  6. attend conferences only when we have a speaking role; or sulk when a meeting is held in our area of expertise and we are not invited
  7. write a negative peer review or tend to reject manuscripts as editor, when our work is not cited
  8. expect all our grants to get funded and all our manuscripts to get accepted; if they don’t, we tend to appeal reject decisions
  9. expect to be a first or senior author on all papers
  10. sulk when we are overlooked for awards and prizes
  11. offer expert opinions on all topics, even topics we have little expertise in
  12. are unable to retire from academia at the appropriate time (i.e. cannot quit when we are ahead); and/or not able to recruit and mentor junior colleagues to take over after us (i.e. no succession planning)

So, what can we do, if the above screening test suggests a problem? I am positive on some of the indicators on this test, and I suppose that is what made me read the book in the first place (I was ‘ready for it’!). Self awareness, by itself, is a step in the right direction, says Holiday. Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization, and purpose – these are other stabilizers that can counter the ego. The long-term goal, Holiday adds, is to become humble in our aspirations; gracious in our success and resilient in our failures.

There are many tactics in his book that we can deploy against the darkness of ego:

  1. Find a way to always stay a student
  2. Find a larger purpose and work towards that
  3. Build and work in a larger team where collaboration, not competition, is the culture
  4. Find mentors and colleagues who can critique our work and keep us grounded and sober
  5. Look for role models that we can observe and learn from

Stay a student: In academia, we constantly seek to become ‘experts’ in our narrow field (and we get promoted precisely for this reason). This can, over time, make us resistant to learning, especially if we stick within our narrow field where everyone is aware of our work and our colleagues expect us to come up with good ideas all the time. The more we think we know, the less open we become to learning.

Recently, I attended a conference that was not in my area of research. I was not an ‘expert’ and hardly knew anyone at the meeting. I was an anonymous student again and found myself enjoying all the workshops and sessions. Each of us needs to find a way to ‘retool’ and learn new things during our academic career (this may well be the original rationale for sabbatical leave).

New research collaborations and interdisciplinary projects might be another great strategy for staying a student. Over the past 3 years, I am working closely with a large, interdisciplinary team that includes economists, anthropologists, and researchers who are not in my field. I am learning so much from all of them, and thoroughly enjoying myself at the same time. Further, this collaboration has resulted in several publications, and opened a whole new stream of research activity.

Find a larger purpose: If publishing more and more papers, and bringing in more and more research dollars is our raison d’etre for being in academia, then our egos have plenty to gorge on. What if we had a bigger purpose? When we have a bigger vision, then it should matter less if we are first or second authors, or that our colleagues won the grant that we hoped to get.

In my field, we are hoping to end tuberculosis by 2035. I am naturally drawn toward this larger goal. At the very least, I want to see a visible improvement in the TB problem in India, the country where I do most of my TB work. This bigger purpose of bending the arc of the TB epidemic now permeates my research team, and I can see it have a positive impact on all my staff and students. Yes, we want to do good science, publish papers, and win awards, but beyond all that, we know we have a bigger mission to serve.

We are also aware that we are cogs in a much bigger wheel, and that real reduction in the TB epidemic will require us to be aligned with thousands of others working in TB. So, we collaborate with a number of people, agencies, and TB groups.

Seek/build a culture of collaboration, not competition: Competition can be healthy, but also destructive. In particular, competition within a department or research unit can be really bad for creating a culture of learning, sharing, and caring.

I am fortunate to work in a TB Centre that is collegial, helpful, and humble (which comes naturally to Canadians!). There is little competition within the Centre, and resources are freely shared. In fact, this is one of the main reasons for me taking up a faculty position at my university. Having seen the benefits of this, I reinforce the same values within my own research lab – everyone is encouraged to collaborate, but not compete. In this environment, it is not easy for the ego to run wild. My students and research staff often tell me that they love the culture of collaboration. Liberated from the stress of competition, they can focus on research and be more productive. And by helping each other, I think they are publishing more than they would, if they worked alone.

Learn from mentors and role models: We can learn a lot by observing role models – academics who achieve greatness, and yet remain grounded and humble, and from researchers who can put their higher goals above their desire for recognition and praise. Undeniably, every school has such academics, and I have been lucky to observe and learn from a few myself. I have also worked with some impressive colleagues who gladly take themselves away from the limelight, to make sure the bigger goal is achieved.

The battle against ego must be fought on many fronts, and daily. All of us need to work towards a place where, to paraphrase Holiday, we think less of ourselves, and be less invested in the story we like to tell about our own specialness. As a result, Holiday says, we will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work we set out to achieve (as academics).

This article was originally published by Nature Research Microbiology Community.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.

VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief

Neville Ellis, University of Western Australia and Ashlee Cunsolo, Memorial University of Newfoundland

We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions that sustain life, but it is also increasingly clear that we are pushing the Earth into an entirely new geological era, often described as the Anthropocene.

Research shows that people increasingly feel the effects of these planetary changes and associated ecological losses in their daily lives, and that these changes present significant direct and indirect threats to mental health and well-being. Climate change, and the associated impacts to land and environment, for example, have recently been linked to a range of negative mental health impacts, including depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress, as well as feelings of anger, hopelessness, distress, and despair.

Not well represented in the literature, however, is an emotional response we term ‘ecological grief,’ which we have defined in a recent Nature Climate Change article: “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”

We believe ecological grief is a natural, though overlooked, response to ecological loss, and one that is likely to affect more of us into the future.

Understanding ecological grief

Grief takes many forms and differs greatly between individuals and cultures. Although grief is well understood in relation to human losses, ‘to grieve’ is rarely considered something that we do in relation to losses in the natural world.

The eminent American naturalist Aldo Leopold was among the first to describe the emotional toll of ecological loss in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: “One of the penalties of an ecological education,” he wrote, “is to live alone in a world of wounds.”

More recently, many respected ecologists and climate scientists have expressed their feelings of grief and distress in response to climate change and the environmental destruction it entails in places like: “Climate scientists feel weight of the world on their shoulders” and “Is this how you feel?”

Ecological grief is also a significant theme in our own work. In different research projects working with Inuit in Inuit Nunangat in Arctic Canada and farmers in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, both of us have spent a combined total of almost 20 years working with people living in areas experiencing significant climatic changes and environmental shifts.

Despite very different geographical and cultural contexts, our research revealed a surprising degree of commonality between Inuit and family farming communities as they struggled to cope, both emotionally and psychologically, with mounting ecological losses and the prospect of an uncertain future.

Voices of ecological grief

Our research shows that climate-related ecological losses can trigger grief experiences in several ways. Foremost, people grieve for lost landscapes, ecosystems, species, or places that carry personal or collective meaning.

For Inuit communities in the Inuit Land Claim Settlement Area of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada, the land is foundational to mental health. In recent years, melting sea ice prevented travel to significant cultural sites and engagement in traditional cultural activities, such as hunting and fishing. These disruptions to an Inuit sense of place was accompanied by strong emotional reactions, including grief, anger, sadness, frustration and despair.

One male who grew up hunting and trapping on the land in the community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut explained:

“People are not who they are. They’re not comfortable and can’t do the same things. If something is taken away from you, you don’t have it. If a way of life is taken away because of circumstances you have no control over, you lose control over your life.”

Chronic drought conditions in the Western Australian Wheatbelt elicited similar emotional reactions for some family farmers. As one long-time farmer described:

“There’s probably nothing worse than seeing your farm go in a dust storm. I reckon it’s probably one of the worst feelings […] I find that one of the most depressing things of the lot, seeing the farm blow away in a dust storm. That really gets up my nose, and a long way up too. If its blowing dust I come inside – I just come inside here. I can’t stand to watch it.”

Sweeping away the dust in the central Western Australian Wheatbelt Feb. 2013.
Neville Ellis

In both cases, such experiences resonate strongly with the concept of ‘solastagia,’, described both as a form of homesickness while still in place, and as a type of grief over the loss of a healthy place or a thriving ecosystem.

People also grieve for lost environmental knowledge and associated identities. In these cases, people mourn the part of self-identity that is lost when the land upon which it is based changes or disappears.

For Australian family farmers, the inability to maintain a healthy landscape in the context of worsening seasonal variability and chronic dryness often elicited feelings of self-blame and shame:

“Farmers just hate seeing their farm lift; it somehow says to them ‘I’m a bad farmer’. And I think all farmers are good farmers. They all try their hardest to be. They all love their land.”

For older Inuit in Nunatsiavut, changes to weather and landscape are invalidating long-standing and multi-generational ecological knowledge, and with it, a coherent sense of culture and self. As one well-respected hunter shared:

“It’s hurting in a way. It’s hurting in a lot of ways. Because I kinda thinks I’m not going to show my grandkids the way we used to do it. It’s hurting me. It’s hurting me big time. And I just keep that to myself.”

Many Inuit and family farmers also worry about their futures, and express grief in anticipation of worsening ecological losses. As one woman explained from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut:

“I think that [the changes] will have an impact maybe on mental health, because it’s a depressing feeling when you’re stuck. I mean for us to go off [on the land] is just a part of life. If you don’t have it, then that part of your life is gone, and I think that’s very depressing.”

Similarly, a farmer in Australia worried about the future shared their thoughts on the possibility of losing their family farm:

“[It] would be like a death. Yeah, there would be a grieving process because the farm embodies everything that the family farm is … And I think if we were to lose it, it would be like losing a person … but it would be sadder than losing a person … I don’t know, it would be hard definitely.”

Ecological grief in a climate-changed future

Ecological grief reminds us that climate change is not just some abstract scientific concept or a distant environmental problem. Rather, it draws our attention to the personally experienced emotional and psychological losses suffered when there are changes or deaths in the natural world. In doing so, ecological grief also illuminates the ways in which more-than-humans are integral to our mental wellness, our communities, our cultures, and for our ability to thrive in a human-dominated world.

From what we have seen in our own research, although this type of grief is already being experienced, it often lacks an appropriate avenue for expression or for healing. Indeed, not only do we lack the rituals and practices to help address feelings of ecological grief, until recently we did not even have the language to give such feelings voice. And it is for these reasons that grief over losses in the natural world can feel, as American ecologist Phyllis Windle put it, ‘irrational, inappropriate, anthropomorphic.’

We argue that recognising ecological grief as a legitimate response to ecological loss is an important first step for humanising climate change and its related impacts, and for expanding our understanding of what it means to be human in the Anthropocene. How to grieve ecological losses well — particularly when they are ambiguous, cumulative and ongoing — is a question currently without answer. However, it is a question that we expect will become more pressing as further impacts from climate change, including loss, are experienced.

The ConversationWe do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke. Just as grief over the loss of a loved person puts into perspective what matters in our lives, collective experiences of ecological grief may coalesce into a strengthened sense of love and commitment to the places, ecosystems and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us. There is much grief work to be done, and much of it will be hard. However, being open to the pain of ecological loss may be what is needed to prevent such losses from occurring in the first place.

Moonrise near Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada.
Ashlee Cunsolo

Neville Ellis, Research fellow, University of Western Australia and Ashlee Cunsolo, Director, Labrador Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

« Voix du Collège » est une série d’interventions écrites assurées par des membres du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science. Les articles, rédigés par la nouvelle génération du leadership académique du Canada, apportent un regard opportun sur des sujets d’importance pour les Canadiens. Les opinions présentées sont celles des auteurs et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles du Collège des nouveaux chercheurs et créateurs en art et en science ni de la Société royale du Canada.