VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Conflict and climate change lead to a rise in global hunger

Last year about 11 per cent of the total human population (approximately 850 million people on the planet) suffered from daily hunger, according to a recent United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world.

This is a tragedy no matter how you look at it. The numbers show a 4.5 per cent increase — or 38 million more hungry people — from the previous year. This rise in hunger is especially significant because it is the first rise in global hunger we have seen in more than a decade.

Though global hunger was at 14 per cent of the world’s population in 2005, each year since then, between 2005 and 2016, the number of hungry people on the planet dropped. Development officials were cautiously optimistic that we were on our way to eradicating hunger.

Conflict and climate change are the culprits behind this year’s rise in numbers.

According to the United Nations, food security worsened across major parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Western Asia. For instance, South Sudan is mired in conflict and experienced a major famine earlier this year.

Bad weather can lead to conflict

If you overlay a map of the world’s conflicts with a map of the world’s worst food security problems, there is a clear connection. The UN notes 20 million people are at risk of dying of hunger not only in South Sudan but also Somalia, Yemen and the northeast tip of Nigeria. All of these areas are affected by conflicts that undermine people’s ability to feed themselves.

Similarly, deteriorating environmental conditions have ravaged many of these areas. The UN report notes that Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Yemen all experienced bad floods in 2016 while Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria all suffered bad droughts.

What we are probably witnessing is an interaction between deteriorating environmental conditions that help exacerbate already existing social tensions and undermine the livelihoods of millions.

We’ve been here before; history shows us that there are often links between conflict and bad weather.

For instance, there is a complex but well-established connection between droughts and the start of the Syrian Civil War. It seems that faltering rainfall in the early 2000s upended Syria’s rural communities and brought people into cities where they began protesting political corruption in the Assad government.

Similarly, there is a link between droughts and the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. And if we look further back in time, it is well-recognized by historians that the French Revolution began as protests over food prices after harvest failures sent waves of penniless refugees into the streets of Paris.

Possible solution: drought-tolerant crops

Luckily, there are potential solutions — even right here in Canada. For example, at the University of Guelph we are breeding more drought-tolerant varieties of our important crops. We can promote agricultural practices that build up the soil’s organic matter. The extra organic matter acts like a sponge by trapping rainfall and holding onto it for when it is needed.

In addition, we can support international development projects focusing in particular on female-headed households, to help small-scale farmers access markets and become more efficient. Focusing on women is critical because in Africa, as much as 80 per cent of food is produced by small farmers who are mostly rural women.

For years, academics and activists have been trying to raise alarm bells that population growth and climate change will make it increasingly hard to maintain food security over the next generation, and that conflict is almost inevitable as a result.

But until this year, there didn’t seem to be much data, outside of historic antecedents, to confirm these worries. With hunger decreasing every year, what was the big deal? But the uptick in hunger signalled in this most recent UN report should focus our attention.

The ConversationIn the future, will we remember 2017 as the year when we started to lose the battle to ensure the future is well fed? Or will we heed this warning and take the actions necessary to help communities everywhere build more resilient food systems?

Evan Fraser, Director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph; Professor; Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security, 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 – Keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees: really hard, but not impossible

The Paris climate agreement has two aims: “holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”. The more ambitious of these is not yet out of reach, according to our new research.

Despite previous suggestions that this goal may be a lost cause, our calculations suggest that staying below 1.5℃ looks scientifically feasible, if extremely challenging.

Climate targets such as the 1.5℃ and 2℃ goals have been interpreted in various ways. In practice, however, these targets are probably best seen as focal points for negotiations, providing a common basis for action.

To develop policies capable of hitting these targets, we need to know the size of the “carbon budget” – the total amount of greenhouse emissions consistent with a particular temperature target. Armed with this knowledge, governments can set policies designed to reduce emissions by the corresponding amount.

In a study published in Nature Geoscience, we and our international colleagues present a new estimate of how much carbon budget is left if we want to remain below 1.5℃ of global warming relative to pre-industrial temperatures (bearing in mind that we are already at around 0.9℃ for the present decade).

We calculate that by limiting total CO₂ emissions from the beginning of 2015 to around 880 billion tonnes of CO₂ (240 billion tonnes of carbon), we would give ourselves a two-in-three chance of holding warming to less than 0.6℃ above the present decade. This may sound a lot, but to put it in context, if CO₂ emissions were to continue to increase along current trends, even this new budget would be exhausted in less than 20 years 1.5℃ (see Climate Clock). This budget is consistent with the 1.5℃ goal, given the warming that humans have already caused, and is substantially greater than the budgets previously inferred from the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2013-14.

This does not mean that the IPCC got it wrong. Having predated the Paris Agreement, the IPCC report included very little analysis of the 1.5℃ target, which only became a political option during the Paris negotiations themselves. The IPCC did not develop a thorough estimate of carbon budgets consistent with 1.5℃, for the simple reason that nobody had asked them to.

The new study contains a far more comprehensive analysis of the factors that help to determine carbon budgets, such as model-data comparisons, the treatment of non-CO₂ gases, and the issue of the maximum rates at which emissions can feasibly be reduced.

Tough task

The emissions reductions required to stay within this budget remain extremely challenging. CO₂ emissions would need to decline by 4-6% per year for several decades. There are precedents for this, but not happy ones: these kinds of declines have historically been seen in events such as the Great Depression, the years following World War II, and during the collapse of the Soviet Union – and even these episodes were relatively brief.

Yet it would be wrong to conclude that greenhouse emissions can only plummet during times of economic collapse and human misery. Really, there is no historical analogy to show how rapidly human societies can rise to this challenge, because there is also no analogy for the matrix of problems (and opportunities) posed by climate change.

There are several optimistic signs that peak emissions may be near. From 2000 to 2013 global emissions climbed sharply, largely because of China’s rapid development. But global emissions may now have plateaued, and given the problems that China encountered with pollution it is unlikely that other nations will attempt to follow the same path. Rapid reduction in the price of solar and wind energy has also led to substantial increases in renewable energy capacity, which also offers hope for future emissions trajectories.

In fact, we do not really know how fast we can decarbonise an economy while improving human lives, because so far we haven’t tried very hard to find out. Politically, climate change is an “aggregate efforts global public good”, which basically means everyone needs to pull together to be successful.

This is hard. The problem with climate diplomacy (and the reason it took so long to broker a global agreement) is that the incentives for nations to tackle climate change are collectively strong but individually weak.

This is, unfortunately, the nature of the problem. But our research suggests that a 1.5℃ world, dismissed in some quarters as a pipe dream, remains physically possible.

Whether it is politically possible depends on the interplay between technology, economics, and politics. For the world to achieve its most ambitious climate aspiration, countries need to set stronger climate pledges for 2030, and then keep making deep emissions cut for decades.

The ConversationNo one is saying it will be easy. But our calculations suggest that it can be done.

Dave Frame, Professor of Climate Change, Victoria University of Wellington and H. Damon Matthews, Professor and Concordia University Research Chair in Climate Science and Sustainability, Concordia 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 – How can immigrant scientists give back to their homelands?

Immigrant scientists play a vital role in the science and engineering workforce. In addition to contributing to their adopted countries, they have potential to use their talents to give back to their homelands. Giving back is not necessarily about giving dollars or relocating; there are a variety of routes to follow. While I can only speak from my personal experience in India, the lessons I have learned might be applicable to immigrant scientists from other countries.

I left India in 2000 to do my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, after having completed my medical training in India. After a postdoctoral fellowship at University of California, San Francisco, I moved to Canada to join McGill University, where I am now a professor and the director of global health.

Even as a doctoral student, I went back to India frequently to do my thesis research on tuberculosis. Given India’s enormous burden of TB, this was a no-brainer. Since then, I have continued my TB research in India, visiting India as frequently as three to four times every year. I also teach in India, supervise Indian trainees, send Canadian students to India, support partnerships, and advise the government. This engagement has added value and purpose to my academic life.

When I meet others like me, I like to compare notes. While some have had great experiences, others have confided that they would love to give back, but don’t quite know where to begin. A few colleagues were sad that nobody from India had invited them to contribute. Others asked me whether India needs their expertise at all.

The last question, I think, is the easiest to answer. While India has undoubtedly made tremendous progress, the country faces huge challenges. India ranks 127th among 188 countries on progress toward health-related SDGs. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world. TB kills nearly half a million Indians each year. At the same time, India has over 60 million people estimated to have diabetes.

India has more people living in rural areas without access to clean water than any other country. Nearly half of India’s rural population lack access to toilets, and 240 million people live without electricity. India also underperforms in medical research.

These challenges are not easy for any country, and overseas scientists can help. How? First, we don’t need invitations to help our own homeland. Second, there is no single approach that works for all. Depending on our career stage, financial situation, and other responsibilities, each of us can find a way to give back.

The easiest way to begin, in my experience, is by giving lectures in institutes and conferences whenever we visit India. This platform is great for sharing our knowledge, inspiring students, and helping establish connections with scientists and institutions. We could also remotely mentor Indian students. I have materials that I frequently share on how to apply for fellowships, how to publish, and how to teach.

Another way to contribute is to blog and write op-eds in Indian media about topics that we care about and have expertise in. I mostly write about the TB problem in India, and make time for Indian journalists. It is helpful to go beyond pointing out the problems and offer constructive solutions on what can be done. I also serve on the editorial boards of some Indian journals.

A natural follow-up to giving lectures is organizing short courses and workshops in India to help build capacity. They are more work than lectures, but greatly appreciated.

For those interested in teaching, the next step is to become a visiting faculty member at Indian universities. In my experience, this allows us to build stronger relationships, find research collaborators, and help build capacity that may be lacking. India now has special programs to attract overseas Indians as visiting faculty.

For researchers, collaborating with Indian researchers, doing research projects in the country, and writing grants with Indian partners is another impactful way of giving back. We have shared grant funds with several Indian institutions and these have helped train students, hire staff, purchase equipment, and produce a number of scientific publications — often with Indian collaborators as first or senior authors.

We can also identify talented students from India and bring them to our universities for training. We have supported several Indian colleagues to visit McGill for short-term summer courses. I have also supported students with MSc and PhD degree programs. This requires financial investment, but is definitely worth the effort. All the researchers who did their graduate or doctoral training are now back in India, doing meaningful research at their institutions. Hopefully, they will pay it forward.

In my current leadership role, I have helped fund and build partnerships with Indian universities. One example is the Manipal McGill Centre for Infectious Diseases, which helps enhance research collaborations and student and faculty exchanges between our universities.

Eventually, as we gain credibility and trust, there will be opportunities to contribute to policy making and a chance to serve on advisory groups. For example, I serve on the International Scientific Advisory Group of the India TB Research Consortium.

Philanthropy, of course, is another route. We can help establish prizes, awards, and orations, or help build centers, hospitals, and other medical facilities. Here, I have had mixed experiences. While it is easy to send dollars, not every recipient is good with the stewardship, and accountability is an issue. Resources such as Doing Good Better can be helpful to get the most impact from philanthropy.

Lastly, we can always choose to return to India and help create or lead new institutions, laboratories, NGOs, or programs. India now offers special re-entry fellowships and chairs, and thousands have already taken this route. Relocating is hard, since it has implications for our spouses and children, but I know colleagues who have successfully done this. An alternative is to relocate for shorter periods before coming back to western countries. An Overseas Citizen of India status can facilitate this.

Regardless of the path chosen, immigrant scientists can serve as dual citizen scientists and give back to their home countries.

Madhukar Pai, M.D., Ph.D., is a Canada research chair in epidemiology and global health at McGill University, Montreal. He is the director of McGill Global Health Programs and associate director of the McGill International TB Centre. Madhu did his medical training and community medicine residency in Vellore, India. He completed his Ph.D. in epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco.

This article was originally published by Devex.


« 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 – Acid attacks are on the rise and toxic masculinity is the cause

Lucia Annibali, victim of an acid attack in Italy, walks in Rome earlier this year.
(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Dr. Bipasha Baruah, Western University and Aisha Siddika, Western University

A spate of acid attacks has earned London the dubious recent distinction of being called “the acid capital of Britain.” There have been more than 100 acid attacks reported in 2017 alone, with at least one a day in the city, and there are suggestions the true figure is much higher.

There’s a common misconception that acid attacks take place only in developing countries. They are, in fact, a worldwide phenomenon. Acid attacks have been reported in the U.K., Canada, Italy (27 registered assaults in 2016) and other industrialized countries. Approximately 1,500 acid attacks are recorded worldwide annually. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia and Uganda are countries with the highest reported incidence.

More than two-thirds of recent victims in the U.K. are men. But globally, 80 per cent of acid attack victims are women and girls. Acid violence is categorized as a form of gender-based violence because gendered roles and hierarchies within families and society not only motivate perpetrators to commit the crime, but also provide them with a sense of impunity.

Attackers aim to disfigure victims

Perpetrators usually intend to disfigure rather than kill their victims. The patriarchal reasoning that a woman’s appearance is her only asset often drives acid violence. Even in the U.K., where most victims are men, a gang member admits quite easily in a YouTube documentary produced by VICE that although he has attacked both men and women with acid, he would “prefer to use acid on a girl nine out of 10 times” because “they love their beauty.”

Acid attacks are often specifically used to ruin a woman’s future romantic prospects, her career, financial security and social status. This perverse logic for acid attacks appears to hold water everywhere in the world. In 2008, Katie Piper’s ex-boyfriend hired an attacker in London to specifically throw sulphuric acid on her face to make her unattractive to other men and destroy her modelling career.

Perpetrators of acid violence are almost always men, and toxic masculinity —the desire to permanently victimize someone while demonstrating his own power and brutality —is almost always the underlying cause regardless of whether the victim is a woman, man or transgendered person.

Boys, men, need strong education programs

None of the policies and interventions aimed at responding to acid violence have engaged meaningfully with this fact. Proactive prevention strategies must involve sensitizing men and boys to the effects of gender-based violence, including acid attacks, and incorporating them into prevention activities.

Such approaches should be prioritized – or at least simultaneously implemented – as reactive strategies such as policing acid sellers and purchasers, and seeking longer jail sentences for perpetrators, which countries like Great Britain, Italy, Bangladesh and India are currently pursuing.

Perpetrators use acid because it is easy to purchase, easier to use than knives or guns, and because it has devastating consequences upon victims. Perpetrators also use other corrosive substances to disfigure their victims. This is true for recent attacks in the U.K. and in Montreal in 2012, when Tanya St-Arnauld’s ex-boyfriend used a household cleaning liquid to attack her.

This means that in countries where acid is not widely available or expensive, perpetrators will find destructive alternatives (kerosene, for example) that have the same disfiguring effect. Keeping purchase records of such common products will be difficult, if not impossible.

Governments and acid violence prevention NGOs have advocated for social, medical and legal reforms that have assisted in improving health, education and training, human rights, laws and psychosocial services for acid attack survivors. But to date, none of them have developed programs that authentically acknowledge or address the root cause of acid violence.

The ConversationIn some countries, state responsibilities have been supplemented or even replaced by NGOs, even though the latter cannot replace the former’s role in protecting citizens. Stronger state involvement is critical not just in service provision to survivors but also in prevention.

Dr. Bipasha Baruah, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Global Women’s Issues , Western University and Aisha Siddika, Alumni, Western 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 – How wildfires could radically change forests — and your life

Wildfires may grow more frequent and intense in North America amid climate change, like the Fort McMurray blazes in 2016, which were among the worst in Canadian history.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Merritt Turetsky, University of Guelph

A lonely bird call breaks my concentration and I glance upward. Where glacier-topped mountains should be filling the horizon, instead my view is obscured by a strange orange haze. Even the bright sun has given up. It seems to float in the sky as a faint pink ball.

I am a field ecologist working east of the Denali mountain range in Alaska, but the postcard-worthy view of my sites today is obscured by smoke drifting across the border from wildfires burning throughout British Columbia. I have been studying boreal wildfires for years and have a strong understanding of the importance of fire to the boreal forest of Canada.

Boreal wildfires in Canada are spectacular displays of nature’s force — they burn across hundreds of thousands of kilometres and can last for months, sometimes smouldering right through the winter. These fires tend to occur in remote regions that simply cannot be managed. And their zone of impact is much wider than most people ever imagine as soot, ash and smoke drift in long-range atmospheric circulation patterns across geopolitical borders, affecting air quality around the world.

Over the past 5,000 years, repeated cycles of burning followed by vegetation recovery have allowed conifer forests to flourish into the great forested biome that today covers much of Canada. But multiple lines of evidence are now telling us a convincing story that boreal fires are changing — they are getting bigger, larger, and more intense, particularly in northwestern Canada. And if this continues, there is a good chance that the next years of wildfire will cause fundamental changes to our iconic northern forests.

Conifer trees need fire. Following light or moderate fire activity, trees like black spruce often regenerate immediately. But when northern forests burn too severely, deciduous trees like aspen and birch can outcompete conifers during post-fire succession.

Smoke from a wildfire in Little Fort, B.C., obscures the sun on July 11. Over 100 fires are burning throughout British Columbia.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Fires already changing northern forests

In some areas of boreal North America, we already are seeing large increases in the extent of deciduous forests as a result of increasing fire activity. There is no doubt that such an important shift in the makeup of Canadian forests will have winners and losers. Some animals may thrive with the better forage quality produced by deciduous species, while others will lose important habitat.

A loss of conifer forest area would mean big changes for how the boreal biome interacts with the Earth’s climate system. The consequences of fire-induced shifts in the structure of boreal forests would be far ranging from small-scale changes in biodiversity to global-scale changes in albedo (the amount of the sun’s energy reflected back into space) and greenhouse gas emissions.

Northwest Canada has experienced steady increases in the annual amount of forest area burned over the second half of the 20th century. This is despite similar increases in money spent on fighting fires. Some of the variation in fire regimes in this area is attributed to anthropogenic — human-made — climate change and this influence is only likely to strengthen in the future.

There are some easy conclusions to reach. Warmer, drier fuels will burn more — this seems obvious to anyone skilled in building a campfire. But there will be plenty of surprises when it comes to making predictions about the future of Canada’s fire regime. People, for example.

Humans cause about half of the fires in Canada, although most of the area burned still results from fires started by lightning. With more people moving into and relying on the boreal forest, this dynamic between human versus lightning-initiated fires could shift in the next century.

Scientists in general expect climate change to increase the frequency of lightning ignitions in the north, but there is plenty we still need to learn about how climate change will influence storm events and cloud-to-ground lightning discharges.

It is impossible to make predictions about boreal fires without considering future vegetation. If deciduous forests do increase in extent, this will have major impacts on fuel-moisture content, ignition probabilities and area burned.

Other disturbances that affect the amount of dead wood in forests also are likely to alter fire activity. There are a number of examples of insect outbreaks triggered by climate change, and this can lead to fuel accumulation and greater risk of severe fires.

Impact on humans

Climate change is not an esoteric concept for people living in the north. Northerners are intimately connected with their land and know that their homes are experiencing warming at a faster rate than anywhere else on the planet. Wildfire perhaps can be viewed as a climate change beacon, a harbinger of things to come.

While big fire years used to occur episodically, maybe once or twice a decade, now it seems that there is always a big fire year occurring somewhere in Canada or Alaska. In 2014, the Northwest Territories experienced its largest fire year on record. In 2015, the military was called in to assist firefighters battling large fires in Saskatchewan. In 2016, images of the Fort McMurray fires were broadcast all over the world. And today, on this summer day in 2017, I am supposed to be working in one of the most pristine areas of Alaska, but am instead breathing in smoke from Canadian fires.

Angie Thorne, left, comforts her granddaughter Nevaeh Porter, 8, on July 9 amid the remains of their home that was destroyed by a wildfire on the Ashcroft First Nation, near Ashcroft, B.C.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

While I study wildfires from a natural science perspective, I am acutely aware of the sociological impacts. Fires cause human health problems and anxiety. Wildfires cause more evacuations in Canada than any other natural disaster. The Fort McMurray fire alone forced more than 80,000 Canadians to flee their homes.

Not too long ago, I spoke with an emergency room doctor based in a northern Canadian city who told me about increases in post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses following big fires. “Is it the sight of billowing smoke and flames?” I asked. The anxiety of having to leave your home and not knowing whether it would still be standing when you returned?

No, she said. She believed it was the realization of a new reality — that climate change was no longer something to just talk about. It’s here, and it will affect how people will live and survive in the north. Fire is just part of the stress of this new reality.

New risks, opportunities

Climate change undoubtedly means more fire in Canada, and that will bring changes to the land and to the quality of our air and water. Some of the changes will pose great challenges for people, others may create new opportunities.

One thing is certain: Heading into our new climate reality, fire management needs to adapt to the future years of fire in Canada. The dynamics of fire itself may change. Fuels that were too wet to burn in the past 50 years may no longer be considered fire breaks. The resources we used to protect from fire may need to change. Should we try to protect deep stores of carbon in peatlands and permafrost forests from burning? Is this even possible given the tools available to firefighters?

We need to work together to create new tools and mandates for fire management agencies. We need politicians and governments at every level to understand the importance of fire — both the positives and negatives associated with burning of forests. And we need more resources and awareness for Canadians to adopt fire-smart practices in their communities.

The ConversationOur understanding of fires has come a long way, and it will continue to evolve. I am excited to see the progress and the outcome of interdisciplinary science, policy and outreach related to Canadian forest fires. But for today, I find myself wishing for a big gust of wind to blow all of this smoke away.

Merritt Turetsky, Associate professor, Integrative biology, 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 – Fundamental Research and Applied Research: A continuum or a divide?

Labels are common and convenient in today’s society. For example, within the academic world, there are those who engage in “fundamental research” and those who engage in “applied research”. In reality, those forms of research are not two discrete labels or entities, but rather a continuum. It is (or should be) entirely appropriate and perhaps even encouraged to engage in research along the entirety of the fundamental-applied continuum. Yet, rarely are research norms and culture couched around embracing that perspective such that it comes across as if there is a long-standing and deep divide.

I am fortunate in that my research program spans the entirety of the fundamental-applied continuum. I use the word “fortunate” because I truly regard it as the best of both worlds. I have the ultimate in freedom of being able to engage in fundamental, discovery-oriented research to understand basic phenomena and mechanisms. Yet, I also have the fortune of being able to help government, industry, and other partners/stakeholders address real-world problems. My students and post-docs also benefit from training and thinking that embraces and celebrates both fundamental and applied research. They understand the short-game—the need for short-term pay-offs related to pressing applied questions—but also recognize the value in research that may take decades if ever to yield tangible direct benefit to society.

I feel that the more common narrative today within academia is that there is contempt for applied research rather than viewing it as an opportunity to complement or even enhances one’s fundamental research activities. If I only engaged in fundamental science I would likely be financially limited to 1 or 2 graduate students which would influence research productivity and thus career progression. Although the majority of my funding is from applied sources, that funding also allows me to engage in fundamental research that explores the basis for the problems that I am trying to resolve with my applied research. Roughly 50% of my research output is fundamentally oriented yet my direct funding (i.e., NSERC Discovery Grant) to fund that work is a small proportion of my overall research portfolio. To me it is never about one or the other—it is about both—and it is about seamless integration.

The recent federal Fundamental Science Review (i.e., Naylor Report) did an outstanding job of making a strong case for more investment in fundamental science which I support whole-heartedly. But, I also support continued investment in partnership research and identifying opportunities to integrate and celebrate both the fundamental and applied aspects of what we do.

I look forward to a day where working across the entirety of the fundamental-applied continuum is the norm. There is no need for competition nor to try and raise the profile of one by belittling the other. We seem to go through swings (influenced largely by changes in government) in the relative investment in fundamental or applied research when in reality both are foundational to our knowledge-based economy and the basis for effective, evidence-based public policy. Perhaps future generations of researchers will have the fortune of being exposed to the entire continuum of research modalities and in doing so will respect, embrace, and engage in research of all forms.

Steven Cooke is a professor and Canada Research Chair in the Institute of Environmental Science and the Department of Biology at Carleton University. The ideas presented here build on those presented here: Cooke, S.J. 2011. On the basic-applied continuum in ecology and evolution and a call to action – perspectives of an early career researcher in academia. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 4:37-39.


« 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 – More border resources for migrants is not a solution

Desperate asylum seekers are crossing the Canadian border, and did so in the dead of winter. This has precipitated an emotionally charged, political debate. Simplistic solutions abound, notably loud calls to deploy more resources at Canada’s land border.

But there are serious limits to what throwing money at the border can accomplish. Migrants have been crossing illegally in full view of Canadian authorities, even after being warned they would be arrested. And enhanced enforcement at the border will hardly deter those intent on crossing.

So what can we do?

First, Canadians need to realize immigration is actually a national security policy. We need to grow immigrant levels, but in a way that balances fairness, equity, safety and prosperity.

The initial generation of economic migrants may fill labour-market gaps, even while tending to incur higher health, social and education costs than established Canadians. Yet, the real benefit accrues from well-integrated, well-educated subsequent generations. Unlike much of the rest of the world, Canada does not just take in refugees, it welcomes future Canadians.

How many refugees Canada should accept is controversial. Canada could, and should, take in more refugees if its approach were more systematic in spreading the burden across the country. The means, however, are not up for debate. Canada’s approach to refugees is premised on working systematically with international organizations to identify a limited number of refugees in greatest need of resettlement, and who are reasonably well-matched with Canadian society.

That principled approach is meant to give the most vulnerable and destitute a fair chance. By having the resources, know-how and stamina to make it to Canada, the bulk of illegal entrants from the United States do not fall into that category. There are millions of people in the world worthy of protection under our international treaty obligations; so, how is one to choose?

Encouraging people to jump the queue and cherry-pick their preferred country of settlement undermines Canada’s principled approach to refugees. Is it really in Canada’s interest to encourage people who are already in the United States to cross the border illegally and evade the rule-of-law-based Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States?

What we should be asking is: How did migrants who are crossing illegally into Canada enter the United States in the first place? After all, if they had a legitimate refugee claim, they could have long ago filed it. It also hardly follows that those who are subject to removal from the United States should necessarily be taken in by Canada.

To safeguard the integrity of our refugee and immigration strategy, Canada needs more resources beyond the border. By and large, Canada is already pretty good at this and getting better at working with allied and partner countries to forestall the arrival of illegal entrants.

Remember the arrivals of the MV Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea on Vancouver Island in 2009 and 2010? It was no accident more boats did not arrive. It was the result of concerted, deliberate, strategic action by the government of the day.

Never has it been more difficult to enter Canada by irregular means; crossing between ports of entry is a last resort. Since November, 2016, the Electronic Travel Authorization makes it much harder to fly to Canada using false or forged travel documents. Canada has also improved the sharing of entry-exit data at ports of entry with the United States. To reduce the rise in illegal crossings to the new U.S. administration is overly simplistic. The recent surge in irregular crossings is instead a symptom of the confluence of these changes.

In sum, putting more resources at the border is wrong-headed and misinformed. Instead, Canada needs more resources beyond the border, especially for intelligence and immigration enforcement, to ensure that those whose refugee claims are denied are, indeed, removed.

If Canada’s fairly principled approach to refugees is compromised, then that undermines Canada’s demographic competitiveness, economic prosperity and national security strategy.

Christian Leuprecht is a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University and a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 edition of Inside Policy, the magazine of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.


« 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 – The Cafeteria Conundrum: 8 Ways to Encourage Healthy Eating in Our Schools

Schools are tasked with a difficult and sometimes controversial responsibility: promoting healthy eating. Indeed, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s recent evaluation regarding compliance with its nutritional policy gave our schools low marks in a number of areas. This is not surprising as there is a great deal of inertia to overcome.

As far back as 1980 the New Brunswick Federation of Home and School Associations lamented “the dangers of junk foods,” and urged principals to take action. Dietitians charged with the current audit have raised serious concerns about the kinds of foods in schools, the use of food as a reward, and contracts with fast-food chains. History shows that initiatives aimed at improving in-school nutrition require firm government support to ensure that they are wide-ranging, effective, and sustainable.

The current provincial Policy 711 is a step in the right direction but it needs to be enforced, and some of its provisions need to be re-evaluated. Despite the policy, loopholes still allow the serving of unhealthy foods to children. Last November two local physicians raised concerns about the selling of Slush Puppies in school cafeterias: technically permitted under the guidelines but containing 29 grams, or seven teaspoons, of sugar! The policy does not apply to the fundraising activities of support groups. A number of schools also now offer “hot lunches” that inadvertently encourage students to patronize fast-food franchises. Such practices may not contravene Policy 711 but they conventionalize the consumption of fast-food as part of students’ regular routine, and thus contradict the healthy eating messages conveyed elsewhere in the policy and in school curricula.

The provision of healthy foods is a difficult task for departments of education. Tightening food regulations presents a challenge because cafeterias are expected to break even financially. Healthy eating initiatives and the essential life-long lessons they convey are effectively hindered from the get-go. Historically, cafeterias have relied on junk food sales to subsidize healthier options. The fact that many children bring lunch from home also means that cafeteria food tends to be supplemental, and thus less healthy, e.g. potato wedges, cookies, dessert. In some cases attempts to create healthier menus have led to cafeteria closures as revenues decline.

Still, the effort to improve healthy eating is needed. Dr. David Kessler, the former head of the US Food and Drug Administration, notes that there is increasing evidence that “foods high in sugar, fat and salt are altering the biological circuitry of our brains” and thus encouraging overeating and obesity. In 2007 a House of Commons committee reported that Canada’s rate of childhood obesity was one of the worst in the developing world. New Brunswick currently vies with several other Atlantic provinces to lead the Canadian statistics for obesity and inactivity in children and adults.

If we want to see significant changes in the health of our population, and in the messages children are exposed to, we need to make significant changes. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Return drinking fountains to all public places, including schools, and encourage their use.
  2. Stop marketing fast food to children (especially in schools).
  3. Recognize that school food programs should not have the responsibility to break-even or to make money: they’re an investment in children’s health now and into the future.
  4. Don’t treat cafeterias as ancillary to schooling. The lessons learned there are as important as those offered in the classroom.
  5. Don’t use food as a reward, unless it is fresh fruit and vegetables.
  6. Bring back home economics and include food preparation and healthy eating in the curriculum from kindergarten onwards.
  7. Task and empower dietitians to enforce Policy 711 consistently across the province: Policy 711 must be a political and school priority.
  8. Keep it simple: stick with whole foods and plant-based diets.

Schools have a moral imperative to be role models for the entire community. They need to promote healthy eating by serving healthy food and educating children (and families by extension) about healthy eating and active living.

Dr. Catherine Gidney, Adjunct Research Professor, History, St. Thomas University, and Member, Royal Society of Canada’s New College of Scholars, Artists
Dr. Gabriela Tymowski-Gionet, Associate Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, UNB Fredericton

This article was originally published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, 20 March 2017.


« 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 – From the Tea Party to the Trump Party and Beyond

In an article published earlier this year in The Atlantic, Molly Ball asks whether anti-Trump protesters could learn from the Tea Party, a conservative oppositional movement that emerged in the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama to the White House in November 2008. For her, the parallels between the anti-Obama Tea Party and the emerging anti-Trump movement are striking: “a massive grassroots movement, many of its members new to activism, that feeds primarily off fear and reaction.” These remarks are perceptive but they are also ironic, as that Tea Party helped pave the way to the Trump phenomenon.

First, at a more superficial level, Trump became a key figure in the so-called “birther” thesis, which received much support among Tea Partiers, as most of them were unsure whether President Obama was born in the United States, or believed he was born in Kenya or in another country. In this context, during the Obama years, Trump became a Tea Party hero as he pressured the president to release his birth certificate and he continued to cast doubt upon the president’s place of birth long after the White House had released such a certificate. In fact, it was only in mid-September 2016, late in his presidential bid, that Trump finally stated unequivocally that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”

Second, populism emerged as a key ideological factor of both the Tea Party and the Trump phenomenon. Populism is a slippery and ill-defined term in public debate but, according to Princeton political scientist Jan-Werner Müller, it simply refers to an anti-elitist and anti-pluralist approach: “populists claim that they, and only they, represent the people.” The populism of the Tea Party is explicitly embedded in the official name of the movement: the “Tea Party Patriots” who, like their alleged predecessors of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, claim to speak on the behalf of the American people against a government seemingly alien to them. The popularity of the “birther” movement among Tea Partiers was directly connected to this form of white populism, as many of them depicted Obama as an anti-American leader who might not even hail from the United States. As for Trump, he spent his presidential campaign attacking the “Washington elite” while being hailed by his supporters as the only legitimate voice of “Real America,” an expression rich in racial and nationalistic undertones. More recently, from the White House, President Trump has stated on a number of occasions that some media outlets such as CNN and the New York Times were nothing more than “the enemy of the people,” a phrase meant to tap into both nationalistic and anti-elitist sentiments, as these “mainstream” media are widely seen by the president’s base as an anti-American instrument in the hands of liberal “coastal elites.”

Third, there is a clear demographic overlap between the Tea Party and the Trump phenomenon. For instance, in their study The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson showed that older white people, especially men, were overrepresented among core Tea Party supporters. Simultaneously, the victory of Trump last November was depicted as “The Revenge of the White Man,” a phrase that is reflected in polling data. As Jill Filipovic put it: “Across racial groups, there was a gender gap of close to 10 points in this election, with many more men than women voting for Trump. Fewer than a third of white men voted for Clinton, and fewer than half of white women.” Concerning the age factor, polling data shows that “Older voters (ages 65 and older) preferred Trump over Clinton 53%-45%.” From this perspective, although not identical, the demographics of Tea Party supporters is similar to the one of Trump supporters.

The current anti-Trump movement is clearly grounded in a different demographic base than the Tea Party and the Trump phenomenon, as it is both younger and more socially diverse. From an ideological standpoint, the left-leaning anti-Trump movement is also at odds with the conservative Tea Party. Yet, if the anti-Trump movement can draw tactical lessons from the Tea Party about how to mobilize against a sitting president, for instance by protesting at town hall meetings held by elected officials who support him, it could help it impact U.S. politics in a meaningful way.

Daniel Béland is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.


« 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 – Counting the Victims of Islamophobia

In recent weeks, political purveyors of “common sense” would have us believe that free speech itself is under threat by M-103, the Liberal parliamentary motion to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” There is a hard line, Conservatives suggest, between free speech and hate speech, and while they denounce the latter, Liberals claim that they nevertheless cross that line by refusing to condemn Islamophobia. Heritage Minister Melanie Joly has said that “by not denouncing Islamophobia, they are actually contributing to the problem.” Conservatives have countered that the Liberal motion would muzzle free speech and an individual’s right to “criticize” Islam.

Despite politicking from both camps, there is a more fundamental contest here over what speech is, what it does, and who is responsible for its effects. Is speech solely a matter of individual freedoms or is there something “systemic” in the ways speech acts within a society, when our words circulate? Is criticism of Islam necessarily Islamophobic? Or is criticism of Israel necessarily anti-Semitic, for that matter? Not necessarily. Indeed, within Islam and Judaism, as within Christianity, we find robust traditions of interpretation and critique.

Presiding at the funeral of three of the men killed at La Grande mosquée de Québec, Imam Hassan Guillet shocked some mourners on February 3 by counting Alexandre Bissonnette amongst the victims. “Before he was a killer, he was a victim,” Guillet said. “Before he shot our brothers, words more dangerous than bullets were planted in him.” The Imam’s own words neither excuse nor exonerate the young man charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder. Nor do they simply betoken a religious gesture of compassion or forgiveness. Rather, they constitute criticism that is both timely and courageous.

Words are not merely descriptive: they do things, sometimes hurtful and hateful things, and sometimes wonderful things, too. With speech, the lines of cause-and-effect are almost never horizontal or rectilinear. “Certain politicians, certain media,” Guillet continued, “have poisoned the country and Alexandre Bissonnette with their words.” And, sadly, it is not difficult to find public speech that cultivates xenophobia and racism, even if it is not explicitly a call to arms. Such speech is often banal or innocuous in tone, yet it informs what passes as “common sense”; meanwhile, it is often uninformed, based in fear rather than critical reason, or fallaciously generalizes from particular and extreme cases.

Québec society has in the wake of the shooting embarked on some serious soul-searching, and ordinary people have emerged in critical numbers to stand in solidarity and support of the victims, their families, and communities. There has been fresh criticism of certain local radio stations known for their incendiary discourse. I listened to one broadcast dating back just a few months in which the announcer averred that Islam is “fundamentally incompatible” with “our” way of life. These are spoken as “our” words, in “our” name, defending “our” way of life. The words are hostile to all criticism and to truth in any meaningful sense, and yet they hold the power to galvanize the identity of some listeners and to settle on a common enemy.

Meanwhile, and more broadly, debates have raged for many years over the “neutrality” or “secularism” of the state, and whether conspicuous (ostentatoire) religious symbols—such as the hijab—ought to be banned for those who work in the public sector. Ironically, the crucifix and other Christian symbols are often considered “neutral” on the grounds of “cultural heritage.” But let’s not forget that this iconography also constitutes public speech. The philosopher Charles Taylor has recently reversed his earlier position on secular dress codes: “The debate had the effect of attenuating or eliminating … inhibitions, along with thickening the clouds of suspicion and concern around newcomers.” The debate itself proved toxic.

On the national stage, we might recall Stephen Harper’s legal contortions to ban the veil from the citizenship ceremony, or the hotline to report “Barbaric Cultural Practices” proposed by Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander—“for victims,” they said helpfully, “as well as for citizens” (a troubling binary). This was callous and strategic fear-mongering of the highest order by our parliamentary representatives, speaking in our name. And to what effects?

Together, this odious rhetoric fosters a climate—thick clouds of suspicion—in which fear and ignorance are naturalized, and hate becomes a permissible, ostensibly innate, response. We note the marked rise in anti-immigrant sentiments and petty hate crimes. And we bear witness, among others, to Donald Trump’s racist invectives and executive orders in the United States, and Marine Le Pen’s efforts in France—both of whom where followed, and “liked,” by Alexandre Bissonnette on social media. As Guillet remarked, Bissonnette was not born into a rhetorical vacuum. There are no Lone Wolves in society.

And so there is something dangerous and disingenuous, we might say, when we are so quick to identify and disown the “Lone Wolf,” to morally distance ourselves from him, as if we and our words were innocent and apart. Our silence also speaks. Guillet’s statement was, then, a call of conscience—for us to imagine that every life is in a relation of care and entrusted to others, and that we share a responsibility not just for what we say but for what our words do. To resolutely condemn hate crimes and violence, as we must, is not incompatible with owning, in small part, those words that aggrieve us, and the terrors that they propagate.

Stuart J. Murray
Professor and Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and Ethics
Carleton University
@stuart_j_murray


« 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.