VOIX DU COLLÈGE – Women’s NGOs are changing the world—and not getting credit for it

Dr. Bipasha Baruah, Western University and Dr. Kate Grantham, McGill University

In contemporary global development circles, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are now performing many more roles and activities than they did a few decades ago.

NGOs work with governments, community groups and the private sector — to develop and implement programs, monitor and evaluate their progress and help train people working on those projects.

They’re considered more nimble than other institutions in accomplishing development goals, because they can reach the most vulnerable or disaffected people in a community and find innovative solutions to problems.

Although their funding streams and institutional decision-making structures are typically multinational, NGOs’ legitimacy, indeed, often rests on perceptions of them being “local” and “close to the people.”

NGOs are increasingly taking on the responsibility of implementing the gender equality and women’s empowerment agendas of the global development sector.

But very rarely have researchers tried to understand or document the specific challenges and opportunities that NGOs working on gender equality, or those that define themselves as feminist NGOs or women’s NGOs, face — when participating in multiple-stakeholder projects like Canada’s new feminist international assistance policy.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, and the Canadian initiative that includes $150 million in funding for advancing the rights of women and girls, will undoubtedly increase the engagement of women’s NGOs in a variety of activities.

That means understanding the opportunities and constraints faced by women’s NGOs in multiple-stakeholder projects is increasingly important.

Women’s NGOs in India and Tanzania

We’re basing our observations upon research conducted over the past decade in India, where women’s NGOs were involved in delivering urban basic services like water, sanitation and electricity, and in Tanzania, where women’s NGOs helped deliver community health and microenterprise development services.

In both contexts, we found that women’s NGOs played crucial roles in development projects, often mobilizing, organizing and building projects that otherwise would never have launched.

In India, for example, women’s NGOs in the state of Gujarat mobilized local communities to participate in urban development projects. They helped form community-based organizations to represent local interests and implemented community development projects — such as health services, adult literacy and child care.

A mother and child in a rural area in the Indian state of Gujarat in October 2015.
(Shutterstock)

Women’s NGOs also conducted research to determine whether local communities could afford to pay for basic urban services.

They negotiated subsidies, fair pricing and flexible terms of payment with utilities on behalf of marginalized people. They arranged access to loans from microfinance institutions for households that could not cover the cost of water or electricity connections.

And by insisting that water and electricity bills be issued in the names of female heads of households, women’s NGOs strengthened women’s access to property and housing.

The NGOs also educated stakeholders about the realities of life for the urban poor, and shared lessons learned in one urban area with NGOs in other cities in India.

In Tanzania, we studied the community partner role played by a women’s NGO in a project delivering health and microenterprise services across East Africa.

The project, which brought together the Tanzanian government, public research and medical institutions, international charitable organizations, community-based organizations and beneficiaries, envisioned the establishment of community kitchens across East Africa to produce probiotic yogurt.

The yogurt would be sold for profit and distributed for free to certain vulnerable groups, including children with nutritional deficiencies and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Women operated the yogurt kitchens

Local entrepreneurs were offered loans, technical assistance and other training to start up the businesses. A women’s NGO that had previously worked to reduce gender-based violence in Tanzania helped local communities establish, operate and maintain the kitchens.

Before the idea of community kitchens was taken up by more financially and politically powerful project partners, it was in fact the women’s NGO that had proposed the idea of establishing yogurt kitchens that could be run by local women in keeping with Tanzanian dietary, cultural and consumer norms.

The four earliest community kitchens were run entirely by women. The economic empowerment of poor women in Tanzania was identified as one of the founding goals of the project because of the advocacy work done by the women’s NGO.

In later years, the pilot project was expanded to include kitchens run by men.

The women’s NGO provided training on probiotic yogurt production, the health benefits of probiotics, financial accounting, entrepreneurship and the importance of combatting HIV/AIDS transmission and stigma.

Until 2012, when the women’s NGO withdrew from the project, community kitchen groups also received training on gender equality, the rights of women and girls and the links between violence against women and HIV.

Women’s NGOs easily marginalized

Common findings emerge from our research in India and Tanzania.

In both contexts, we found that women’s NGOs had made vital contributions to the success of development projects, but they were easily marginalized and trivialized once those projects got off the ground.

In India, after the success of the pilot projects, the other partners declared that they would “go it alone” and no longer involve the NGO partner in delivering basic urban services.

A similar pattern emerged in Tanzania. Once the project was well-established, it started to expand to include community yogurt kitchens run by men, as well as kitchens in other parts of Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. The women’s NGO was forced out.

What’s more, the gender equality training, identified initially as a key project priority in Tanzania, was discontinued entirely.

Although the contributions made by the women’s NGOs were critical to the existence and success of the initiatives, they were often dismissed as supplementary and dispensable by the other partners.

Because the NGOs’ role of organizing, mobilizing and helping local communities participate in development initiatives was seen as a “natural” extension of women’s care-giving work, it was easy for other partners to diminish and dismiss their contributions.

And because the other partners did not fully appreciate the contributions of the women’s NGOs, they were unwilling to share credit for the success of the project.

How to bolster the role of women’s NGOs

We recommend several strategies to strengthen and validate the role of women’s NGOs in development partnership projects.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) that defines the specific roles and responsibilities of each partner should be an essential requirement for multiple-stakeholder projects.

The lack of such formal agreements entrenches the perception that the role NGOs play is not particularly valuable. But the involvement of partners with a wide range of views, sizes, structures and experiences underscores the importance of formalizing the role of women’s NGOs.

When the relationship among the different parties is formalized, constructive debate can be encouraged among all partners.

The lack of a memorandum of understanding causes overlaps in function, weakens accountability and exacerbates conflict among partners. While it’s possible for diverse institutions with different philosophies to work in an integrated way, it doesn’t happen automatically or easily.

At a deeper structural level, advocacy work — whether it’s gender equality or community mobilization — must be treated as a non-negotiable priority in global development partnership projects, instead of as a value-added or supplementary task.

Women’s NGOs deserve recognition

Our research has shown that women’s NGOs play integral roles in the projects they participate in.

It’s unfortunate they must “justify” their long-term involvement in such initiatives, but it may be incumbent upon them to make their contributions to the project more visible to the different partners and to the development community at large.

Collecting, maintaining and analyzing data on a regular basis about key project impacts and outcomes will be crucial for making NGO contributions more visible and less dismissible.

The ConversationCollaborating with academics and other development professionals to publish and disseminate findings from such projects will also strengthen and validate NGO efforts. This article is one small contribution toward ensuring women’s NGOs get the credit and support they so richly deserve.

Dr. Bipasha Baruah, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Global Women’s Issues , Western University and Dr. Kate Grantham, Research Associate, International Development, McGill 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 artificial intelligence will be used for social control

Mass surveillance and manipulation by powerful AI algorithms represent a much more imminent and tangible threat to our democratic values than killer robots.

The scientific breakthroughs of pioneer artificial intelligence researchers in Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton are fuelling record public and private investments seeking to turn Canada into a global AI powerhouse.

Federal and provincial governments awarded more than $400 million to various R&D initiatives in this field over the past two years alone, while companies such as Microsoft, Google, or Facebook are establishing their own dedicated labs in Canada to make sure they’re not left behind in the AI arms race.

This technology will disrupt every aspect of our economy, and the hope is that Canada will yield the rewards of its scientific foresight by developing a thriving innovation ecosystem. But the disruption will also be social and political.

Beyond the waves of job destruction that AI will precipitate in many industries, the main concern regarding the darker side of this technology has focused on the development of killer robots. Elon Musk and hundreds of high profile AI researchers have voiced their alarm and called politicians to action.

The fear of AI-enabled armed robots resonates particularly well with Western audiences that have been fed a rich cultural diet of malicious machines threatening to exterminate humanity by the Hollywood film industry.

But instead of worrying about what AI and the robots it controls will do to us, we should be more concerned about what it will know about us and what it will make us do. In other words, mass surveillance and manipulation by powerful AIs represent a much more imminent and tangible threat to our democratic values than killer robots.

The disruptive potential of AI has a strategic dimension that has not escaped authoritarian regimes. Vladimir Putin framed it with his legendary sense of nuance when he said “whoever will become the leader in this field will become the ruler of the world.”

With much less fanfare, the Chinese government has come to the same conclusions. It has set aside $150 billion USD for AI in its most recent five-year plan to become the world leader in this field by 2030, with massive additional investments by local governments and private companies.

Not all this money will be used to bolster eCommerce through more effective purchase recommendations and personable chatbots. The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab has, for example, examined how algorithms embedded in popular Chinese social media apps perform censorship and surveillance functions.

Indeed, one of the main security applications of AI in authoritarian regimes involves the mass surveillance of populations that threaten the stability of the political system and its institutions. China seems the most advanced in this respect with a plan to develop a social credit scoring system to be rolled out by 2020.

This social control tool is already being tested by several municipalities and internet companies. It will assess people based on a pool of online, administrative and banking records. Powerful AI algorithms will be used to assign them a unique trustworthiness rating that will influence what kind of government services (housing, education, health, employment, etc.) and commercial services (bank loans, insurance premiums, travel abroad, etc.) they will be able to access.

The AIs that will parse this ocean of data (opting out, by the way, is not an option) will become all-seeing gods extracting compliance by their capacity to classify behaviours and sort people that diverge from the politically acceptable norm.

Western democracies are not immune from this disturbing trend. In the U.S., the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently asked technology firms to develop algorithms that could assess the risks posed by visa holders through the continuous analysis of their social media activities during their stay in the country.

Canada is playing an instrumental role in bringing the power of AI to every corner of human life. Instead of limiting its leadership to the research and innovation fields, it should also extend it to the regulatory and diplomatic arenas, to ensure that AI applications are not used for anti-democratic purposes but serve the public good instead.

That would imply preventing Canadian AI technology from being exported to authoritarian states, but also thinking about how Canadian citizens can be protected from the surveillance of companies that operate from undemocratic states and therefore share data with their own government.

On the international stage, Canada should play a more active role in shaping international conventions that would restrain the weaponization of AI and encourage applications that enhance human well-being. Our country’s moral imperative is to guarantee that AI technologies will not erode the privacy ideals and principles that define our democracy.

Benoît Dupont is a professor of criminology and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity at Université de Montréal.

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star.


« 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 Ongoing Muskrat Falls Debacle: How not to Develop the North

On the 22nd and 23rd of Feburary 2018, the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada, in collaboration with Memorial’s Department of Philosophy and the Labrador Institute, will host a public symposium dedicated to an interdisciplinary discussion of the scientific, cultural, and social-political dimensions of the controversial Muskrat Falls hydro-electrical project on the lower Churchill River in Labrador. Our proximate objective is to offer a venue for all of the voices and to give as generous a hearing to the various positions on the issue as possible. The intention is not protest but knowledge dissemination. We are proposing to bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, some of whom have dedicated their careers to studying Muskrat, to tell the story in all of its scientific, economic, social and political-ecological complexity. The following op ed is written by one of the organizers and does not necessarily represent the views of the RSC, Memorial University, the organizing committee or anyone else involved in this event.

Sean McGrath, Department of Philosophy, Memorial University of Newfoundland

The massive hydro-electric project on the lower Churchill River in Labrador is expected to go online in 2019. Described as a “boondoggle” by policy makers and at 12.7 billion dollars–over double the anticipated budget–the Muskrat Falls project emerged into international attention in the fall of 2016 when protesters occupied the Labrador premises of the Newfoundland and Labrador energy corporation, Nalcor. The protesters demanded that the company and the government of Newfoundland heed a joint MUN/Harvard study that proved that if the flood basin was not cleaned of vegetation prior to flooding, the surrounding lands would be poisoned with methylmercury for years to come, endangering the lives of Innu and Inuit who depended upon the fish and game to survive. At the zero hour, and with an unprecedented hunger strike threatening the lives of protesters, the government relented and agreed to clear the basin. But problems continue to this day, with Nalcor refusing to produce documentation to satisfy local concerns that the builders of the dam have reckoned with the seasonal instability of the river bank (particularly the north spur), and also denying, against local knowledge, that spawning salmon populations are at risk due to low water levels. The protest has never in fact stopped, as this writer learned recently on a visit to the site.

Economically, no one denies that Muskrat is a fiscal disaster. Nalcor CEO, Stan Marshall, sees little prospects for the province to recoup its losses. “I think this project is a hell of a lot worse … deal than the Upper Churchill,” Marshall said in recent interview. Memorial University of Newfoundland economist Dr. James Feehan has proven that it is virtually impossible for the project to break even. Moreover, by flooding the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador with hydro-electric energy for generations, Muskrat Falls has doomed the development of other sustainable energy in the province, such as wind and solar. The project is called “green” but when one considers the transformation of the Churchill river, the flooding of indigenous ancestral lands, and the adverse effect on human and non-human communities, the descriptor is dubious at best.

Historian Dr. Jerry Bannister at Dalhousie University has argued that the 20th century political history of Newfoundland is key to understanding why the project goes ahead, despite its unprofitability. In the early 2000, former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams promised to make right the infamous bad deal signed by Premier Joey Smallwood in the late 1960s to export hydro-electric power through Quebec from the dam on the upper Churchill River in Labrador. The Churchill Falls dam is an infamous economic failure for the province. According to the original deal, Newfoundland and Labrador must sell the power to Quebec at 1969 rates, while Quebec resells the energy at current rates. According to conservative estimates, Newfoundland and Labrador has lost billions of dollars on Churchill Falls. Muskrat Falls, according to Bannister, is driven not so much by neo-Liberal economic as by Newfoundland nationalism.


« 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 – Why parents should never spank children

Spanking — usually defined as hitting a child on the buttocks with an open hand — is a common form of discipline still used on children worldwide. However, to date, spanking has been banned in 53 countries and states globally.

The use of spanking has been hotly debated over the last several decades. Supporters state that it is safe, necessary and effective; opponents argue that spanking is harmful to children and violates their human rights to protection.

As two scholars with extensive research experience and clinical insight in the field of child maltreatment, and with specific expertise related to spanking, we would like to move beyond this debate.

The research clearly shows that spanking is related to an increased likelihood of many poor health, social and developmental outcomes. These poor outcomes include mental health problems, substance use, suicide attempts and physical health conditions along with developmental, behavioural, social and cognitive problems. Equally important, there are no research studies showing that spanking is beneficial for children.

Those who say spanking is safe for a child if done in a specific way are, it would seem, simply expressing opinions. And these opinions are not supported by scientific evidence.

The evidence on spanking

There have now been hundreds of high-quality spanking research studies with a wide variety of samples and study designs. Over time, the quality of this research has improved to include better spanking measures and more sophisticated research designs and statistical methods.

Researchers can help move the debate forward by studying the impact of positive parenting interventions.
(Shutterstock)

The scientific evidence from these studies has consistently shown that spanking is related to harmful outcomes for children.

This has been best demonstrated in two landmark meta-analyses led by Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff. The first paper, published in 2002, reviewed and analyzed 88 studies published in the 62 years prior and found that physical punishment was associated with physical abuse, delinquency and antisocial behaviour.

An updated meta-analysis was most recently published in 2016. This reviewed and analyzed 75 studies from the previous 13 years, concluding that there was no evidence that spanking improved child behaviour and that spanking was associated with an increased risk of 13 detrimental outcomes. These include aggression, antisocial behaviour, mental health problems and negative relationships with parents.

We now have data that clearly demonstrates that spanking is not safe, nor effective. Of course this does not make parents who have used spanking bad parents. In the past, we simply did not know the risks.

Towards positive parenting strategies

Evidence from over 20 years of research consistently indicates the harms of spanking. There is also increasing global recognition of the rights of children to protection and dignity, as inscribed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in targets within the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eliminate violence. Taken together, these tell us that spanking should never be used on children or adolescents of any age.

It is important, now, to find ways to help parents use positive and non-physical strategies with their children. Research already shows some evidence that parenting programs specifically aimed at preventing physical punishment can be successful.

Some evidence for reducing harsh parenting and physical punishment has been found for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), the Incredible Years (IY) program and the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP). Other promising home visiting initiatives and interventions taking place in community and paediatric settings are also being examined for proven effectiveness.

The ConversationAs researchers, we also need to reframe the research we are conducting, the questions we are asking and the discussions we are having — to move this field forwards and to ensure the safety and well-being of children. The academic journal Child Abuse & Neglect has published a special issue, containing original research and discussion papers containing further strategies. It is free to all readers for a limited time.

Tracie O. Afifi, Associate Professor, University of Manitoba and Elisa Romano, Full Professor of Clinical Psychology, 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 – 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.