Éliane Ubalijoro is the Executive Director of Sustainability in the Digital Age, the Global Hub Director Future Earth in Canada and a Professor of Practice for Public-Private Sector Partnerships at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development. Eliane has decades of experience spanning academia, and working at the science-policy interface in the non-profit and international development sectors.
In our conversation with Eliane, she reflected on how growing up in Rwanda has shaped her unique perspective and how her career has shifted from science to policy and the role that institutions and leadership play in driving societal change. Her current focus is on leveraging the digital age to accelerate sustainable and equitable change, while also recognizing and anticipating the challenges and we spoke about how training in sustainability and digital competencies needs to be prioritized and better integrated into core educational experiences. We had a thought-provoking and wide ranging conversation with Eliane - we hope you enjoy this final episode of the 2nd season of emerging environments.
For episode 26, we welcome Chelsea Rochman. Chelsea is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. She studies the sources, fates and ecological implications of anthropogenic pollutants in freshwater and marine ecosystems, with a large focus on microplastics. Her work has been highly impactful in the developing field of microplastics research, where she has conducted empirical and synthetic research that has advanced experimental methodologies and informed both environmental policy and public awareness of the issue.
In our interview with Chelsea, we talked about the ubiquity of microplastics in the environment. Microplastics are everywhere! They are not only in aquatic systems, but also in the atmosphere and the potential negative impacts of these particles and the associated chemicals on ecosystems are a growing concern. As such, plastic pollution has been getting much more public attention. Chelsea shared some of her thoughts on the various approaches being considered for a global policy framework to curb the manufacturing of plastics and mitigate the accumulation of the microplastics in the environment and she also talked about some of the public awareness-raising her lab is engaged in via the U of T Trash Team.
Chelsea's website: https://rochmanlab.wordpress.com/
In today’s episode, we are speaking with Professor Rebecca Rooney of the University of Waterloo. Rebecca is a wetland ecologist who specializes in studying the influence of human disturbances, such as the introduction of invasive or non-native species, on wetland ecosystem function. Her research includes both fundamental, curiosity-driven science as well as policy-relevant field work and applications that inform wetland restoration and conservation efforts across Canada.
In our chat, Rebecca shared some of her research that has examined wetlands from a biophysical perspective, scaling from micro to macro levels of the ecosystem, as well as some of her social science work that examined public perception of different forms of wetlands. We also talked about the significant loss of wetlands that has occurred as a result of development across Canada, as well as the rising appreciation of wetlands for their role in the mitigation of climate change and current adaptation efforts. A big chunk of our conversation was devoted to the invasive species, Phragmites australis, or the invasive Common Reed. Rebecca has been studying phragmites for several years and is now spearheading an exciting biocontrol project aimed at the control of phragmites in North America.
Rebecca's website: https://uwaterloo.ca/rooney-lab/
In this episode, we are speaking with Professor Laura Tozer. Laura is a social scientist who studies environmental politics and governance focusing on actions that address the climate crisis and also drive transitions to sustainable energy use. Her research explores mitigation and adaptation actions at a variety of jurisdictional scales: including international, federal, provincial, municipal and community, but at the moment, her research emphasizes the critical role of cities to accelerate decarbonization and achieve targets of net zero emissions.
In our interview with Laura, we talked about the ways in which cities are innovating and leading the way in terms of policy, building retrofits and nature-based solutions. The old phrase, “think globally, act locally” certainly applies to Laura’s research program - on the one hand, cities are a huge source of GHG emissions, but, this actually means that significant progress towards net zero can be realized by focusing mitigation actions at the local level. Throughout our conversation, Laura emphasized the need for inclusive action in cities: policies and approaches that mitigate and adapt to climate change while also addressing energy poverty and environmental justice.
Laura's website: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/labs/climateandenergy/
This week on the podcast we’re speaking with Professor and author Thomas Homer-Dixon. Thomas has a background in political science, but his research and writing over the years has been incredibly interdisciplinary and expansive. He “uses complexity science to examine threats to global security—especially economic instability, environmental stress, ideological polarization, and mass violence—and how people, organizations, and societies can respond to these threats.” Thomas spent time at both the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, but has recently taken up the position of Executive Director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia.
In our interview, Thomas reflected on some of his previous books and writings, including the Upside of Down and Carbon Shift, and how this work connects with his current work at the Cascade Institute. Here, he and his collaborators are examining innovative ways to maximize GHG emissions cuts, address intersecting threats to global environmental and socio-economic stability and how to catalyze transformative change. We also spoke about his new book, Commanding Hope, which examines the idea of hope in the context of how to address current global environmental challenges. In the book, he examines hope from a psychological perspective at the level of the individual, and associated worldviews, and also uses several historical examples where hopeful interventions have driven positive societal transitions. We definitely recommend picking up the book for its big picture perspective on the importance of hope for dealing with our current environmental predicament, and also to check out Thomas’ unique technical approach towards a mapping of hope, both for individuals and our broader collective future.
Our guest on this episode is Marney Isaac. Marney is a Professor at the University of Toronto-Scarborough and Canada Research Chair in agroecosystems and development. Marney conducts interdisciplinary research on plant strategies and the nutrient economy of agroecosystems. Her lab investigates practices that improve the efficiency of nutrient cycles, optimize plant-soil interactions, and promote landscape scale services in low-input agriculture and agroforestry systems. She draws from mechanistic ecological theory to gain insight into the principles that govern the structure and function of biologically complex agroecosystems. In addition to this type of biophysical analysis, Marney also investigates innovation in social-agroecological systems, particularly the role of informal agrarian networks in agroecosystem management.
In our chat with Marney, we explored the fundamentals of agroecology, including a walk through the multiple scales and topics that agroecology is concerned with: from the small scale dynamics that take place at the root-soil interface, to the assessment of biodiversity and landscape optimization for intercropping and also the social and governance systems that determine how agroecosystems are created, maintained and adapted through time. To explore these different topics, Marney drew from the varied geographical locations that her research has taken her, including Costa Rica, Ghana, France, and recently also into the world of urban ecology, considering the potential for green roof ecosystems to contribute to urban agricultural productivity. Marney is a true interdisciplinary scientist, and it was a pleasure to explore the diversity of her research interests.
Marney's website: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/labs/misaac/
#21 Climate change at the museum with Soren Brothers
Today we are speaking with Prof. Soren Brothers, the Allan and Helaine Shiff Curator of Climate Change at the Royal Ontario Museum. Soren is a limnologist by training and spent several years as an Assistant Professor at Utah State University before beginning his new position at the ROM and the University of Toronto less than a year ago.
The Curator of Climate Change is a new curatorship at the ROM and a relatively unique position world-wide. We talked with Soren about his vision for the role and how his research on lakes integrates many aspects of climate change; how sediment cores from lakes can tell us about climates of the past and how present-day changes in lake biogeochemistry can indicate how climate change is having an impact on critical lake ecosystems. By recognizing past, present and future climate change as both a driver and a consequence of natural history, Soren and the ROM will bring a new dimension to the museum experience and we are really excited to see what projects they will be sharing with the public in the coming years. We hope you enjoy our chat with Soren Brothers!
Soren's twitter: @sorenbrothers
Soren's website: https://sorenbrothers.weebly.com/
#20 Beloved beasts and the preservation of possibility with Michelle Nijhuis
On today’s podcast, we are speaking with journalist and author Michelle Nijhuis about her beautiful new book, “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for life in an age of extinction”. The book traces the conservation movement’s history from the late nineteenth century to today and explores the evolving science and philosophy of conservation and the major milestones along the way. But it also shines a light on the dark side of the movement, including elements of racism, colonialism and elitism.
In our chat with Michelle, we talked about her inspiration for the book and asked her to reflect on the legacies of key figures in conservation, such as Rachel Carson and Michael Soulé. With the accelerating climate crisis, the book ends by encouraging solidarity and compassion among conservationists and environmentalists, recognizing that the survival of our own species is inextricably intertwined with the survival of others. There was so much that we wanted to talk to Michelle about, but didn’t get to. We highly recommend that you check out the book for yourselves, but in the meantime, we hope you enjoy our conversation.
#19 Automatic for the species: fixing Canada's Species at Risk Act with Joe Bennett & Audrey Turcotte
Today on the podcast we’re speaking with Joe Bennett and Audrey Turcotte. Joe received his PhD from the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia in 2012. He held a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Queensland in Australia, and is now an associate professor at Carleton University, where he is the co-director of the geomatics and landscape ecology laboratory. As is evident in our chat, Joe has a diversity of research interests, including the development of prioritization approaches for conservation, invasion ecology, paleoecology and spatial statistics. Audrey is a PhD Candidate at Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, where she is studying behavioural, physiological and genetic responses of painted turtle populations that have been exposed to human-made barriers and activities. In 2018, Joe and his colleague Steve Cooke, selected Audrey to lead a graduate student project focused on exploring the shortcomings of Canada’s species at risk act, which you’ll hear us refer to as SARA in our conversation. In 2021, this project, which involved a total of 10 authors, was published in the open access journal Facets with the title “Fixing the Canadian Species at Risk Act: identifying major issues and recommendations for increasing accountability and efficiency”.
In our conversation, we walk through the main points of their article, focusing on their recommendations for improving the federal legislation. We discuss the possibility of an automatic listing process under SARA for species that have been assessed as at risk by the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, where currently COSEWIC’s recommendations are considered by the federal cabinet alongside other factors, such as the socio-economic implications of applying protections to certain species and their habitats, a dynamic that sometimes ends in COSEWICs recommendations being rejected by the federal minister. Joe and Audrey also discuss their recommendation for improving the transparency and clarity of mandate regarding consultation and equitable recognition of Indigenous rights for those species listings that would impact Indigenous self-determination. We highly recommend exploring Joe and Audrey’s article as it provides a comprehensive and highly accessible description of the federal species at risk act, a critical assessment of its shortcomings, and several solutions that would drastically improve our ability to protect and recover at risk species in Canada.
Audrey & Joe's article: https://www.facetsjournal.com/doi/10.1139/facets-2020-0064
#18 Navigating the biodiversity crisis with Dan Kraus
In this episode, we’re speaking with Dan Kraus. Over the past 25 years, Dan has been working as an ecologist, environmental planner and conservation scientist in public, private and non-governmental organizations. Dan has recently joined Wildlife Conservation Society-Canada as the Director of National Conservation. In this role, he is working to advance the Key Biodiversity Areas initiative, or KBAs for short, which is a new global standard that seeks to identify and map critical habitat for threatened species. Dan discusses how KBAs will help to provide the high resolution biodiversity data that will be essential as we strive to improve our systems of protected areas around the world.
As someone who has worked extensively at conservation NGOs in Canada, Dan has developed a diverse skillset that allows him to thrive at the science-policy interface. In our chat, Dan shares his perspective on the vital role that NGOs will continue to play for the future of environmental protection, and also how an individual’s passion for the environment can continue to lead to conservation successes from grass roots beginnings. We also talked about Dan’s prolific activity as a conservation science communicator and his recent work as both a PhD student and a teacher at the University of Waterloo.
#17 Rubber ducks, microplastics and climate action with Rick Smith
In this episode we are speaking with Rick Smith, the President of the Canadian Climate Institute (formerly the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices).
Rick has had a long career in environmental activism and spent many years as the Executive Director of Environmental Defence Canada. Prior to his time at Environmental Defence, Rick received his PhD from the University of Guelph, where he worked with the Cree community of Waup-ma-goo-stui, in Nunavik, to assess the status of a local seal population. He was also a prominent voice in the battle to develop Canada’s species at risk act.
He has co-authored two books focused on the effects of environmental contaminants, a topic that we explore in detail in our conversation, focusing both on his role in raising awareness and lobbying for legislation. We also discuss the emergent crisis of microplastics and the lagging policy response to the issue.
This episode was recorded in February and we discuss Canada’s forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan, now released, which lays out a roadmap for meeting Canada’s target to cut emissions to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030.
#16 Finding the foundation with Severn Cullis-Suzuki
In our season 2 premiere, we are speaking with Severn Cullis-Suzuki. When Severn was only 12 years old she warned world leaders about the cost of their inaction on environmental issues at the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, or more commonly known as the Rio Earth Summit. Severn’s words are not only still relevant today, but are now a devastating reminder of the decades of inaction on climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable development.
As we discuss in our interview, Severn has been extremely busy over these intervening 30 years, advocating for environmental and Indigenous rights, conducting research and raising a family. In this interview, she reflects on her journey, how it led to her recently taking on the role of Executive Director of the David Suzuki Foundation and how her perspective on the climate crisis has evolved.
Severn's personal site: https://severncullissuzuki.com/