Last Lecture on Earth explores how to be greener

Panellists square off to discuss the meaning of environmentalism during this year’s final Last Lecture on Earth Wednesday night

On Wednesday night, the AMS’s Academic Affairs Commission presented the year’s final Last
Lecture on Earth. Instead of the series’ usual format of one professor giving a talk, this event featured four professors from different fields, all speaking about environment issues.

Jessica Moranis, ArtSci ’07, is the chair of the Student-Faculty Relations Committee, the group
responsible for organizing the lectures. “We liked the idea of a panel discussion, but we didn’t want
to foster an environment where professors from competing disciplines were sort of interrogating each other,” Moranis said. “We thought that would be antithetical to our message, which is that it’s not really about arguing one way or another; it’s about recognizing similarities in our perspective, learning from
the differences, but building on the similarities.”

Judging by the turnout and variety of audience members,Moranis said she’s convinced there’s a demand for this kind of discussion at Queen’s. About 100 people attended the event, held in Etherington Auditorium. Law professor Bruce Pardy was the first to speak. He focused on the importance of unconventional thinking in environmentalism. “Twenty-five years ago, environmentalists were rebels. They had to think for themselves … and challenged what everyone else accepted as true,” he told the crowd. “This moment is the most dangerous moment for environmentalism, because what used to be rebellious, and independent and creative is now becoming orthodox.”

Pardy presented a “to-do list” of six frequently heard environmental goals: giving the government
discretionary power to protect ecosystems; training environmental experts; getting corporations to act in the public interest; stopping people from making “morally poor” environmental choices; developing the developing world; cutting greenhouse gas emissions to meet Kyoto targets.

Pardy then presented severe problems that he saw with each of these goals.

“Here’s the proposition: that we, in Canada, because we have ratified Kyoto, and because climate change is a big problem, we therefore ought to … meet our targets.
“If we do, at tremendous difficulty, tremendous expense, tremendous political capital, it changes nothing, not one thing, because China adds another Canada worth of emissions every single year.”

The next speaker was geography professor and climatologist Scott Lamoureux, who presented a
speech titled, “A More Inconvenient Truth: An Arctic Message about Climate Change and our Collective
Environmental Future.” Lamoureux said society only has a superficial awareness of the real, long-term effects of climate change, partially due to our obsession with “environmental rock stars,” and that the real importance is for humans to realize that we are all connected.

Sue Hendler, from the School of Urban and Regional Planning, gave a presentation titled, “The Most
Inconvenient Truth,” focused on defining environmentalism through an ethics-based system.

She gave examples of many different kinds of environmental ethical philosophies, such as human chauvinism, animal liberation, animal rights, ecofeminism, and bioregionalism. She incorporated photos from her trip to the Galapagos Islands to illustrate each one.

She wrapped up with a discussion of the philosophy of deep ecology.

“The most inconvenient truth is that the environment is not our plaything or our resource. [The
environment] is comprised of beings that have a value in and of themselves without reference to our needs.” The evening’s final presentation was Queen’s biologist, John Smol, who gave a talk entitled
“Environmental Research: Why are not more people listening? Or: I Recently Realized That I Am A
Middle-Aged Hothead.” Smol presented a three-step plan for environmental change, including stopping emissions, seeking alternative fuel sources and incorporating bio and geo-engineering.

He emphasized the importance of passion in environmental discussions, citing famous people such as John A. Macdonald, Rachel Carson, Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela as “well-known hotheads.”

He then gave a six-point “Hothead Strategy” for creating environmental action, including improving communication, choosing words carefully and realizing the power people have. Smol criticized those who dispute climate change. “We have to start making the point that not all scientific opinions have the same weight. Science is not a democracy,” he said.

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