Commissioner talks climate

Annual conference holds taster evening at Clark Hall Pub

Gord Miller, Ontario's environmental commissioner, speaks at the Commerce Engineering Environmental Conference taster Tuesday night at Clark Hall pub.
Gord Miller, Ontario's environmental commissioner, speaks at the Commerce Engineering Environmental Conference taster Tuesday night at Clark Hall pub.

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller spoke about the provincial implications of climate change in front of a 20-strong crowd at Clark Hall Pub on Tuesday night.

“The world is changing, and it has profound effects,” Miller said.

The talk was a preview for the Commerce Engineering Environmental Conference (CEEC).

“It’s not about believing … it’s already happening, and at an accelerating pace. It may not have touched you yet, but when it does, it doesn’t have a gentle hand.”

Miller brought attention to the tangible effects of climate change in Ontario.

“In 80 years, the climate that supports the vegetation we know will no longer be here. The coming changes will cause a restructuring of our entire socioeconomic system; energy prices will rise, and municipal water supplies will be threatened.”

With the annual CEEC running from Mar. 2-3, there’s a strong emphasis on attracting students from all faculties.

“In past conferences we have had too much technical information or too much on the business side,” Sam Christian, speaker’s co-ordinator for the conference, said. “Gord Miller deals with the broader policy issues. He was really an ambassador to all students for the conference.”

Leslie Bothwell, Artsci ’14, said he attended Miller’s talk because of its relevance.

“People often have a hard time understanding the implications of climate change, but he highlighted exactly what it means for Ontario ... It’s really up to us.”

Prior to his talk on Tuesday, the Journal sat down with Miller to discuss what Queen’s can do to reduce its environmental impact.

Q. How can universities be more environmentally friendly?

A: In the environmental bill of rights, which is my legislation, each of the ministries that I oversee need to have a statement of environmental values, and that is a high level statement that says, ‘Here are the environmental values we are pursuing, and here is what will inform decision-making in this institution.’

Something like that, that is signed by the university presidents, endorsed by the senate, and posted on walls in prominent places, saying that ‘We as an institution are committed to these things.’ I think that would be what you need.

Q. How will Queen's achieve success with its climate action plan?

A: Climate change has a compounding effect on everything else. They are seen as different issues, even though they interrelate and share a common cause, but the four issues are climate change, peak energy, water shortages and the biodiversity crisis.

Now water shortage is not a big problem in Ontario directly, but we do have some water shortages in North America, which are a big deal, and we can’t escape the impact of the need for water in other places, so it is a defining issue.”

Q. What are the weaknesses of Ontario's environmental initatives?

A: Every big institution needs to take a good look at what they’re doing ... it will get tougher over time.

Solar is getting cheaper and cheaper, if some energy could be transferred to solar, even generator back ups, consumption will decrease.

Q. What is the most pressing environmental issue facing Ontario?

A: We have been underfunding the ministry of the environment, and the ministry of natural resources critically, and have been doing so for a number of years, and this has reduced our capacity to be successful and deliver programs.

There are improvements to be found everywhere, peak improvements, waste management improvements, but I think much could be solved if we gave capacity to key ministries and adapted some visionary policies.

Q. What can students do to help tackle environmental issues?

A: If you make things a big enough issue, there are always politicians that want to get involved. We can all make the public aware of things, especially now with our access to blogs, to tweets, to Facebook, to comments we put under news articles.

All of these things are participatory actions in a democratic society, and they allow you to escalate the prominence of issues that matter to you.

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