‘Time is running out,’ Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change says

Professor John Smol discusses recent climate change report with The Journal

Credit: 
Supplied by John Smol

On Aug. 9, the United Nations (UN) released a 4,000 page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report compiles comprehensive research and expert opinions to emphasize the “code red for humanity” reflected in the current of state of our climate.

In an interview with The Journal, John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change in the Department of Biology at Queen's, discussed what the IPCC report means and how students can advocate for climate action.

“The IPCC puts out these reports every few years, and you’ll notice that with every report they become more and more urgent and more certain with the science.” Smol said.

The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international agreement adopted in 2015, introduced a rigorous climate action plan for the world to limit global warming and neutralize carbon emissions by 2050. Despite adoption of the agreement, global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise.

“We really have wasted so much time, we have this alarm bell going off and we keep pressing the snooze button,” Smol said.

Smol said there are three ways students can take action to reduce their own carbon footprint.

“We have the power of our individual actions, the power of our wallet, and the power of our vote. We should use all of them,” he explained.

“Partly because this is such a global problem, it’s easy to feel helpless.”

When considering the size of the climate crisis, Smol said we can’t afford to ignore the power people hold. If each individual becomes more climate-conscious in their actions, there will be a significant reduction in global carbon emissions.

According to Smol, it’s also important to vote for leaders who are willing make substantive change.

“We have to realize that the environment is an important part of every equation, especially the financial one.”

Smol added many politicians justify their lack of progressive climate action because of cost factors and the perceived lack of threat to major industries in the governments’ interest to preserve.

“The environment affects everyone sitting at the cabinet table. The environment affects health, forestry, agriculture, the economy, fisheries, tourism—the list goes on,” he said.

“It’s not about how much it’s going to cost to fix this problem, it’s how much it’s going to cost not to.”

In 2016, Queens introduced a climate action plan to be carbon neutral by 2040. Since then, the university has made changes towards environmental consciousness through sustainability initiatives. These projects included limiting the use of disposable products in campus food locations and encouraging students to download NetZero, an app allowing Queen’s students to track their carbon footprint.

“Queen’s is progressive on a relative scale. It’s all positive progress. We didn’t have this five years ago,” Smol said.

“I’ve been on some committees for 10 years now and I’ve been saying that this is a smoking gun. There’s going to be a point in time where students decide where they will go based on environmental impacts.”

He stressed climate action is in the interest of post-secondary institutions. As a research facility, our institution’s actions can prompt others.

“It’s not going as fast as I would’ve hoped but at least we’re moving in the right direction. I’m being an optimist, but time is running out.”

“The time to have done this was 30 years ago.”

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