Hot topic, cool heads

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Misha Voloaca, wearing a T-shirt with the words “Fossil Free uOttawa,” stands in front of a wall of plants.

Misha Voloaca, PhD student in experimental psychology and a member of Fossil Free uOttawa, will be on the panel discussing the University’s role in combatting global warming. Photo: Mike Foster

By Mike Foster

The University of Ottawa is set to host three panels on ways to tackle climate change, including a discussion of the pros and cons of divesting from fossil fuels. The March 21 panels aim to stimulate a broad, inclusive discussion before the University’s Board of Governors is expected to vote on the divestment issue on April 22.

Universities across North America are grappling with how to help address climate challenges and whether to divest from fossil fuels. The question was put to the uOttawa Board of Governors a year ago. The University commissioned a report on the issues surrounding divestment (PDF 173KB) from Tessa Hebb, director of the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation (CCCI). The report suggests a range of policy options and recommendations for uOttawa to consider.

Image of David Runnalls.

David Runnalls, a visiting professor at uOttawa’s Institute of the Environment, will act as host and introduce the discussions on March 21.

On March 21, David Runnalls, a visiting professor at uOttawa’s Institute of the Environment and a former president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, will set the parameters for the discussion by describing the national and international context.

“It is an intellectually challenging and interesting issue. I think the fact these panels are taking place shows that the Board of Governors and the administration want to have it properly discussed,” said Runnalls, who is also a senior fellow at Sustainable Prosperity, a think tank based at the Institute of the Environment.

The theme of the first panel, at 11 a.m., is uOttawa’s Role in Combatting Global Warming. It will cover the pros and cons of divestment, actions the University has taken to reduce carbon emissions and further actions that can be taken. The panel will include PhD student Misha Voloaca, a member of Fossil Free uOttawa, which has called for the University to divest.

“Just divesting will not stop companies from producing fossil fuels, but it is a tool to help change the conversation around climate change and send a signal to governments that this is indeed an existential crisis for humanity,” Voloaca said.

Deirdre Laframboise, executive director of the Canadian Climate Forum, will moderate the panel, which will also include Heather Hachigian, a research associate at CCCI; Robert Gorman (BSc ʼ75), an investment expert recently retired from TD Wealth; and Jonathan Rausseo, uOttawa’s sustainable development manager.

Then, at 12:30 p.m., the Climate Solutions for Canada panel will discuss the contributions that uOttawa researchers and policy experts can make to help Canada transition to a low-carbon economy. Members of this panel include Stewart Elgie, director of the Sustainable Prosperity initiative; Handan Tezel, a Faculty of Engineering professor; and Nathalie Chalifour, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and co-director of the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability.

At 1:50 p.m., a student-organized panel, Paving the Way for Divestment in Canadian Universities, will discuss the merits of divestment as a successful tool in fighting climate change, and universities’ moral imperative to lead on sustainability. Discussions will be followed by questions from the audience.

The panels take place at the Social Sciences Building, in Room 4007, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For details on what the University has done so far to combat climate change, read the 2015 Report on Sustainable Development at the University of Ottawa (PDF 225ko).

Jonathan Chiasson poses with his hand on solar panels.

Jonathan Chiasson, uOttawa’s senior mechanical technologist, installed solar panels on the University of Ottawa’s Advanced Research Complex in summer 2015 to generate electricity and conduct research at the Faculty of Engineering. It’s one of many steps the University has taken to reduce its carbon footprint.


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