By Gord Ball – Special to SUNonline/Orillia
Science demands a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for each year of this decade if we are to avoid the worst of human-caused climate change. Lakehead University isn’t asking whether to do this, but how. Along with Sustainable Orillia and other local groups, Lakehead has committed to taking serious action to create a healthy, just, and sustainable future for our community, and our planet
One year ago Lakehead became the sixth Canadian university to announced it would divest from fossil fuel investment. Recognizing the need for bolder steps, Lakehead has also declared this academic year to be the Year of Climate Action (YOCA).
“YOCA is an invitation, a call to action, and an opportunity for faculty, staff, administration, students, and our larger community to join together to listen, learn, share, and – most importantly – act on climate change,” said Dr. Ellen Field, assistant professor at Lakehead’s Faculty of Education. “We have an organizing committee putting ideas forward, and everyone is doing what they can, wherever they are, in whatever positions they hold.”
Ledah McKellar, sustainability coordinator for Lakehead University, is inspired by the relationships that are building through the process. “I’ve seen the network of people inside and outside the university grow as a result of YOCA,” she said.
“People seem to be drawn to it. I’m excited that there are new voices being added every day. I hope that YOCA builds long-term relationships and leadership to take our climate action to the next level. We have until 2030; one year of action won’t solve it. Climate action is just beginning. This is an opportunity for Lakehead University to reflect on what it means for Lakehead to be a climate leader. I love the idea of other individuals, groups and organizations starting their own YOCAs. It would be amazing if a bunch of YOCAs popped up in other contexts.”
All YOCA events hosted by Lakehead Orillia’s YOCA Coordinating Committee such as an address by renowned writer and speaker Elin Kelsey (at this time, mostly virtual) are open to the public.
“There’s an alignment around addressing climate change,” said Field. “A lot of what the university does is focused on this issue. Momentum is building – so many different university groups and places are orienting to address climate action. Faculty are creating class projects for their students. There’s a social media campaign. Every week there’s a focus on a particular climate action and participants are asked to post on what they’ve done and use our hashtag, #36climateactions.“
McKellar describes YOCA’s 36 Climate Actions initiative as an invitation to challenge individuals to take climate action in their own lives. “One climate action each week for 36 weeks. The first was to read the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and reflect on one’s own personal role. Another is to write to a Member of Parliament,” she said.
YOCA isn’t happening in isolation. Many Orillia organizations such as Sustainable Orillia, local businesses, and the City itself with its development of the community Climate Change Action Plan and new energy-saving street lights are demonstrating what climate action means. The community movement is widening and actively creating the possibility of a more liveable future for generations coming behind us.
What can individuals, groups and institutions in Orillia do to contribute to a collective Year of Climate Action?
- Start a conversation within relevant committees and groups in your household, business or organization.
- Gather with people who are passionate and committed to climate action, and create a working group. Identify a lead champion who will coordinate the YOCA.
- Define how the YOCA could support your organization and the community, and pitch your idea to the others.
- Start by doing. It’s OK not to have all the answers, YOCA is about learning together and will look differently in each organization. Set goals for your climate action and declare focused timelines and build momentum. Aim for a mixture of dialogue and action.
- Spread the word and share, share, share. Become members and supporters of Sustainable Orillia and help to build the movement.
- Track your progress, milestones and indicators so you can measure effects. Have midway touch-point conversations to ensure questions are answered, and to report on progress. Be transparent and consistent with reporting.
- Consider what’s next. One year isn’t enough to get to where we need to be. How will you continue the momentum?
“Whoever you are or whatever you do, it’s time to think about declaring a year of climate action for your personal life, your family, your workplace. What are you doing about climate change?” said Field. “We have seven years.”