A couple of months ago, some friends and I stuffed ourselves into a cargo van (donated to us by the Biology Department at the University of Waterloo) to support something very important to us. SCIENCE! The Death of Evidence march/rally was organized in response to recent changes to environmental assessments in Canada (which will focus less on public input but more on streamlining energy projects) and cuts to programs like ELA (Experimental Lakes Area), internationally renowned for teaching us so much of what we know today about water bodies and how they respond to anthropogenic pressures.
Speakers like Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians, Scott Findlay an associate professor and former director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Environment, Dr. Alex MacKenzie, a Pediatric scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Ben Powless an Indigenous Activist all joined the rally and spoke about how recent cuts have affected them. The speeches were amazingly diverse and I came away from the rally having never felt prouder to be a scientist. But on the way home, the inevitable question became, “now what”? The rally was great success, but what comes next?
No matter your politics, the debate between rallying scientists (toting signs and slogans like “Evidence Matters 2Canadians” [get it?!] and my personal favourite “What do we want? Evidence based decision making! When do we want it? After peer review!”) and the federal government highlights a tension we see all too often in discussions about the protection of the environment. Must environmental sustainability come at the expense of economic prosperity? At Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR), we don’t think so. In fact, our vision is for a thriving Waterloo Region with a healthy environment and vibrant economy. Symbiosis.
This is the main reason I joined SWR more than a year ago. In addition to my desire to break out of my cozy lab once in a while, I wanted to contribute outside of the academic world. SWR (and our associated programs) are doing something so important; applying climate change science and acting to alleviate its effects. This illustrates that there are initiatives that can make huge changes from the bottom up. SWR even partners with municipal governments to power these changes.
These decisions can be made with both science and the economy in mind. It does not have to be one or the other, a common misconception. Members of the Regional Carbon Initiative are a prime example. These organizations are voluntarily cutting back on GHG emissions, and at the same time are saving money.
The message I would like to portray and that SWR has helped me do, is that there is much more that we can do than the occasional rally. Although these are helpful in gaining public awareness (and enjoyable!) it is important to continue the passion from those events into our lives. Contributing to a solution with the SWR team really makes me feel that things can change and that a push from below might be necessary.