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A low-carbon economy 'for a future that's worthwhile'

On October 15, climate-change crusader Catherine Potvin brings her message to Concordia
October 7, 2015
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By Elisabeth Faure

“What we want is a plan to meet the target, and currently Canada does not have one — there’s a target with no plan,” says Catherine Potvin. “We want a plan to meet the target, and currently Canada does not have one — there’s a target with no plan."


A group of experts says Canada needs to act now to reduce carbon emissions, or the next generation of citizens will live in a world defined by extreme climate warming.

In the final countdown to the federal election, and in advance of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, the Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD) research project is challenging Canadians and political leaders to step up their environmental game.

The initiative’s goal? To begin Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Catherine Potvin, a forest ecologist and the 2012 winner of the Royal Society of Canada’s Miroslaw Romanowski Medal for scientific work relating to environmental problems, has been spearheading the SCD research project for three years.

On Thursday, October 15, Concordia’s Science College will host the McGill Biology professor, who holds the Canada Research Chair on Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests, as part of its public lecture series.

Potvin's lecture, “Acting on Climate Change: Mobilizing Society to Find Solutions,” will summarize the results of the SCD consultations, during which the group spoke to more than 60 researchers from all ten provinces.

The researchers, representing fields ranging from engineering to business to philosophy, were asked to come up with solutions that will allow Canada to begin its transition to a low-carbon economy.

The group has put forward 10 key recommendations. Chief among them is a national tax on carbon. “We think this is a fundamental one, you can consider it the floor under our feet,” says Potvin. The price of carbon would be identical across all the provinces, something most political parties have been reluctant to endorse thus far in the election.

SCD wants to see low-carbon electricity across Canada, a goal Potvin says can be achieved by 2035. The group is also calling for this kind of power to become Canada’s major source of energy for buildings, transportation and industry.

Although some might consider them lofty, Potvin says these targets are possible to reach, adding that in her cross-country presentations to unions, First Nations groups and industry representatives, the goals were met enthusiastically.

“When we launched this document, many people were quite pessimistic, and thinking we would have no traction,” says Potvin. “I ended up giving interviews coast to coast … and I was always met with the same comment: ‘Hey, Professor. What you’re suggesting makes a lot of sense. Why aren’t we doing it?’”

On the political side, SCD is trying to draw attention to what different parties are promising in advance of the October 19 election.

Damon Matthews, associate professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment and Concordia University Research Chair in Climate Science and Sustainability, contributed to Potvin’s project to analyze political parties’ climate platforms. “SCD is a very impressive effort to bring such a diverse group of academics together to envision a more sustainable Canada.”

Potvin calls Canada’s current carbon-reduction program a “smokescreen.” “What we want is a plan to meet the target, and currently Canada does not have one — there’s a target with no plan,” she says. It’s something SCD hopes will change with the next government.

Beyond political or scientific concerns, Potvin has a personal desire to see the project succeed.

“I have a granddaughter, and two grandsons,” she says. “It’s my way of doing what I can to ensure that they have a future that is worthwhile.”

 

Catherine Potvin’s lecture, “Acting on Climate Change: Mobilizing Society to Find Solutions,” will take place at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall on the Loyola Campus (7141 Sherbrooke W.) on Thursday, October 15, at 8 p.m.

Find out more about the Science College public lecture series.  

 



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