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Poster Session: Current Topics in Sustainability Science

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Now available online here!

This interdisciplinary poster session covers current topics in sustainability science from a variety of environmental science and environmental studies perspectives. Graduate students in HENV 680 (Advanced Seminar in Environmental Science) created these posters to review the literature and provide analyses and reflection on topics such as restoration ecology, sustainable food systems, climate science, environmental education, and natural resource use, planning and conservation.

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Michelle Anderson: Assessing the sustainability of restoring wetlands in the Bay of Fundy

*This poster won second place in the Graduate Student Poster Competition.

The purpose of this study is to review existing research to assess if the restoration of coastal wetlands in the Bay of Fundy area is a sustainable adaptation method for combating sea level rise and climate change. One of the biggest threats to coastal lands in Atlantic Canada is inundation due to sea level rise as a result of climate change. Current research indicates that wetlands act as natural flood barriers, contain rich ecosystems, and have high rates of carbon sequestration. Thus, policymakers are increasingly considering restoration of wetlands through the removal of existing flood barriers as an adaptive mitigation method. This is the case for the Bay of Fundy area, where an estimated 85% of salt marshes have been lost primarily due to dyking for agricultural land, which began with Acadian settlers over 350 years ago. These dykelands provide critical opportunities for restoration, and conversions have begun in the region over 40 years ago. Therefore, this study reviews the existing literature to assess wetland restoration in the Bay of Fundy area as a sustainable management practice. In this poster, I highlight the complexities involved in assessing the overall success and net-benefits of wetland conversion projects, and emphasize the important factors that need to be considered when evaluating their efficiency. A survey of the literature reveals key factors such as the cost effectiveness, carbon accumulation rates, hydrology functions, as well as the importance of engaging in qualitative assessments with stakeholders as essential components for evaluating restoration feasibility. Moreover, current research also provides suggestions for future assessments, for example the importance of site-specific evaluations and topographic data. It is clear that gaps and unexplored areas exist in the field of research of restored wetlands. Consequently, there is an increased need for data and information for decision makers in relation to coastal wetland restoration, in order to improve and create sustainable cost-effective strategies for mitigating coastal threats in the Bay of Fundy region.

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Mitchell Dickau: Are the planned rates of CO2 sequestration in emissions scenarios for 1.5° and 2° C achievable and sustainable?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emissions scenarios that limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and 2°C rely on enormous amounts of carbon sequestration through carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and carbon capture and storage (CCS). To put the expected scale of planned carbon sequestration into perspective, some scenarios account for 10 Gt CO2 to be sequestered per year by 2050, which accounts for almost a third of what we currently emit per year globally. A review of the literature demonstrates that the capacity of current carbon sequestration technologies and methods does not reflect the capacity needed for these technologies to enable us to meet global temperature targets. Considering this gap between current capacity and predicted capacity, and considering the importance of carbon sequestration for achieving proposed global temperature targets in future emissions scenarios, emissions scenarios should avoid unrealistic predictions of carbon sequestration and instead further emphasize emissions reductions. Furthermore, high uncertainty surrounding how the terrestrial carbon cycle will react to increased atmospheric CO2 also suggests that precautionary emissions scenarios should emphasize emissions reductions above all other forms of climate change mitigation. I argue that rates of carbon sequestration in the IPCC’s emissions scenarios for 1.5°C and 2°C are likely unachievable, thus emissions scenarios should be reimagined to emphasize alternatives pathways that do not rely on carbon sequestration, instead requiring social, political and economic changes that would reduce emissions.

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Stephanie Eccles: Sustaining the animal agriculture industry through Ag-Gag Laws: Counterproductive measure to flourishing lives

Environmentalists, climate change researchers, and other concerned individuals have courageously fought against the ‘big oil’ industry and cemented the connections between fossil fuel and climate change. With this said, the Animal Agriculture Industry (AAI) has been afforded continued protection to exist in the shadows of the climate-energy debates and inflicts enduring harm against humans, the environment and animals. According to the most recent FAO statistic, AAI globally contributes 14.5% of global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions with the projection that the industry will increase by 70% as of 2050 to support population growth and food preferences (FAO 2019).  The AAI is also responsible for the deaths of upwards of 70 billion land animals annually. Acknowledging the AAI and its relation to climate change, I highlight another iteration of the industry’s power found in what are known as ‘ag-gag’ laws, anti-whistleblower or farm protection laws depending on one’s positionality (Potter 2017). The first ag-gag law was introduced in the state of Kansas in the 1990s, prompting the development of similar laws around the world. Common elements of ag-gag laws include criminalizing the documentation of AAI without consent, employment under false pretense in order to conduct investigation, or economic sabotage (Potter 2017, 17). Recently, Canada has introduced three ag-gag bills in response to a series of farm occupations by concerned individuals in British Colombia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. The three bills are in respective stages of readings: Bill-156 (Ontario); Bill-27 (Alberta); and Bill C-205 (Federal). The three laws are part of a global AAI dedicated to controlling the discursive and visual narratives of intensive farm production including concentrated feeding operations and slaughterhouses which account for 90% of all worldwide ‘meat’ consumed. This poster will engage with how ag-gag laws are counterproductive to a sustainable future by examining a range of issues related to animal advocacy, environmental protection, workers’ rights, and food safety (Ceryes & Heaney 2019). This poster intends to broaden how ag-gag laws are conceptualized in an effort to engender critical reflection of the power of ag-gag laws beyond the narrow focus of looking at repression of animal activists. Taking stock of the sustained harm ag-gag laws perpetuate in the name of the AAI, this poster advocates for an “interspecies sustainability” which aligns the future flourishing of humans, nonhuman animals, and the environment.

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Zeina El Omari: Unsustainable green lawns: Can urban food forests be a sustainable alternative to green lawns in North American urban landscapes?

*This poster won first place in the Graduate Student Poster Competition.

As the migration of populations to urban areas expands worldwide, urban sprawl is endangering the surrounding natural environments. Likewise, owing to inner-city land scarcity, greenspaces are converted to commercial and housing developments. As for the North American suburbs, lawn culture persists, green velvet carpets are still a symbol of social mobility. Lawn maintenance is an expensive as well as an energy and labor-intensive hobby. In fact, the perfect lawn requires a large investment in chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, machinery and irrigation. This unsustainable activity is not only poisoning the environment, but also depleting scarce resources. Indeed, we face an increasingly urbanized future, urban and suburban sustainability, “considered as the dynamic capacity of an urban area for adequately meeting the needs of its present and future populations through ecologically, economically, and socially sound planning, design, and management activities” (Wu, 2008, p.44) is an increasingly urgent topic. Hence, the development of urban food forests in urban and suburban areas can be an important strategy for future environmental sustainability and human health and wellbeing. Urban food forests offer ecosystem services, such as provisioning, supporting, regulating and cultural services. In cities and suburbs, urban food forests can be a means for food security, they can mitigate poverty but also give access to healthy and nutritious food, such as inter alia, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms and herbs, to a wide population. Moreover, urban food forests, can contain a high level of biodiversity, they are the habitat to a variety of plant and animal species and offer supporting services such as pollination and soil formation. They also help in carbon storage, air pollution reduction, microclimate improvement, noise reduction, and rainwater retention. Finally, they provide non-material benefits, inter alia, spiritual and religious values, educational, cultural and social relations values, and lastly recreational and aesthetical values. In conclusion, urban food forests in the suburbs are a “lawn alternative that fosters urban sustainability and cultivates human-nature relationships that (...) have been suppressed or marginalized by other built environments” (Lebowitz and Trudeau, 2017, p.727).

References

Lebowitz, A., & Trudeau, D. (2017). Digging in: Lawn dissidents, performing sustainability, and landscapes of privilege. Social & Cultural Geography, 18(5), 706-731.

Wu, J. J. (2008). Making the case for landscape ecology an effective approach to urban sustainability. Landscape journal, 27(1), 41-50.

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David Fargey: Land degradation neutrality: Productivity indictor & remote sensing challenges

Sustainable development goal 15.3 was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 and aimed to counteract land degradation with a framework of land degradation neutrality. Within this framework, land is classified as degraded based on any one of three indicators: land use and land use change, productivity, and soil organic carbon. Satellite remote sensing has been recommended for monitoring the productivity indicator. Specifically, the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) has been recommended to monitor net primary production (NPP). NDVI performs well in the monitoring of NPP when a range of land surface characteristics are known and validation is carried out. The guidance document produced to support the monitoring of the land-degradation indicators focusses heavily on remote sensing methods for the productivity indicator without in-depth attention to supplementary monitoring and validation methods. This review highlights a range of challenges in the application of remote sensing methods for monitoring the productivity indicator at regional to national scales and with variations in land surface attributes globally. A case study in Puna region, Argentina highlights how the methodological approach to land degradation and productivity monitoring can affect results. The study compares expert knowledge to remote sensing methods and polygon to pixel spatial aggregation of data. According to expert knowledge, all areas in this study were found to have a degradation trend, whereas NDVI indicated the majority of areas as having slowly to rapidly increasing productivity. The initial analysis was conducted with results aggregated into polygons according to land use and land cover classes. This method of aggregation may account for some of the discrepancies between the results derived from each of the methods. With satellite imagery disaggregated into 1km2 pixels, new productivity trends congruent with those identified by expert knowledge became apparent. Challenges accurately assessing land degradation and productivity with satellite remote sensing methods can be addressed with supplementary methods such as expert knowledge as well as validation data. Remote sensing can further support methods based on expert knowledge by providing time-series data with large spatial coverages that can indicate areas outside of the focus of experts and requiring further attention.

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Julia Ginsburg: Teaching sustainably: Nature-based preschool teachers’ craft knowledge of sustainability education

Much environmental education research suggests that children need exposure to “the outdoors” in order to be able to develop pro-environmental behaviors and to instill positive ecocultural identities (Milstein & Castro-Sotomayor, 2020). If children do not have environmental and sustainability education in their primary years, then often they do not have this knowledge later on in life. Vestena & Piske (2017) note that many children do not have a good knowledge of the current issues that are occurring in terms of the natural environment and climate change. Teacher craft knowledge, that is, everything that teachers teach and what is built upon through their teaching over time (Barth, 2001), is location specific. The access that nature-based preschools (Natural Start Alliance, 2014) have to the outdoors, or lack thereof, has an effect on what is taught in these institutions. This poster will utilize qualitative interviews with nature-based preschool teachers from a study conducted in the winter of 2017-2018 in a centralized area of Massachusetts, USA. The goal of this study was to investigate issues within early childhood education as they intersect with sustainability, specifically, to determine how teachers teach sustainability and whether or not they include it in curricula. This poster will examine how teachers’ craft knowledge demonstrates the limitations that nature-based preschools face when teaching sustainability education and pro-environmentalism, based on the location of their facilities. It will also consider how biological and environmental sciences are taught in early childhood education, taking into consideration participating teachers’ craft knowledge base on their schools’ locations.

References

Barth, R. S. (2001). Learning by Heart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Milstein, T. & Castro-Sotomayor, J. (2020). Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity. Oxford, UK: Routledge.

Natural Start Alliance. (2014). What Is a nature preschool? Retrieved from here.

Vesenta, C. & Piske, F. (2017). Knowledge and Morality of School-Age Children and Adolescents Regarding Environmental Issues and Moral Dilemmas. Creative Education, 8(2), 177-188.

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Siobhan Rae Knowles: Bats and wind energy: Impacts to bats and potential avenues for impact avoidance and mitigation

The signing of the Paris Agreement and the commitment to limit the amount of warming to well below 2°C has led to increased interest in more sustainable and renewable forms of energy production, such as wind energy. While wind energy has numerous benefits in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, it can have adverse impacts on bat populations. Several research studies and policy and guidance documents from various regions have documented and recognized the negative impacts associated with wind energy on bat populations. These impacts include direct impacts, such as injuries and mortality from collisions with rotating blades and barotrauma, and indirect impacts, such as effects on important habitat features for roosting and mating and effects on bat behaviour. Given these negative impacts and the increasing demand for more sustainable forms of energy production, how can these adverse impacts be avoided and mitigated in order to make wind energy more ecologically sustainable? A survey of the literature highlights many ways in which impacts can be avoided, minimized, and/or mitigated. Avoidance of impacts can include: micro-siting; setbacks and buffers; relocation; and abandonment of particular projects. Minimization of impacts can include: minimization of lighting; clearing the area around turbines of favourable habitat features; installing grating over nacelle/gondola holes to prevent roosting; limiting timing of construction activities to have the least impact; and reducing turbine heights. Mitigation of impacts can include: employing deterrents such as ultra-sonic deterrents, ultra-violet lighting, and textured paint; curtailment measures such as increasing cut-in speeds and feathering; temporary shutdowns during high-risk periods; and compensation measures, such as offsetting. Research on the effectiveness of current avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures must be continued, and these findings must be incorporated into wind energy policy and guidance documents. While investing in more sustainable and renewable forms of energy production, like wind energy, can be an important means of achieving the Paris Agreement targets, this should not be done at the expense of ecological sustainability.

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Noribel Rosales Malave: Carbon capture and storage as a mitigation and adaptation measure for the construction sector nationally determined contributions in the fight against climate change

The world's population continues to rise and projections suggest that sustainable housing will be one of the main concerns in the fight against climate change. Most modern human societies spend their lives in concrete-based settlements, opportunities present most often when living in an urban environment, where there are more technology developments, a higher quality of life, and better access to education and healthcare. However, to build such urban environments and still be able to achieve the sustainable transition described in the UNFCCC Paris Agreement to limit warming well below 2°C, and pursue a Sustainable Development Goal Integrated Approach that continues to promote growth and innovation, we need to take action now. The construction sector’s contribution to climate change often goes unnoticed. Some practices have changed little since the 18th Century. Portland cement, the crucial common mixture of compounds that is need it to produce concrete has the manufacturing industry highest carbon footprint, responsible for the highest direct Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) in the construction sector. Furthermore concrete making accounts for high volumes of freshwater withdrawal and discharge in its composite form. Canada has committed to cut its national GHGs 30% by 2030 to meet targets, through the implementation of different mitigation and adaptation measures, one of them being the Net-Zero Energy Ready (NZER) project initiative, which updates building codes and also leads the way to meet emission reduction targets. The purpose of this paper is to conduct a comprehensive review that studies and explores the most up to date carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies available to Canada, and specify how we can reduce emissions and meet targets by decarbonizing the construction sector, with the implementation of these technologies in our National Determined Contributions (NDCs); A combination of strategies and projects such as cement that will emit less CO2 during the manufacturing process or concrete that can consume CO2 in the curing process of the final product. Such as Solidia cement a non-hydraulic binder, uses less limestone and lower kiln burning temperatures emits less CO2 in its manufacturing process, and Carbon Cure an innovative approach which suggests achieving a 209,694 tonnes of CO2/year reduction by 2022 by injecting a CO2 mixture in to the ready mix concrete. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies have significant potential to reduce the environmental impact of concrete, creating new market opportunities that benefit a net zero economy while meeting targets.

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Duane D. Noel: Public health care systems: Do they contribute to climate change?

Since the pre-industrial period, anthropogenic activities have contributed to unprecedented rates of change in the global climate. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuel use has contributed to the rise of air pollution in many urban centers worldwide, thus, diminishing air quality and living conditions in these populated regions. Air pollution is a potent, anthropogenic environmental factor that threatens the stability of global public health due to the rise in the number of people diagnosed with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In 2015, approximately 9 million people died prematurely due to pollution related diseases. The intensification of natural hazards adds further stress to public health care systems across the world. Therefore, public health care services and health professionals must be able to adapt to current climate change. Although health care systems are vital in maintaining public health standards, they also emit GHGs that may contribute to people developing respiratory illnesses due to poor air quality. In this study, I reviewed the environmental health literature to assess whether public health care systems contribute negatively to climate change. Life cycle assessment studies of public health care systems and hospital operating theatres from Canada, United States, Australia and Japan were assessed to determine which sectors of health care services must be targeted to reduce GHG emissions. Health care services energy expenditure in these developed countries vary between 5-7% of the country’s total GHG emissions profile. In Canada, GHG and non-GHG emissions from the public health sector contribute to approximately 23,000 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost annually. Hospital services, energy source used, pharmaceutical products and hospital waste were the four most polluted sources in the medical service supply chain. The construction of energy efficient buildings as well as transitioning to renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity to power medical equipment are two recommendations made to reduce GHG emissions from health care facilities. Anthropogenic climate change poses a major risk to human public health; therefore, environmental health sustainability research must continue to develop methods to reduce GHG emissions from health care services as well as prepare health professionals with adequate protocol to treat patients with pollution related diseases.

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Noelle Racine: Commuting at Concordia: A multi-year trend analysis

Concordia University comprises a student base of over 46,000 and employs over 6,000 individuals. As early as 2003, the University began conducting a commuter habits survey on a semi-regular basis in order to better understand and evaluate the commuter trends and habits of the University’s overall population. Respondents in all surveys were asked to provide demographic information as well as specific information regarding their commute and their commuting preferences on their one-way trip to their primary university campus. Each time, a representative sample size of students, faculty, and staff were invited to participate in the survey by email. A review of the commuter data collected from 2014, 2017 and finally 2019 reveals that there is still potential for a modal shift of single occupancy automobile users towards more sustainable forms of transportation. A longitudinal study of the results from previous commuter habits surveys has never been completed at Concordia University. The primary focus of this poster is to assess changes in commuter habits and preferences over time in order to establish a set of recommendations for the University to help encourage a modal shift away from single occupancy automobile use on campus. In order to address this issue, a study region of 10km by shortest path distance from each university campus was established. Spatial and network analysis was performed using GIS software, based on the postal codes provided by respondents and using the open street map road network. An analysis of the survey data from 2014, 2017 and 2019 reveals a decrease in active transportation use from 2014 - 2019 within the study region. Single occupancy automobile use has remained relatively static over time and represents 6-7% of total commutes in the study region. Overall, it is recommended that the university implement specific targets to encourage a modal shift towards more sustainable modes of transportation. This should include incentives to encourage carpooling and public transportation for staff and faculty populations, with a focus on those travelling to Loyola campus.

 


*The Graduate Student Poster Competition was made possible by the hard work of our volunteer judges: Sebastian di Poi, Jochen Jaeger, Matthew Leddy, and Rebecca Tittler.

The participation of these student was facilitated by Professor Sarah Turner, who continues to inspire students through her work in the classroom.

A big thank you to all those involved!


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