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This Earth Day, 6 Concordians discuss the question of sustainability under COVID-19

‘The pandemic has shown that rapid action is possible when faced with a serious threat’
April 22, 2020
By Elisabeth Faure

Carly Ziter: “The real question is, will we use this opportunity to transition to a more sustainable future?” Carly Ziter: “The real question is, will we use this opportunity to transition to a more sustainable future?”

For further information on COVID-19, please visit Concordia’s information page.

The COVID-19 crisis has meant major changes for all of us in a short amount of time.

As we are urged not to leave our homes for anything but essential reasons, the ways we work, go outdoors, eat and occupy ourselves are all vastly different today compared to mere weeks ago.

But what impact does this new way of life have on the planet and how we relate to it?

This Earth Day, six Concordians share their thoughts on everything from how the pandemic is changing the face of research to ways you can embrace sustainable practices from home.

Faisal Shennib

Environmental specialist for Facilities Management

Practical tips and tricks for your home

Being mindful of your sustainability impact during a pandemic is challenging. If you’re struggling with this topic, take a step back and acknowledge that you may be dealing with a lot of stress and that it’s OK to not be at your ecological best. If you’re feeling able to take some steps to limit impact, here are a few ideas to try:

Cut down on cleaning packaging: Disinfectants can safely and easily be made out of alcohol or bleach and water. Also, soap and water have been proven to be more effective than hand sanitizer in destroying viruses. Don’t shy away from using bar soap — it’s been proven to not transfer pathogens.

Shop in your own home: My household has done some major cleaning out of storage areas and we’ve found a lot of good items that will reduce unnecessary purchases and associated waste. I’ve heard this referred to as “shopping in your own home.”

Food waste: Take stock of the food you have and use recipes that prioritize the items nearing expiry. Keep composting if you have access to the municipal service or make your own backyard composter.

Energy: Energy use is going to plummet across the world during this time. You can further reduce it by unplugging devices to save phantom power and lowering the thermostat to save on heating.

Rebecca Tittler

Coordinator and lecturer at the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability and lecturer in the Department of Biology

Get outside if you can, or find other ways to immerse yourself in nature

My advice for now is to reconnect with nature in the city. Spring doesn’t care about the coronavirus; get outside if you can, and open your windows now and then if you can’t.

There are silver maples all over the city beginning to bloom. The squirrels and chickadees are gathering to eat the new buds. Crocuses and other spring flowers are beginning to emerge, and geese are flying over the city in noisy V-shapes all day long. Robins and cardinals are singing their morning songs.

This is a good time for quiet reflection, for stopping and listening and remembering that we’re all connected.

It’s also a good time to take a few moments to learn online about some of the nature that’s around us. You can listen to the song of the chickadee. And here’s the robin and the cardinal. This is what geese sound like as they fly overhead to their summer breeding grounds.

Govind Gopakumar

Associate professor and chair for the Centre for Engineering in Society at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science

Is slow research the way forward for sustainability?

As we researchers shelter at home in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic engine of the planet has faltered and, with it, the everyday research work or conference travel and forging international collaborations. Faculty and student mobility have all but ground to a halt.

In response, researchers are hard at work implementing workarounds that will allow them to ford what they foresee to be a temporary pause.

But if that was not the case and this was the new normal, how would we respond? Slow research, building upon the slow food and slow cities movement, points to two ways forward.

A slow academy, Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber propose in The Slow Professor, would challenge the culture of speed and productivity in the corporate university while cultivating deep humanistic thought. Meanwhile, in her book Another Science is Possible, philosopher Isabelle Stengers envisions slow science immersed in public concerns rather than servicing the bursts and starts of an economic engine.

The pandemic has posed a question to our paradigm of global development. Slow research may be the answer. 

Cassandra Lamontagne

Sustainability coordinator, Office of Sustainability

Stay informed from home

The news about the pandemic can be overwhelming at times. I’m trying to balance my awareness of the current crisis with information and learning about sustainability.

This often means sifting through the COVID-19 news to find articles that report on sustainability challenges and progress around the globe. I rely on a news aggregator app to organize articles around different topics, such as sustainability and climate change. I also try to keep informed of different perspectives around how COVID-19 will influence climate action.

One of my new at-home habits is listening to the Global GoalsCast podcast while I take a walk around the neighbourhood. The show focuses on the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the episodes feature viewpoints from different — sometimes even conflicting — experts. Even if I don’t always agree with the discussion, it offers an engaging way to learn more about each of the goals, as well as what we can do together and as individuals.

Joining the CU for Change team of the Drawdown Ecochallenge is another fun way to learn more and get involved!

Mark Underwood

Facilitator at the Sexual Assault Resource Centre

Find ways to eat sustainably

Something that is on everyone’s mind during this crisis is food — where to get it, how to get it safely, will we have enough and, importantly, where is it coming from? Maybe this last question isn’t as pertinent for some right now, but it’s usually on my mind and right now is no different.

I try to keep my food purchases local and organic when possible. I participate in Community Supported Agriculture, which means I pre-pay at the beginning of the season and have local and organic produce delivered every two weeks. I also have a local connection that offers organic meats raised on the outskirts of the city. Deliveries from the trunk of a car offer a physically distant shopping experience and a lovely connection with friends.

I continue to shop at my local grocery stores, careful to observe physical distancing guidelines. Things are fresh and abundant and the path less beaten — no lineups or crowds! Not only is this a sustainable option during non-pandemic times, but it helps ensure our small grocers and shop owners can get through this crisis with their business intact.

As a lifestyle, these habits result in less travel for my food and fewer carbon emissions because of it. It also means I am supporting a regenerative farming culture that replaces large monocrop farms with ones that enrich our soils and capture more carbon.

During a pandemic, it means that I can avoid large crowds and support my community. All of this helps paint a picture of what our food economy can look like when the dust settles and we find a new normal.

Carly Ziter

Assistant professor in the Department of Biology

COVID-19 and the possibility of rapid change

Undoubtedly, many people have seen stories of an environmental “silver lining” of COVID-19 — reduced air pollution, clearer water, etc.

First, it’s important to reiterate that a pandemic is not something to celebrate. Any temporary environmental improvements do not offset the devastating long-term health and economic impacts many are suffering and, as with many global sustainability challenges, poor and vulnerable communities are most at risk.

Positive environmental change comes from sustained behavioural change. If there is an environmental silver lining to the current situation, it is the opportunity to reflect on more sustainable practices — currently adopted out of social distancing necessity — that can be continued.

For example, maybe we will realize that virtual meetings or conferences can effectively replace some of our in-person gatherings, reducing our travel footprints. Employers may choose to support continued telework, reducing traffic and emissions. We may continue to be more conscious of our food purchases and the food waste we produce.

But perhaps, most importantly, the pandemic has shown that rapid action is possible when faced with a serious threat, and that communities will come together in a time of crisis — both invaluable lessons for large sustainability challenges such as climate change.

To me, the real question is, will we use this opportunity to transition to a more sustainable, lower emission future, or will we simply return to business as usual as soon as we can?

Visit Concordia’s Sustainability Hub today.
Learn about the Concordia Drawdown Ecochallenge.

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