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Atlanta, Nigel, Addye
March 15, 2021
6 mins read

Taking climate action: Tips from UBC grad students

The climate crisis weighs pretty heavily on my mind—I’m constantly trying to better understand how we got into this situation, and how we can get out of it.

Though the bad news can feel overwhelming at times, there’s a lot that keeps me hopeful. Grad students at UBC are helping lead the charge in the fight against climate change, so I decided to check in with some of them to learn about their studies and what we can do going forward.

I was struck by the breadth of research these students are doing, spanning multiple disciplines. Additionally, I was inspired by their dedication to pursuing climate change solutions, especially since progress on the environmental front is frequently stalled by political and corporate inaction. Despite the difficulty of the task ahead of us, these students are working hard to figure out how we can create a greener future.

Whether you’re looking for new ways to get involved in the fight against climate change or just want to see what amazing work grad students are doing, keep reading:

Atlanta Grant

Atlanta Grant

Atlanta is a M.A. student in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. She is researching traditional food systems as a tool in mitigating climate change.


How did you get interested and involved in your field of study?

During my undergraduate studies, I applied for a travel abroad research trip to Belize. Here, I lived with a Mayan family and learned about agriculture and food sovereignty—a movement that recognizes the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture systems. Seeing a different part of the world, and how different Indigenous cultures view food, was a powerful experience. As an Indigenous person from Huron-Wendat First Nation, I immediately became curious about Indigenous ideologies around food and food “waste” through a Canadian lens, and how they could positively impact our natural environment and urban waste infrastructures.

Atlanta Grant

What are 1 or 2 takeaways from your research?

1.    Food = relationship. We must rediscover a relationship between food, the Earth, and ourselves where we reciprocate by caring for the planet that provides for us. Go back to your roots, re-discover your culture’s food pathways and recipes. You’ll see how powerful this form of physical and mental healing can be.

2.    When thinking about climate change and sustainability, we must remember how every community is impacted in different and disproportionate ways. Similarly, every culture has different ways of knowing and understanding resilience, and of how to support our environment. Try to step outside of the main knowledge that is presented around these issues and think critically. For example, think of Indigenous communities, who since time immemorial have known the land—what might they say about how to mend our broken relationship with Earth?

How can students take action on the climate crisis?

Understand how different communities are impacted by climate issues and work backwards. 'Sustainability' covers a broad range of topics, and trying to tackle every topic can be daunting and scary. Try to address vulnerability first. If communities are most impacted by say, food access, then perhaps we address environmental issues through sustainable gardening and gathering practices. Smaller forms of sustainability create tactile change—so look within to your behaviours first, then take what you learn from this experience to engage in broader issues and the local community!

Nigel Deans

Nigel Deans

Nigel is a M.Sc. student in the Behavioral Sustainability Lab. His research takes an experimental psychological approach to improving the effectiveness of climate change communication.


How did you get interested and involved in your field of study?

Nigel

My field of study, behavioural sustainability, is an application of psychology to the issues at the core of our relationship to the environment. Studying psychology as an undergrad helped me realize that we often have less control over our choices than we’d like to think. That might sound bad, but I think it opens up a lot of space to improve our relationships with nature and each other by making the ‘good’ decisions easier to make.

What are 1 or 2 takeaways from your research?

There is so much opportunity! We often talk about sustainability in terms of what we need to give up, but there is so much to be gained by a just transition to a lower carbon economy and a change in how we relate to each other and our environment. Communicating these benefits may be the secret to flipping the narrative on climate change in time to create a world that humans can be a part of for millennia to come.

Climate action looks different for everyone, but at its centre, we are asking people to change, and we know that’s hard. Direct most of your effort toward communicating with those who are most ready for that change, but be patient with those who are not. Communicate to be effective, not to be right; this means identifying the values of your conversation partners and framing the climate crisis within those values.

How can students take action on the climate crisis?

Support those who have benefited the least from the systems we need to change—they are often already at the forefront of climate action. In Canada and many other places around the world, that will include the Indigenous peoples who’ve been taking care of our land and food systems for thousands of years.

Systemic action is crucial—stay up to date on local environmental issues, vote, and engage with your elected representatives. On the individual side, identify areas of your own life where you can reduce your environmental impact by the greatest amount with the least effort. For many UBC students, this will mean flying less often (especially internationally) and partially replacing meat (especially beef and lamb) and dairy (especially cheese) in your diet.

Those changes can be tough, so start small! Take those first steps and share your challenges and successes with others. Remember that individual changes are important because they enable you to speak persuasively to others about the possibility of widespread change.

Addye Susnick

Addye Susnick

Addye is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science, specializing in political theory. Their research focuses on contemporary critical theory and environmental politics, particularly structural environmental justice and the nature of responsibility, as well as race, gender, and sexuality.


How did you get interested and involved in your field of study?

I've always been interested in social justice and environmentalism, but didn't know how to integrate those or make them into a career. I studied politics and international relations in undergrad and thought going in that I wanted to go into politics, but realized I preferred working with social movement organizing.

Joining a geography student's fieldwork team studying water management and climate change in the Peruvian Andes introduced me to environmental justice, which is still one of my main areas of interest! I took a required political theory course in my second year, and I immediately fell in love with it. I went from dreading the course to knowing I wanted to go into political theory within the first month!

Studying climate and sustainability issues through the lens of political theory allows me to explore the intersections of the environment, theories of justice and responsibility, social movement organizing, and anti-oppressive politics.

Addye

What are 1 or 2 takeaways from your research?

One main takeaway is that environmental issues are inextricably connected to broader questions of justice, power, and oppression. We cannot meaningfully understand and address the effects of climate change without considering systemic racism or wealth inequality, for example.

A second takeaway is that there are many forms of knowledge that we don't often see in classrooms that are invaluable for climate and sustainability issues. Seek out and listen to marginalized voices and lived experiences! Expanding where I learn from has shaped much of my research and enabled an ongoing process of learning and unlearning.

How can students take action on the climate crisis?

Look at what's happening in your community: what work is being done already, and how can you support or expand on it? What needs can you fill? We have a tendency to focus on individual actions or macro-level changes in environmental politics, and those are of course important. Make sustainable choices in your daily life where you can and work to understand overarching processes. But, community organizing is vital. Some of this might take place at UBC (or other universities), but I encourage students to also look beyond their universities.


Pursuing graduate studies can be a great way to make a difference in a field you’re passionate about—but as you’ve seen here, there are loads of ways to get involved as an undergrad as well.

If you're interested in what members of the UBC community thought the university can do to address the climate crisis, take a look at the Climate Emergency Task Force report. Additionally, if you want to share your thoughts on future climate action at UBC, read about the Climate Action Plan 2030 and learn how you can get involved. Finally, for more ways to make a difference, check out how you can live sustainably at home!