Photo from the Silhouette Archives
By Wei Yan Wu, Contributor
On Sept. 27, thousands of Canadians took to streets and parks to participate in the Global Climate Strike to raise awareness on the climate emergency.
On a request by students calling for cancellation of academic activities in order to make time for strike attendance. In response, McMaster Students for Climate Change Advocacy created a petition on Change.org. To date, more than 2,000 people have signed the petition, without a public response from the university. Classes and evaluations continued to be scheduled at McMaster during the strike.
Although the university showed no support for the petition, various climate change combating initiatives and programs exist at McMaster. The university’s energy management program, for one, strives to manage utilities and facilities in a way that improves energy efficiency.
“McMaster is very research-intensive. We’ve been working with a third party to reduce air volumes to the labs which reduces our carbon footprint,” said Joe Emberson, director of energy management and utilities at McMaster.
The university’s energy management staff has also worked on reducing water use on campus. They audit buildings to check where the water is being used, investigating if there might be alternative solutions to using water.
McMaster also offers The Sustainable Future Program (SUSTAIN) and the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability to its undergraduate students.
The main pillars of the SUSTAIN program, according to Kate Whalen, current senior manager of McMaster’s academic sustainability programs, revolve around providing opportunities for students to learn about sustainability. However, they also have opportunities specifically for interdisciplinary, student-led, community-based and experiential learning.
Within their five courses, the program aims to scaffold specific skills that give students learning opportunities to prepare for tackling more complex issues in upper-year courses. On the other hand, the program’s lower-year courses have observation-based experiential excursions, projects in the community and lectures on sustainability theory.
“I expect a lot of our first-year students will be attending the climate march [on] Friday. They’ll go and participate, so they’re very much in the community in terms of project implementation and experiential learning where they’re working directly with the community,” said Whalen.
The upper-year courses focus more on community engagement and tackling city-based issues through sustainability projects. Whalen’s students, for example, are each completing a full ethics application for environmental practices. They conduct research and interviews, working with members of the community and city staff to understand environmental issues most prominent in the community and to seek solutions to these challenges.
The SUSTAIN program has garnered a great amount of interest from the student body.
“When we started the Sustainable Future Program, we had one course and I think we had just under a hundred students enrolled in it. Now we have more than five courses and we have just under a thousand students enrolled this year. We’ve seen rapid growth in the demand for our program,” said Whalen.
She attributes the success of the program to its timeliness, interdisciplinary characteristics, community-based experiences and the overall way sustainability education is being delivered at Mac. For her, it shows that Mac students are aware of the sustainability issues they face and are motivated to understand and engage with them.
Outside of academics, other McMaster students have also taken the initiative to promote sustainability across campus. Zero Waste McMaster is a new club on campus this fall.
“I decided to start the club because I thought there was a gap in the clubs at McMaster. There wasn’t really any club organization working towards conscious, sustainable, low-waste living for students,” said Josephine Agueci, president of Zero Waste McMaster and student in the SUSTAIN program.
The club is in the process of planning its activities for the year, with goals to hold monthly workshops and discussions on sustainable living. The club also aims to encourage students to attend environment awareness events like the Sustainability Walk in Hamilton happening at the beginning of October.
“Right now we’re focusing on individual impact, but from there we definitely want to work towards helping McMaster be more sustainable as a school, not just on an individual level. So whether that be working on a composting system or working with different food options or waste disposal on campus,” said Agueci.
Zero Waste McMaster also aims to collect feedback from the student body. They want to know what students want to change and what sustainability issues they see on campus.
Though the university did not support students who wished to attend the climate strike on Sept. 27, academic programs continue to find ways to contribute to efforts against climate change. While many of them were not able to skip their classes or evaluations on Sept. 27, McMaster students are nevertheless finding ways to engage in sustainability initiatives on campus.