A Call to Action: What local organizations are doing to fight climate change & ways you can help

Climate change is the most significant global threat to biodiversity and the wellbeing of our planet, so much so that the city of Kingston recently declared a state of climate emergency. Every individual has the responsibility to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change. But how can we have an impact on this global issue if we don’t fully understand how climate change is affecting our community on a local level?

Even as fourth year biology students, we struggled to name more than a few local organizations that are currently working to fight the current climate crisis in Kingston. Therefore, we conducted a series of interviews with representatives from local organizations to learn about their ongoing projects and initiatives which work to help mitigate the effects of climate change and hence the loss of biodiversity. It is our hope that by sparking this dialogue, we can bring awareness to the work of local organizations and bridge the gap between students who want to make a difference, and organizations that are already doing so. We hope this will encourage students to get involved in these local activism efforts, and to start making small changes in their lives to reduce their contributions to the climate crisis.

Interview with Tess Wittmann from Sustainable Kingston

Tess Wittmann, Sustainable Kingston’s Community Engagement Specialist, and a Queen’s alumna, recently spoke with us about Sustainable Kingston’s efforts to work with the city to combat climate change. The organizations’ purpose is to support the Kingston community in achieving its exciting vision of being Canada’s most sustainable city.

Most notably, perhaps, is their Green Economy Leader Program in which they work with local businesses to support them in measuring, setting targets, and reducing their carbon footprint - a daunting task for many business owners.

Tess believes that while many students and community members want to make a difference, they simply don’t know what to do. She says, however, that students can easily choose to support local businesses that have committed to being Green Economy leaders.

She also encourages students to get involved with other Sustainable Kingston initiatives. In April they hosted their Pitch-In Kingston event, a community-wide cleanup to encourage preservation and sustainability. The community participation for this event has doubled in the past few years, with 9,500 people who attended the spring edition. Of this, however, only a couple hundred were Queen’s students, a turnout that would ideally be improved for their next Pitch-In event in April of next year. Sustainable Kingston is also hosting the Kingston Climate Change Symposium on January 16th, an event that brings together climate champions to inspire action while showcasing the latest developments on community-based climate initiatives. Tess says students are highly encouraged to participate, especially because it is a great event to network with local community members in this field that may have potential volunteer and employment opportunities available.

Interview with Maggie Williams from Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change

It was members of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) who were the energetic, passionate individuals on stage for the Queen’s Climate Strike on September 27th. With a focus on advocating for environmental solutions on campus, this activism-based environmental club has over 600 members and is designed to encourage progressive climate change action at the university and in the City of Kingston. We recently sat down with Maggie Williams, Vice-President of Special Projects, to hear about their initiatives and perspectives on the climate crisis as it relates to our local community.

Maggie stressed QBACC’s belief in the importance to hold a mix of awareness campaigns and promoting community education on issues that contribute to climate change, while also advocating directly for the adoption of sustainable programs which QBACC develops. The organization has hosted cooking workshops to educate people on how to minimize their red meat intake, workshops to teach people how to properly sort trash and hosting climate strikes to show the University and City that sustainability is a top priority for the community. QBACC also develops programs with the AMS to make it easier for clubs and groups on campus to act in a sustainable way. For example the Sustainable Event Certification, which is expected to launch in the upcoming winter semester, offers discounts to student groups hosting events if they satisfy a set of sustainable criteria.

In addition, they’ve initiated various campaigns in hopes of bringing together the Queen’s student body to encourage the University and other institutions to make both symbolic and real changes. Their relentless three-year fossil fuel divestment campaign is still going strong, with major achievements such as the AMS announcing their complete divestment from fossil fuels and 20 faculty departments and multiple student groups endorsing the divestment, something which hasn’t been seen at Queen’s since the Apertheid campaign in the 1980s.

Beyond getting involved in QBACC and its initiatives, Maggie said it is easy for local community members to make changes in their daily lives to support efforts to combat climate change. Although these are suggestions that we all frequently hear, she emphasizes the importance and large positive impact of buying locally, using fewer plastics, eating less meat and reducing energy consumption at home. She also stressed the influence that individuals can have through making educated voting decisions, writing to local leaders about your climate change concerns, and avoiding investing in fossil fuels.

Interview with Paul MacLatchy, The City of Kingston’s Environmental Director

For most students, Kingston acts as a wonderful “home away from home” for the busy months of the academic year. What we often neglect to remember, however, is that Kingston stretches far wider than the boundaries of our campus and student ghetto. Therefore, it may come as a surprise that the City of Kingston, although small, is taking a leadership role on climate action, with many exciting initiatives to help mitigate the city’s contributions to climate change. During a recent interview with the city’s Environmental Director, Paul MacLatchy, we heard about some of these programs.

When asked about which city project on climate action excites him the most, Mr. MacLatchy passionately talked about the city’s plan for electrification of transportation. He explained that because 32% of Kingston’s carbon footprint comes from vehicle emissions, it was important for the city to prioritize an electric vehicle strategy. With the implementation of 48 charging stations in 23 locations across the city, Kingston recently won the Municipal Electric Champion Award for its electric vehicle strategy and initiatives. In addition, the city has plans to eventually have an all-electric fleet of public busses. A sufficient budget has already been set aside to convert the first two busses to be fully electric, with plans to convert 10 more by 2022. Because of Kingston’s progressive projects despite the city’s small size, Mr. MacLatchy says Kingston is “punching above our weight” when it comes to climate action.

However, the city can’t make a large impact on reducing its contributions to climate change without the help of individual community members, especially considering that the emissions from municipal operations count for less than 2% of the entire carbon footprint of the city. Mr. MacLatchy's advice to individuals is simple. He believes people need to educate themselves and “understand where their carbon footprints are coming from, then develop a budget for themselves to figure out how they can reduce their footprint”. He says this exercise is “an eye opener” and will likely encourage people to make better decisions. He, on behalf of The City of Kingston, encourages everyone to get involved to help Kingston continue to be a pioneering city in the fight against climate change.

Meet the authors:

Carole Rondeau and Victoria Jay are fourth year Biology Majors at Queen's. As part of their Conservation Biology class, they were tasked to design and implement a project relating to conservation issues directly affecting the Kingston area. They hope to educate students on the impacts of climate change and inspire individuals to get involved with local organizations that are already working to mitigate the effects of climate change on a local level.

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