By contributor Claire Jones

On Saturday October 12, VIU had the honour of hosting a climate change symposium, organized by the VIU group Awareness of Climate Change through Education and Research (ACER), to educate students, staff, and members of the public about the science of climate change and the actions and policies that can help us avoid more extreme climate change. The symposium,  called “Climate Change: Policy for a Sustainable Future”, was a clear success, bringing together scientists, business people, activists, elementary school teachers, professors, and VIU students to expand their understanding, exchange ideas, and make new contacts.

The first presentation was led by Dr. Jeff Lewis of VIU, and focused on recent updates to the science of climate change. After an enlightening overview of current global temperature records, sea ice loss, and climate projections, Dr. Lewis addressed a topic less well-known among the general public: ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is a direct result of human CO2 emissions; as the ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide, the ocean acidity increases. This has stark consequences for marine life, especially those with calcium-based exoskeletons, which are vulnerable to being dissolved by the increased acidity. Dr. Lewis also discussed how climate change destabilizes the climate, increasing the frequency of extreme weather conditions.

Next up was Dr. Tom Pedersen of the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at UVic. Titled “The Rise and Fall of Climate Action in British Columbia”, Dr. Pedersen’s presentation detailed the impressive list of initiatives put forth by the Campbell government in 2008 to combat climate change. Such actions were in part prompted by the destruction of BC’s interior forests by the infamous mountain pine beetle, whose ravenous reign was not being kept in check by the cold temperatures which previously would kill off the majority of the beetles over the winter months. One of the initiatives put in place was the revenue-neutral BC Carbon Tax. This move was controversial at the time, yet academic scrutiny since 2008 has shown that BC suffered no economic downturn as a result, and that the policy has been effective in reducing emissions. BC was hailed worldwide as a leader in emission reduction strategies.

Fast forward to 2012, when Christy Clark’s BC Liberals froze the Carbon Tax. Climate action in BC appeared to shift lower on the government’s priority list. Now, in 2016, the BC Liberals refuse to abide by previously agreed-upon emissions control targets, despite an independent panel of scientists, business people, and aboriginal leaders submitting their recommendations to the Provincial Government. BC can no longer claim to be a model for climate leadership. Dr. Pendersen summed it up, stating that “by ducking our responsibility we are transferring the impact of climate change more firmly onto the shoulders of future generations.”

During a coffee break, audience members asked questions of the presenters and held discussions amongst themselves. One couple in attendance was Sheri Plummer and Bill Vinton, founders of Communities to Protect Our Coast.

“You can never have too much information,” said Bill, explaining the importance of educational gatherings such as this symposium. “Sheri and I got involved five years ago, and attitudes were much different back then. We would try to talk to people, and they would be unreceptive, sometimes downright abusive. People are much more receptive now, there’s more awareness.”

“We haven’t been as active this year as in the previous four years,” added Sheri. “We were hoping that the change in federal government would push climate initiatives forward without our help, so to speak, but it looks like we’re going to have to sharpen our swords again.”

Trevor Dickenson, ACER member and NDP campaigner, put it well: “Education is critical. It’s the best way we have of turning awareness into action.”

Among the concerned citizens and community leaders in attendance were several members of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, including Lynn Alton, who told us that this was the best symposium she’d ever attended on the subject of climate change and added that this was “a central concern” of hers and others of the Council.

Following the break, Rob Lawrence, Parks and Open Space Planner for the City of Nanaimo, shared an overview of the legislative requirements local governments need to meet within their Official Community Plans to sufficiently address climate change. These included better transit systems to encourage citizens to ride public transportation, and equipping municipalities with fuel-efficient public service vehicles. This led into an animated discussion among audience members on the various initiatives possible or already in action within Nanaimo and the surrounding area.

The conversation continued in the lunch room, where pizza was provided for all. The subject of bettering public transportation struck a chord with Graeme Arkell, co-leader of DSS environmental club and member of VIU’s Outdoor Education Committee, who is currently focusing his Master’s on active transportation for students. “One of the issues is local speed limits. If the cars on the roads are moving more slowly, it makes it safer for students to walk or cycle to school. This decreases carbon emissions, fights student obesity and increases learning ability in the classroom.”

Set up in the lunch room was a display by Dylan Smith, representative of Cowichan Energy Alternatives, a local co-op that collects waste vegetable oil from restaurants and sells it as affordable bio-fuel for diesel vehicles. Recycled bio-diesel reduces a car’s toxic emissions by 90 percent, reduces harmful diesel exhaust and requires less energy to create than equal units of petroleum-based fuels. The co-op also, through local production and distribution, supports local business owners and reduces dependency on foreign fuels.

Last but not least, the ACER Club provided a demonstration of the chemistry of greenhouse gases. Two tanks were placed under sun lamps, both containing a thermometer. One was fed carbon dioxide through a small pipe, and almost immediately the temperature in the tank began to increase as the CO2 absorbed more of the light than the tank with regular air. A digital animation provided a visual aid for explaining how an increase in carbon molecules, despite them comprising less than one percent of Earth’s atmosphere, results in increased temperature through a process known as collisional heating.

It is safe to say that nobody left the symposium without an increased awareness of the causes, results, and possible solutions to such a pressing global issue. It was an incredibly hopeful sign to see so many people from so many walks of life participating and showing their support. More than anything, the symposium was a reminder that though climate change poses a very real threat, committed citizens will continue to band together to fight for a sustainable future.

For more information about becoming involved, or to arrange to have ACER visit your classroom or group, contact