York works towards net zero emissions

(Riddhi Jani)

While there are still some individuals who question climate change, there’s no doubt amongst the majority of people regarding the topic. Among the scientific community, it is widely agreed that climate change, specifically man-made climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels, is having a great impact on the world as a whole. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is certain at this point that carbon dioxide concentrations are being caused by humans; we are burning too many fossil fuels. Here, in Toronto, people can tell just by stepping outside. Winter has been unusually warm this year, with sparse snowfalls punctuated by long stretches of sunny, almost-spring-like weather. 

The Weather Network recently reported that the temperature has reached record-highs and was breaking previous records of hottest days in the month of February. Senior Climatologist Dave Philips has also cited this year’s winter as being “cancelled” in Toronto. What was previously an average of 34 days below -10 C was down to nine cold days this past December – February.  

The question to ask is: what do we do?

Nowadays, the best course of action many of us can take is finding ways to mitigate the damage happening rather than trying to “fix” it. According to José Etcheverry, an associate professor and researcher who specializes in climate solutions, mitigation and adaptation is the purpose of finding ways to reduce the amount of damage we have put on the environment. 

For Etcheverry, the rise in temperature, and even the breaking of temperature records, is nothing new or spectacular. “It’s called climate change for a reason. We’re changing the climate [by] burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow, and the consequences are clear to everybody. What’s less clear are the solutions,” he says.

The idea of man-made climate change has already been concluded by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The problem is clear, but the solutions are a topic of debate.

Originally the focus of climate activists in the 80s and 90s was about adapting to the effects of change. It was believed that as long as climate change’s impacts were linear, they could be managed. However, activists were unaware that the problem we were all facing would grow exponentially over the years. Now, the problem has become exponential, and though not surprising, the impact is starting to change many norms. Attempting to adapt to the changing climate is not as effective as mitigating the effects via reducing our carbon footprint. To that end, many professors and students are beginning to work on said problems — including students and staff at York.

Since 2022, Etcheverry has been partnered with the town of Penetanguishene, a small community in North Ontario, and is now the lead researcher at the Climate Change Solutions Park. His goal is to create solutions for many of the problems concerning climate change, and to help teach others what they can do to make positive changes. 

Climate Change Solutions Park is a joint effort, involving students, local and Indigenous partners, and many others, all of whom are working together to come up with solutions to the climate crisis. These include electric powered-vehicles, trains and bicycles that run off of renewable solar voltaic power cell generators, and buses and cars that run on other sources of clean renewable energy. For the water, scientists are creating floating power stations for boats. The goal of these efforts is to bring Toronto’s net emissions down to zero by at least 2040. 

As Etcheverry says, “The solutions are really simple. [We] need to stop burning fossil fuels promptly, and the sooner, the better.” If we want to fix the problem we need to stop burning so many fossil fuels with reckless abandon.

According to Mark Winfield, a professor at the faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Toronto had to make significant changes to its infrastructure. Toronto as a whole has taken the strategy of adopting the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, a strategy to reduce the city’s carbon emissions to a net zero by 2040. 

Winfield adds that much of the initiative deals with “building retrofits and decarbonization of space heating, decarbonization of transportation, support for active transportation, and the decarbonization of energy supplies and city operations.” 

York’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change has always tackled the topic, but now other sectors of the university are starting to pivot their curriculum towards environmentally conscious policies. 

In addition to Toronto, York also aims to reduce energy consumption of fossil fuels to zero and achieve net zero by 2040. According to Winfield, the university has assigned an energy task force committed to carbon reduction in areas such as transportation and buildings. Both Lassonde School of Engineering and Schulich School of Business have also begun to adopt environmentally conscious curriculum for the future.

“Research is taking place across a wide range of themes: climate policy and mitigation, including things like carbon pricing and sustainable and decarbonized energy systems; community energy and climate planning; climate justice; the impacts of a changing climate, both in urban areas and the north; and the development of specific technologies like smart electricity grids,” adds Winfield. 

York’s pledge to combat climate change is modeled after the UN’s proposal to fight climate change. York pledged to meet the goals set by the UN by 2040, a goal approximately 10 years earlier than expected. Students are studying more in the field of climate law, carbon emission taxes, and the shift of a pure net-zero carbon output. York is researching business strategies that put the health of our planet first.

When we talk about living in an era of climate crisis, the argument is still often framed as hypothetical. “What can we do when this happens? How will this affect future generations? When should we be worried?”

“The people that change the world are those that start working to change the world. And that requires people that understand that family, community, friends — it’s all that matters. If you think that way, how can you go wrong?” says Etcheverry.

We’re living in an era of climate change, but I never want to end one of my articles discussing the climate crisis with a message of pure doom and gloom. The truth is more complex than that. We’ve brought ourselves to a place where we need to accept that life isn’t going to be how it was 20 years ago. We may thrive, we will probably survive, and we’ll still have to go to work tomorrow. Right now, the choices we make will decide what kind of future we will live in.

About the Author

By Bradley Hoskins

Assistant News Editor


Bradley Hoskins is a writer, actor, theatre playwright, and filmmaker, who has been studying at York University for over eight years. He has been studying in both film and theatre, focusing on writing and performance. As the Assistant News Editor, he hopes to broaden his field of knowledge into the territory of journalism and reporting.


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