With the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicting grave consequences from global warming, a University of Guelph ecologist believes there is still reason for hope for the future and that “rapid societal change is possible.”
The IPCC report, released Monday, stated it is “unequivocal” that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, but if society is able to follow a low-carbon path, it will “yield rapid and sustained effects to limit human-caused climate change.”
Dr. Madhur Anand is the director of the Guelph Institute for Environmental Research, as well as a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences. She studies the impacts of climate change on ecosystems in Canada and worldwide, and how human behaviour and social dynamics can have dramatic effects on climate mitigation.
She and colleagues have published research that found that social learning about strategies to mitigate climate change can have an important role in climate change outcomes.
Her recent research during the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the public can effect radical change to adopt new behaviours — when motivated to do so.
“Rapid societal change is possible,” she said. “We have seen in this pandemic how willing the public and private sectors are to work together for a common goal and adopt new behaviours, if they understand the risks and benefits.”
Public messaging and actions around climate change should therefore emphasize the economic, social and environmental benefits of emission reductions, so people and sectors can see its dangers but also its net benefits, she said.
What’s needed is a multi-pronged and global approach to changing not just the narrative but the culture around climate change mitigation.
“The magnitude of changes needed may force us all to reckon with what it means to be human in the 21st century, but we really have no choice,” she said.
Also a poet and author, Anand recently won the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction for her experimental memoir, This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart: A Memoir of Halves.
She is available for interviews.
Dr. Madhur Anand