Standing at the centre of Sadlier House’s Hobbs Memorial Library, author and community organiser Rosemary Ganley offered a seemingly benign anecdote about an upcoming spiritual retreat in the American southwest she had recently been made aware of, asking the room full of 20-somethings if they think she should attend.
After a brief pause, a young woman in the audience answered an almost incredulous “yes”.
All those in attendance fell silent after Ganley’s follow up to this casual exchange, which brought to light the western privilege we as Canadians so often fail to take into account when going about our day-to-day lives: Would a Syrian or Iraqi citizen be offered the privilege to even consider such an opportunity?
And so began “From Climate to Culture: The Complexity of Change”, a conference that, like Ganley’s keynote address, revolved around climate change, while bringing to light broader narratives of race, gender, class and an increasingly polarised political climate in relation to what is perhaps the defining issue of our time.
“From Climate to Culture” is a milestone for the Student Association for International Development (SAID), marking a decade of annual Community Movements Conferences hosted by the organisation.
Ganley, who is the founder of the Jamaican Self Help development agency and a weekly contributor to the Peterborough Examiner, emphasised the role religion can play in everyday approaches to the issue of climate change in her presentation.
The self-described Roman Catholic feminist asserted that in a socio-economic climate that too-often puts economic needs over the environment, spiritual teachings from Aboriginal cultures, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, which emphasise the imperative for humans to exist within nature, ought to be brought to the forefront in conversations about the future of our global ecosystem.
Dr. Betsy McGregor, who like Ganley, has no qualms about upholding her traditional Catholic values while embracing the progressive cause of 3rd wave feminism, offered an intersectional approach in her Saturday morning address entitled “What have women got to do with all of this?”
McGregor pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, primarily because their voices are undervalued in negotiations regarding the matter on the global stage.
Just 19.5% of parliamentarians across the globe are women, while women are producing 60% of the world’s food.
In how to go about combatting such injustices, McGregor remained optimistic. She cited the women’s marches in response to the election of Donald Trump as examples of grassroots mobilization facilitated by mass movements of women.
On a more fundamental level, she advocated that the best way to create gender equality is for a gender-based lens to be involved in all aspects of everyday life, especially in regard to the topic of climate change.
The weekend also featured an Interactive Board Game hosted by KWIC’s Seeds for Justice and Trent Oxfam youth collectives.
Participants were each assigned the role of a country, as well as a finite amount of money and natural resources that they were expected to maintain as the game progressed.
Players took turns rolling large cardboard dice as they made their way across Sadlier House’s dining hall in an attempt to make it to the game’s finish line before the degradation of resources caused by climate change forced them to start back where they began.
One of the main takeaways the workshop’s organizers wanted to convey to participants was that while developed countries such as the United States and China are some of the largest contributors to climate change through large scale carbon emissions, it is the developing world, especially countries who rely heavily on agriculture as a means to support their expanding economies, who most profoundly feel the impacts of climate change.
Sunday’s itinerary featured two back-to-back panel discussions, one of which focused on the topic of movement building, while the other centred around policy development in the approach towards combating climate change.
Among the panel guests featured were Mike Nickerson, co-founder of the Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution, as well as May Chazan, a Canadian Research Chair in Gender and Feminist Studies who directs an activist-based research organisation called Aging Activism.
These panels, along with the teamwork exercises that followed them later in the afternoon, gave observers of the conference a chance to take the knowledge they obtained from previous sessions and provided them with guidance on transforming this information into meaningful change within their communities.
The final day of presentations also featured a networking lunch catered by Black Honey Bakery, where attendees were given the opportunity to meet with local organizers and community members involved with the conference.
Becca Kram, co-chair for the conference committee, provided closing remarks as the conference wrapped up.
The 4th year International Development Studies major expressed her gratitude towards the many presenters and organisers involved in the event for their hard work and dedication, as well as her happiness with the conference’s overwhelming turnout.
“What stood out most to me about this conference is how incredible it felt to see so many young people and community members coming together to discuss the importance of the climate crisis and its solutions. As I walked around the venue, I couldn’t believe how engaged everyone was. I am continually inspired by the passion that emanated not only from the speakers of the conference, but also the attendees. This is where I believe real change begins.”