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Supporting the environment

[City council declare's climate emergency]
Following Kingston city council's declaration of a climate emergency Queen's students Teeghan Niblett-Wilson, Grace Leydon, Mia Berloni, Councillor Robert Kiley, Julia Weder, Sabrina Weder, and Professor Diane Orihel take a moment with Trillium District Councillor Robert Kiley, who forwarded the motion. (Supplied Photo)

Kingston recently became the first municipality in Ontario to declare a climate emergency and a group of Queen’s students helped provide some last-minute momentum for the landmark motion.

During its March 6 meeting, city council voted unanimously in support of the motion that was put forward by Trillium District Councillor and Queen’s alumnus Robert Kiley (Ed’12, MPA’13)

At the meeting a delegation comprised of five students from Diane Orihel’s (Biology, Environmental Studies) fourth-year course ENSC 480 (Communication in Environmental Science) made a presentation  in support of the motion, speaking to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, environmental, and social.

At the end of their presentation the group was asked a question: Why should the individual councillors and the City of Kingston care about their impact when there are other cities contributing so much more to the environmental problem?

For Sabrina Weber (Artsci’19), highlighted the biggest barrier to addressing environmental issues.

“This is the exact mentality that we need to combat in our current society. The belief that individual action is insufficient and will be insignificant is arguably the largest contributor to environmental concerns. If everyone passes off the blame and does not take responsibility for environmental issues at hand, then there is no accountability, and improvements will not be made,” she says. “The City of Kingston made a brave decision, to admit our wrongs, and make movements to become more accountable for our actions. To make policy decisions through a climate change frame of mind, and to make climate change mitigation an urgent priority.”

Shortly after the Queen’s group’s presentation, a vote was held. It was unanimous – all 13 members of city council voted to declare a climate emergency.

For Dr. Orihel it was an important moment not only because Kingston set a precedent for other Ontario municipalities to follow regarding climate issues but also because the students provided valuable information that led to the unanimous vote.

“These five young women did a phenomenal job delivering a powerful delegation to city council: they were courageous, passionate, articulate, and professional. The councillors asked them thoughtful questions and referred to their delegation several times during their discussion of the motion prior to the vote,” Dr. Orihel says. “A number of the city councillors remarked to me that if it had not been for the student’s delegation, the vote would not have been unanimous.”

The focus of the ENSC 480 course is to teach undergraduate students to communicate environmental science to non-expert audiences, such as media, policy makers, and the public. A few weeks before the city council meeting Dr. Orihel invited Kiley to be guest speaker. At that time he informed the class he would be presenting a motion to council to declare a climate emergency. Not surprisingly, there was great interest in seeing the motion get passed and Kiley suggested that the group make a presentation to city council.

Overall, it has been a valuable learning experience for all involved says Mia Berloni (Artsci’19). While five students were in the presenting group, all 18 students in the class were involved in brainstorming and conducting research.

“The reaction to the delegation’s involvement and presentation has been extremely positive. Dr. Orihel has been instrumental in facilitating this positive experience,” Berloni says. “Through encouraging and facilitating class participation in this amazing experiential learning opportunity she has allowed us all to grow not only as communicators but as advocates. I did not expect that our delegation would help result in a unanimous vote in favor of a climate emergency. This experience has helped show me that advocacy and effective communication can have an impact on decision makers.”