McGill, News

Science, storytelling, and stepping up: Conference highlights hope about the climate crisis

On Oct. 12 and 13, McGill University’s Bieler School of Environment hosted the “Montréal 2140: Hopeful Futures in Science and Storytelling” climate conference. The conference included a series of events that worked toward inspiring productive discourse around climate change and enabling younger generations to uncover hopeful narratives for the future. The conference brought together researchers, writers, scientists, and activists to gather a multitude of diverse perspectives, and to craft an art-centric mélange of both scientific fact and fictional storytelling.  

Over the two-day period, the conference hosted multiple panels, workshops, and keynote speakers. Much of the event discussed the newly emerging literary genre called Hopepunk—a subgenre of speculative fiction that seeks to illuminate the themes of scientific transformation, discovery, and empathy. The resulting conversations addressed the importance of art as a cathartic medium, and emphasized recognizing the privilege certain people have in regard to the immediate climate action they can take. The conference highlighted how respecting people’s diverse temporalities and methods of communication is essential to creating a space for authentic, reflective conversation.

“There’s a lot of solidarity [at this conference],” Tamara Ghandour, U2 Science, said. “When you lose hope in the world because you look at all these people in power who are just not doing anything about the environment […] it’s nice to be reminded that there […] are communities where you can foster that hope.” 

Despite these conversations taking place on campus, many attendees did not feel that McGill adopts the same attitudes towards sustainability. When asked how the conference aligns with McGill’s sustainability goals, first-year Ph.D. student B. Parazin pointed out, “McGill has yet to divest from fossil fuels, which is a pretty big sticking point.”

The Tribune reached out to McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle to enquire about McGill’s progress on its sustainability goals and objectives. Mazerolle, citing the university’s climate strategy, stated that the university was on its way to achieving its targets. 

“The University has a long-standing commitment towards sustainability and social responsibility in investment that has already expressed itself in several initiatives and measures,” Mazerolle wrote. “The University’s 2020-2025 Climate & Sustainability Strategy identifies achievable actions focused on the University’s operations and academic activities that will further position McGill as a leader among universities with respect to sustainability.”

Along with faculty-led events, the conference included an entirely student-organized panel that sparked conversations about how students can shift their mindsets to incorporate hope and optimism in their lives.

Daphne Chalmers—a third-year master’s student in the Faculty of Education and a member of the conference planning committee—expressed the value she sees in collaboration between students and faculty.

“What I was excited about here was the chance to have intergenerational dialogue because not often do students get to talk to faculty members and say what they want,” Chalmers said. “I think [the conference] breaks down some of that power dynamic.”

During the event, science communication and ecology professor Diane Dechief co-hosted a workshop that discussed prompting climate change conversations and inspiring hope in educational spaces. She examined the different ways people communicate in institutional settings and highlighted the empathy required to create genuine conversations about climate action and the future.

“I feel like in universities, we’re trained to speak and write in a certain way to participate in the disciplines we’re a part of, which is important, but it’s also really important to speak from the heart in a more casual and colloquial way because those are the real ways we think and understand each other,” Dechief said.

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