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How some scientists are trying to get us to care about climate change

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Despite life-or-death warnings to curb climate change, the western world isn’t responding as urgently as many climate scientists are hoping.

Rising sea levels and the recent string of record-breaking global temperatures aren’t resonating enough, a conservation scientist and educator said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

“Showing photos of decimated coral reef will tug at your heartstrings, but I’m not sure if it will actually change the way you vote or the choices that you really make,” said Sanjayan Muttulingam, CEO of Conservation International, a non-profit that works to protect natural resources for people’s livelihood and food.

This seems to be confirmed by the alarming admission from scientists that Canada is nowhere close to its own targets in fighting climate change. According to Muttulingam, westerners would change their behaviours if they “fully appreciated how this is impacting their own lives in a real way.”

CTVNews.ca spoke to Muttulingam and a climate change economics professor who both say they’re part of a growing cohort attempting to answer people who are bluntly asking: “Who cares? How’ll this actually affect me?”

They’re hoping to re-frame the scientific conversation by explaining how climate change is ruining the things people love and impacting their personal finances.

“Science isn’t science, until it’s communicated,” Muttulingam argued. But by failing to always put “humans at the centre of the equation,” he believes scientists inadvertently misjudged their audience.

“When it starts hitting our pocketbooks, our jobs, or the health of our children, that’s when you are going to start seeing consumers more willing to act than ever,” he said.

A bartender serves two mugs of beer at a tavern in Montpelier, Vt. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Toby Talbot

Beer and coffee: future luxury items?

One key way to potentially get people to care about climate change is showing how the foods which they take for granted such as chocolate, coffee, wine, avocados, meat, and beer will become luxury items due to the effects of a warming planet.

According to one study, if barley prices keep climbing, the price of beer will double in North America, triple in Ireland, and rise five-fold in the Czech Republic.

“The research is really to alarm people in the U.S. and Canada, if they still want to have the same quality of life they have right now,” the study’s co-author Dabo Guan, a climate change economics professor at the University of East Anglia in England, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

He considers beer among “luxury essentials” because people don’t need it to live but it’s a key part of “social entertainment and even social stability.”

Guan said climate change research involving food has mostly focused on crop yield which can have life-or-death consequences for people. But research has been less focused on higher-quality crops — “more sensitive to climate change” — which are used in processed foods like beer, chocolate and coffee.

Muttulingam agreed and called these items staples of “everyday minimal living” and “expected parts of life, just as having bread for a sandwich would be part of life.” And driving that point home could reframe the conversation for people on the sidelines, he said.

In this April 29, 2013, file photo, Jon Kirkpatrick carries a solar panel up to Bevan Walker for an installation for SunCommon in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo / Toby Talbot, File)

Scientist: Make it about the economy

Muttulingam said scientists need to do more to show how climate change is intertwined with people’s top priorities, including jobs, “your taxes, what money you’re taking home and the impact to you this year and the next year.”

For example, activists need to hammer home the message that for people living in coastal areas hit by increasingly stronger storms, not responding to climate changes means a spike in insurance rates. Non-coastal residents may also be hit with higher taxes to “help folks who are in more serious conditions” as a result of storm damage.

Climate change researchers also need to showcase potentially big savings for people: taking action to conserve the environment can lead to a more affordable cost of living, scientists say. There is money to be made thanks to green jobs and energy independence through solar panels or wind power.

“There’s far more jobs to be had in tapping the abundant free energy that’s floating around on this planet” than people realize, Muttulingam said.

Climate change is affecting our health

Another aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked is putting a face to how climate change threatens good health, clean water and air and increases deaths, Muttulingam said.

Heat waves, forest fires, flooding, and exposure to fine pollutants — which can increase premature deaths from heart disease, strokes or lung cancer — all threaten lives around the globe, according to The Lancet’s most recent report on health and climate change.

To spur on parents to act, Muttulingam urged educators not to shy away from conveying how children are unwittingly on the front lines of the climate change effects: they face a higher risk of asthma and air pollution has led to 600,000 children dying annually.

In November, Muttulingam saw how alarming it was for people to see children and adults in face masks to protect themselves from wide-spread pollution in San Francisco, which forced the closures of schools, universities and museums.

“It’s very real. You definitely get the sense that something dramatic has just happened,” he said.

A group of school children walk on street with face mask because of high pollution in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Because of high pollution mixed with fog. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

Learning to understand the long-term impacts

Scientists might also need to concede that people have difficulty grasping abstract ideas and planning for decades ahead, Muttulingam said.

“We consistently underestimate long-term risk and consistently overestimate short-term risk … we just haven’t evolved to be able to deal with that,” he said, calling for more research and predictive models to focus on the immediate future, or in two-year outlooks.

Additionally, Guan said that for scientists to get climate change from the abstract world to the practical one, it will require more multidisciplinary research that can help develop a clearer narrative for people.

For Guan’s own beer study, he wrangled experts in crop growth, climate patterns and economics who all helped develop an encompassing, down-to-earth message: less barley crops will lead to more expensive beer.

To this end, Muttulingam said scientists need to realize climate science in written reports and peer-reviewed articles are a great first step but aren’t the “most effective way to communicate in a hyper connected world.”

He urged scientists to use every tool at their disposal to educate the public, including videos and targeting climate research to different demographics based on what is important to them.

The steel mills in the Hamilton waterfront harbour are shown in Hamilton, Ont., on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Why the western world needs to lead on this

Guan said there is an urgency to “make sustainable consumption fashionable” to the average person, particularly in the developed world. This is important because it could lead to changes in government attitudes, more adherence to the science and potentially starting a trend that could be adopted by developing countries.

Canadian greenhouse-gas emissions make up only 1.6 per cent of the global GHGs so even cutting them by 50 per cent wouldn’t be that significant to the world overall, according to one analysis from the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at Western University. But Guan said the hope is to influence the emerging consumerist lifestyles of nearly 1.4 billion Chinese people and 1.3 billion people in India.

“They want our lifestyles … but unfortunately we only have one planet,” Guan said, referencing developed countries’ rate of greenhouse gas emissions and eating habits. “The planet is not going to have enough resources to have over two billion more people with our lifestyles.”

One study showed how the developing world can’t sustainably have the same living standards as the West. So Guan said westerners need to curb their own negative impact on the environment.

Otherwise, Guan said, it’s “going to be a disaster. We’d all need to all go to Mars basically.”

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Canadian tech diversity and inclusion in the spotlight

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Diversity and inclusion are hot-button issues, but for all the attention they get, there’s still work to be done in the tech sector, according to a recent Gartner blog.

Citing a range of challenges that include pay inequity, lack of diversity in corporate management, and difficulty recruiting diverse talent, the blog suggests three possible remedies for organizations trying to become more diverse and inclusive: having a long-term plan but focusing on one aspect that will make the most benefit, setting targets and making leadership accountable, and committing resources.

The call for such strategies finds support in a report from the Brookfield Institute revealing that Canada’s technology sector has a disappointing track record when it comes to inclusion and equity, with women “four times less likely to be employed in the sector than men, and earning on average $7,300 less than men in technology jobs.”

The findings are just as grim in a January 2020 report funded by Canada’s Future Skills Centre. According to this document, despite corporate commitments to diversity, “decades of initiatives designed to advance women in technology have scarcely had an effect: The proportion of women in engineering and computer science in Canada has changed little in 25 years.”

And women are not the only disadvantaged group, says the report. “The under-employment of skilled immigrants and under-representation of women and other groups in the ICT industry suggests that recruitment and retention policies and practices of the very firms complaining about this [skills] gap may be contributing to the problem.”

Until we do a better job of addressing inclusion and diversity, career opportunities will continue to be limited for women, internationally educated professionals, racialized minorities, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. In addition to being a very human issue, this is also one that perpetuates the ICT skills gap by failing to tap into a supply of well-qualified labour.

On the bright side, there are technology companies and organizations across Canada that are truly determined to create opportunities for those who are under-represented in the digital talent pool. There is also an opportunity to recognize their efforts during Channel Innovation 2021: Adapting to the New Customer Experience, a 2.5-hour, virtual event on April 28, 2021.

A showcase for independent software vendors (ISVs) and Canadian channel innovators, the Channel Innovation 2021 celebration will take place on CIA-TV, a unique ITWC platform that allows the audience to take in the show, download related content and videos, and network in live breakout rooms. There are six award categories, including the C4 Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Nominating is simple. Whether a self- or third-party nomination, there are only two main questions to answer and an opportunity to include a supporting document or image.

Winning entries will be announced during the celebration and profiled in the Channel Daily News Magazine and in Direction Informatique, ITWC’s French-language publication devoted to the Quebec marketplace. They will also receive a digital badge for use on their websites and on social media to help gain industry-wide recognition and end-user exposure.

The media attention and recognition are reason enough to vie for this honour, and we always need things to celebrate during a global pandemic, but the real value in awards for diversity and inclusion is in setting an example for others to follow. The news is full of the ways we are falling down when it comes to equity in the IT sector. Let’s take some time to highlight the success stories and encourage other tech innovators to step up.

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Leading Canadian tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar to give virtual keynote in Peterborough on March 9

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, one of Canada’s leading female tech entrepreneurs will be giving a virtual keynote for residents of Peterborough and the Kawarthas on Tuesday, March 9th at 7 p.m.

The Innovation Cluster is hosting Saadia Muzaffar as part of its ‘Electric City Talks’ series.

Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur, author, and passionate advocate of responsible innovation, decent work for everyone, and prosperity of immigrant talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She is the founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub for Canadian women in STEM, and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, a group of business people, technologists, and other residents advocating for innovation that is focused on the public good.

In 2017, Muzaffar was featured in Canada 150 Women, a book about 150 of the most influential and groundbreaking women in Canada. Her work has been featured in CNNMoney, BBC World, Fortune Magazine, The Globe and Mail, VICE, CBC, TVO, and Chatelaine.

Muzaffar’s March 9th talk, entitled ‘Redefining Term Sheets: Success, Solidarity, & The Future We Want’, will inspire women to achieve success in all areas of life, including in business by providing strategies for obtaining funding.

“It is impossible to explain how women only get 2.2 per cent of funding for their ventures while we constitute a majority of the population, without acknowledging long-standing structural and systemic bias,” Muzaffar says, describing her talk. “Women know these odds in our bones because we feel them in too many boardrooms, banks, media advertisements, and venture competitions — yet women are the fastest-growing demographic in new businesses.”

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ARK’s Cathie Wood joins board of Canadian tech firm mimik

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ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood is joining the board of Canadian technology company mimik.

Vancouver-based mimik is an edge computing company that effectively turns devices like phones into private cloud servers. It has already teamed up with Amazon Web Services and IBM on edge computing – two of the bigger players in the space.

The AWS partnership gives software developers access to mimik’s cloud platform. Together, edge devices including smart phones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) products can act as extensions of the AWS cloud. With the IBM partnership, mimik’s technology will be included in automation and digital transformation across manufacturing, retail, IoT and healthcare.

All of mimik’s business lines fit in with Wood’s broad ‘next generation internet’ thesis, one of her big five investment themes. The company itself is private and Wood is not an investor. 

However, as Citywire noted in January, Wood has hinted in interviews that ARK is exploring the launch of a private markets strategy. 

Wood joins a relatively high profile board at mimik. Other members include  Allen Salmasi, a pioneer in mobile technology who was previously with Qualcomm, and Ori Sasson, managing director of Primera Capital, who was an investor in VMWare and other technology companies.

‘I’ve always believed in backing founders who are at the forefront of innovation,’ Wood said in a statement on her decision to join mimik. ‘At mimik, [they] have built a foundation for the next generation of cloud computing.’ 

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