Eduvation Blog

Green Rankings & Green Research for Earth Day

Good morning, and happy Earth Day! It’s the 51st annual Earth Day today – although I think we all get to skip our 2020 birthdays, so we can treat it as golden anniversary. (It’s also apparently Jelly Bean Day, Beagle Day, and Love Your Thighs Day – but somehow the Earth seems a bit… bigger.)

And since projecting the future of higher education depends pretty heavily on the future of the planet, it makes sense to look around at what’s going on…



Earth Day 2021

Whether you’re concerned with the mobility of international students, labour market demands and research needs in green technology, environmental remediation or disaster mitigation, or even the future of populations and PSE campuses in coastal regions, the future of our environment will drive key developments in the longer term…


Biden Embraces the Paris Accord

US president Joe Biden is hosting a virtual climate summit with 40 world leaders, and reputedly he will be pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 (from 2005 levels), and to reach net zero by 2050. Political divisions in congress and across state legislatures will make it challenging, but achieving the target will require significant growth in green energy production, and cuts in fossil fuel use. Some Republicans argue the “punishing” target will prompt higher energy prices and job losses.  AP


“The United States must be an undeniable global leader in climate action. We cannot preach temperance from a barstool and not pay our fair share, when approximately 40% of all the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is red, white and blue.”Ed Markey, Massachusetts senator



Global Politics Warming Too

The Huffington Post calls the summit “Biden’s climate debutante ball,” and suggests we may see more multilateral cooperation with China. Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, on the other hand, is as bad for global environmental efforts as the pandemic. (See “Biological Fukushima.”) He won election in 2019 on a promise to industrialize the Amazon jungle, and Biden is reportedly negotiating billions in aid conditional on arresting the rate of deforestation. Expect to see more pressure on wealthy nations to contribute the remaining $90B promised to a UN Green Climate Fund. And there may be pressure to waive patents on green energy tech, just as we have seen for COVID19 vaccines.  Huffington Post



CdnPSE Goes Green

As you might expect, the army of professional communicators, researchers and planners in CdnPSE are going to be timing plenty of announcements and events to coincide with the one day a year when more people think (at least a little bit) about climate change and environmental sustainability. The list that follows is definitely not all-inclusive, but gives you a sense of the range of announcements out of the gate yesterday…


Media advisories flooded the Twitterverse yesterday, as universities offered environmental experts to reporters for Earth Day interviews. McGill U profiled 3 researchers in health and social policy, earth and planetary sciences, and atmospheric physics. York U profiled 7 researchers in environment and climate change, available to discuss “the world’s ecosystems, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking.” (And there were many other examples…)


Canada’s Greenest Employers naturally wanted to remind us of their dedication to sustainability, and of course the list (published this week in the Globe & Mail) includes many CdnPSEs, including Durham C, Humber C, McGill U, Mohawk C, Red River C, UBC, uAlberta, UNBC, uToronto, uVictoria, Wilfrid Laurier U, and York U. Mohawk College made the list for the 8th time, thanks to initiatives like discounted transit and Zipcar passes, a bicycle loan program, greening its own fleet of vehicles, disposable water bottle ban, apiaries and pollinator gardens. York U made the list for the 9th time.


Institutions also reasserted their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Selkirk Collegereports it is the first CdnPSE to sign onto the SDG Accord, which already includes 207 of the world’s colleges and universities, and commits it to embedding SDGs in the curriculum and operations of the college. “From a bioswale project in the Castlegar Campus parking lot to ongoing social justice work at the Mir Centre for Peace and the college’s Indigenization Plan to its Trades Discovery Program for Women, a foundation of current work ties in well to the overall goals.”


The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings rank 1,115 universities worldwide for how their research, teaching, outreach and stewardship delivers against 17 UN SDGs – for “their social and economic impact, and for taking action to combat climate change and its impacts.” They released their results yesterday, just in time for Earth Day, and Canadian universities were quick to celebrate positive results. Simon Fraser U ranked 46th in the world, and in the top 10 globally for 3 SDGs: climate action (#7), sustainable cities and communities (#6), and peace, justice and strong institutions (#5). Dalhousie U reports that it ranks among the top 200, a “small drop” from last year, attributable to 348 new universities joining the rankings. Dal ranked 3rd in Canada on clean water and sanitation, 4th for good health and wellbeing, and 5th for life below water. (The Dal News story also provides a detailed explanation of the ranking process.) uSaskatchewan ranked 13th in Canada “for making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable,” and placed in the top 100 again this year, for 5 categories. UBC ranked 2nd in Canada for impact (13th in the world) and 1st in the world for innovation and industry partnerships, and placed in the top 10 for 6 categories. “University-industry connections are critical in bringing inventions and solutions to life, and this was certainly brought home as UBC spin-off companies AbCellera and Acuitas played significant roles in the earliest treatment and vaccine responses to the COVID19 pandemic.” (UBC itself is accelerating towards net zero emissions by 2030.) uGuelph participated in the rankings for the first time this year, and placed in the top 100 on 5 metrics. (UofG was also one of the first CdnPSEs to commit to full divestment of fossil fuel holdings in its endowment fund last April.) Universities Canada reports that more than one-third of its member institutions include the SDGs in one of their main strategies.


Western U announced on Tuesday a new interdisciplinary major, “Climate Change and Society,” which will integrate perspectives from science, social science and the humanities. “We developed this module because we believe climate change is an immense civilizational challenge, and something universities have a responsibility to teach not only in individual classes, but in an integrative way.” Addressing the environmental crisis will demand complex transformations to agriculture, transportation, energy generation, and the built environment. Western reports the major is unique in Ontario.


Carleton U shared findings of a research meta-analysis that found that natural soundscapes “can alleviate stress, improve mood and enhance cognitive performance.” Natural sounds – like waves lapping ashore, a loon call echoing across a lake, or songbirds chirping – can even decrease pain during medical procedures, and result in health outcomes “180% better.” Noise pollution, on the other hand, has negative impacts on humans and wildlife alike.




In honour of Earth Day, I’ve added another Insider Recap to the website, summing up what (for me) was a pretty intense week of research into global warming, wildfires, carbon emissions, melting icecaps, extreme weather, and the future of coastal flooding, biodiversity loss, and more.



Obviously, the topic still matters, and most future climate scenarios have the potential to disrupt geopolitics, refugees, global mobility and our campuses even more than the COVID19 pandemic…


Geopolitical Conflict

The World Economic Forum warns that a quarter of the world’s population already face extreme water shortages that are fuelling conflict, social unrest and migration – and global warming will escalate the problem. Wells, irrigation and water systems are required, and “green infrastructure” like forests, wetlands and watersheds need to be preserved. Hurricanes and coastal flooding could force 13M Americans to relocate away from the coasts by 2100 – prompting Buffalo NY to declare itself a “climate refuge city.” The World Bank projects that 143M people will be displaced in equatorial nations by 2050, and 30M migrants could flee Central America for the US. Governments are being urged to start planning “climate havens” where sheltered cities have room to grow.


“Responding to climate change and escalating inequality could provide a unifying national purpose like we haven’t had since World War II. This gets to the very heart of who we want to be as a people in the 21st century.”Thaddeus Pawlowski, Columbia U Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes



Living Like we have 1.6 Earths

COVID19’s lockdowns and recession have bought us more time, ecologically speaking: 3 weeks, to be precise. The Global Footprint Network calculates “Earth Overshoot Day” each year, the day on which humanity’s demand for resources exceeds what the planet can regenerate in that year. In 2019 it was Jul 29, but thanks to a 9.3% reduction in humanity’s ecological footprint, it was pushed back to Aug 22 in 2020. “We are living as though we had the resources of 1.6 Earths.” The news is worse for Canadians: at the rate we consume resources, Overshoot Day was Mar 18. CBC


“From the 80 billion land animals and trillions of sea creatures killed annually for food, to unchecked deforestation displacing habitats and migrations routes, to biodiversity loss and accelerating rates of extinction, the Anthropocene has made the world hell for earth’s other inhabitants.”Jan Dutkiewicz, in The New Republic



Personal Sacrifices

Recycling and energy conservation won’t have as much impact on your personal carbon footprint as reducing meat consumption, air travel and driving, observes a UBC doctoral candidate. In this era of Zoom meetings and virtual conferences, we’ve all managed to cut our air miles down, in many cases to zero. But some scientists argue that meat and dairy production contribute to as much as 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, when you include the impacts of deforestation. The solution is either a “plant-forward” diet, or “cellular agriculture” and lab-grown meat protein. Either could help preserve biodiversity and reduce the risk of zoonotic pandemics like COVID19.


Gen Z’s Perspective

73% of Generation Z are very or somewhat concerned about climate change, but the majority believe it is inevitable, according to a recent survey: 26% believe humans can stop it, 49% believe we can slow but not stop it, and 8% think it’s beyond our control. (15% have no opinion, and 2% deny it’s happening at all.) The most optimistic were males, democrats, with high incomes. Those who felt helpless observed that society is poor at collective action, or that “nature’s whims are not humanity’s to control.” When it comes to potential careers, though, 50% of Gen Z were interested in solar energy jobs, compared to just 15% who were interested in careers in coal.


5 Grand Thermal Challenges

Humanity may push the climate over the tipping point toward our own extinction, because >90% of our energy consumption involves generating or transferring heat. If research can address 5 key challenges in the next 20-30 years, we can save ourselves: 1) thermal storage systems for the power grid, 2) decarbonizing industrial processes like cement and steel, 3) cooling without dangerous refrigerants, 4) long-distance transmission of waste heat from power plants, and 5) variable conductance building envelopes (which could let heat in or out on demand). Nature Energy


Climate will Disrupt like COVID

Time observed that the debate about reopening US schools last fall was “a preview of climate-related disruption to come.” Campus precautions against COVID19 echoed 2010 plans to reopen Bangladesh schools post-flooding and make them resilient to future climate events. Extreme weather may force schools to close for days, weeks, or months. Rising temperatures make students less effective learners, even with air conditioning. “If the COVID-19 pandemic is any hint, the educational system will be woefully unprepared.” Time



COVID on Campus

Much though I would like to leave COVID19 out of today’s issue entirely, I can’t quite ignore the 54 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of 2,568 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)  


Lambton College Outbreak

At least 3 students are in isolation after an outbreak was declared this week in a Lambton College residence. More than 90 other students are living in the facility. This is the first outbreak at Lambton since the pandemic began, and it occurs with barely 2 weeks left in the semester.  Sarnia Observer


Mohawk College reports a 4th case of COVID19 in a student at the college’s Centre for Aviation Technology, at the Hamilton Airport. (I had previously reported 1.)  Hamilton News


48 More Cases at Western U

Western U reports 12 cases in its Essex Hall residence (up from 8 reported previously), 15 in Elgin Hall (up from 10), 20 in Delaware Hall (up from 16), 28 in Perth Hall (up from 9), 33 in Medway-Sydenham Hall (up from 27), and 54 in Saugeen-Maitland Hall (up from 44). (So since the last report one week ago, that’s a total of 48 new cases. Last week it was up 45 cases in a week, as most students were departing campus.)  Global




I haven’t spotted any brand-new environmentally-themed videos of note, but here’s one of my favourite pre-pandemic ones…


We’re Drinking Our Clothes

In this :30-sec teaser video, social and ecological sustainability researcher Lauren Smith says, “we’re essentially drinking our clothes.” (What a wonderful way of grabbing our attention!) That’s why her company, PolyGone Technologies, started up in the Velocity Science incubator at uWaterloo, to develop a reliable testing method for microfibres and microplastics in liquids, and filters to mitigate water pollution.  YouTube  |  Waterloo Blog




As always, thanks for reading! Please do drop me a line if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool happening on your campus, or elsewhere in the world!

Stay safe, be well, and stay green!


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