The Lakehead University climate change forum held on September 28th and 29th was wide-ranging, well-attended and vocal. Diverse perspectives were presented and discussion was often boisterous. The language of the conference was down-to-earth, not academic, and participation was balanced between Lakehead University students, faculty, members of the broader regional community and visiting guests.
About 150 people attended the conference, which explored topics like “Water and Lake Superior,” “The Bio-economy,” “Climate Modelling” and “Social Impacts.” The forum was not a series of lectures but rather an opportunity for discussion and dialogue. Audience members were encouraged to engage in discussion with panelists as well as one another.
Day one of the forum was held in the student cafe and included a climate change overview, a “photovoice” exhibit entitled, “Picturing Climate Change in Thunder Bay: Urgency, Hope, and Action,” and a student debate about whether enough is being done to deal with climate change. Additionally, Sherilee Harper gave a presentation about how climate change is affecting Indigenous peoples and Kelsey Jones-Casey provided an overview of her interviews with Lake Superior watershed residents, relating their perspectives on climate change. Accompanying Kelsey were residents of places like Red Lake and Nipigon, telling their own stories, in person, about life on the land and the changes they had observed.
Range of Topics
The second day of the conference involved 4 panel discussions. The “Water and Lake Superior” panel provided information about the wide range of activity related to climate change already taking place in the Superior watershed. The session was also an attempt to transfer information between communities with lesser and greater ability and resources for dealing with climate change. Indigenous and non-indigenous communities from around the Lake Superior watershed were represented. The Lake Superior Climate Change Impacts Report provides additional information about climate and Lake Superior.
The “Climate Modelling and Data Use” panel provided an overview of climate modelling and then examined the gap between models and real world conditions. Noting extensive damage from several major floods around Lake Superior in the last several years, participants agreed there is need for additional precipitation data or “coverage”, stressing that precipitation can vary significantly even between nearby locations.
The “Bio-economy and Climate Mitigation” session dealt with sources of carbon emissions, noting contributors like transportation but pointing out that sectors like plastic production, while not often mentioned, are also very important. The session examined the discrepancy between various parts of the world in their ability to deal with climate change. Second and third generation fuels like woody biomass were also discussed, especially since these fuels do not impact foot costs and are more abundant than agricultural products. Information about a local bio-fuel project at Confederation College in Thunder Bay was also presented.
The panel about the social impacts of climate change entitled, “Community Awareness Perspectives” concluded Day 2 proceedings. The session provided information about health impacts, food security, community initiatives and activism. As with all of the topics, audience members engaged with both panelists and other attendees, giving voice to a wide range of perspectives.
Participation included representation from U.S. Tribes and Canadian First Nations and a Day 2 presentation entitled, “First Nations and the Front Line of Climate Change” provided first-hand experience about efforts to bridge communities, cultures and efforts dealing with climate change. Representatives of the Red Rock Indian Band at Lake Helen near Nipigon as well as the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota participated on the panel.
Support for the forum was provided by the Lakehead University Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bio-Economy, the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada.