Dialing for Change

This past semester, I had the honour and privilege of teaching 16 amazing first year students through a First Year Seminar course, Cool Heads for a Hot Planet: Canada and Climate Change at the University of Guelph. We spent the semester studying climate change from an interdiscplinary perspective, incorporating science, geography, social impacts, cultural implications, economic effects, and politics. We simulated the Conference of the Parties. We Skyped with my Inuit colleagues from Nunatsiavut, Labrador. We had guest speakers. And we had many, many discussions and debates.

After weeks of grappling with the complexities of a changing climate and environment, as a group, we felt we could no longer sit idly by and simply study. We wanted to do something. Something that would allow us to share our concerns and our fears about climate change, but also our hopes and beliefs in the creative potential of humanity to come together to mitigate, adapt, and move forward. From this desire for citizen action, and believing in the importance of creating dialogue, Robocall Steve for Climate Action was born. Wanting to approach to event with levity and positive energy, we decided to play off the recent ‘Robocall’ scandal (especially since Guelph is the epicentre of it all), and agreed that if politicians can robocall us, then we can robocall them right back: except this time about climate change.

On April 4th, students, staff, and community members gathered in the University of Guelph’s outdoor courtyard to Robocall Steve and share a simple, non-partisan message. With approximately 300 people making phone calls from the courtyard and inside the Robot-shaped call booth, the event was a great success. People were respectful. Joyous. Happy. And proud to be exercising their democratic rights and responsibilities of active citizenry.While politics may have played a role for some, the event itself was about transcending politics, about coming together as citizens who have to share this planet, and who are quickly realizing that many of our fellow human beings are already suffering the negative impacts of climate change.

As a social scientists who has spent the last four years collaboratively researching with Inuit colleagues about the impacts of climate change on health (particularly mental health), I have witnessed the ways in which Canadian Inuit in Canada are experiencing rapid disruptions in their ability to hunt, fish, trap, and travel to cabins: disruptions which affect culture, livelihoods, and health. I have become increasingly uneasy about the often-slow pace of research, and the time it can take for research to translate into policy. The changes are moving much faster, and we can’t seem to keep up. I have also become increasingly uneasy about Canada’s current standing on climate change issues domestically and on a world stage. And have continually felt that we all need to do more. Say more. Act more.

As an instructor, I have always believed in the importance of transcending classroom boundaries, of moving curriculum beyond the walls of the University, of uniting academic learning and knowledge with citizen action. And I saw the proof of this need on April 4th. My students were simply awe-inspiring. Passionate. Motivated. Active. Engaged. Educated. Knowledgeable. And contagious! And throughout it all, never angry, never rude, never disrespectful. Peaceful. Joyous. And this translated to the crowd. Callers said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I really appreciate you taking my call’. People were joining together in friendship and community under one goal: to remind politicians that as Canadians — that as humans on this planet — we need something to be done. There is no Planet B.

We need more of this. We need more events and dialogue and phone calls and gatherings and citizen engagement. We need more courses that inspire students to move beyond the classroom wall. We need more students like Afnan Bagader, Vanita Buchoon, Alexandra Buffone, Morgan Dobroshinsky, Emma Genest, Michelle Grover, Jocelyn Keeson, Sukhchan Lail, Kayley Langdon, Neda Mirjabari, Joanna Rees, Shannon Regan, Tyler White, Amanda Wilkins, Hilary Worm, and Melissa Zigler.

Keep the momentum going. Organize your own events. Make your own phone calls. Keep calling with the same message. Share it. Do it for us!

Now it’s your turn…!

Events like this wouldn’t happen without the support of great people. We have been blessed and privileged to work with Abid Virani throughout this entire process, and to have Abid employ his talents as a filmmaker and director for our events. Abid was assisted by Siomon Willox, a grade 11 student at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, and co-op student for Abid’s charity, I Have Hope. We also received great advice and guidance from Geoff Loughton, Gracen Johnson, and Yvonne Su, the students behind Guelph’s successful Vote Mob movement, and in particular, we thank Geoff for the simple yet elegant suggestion of putting ‘robo’ in front of ‘call’.

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