Meetings, Learnings and Insights from Sudbury

By Ian (Team Deep Earth)

Our one week in Sudbury was packed with meetings, tours and a ton of information. Below is just a brief overview of the meetings I attended and some of the key learnings and information I pulled from each of them. A huge thank you to everyone in Sudbury who took the time to meet with us and share their thoughts!

  • Meeting with Jennifer Babin-Fenske from EarthCare at the City of Greater Sudbury
    • While sustainability is still often a hard sell for businesses, the re-greening of Sudbury since the 1970s has been a source of pride for some parts of the community, leading to an interest in environmental programs.
    • The recent climate negotiations in Paris, along with increased interest in sustainability from both the Federal and Provincial governments, have provided validation and encouragement for the efforts of environment focused officials at the municipal level.
  • Meeting with Rebecca Danard from reThink Green and The Forge
    • reThink Green will be launching the Green Economy North initiative on Earth Day in April as part of Sustainability CoLab. It will be a community driven, business focused, and target based network supporting social enterprise in Sudbury.
    • Sudbury is a unique city when it comes to the environment. People have first hand experience with extreme environmental degradation, but also have seen what is possible when a community comes together to support regreening and environmental stewardship.
  • Meeting with Mike Whitehouse, Constituency Manager to MP Paul Lefebvre
    • Sudbury’s economy has diversified away from just pure mining into mining supply and innovation, with hundreds of new companies supporting local mines and exporting around the world. Supporting this innovation sector will be a key focus for the MPs office in Sudbury as they believe it will be a major area for employment and economic growth in the future.
    • Mining companies were essential in the re-greening process that started in the 1970s.  Generally they do not like regulations, but once regulations are set, the mines have done a good job of meeting them and supporting community environmental restoration.
  • Chat with Professor David Pearson – Living with Lakes Centre, Laurentian University 
    • A large part of the fight against climate change will depend on municipal leadership. Cities need more incentives to switch to renewables and other sustainable technologies.
    • Dr. Pearson was optimistic that the new federal government will increase usage of science in policy making. He said that a return of expert panels as well as National/Provincial Round Tables on Science would be great to see.
  • NORCAT Underground Training Centre tour with Greg Major
    • The NORCAT training centre offers training programs to give people the basics of mining before they apply to work at an operating mine. The centre is also used by mining innovation companies to test new technologies and tools.
    • Women make up only about 5% of people trained through the mine but this is a step up from the past. Women have proved themselves to be just as capable in the mines as men, often finding better ways of tackling problems instead of relying on brute strength.
  • NORCAT tour with Kyle McCall + Meeting with CEO Don Duval
    • NORCAT began as a skilled trades training centre but has expanded into supporting innovation and engineering within mining and other sectors in the region.
    • Brain train from northern Ontario is a major issue but NORCAT and the companies that work within the building are finding ways to keep talent local through innovative work spaces, internships and access to tools/resources.
  • Meeting with team from Science North  
    • The Science Centre has focused on having real scientists involve visitors in real science throughout the exhibits. This interactive method has been a huge success for getting visitors engaged.
    • Science North has had a significant economic impact on Sudbury but it is the impact it has had as a community resource that people at the centre are proudest of. The centre serves all of northern Ontario, inspiring and engaging youth in science through outreach in Sudbury and across the province.
  • Meeting with Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger
    • The city is working with Laurentian University to create the Sudbury Protocol. The Protocol will amalgamate and then disseminate the key learnings from the years of research and implementation of re-greening in the city. This will give communities around the world access to best practices on environmental restoration, and increase demand for Sudbury environmental expertise nationally and internationally.

Thank you again to everyone for taking the time to meet with us!

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The Global is the Local

By Stephen (Team Deep Earth)

Sudbury has been the site of some of the most devastating local environmental destruction I’ve ever heard of. Throughout the 1900s the city saw vicious deforestation, “open-pit roasting,” and billowing sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from ore refineries. Together these processes eroded soil, polluted water, killed vegetation, and harmed humans on a massive scale. Sudbury infamously became a “moonscape.” A Mordor-esque landscape of bare soil and soot-covered rocks. Mayor Brian Bigger grew up in Sudbury, and in our conversation with him last Friday he mentioned that as a child he thought all rocks were black until he saw one broken open and the true grey colour within revealed.

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source: sudburysoilstudy.com

The past forty years have seen a dramatic re-greening effort undertaken collaboratively by local universities, governments, and companies. Technological development has reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by orders of magnitude and millions of trees have been planted. The moonscape is just an embarrassing memory. Still, the city maintains a focus on local environmental protection. Mayor Bigger plans to release the “Sudbury Protocol” later this year in partnership with professors at Laurentian University. The Protocol synthesizes four decades of learning from Sudbury’s regreening efforts, drawing especially on the hundreds of papers published by local academics.

In our meeting I asked Mayor Bigger about the next big environmental challenge for Sudbury. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for a particular answer. We still have some momentum from the Paris climate negotiations; there’s lots of talk about carbon pricing in Canada, and the Premier are meeting with the Prime Minister this week to get started on what we hope will be an ambitious and progressive plan to help Canada achieve its GHG emission reduction goals. Meanwhile, you can see the smokestacks of local ore refineries everywhere in Sudbury, spewing billowing clouds of white smoke. Mostly SO2 still, but with some carbon mixed in of course. I wanted Mayor Bigger’s answer, as I would want any Mayor’s answer, to be reducing GHG emissions. That’s the next big environmental challenge for all Canadian cities.

I thought it was softball question. A big, juicy changeup, thrown right down the middle for our friend Brian to smash out of the park.

Instead, Mayor Bigger answered “watersheds.” Sudbury’s next big environmental challenge was watershed protection.

On the one hand, it’s an okay answer. Watersheds are a crucially important and drastically underappreciated part of environmental protection, and when we’re talking in Sudbury about heavy metals, tailings ponds, and toxic run-off, watersheds are hugely important to consider.

But the next great environmental challenge? The follow-up to the Sudbury Protocol? The dominant environmental issue of the next 40 years? Well…

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Note that Mayor Bigger was nothing but pleasant and welcoming to us.

Throughout our week in Sudbury I kept waiting for someone to talk about carbon reductions. Granted, I was coming to Sudbury directly from the Climate Choices Conference, a conference at the Wilfrid Laurier’s Balsillie School specifically about Canadian climate policy, and knew that the week after the Sudbury trip I was off to Vancouver for Globe 2016. I had GHG reduction strategies on the brain. But I still don’t think it was unreasonable to want somebody (anybody! please!) to talk about carbon reductions. Especially in an industry-intensive city like Sudbury.

There’s a curious dynamic at play here. The horrific destruction wrought upon Sudbury in the 20th century has led to what Brenda Koziol, senior scientist at Science North, called in conversation with us a “culture of environment.” Sudbury calls itself the “Education Capital of the North” and we interviewed Dr. David Pearson at the gorgeous Living With Lakes facility at Laurentian University. But during the week we heard far more about SO2 reductions and cutting-edge toxic run-off disposal techniques than cutting carbon.

I wonder if the intense focus on local environmental issues has left the perception of Sudbury environmental concerns too narrow. Is it impossible to think hard about serious GHG cuts when you’re so worried about protecting local water sources and trees?

I thought there might be a symbiotic relationship between these concerns. That Sudburians, having seen what happens when you don’t think about the effects of industrial costs being externalized to the environment, would care deeply about all things environment. We’re basically doing to the world right now what we did to Sudbury in the 20th century. It’s happening more slowly, but on a much wider scale.

Two more thoughts:

First: it’s key, I think, that we can hear about re-greening from someone like the Mayor. He experienced the moonscape early in his life, was part of the community that took aggressive action, and has been a direct beneficiary of that action later in his life. The problem with climate change is that the cause-and-effect relationship of aggressive action and tangible benefits won’t be felt by those who take action.

Second: the Inco Superstack, Sudbury’s most iconic building, was built to alleviate the effects of local SO2 poisoning. But it didn’t actually do much in itself to reduce total SO2 emissions. It was just built really really tall so that the emissions would go higher into the air, get blown around by the wind, and be distributed over a much wider area. Somebody told us that most of the emissions now end up somewhere in Michigan.

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photo: Stephen Clare

The Superstack that solves a problem, but doesn’t really solve the problem. If the perception of what ought to be protected was wide enough, the Inco Superstack wouldn’t really solve much of anything at all.

The same thought processes that led us to build the Superstack are holding us back from dealing seriously with climate change.  Our perception of “where” ought to be protected isn’t wide enough.