Hundreds gathered at Convocation Hall in February to hear former U.S. vice-president Al Gore deliver his now famous speech about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Many who couldn’t get tickets to the sold-out presentation stood outside, handing out pamphlets or holding up signs saying, “Heed the Goracle.”
Global warming has been prominent in the news this year, since former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern issued his 700-page report on climate change, with stark warnings that before the end of this century rising temperatures could wipe out 20 per cent of the global economy and displace as many as 100 million people. Stern’s report was the most comprehensive yet about the perils of delaying action on climate change.
Although Stern notes, quite rightly, that the private sector will play an important role in developing new low-carbon technologies, universities will also play a vital part – educating the next generation about climate change, working with industry to develop new energy sources and transportation technologies, and working with government to devise effective policies. In previous issues of U of T Magazine, we’ve written about research into alternative energy sources, as well as U of T’s own attempts to reduce its ecological footprint. In this issue, we take a historical look at a man who argued for the importance of conservation long before it became fashionable.
When Bernhard E. Fernow, the founding dean of U of T’s Faculty of Forestry, was hired a century ago, modern-day resource management didn’t exist. Trees were harvested with little regard for the environment or future needs. Shortly after the faculty opened, in the fall of 1907, Fernow presciently stated, “Only a radical change in attitude – a realization that forest conservation is a present necessity and that existing methods are destructive of the future – will bring forward the needed reform.”
A hundred years later, U of T’s Faculty of Forestry is at the forefront of the green revolution in Canada. One faculty member, Mohini Sain, is developing ways to use wood fibres in plastic products. Some day soon, says Sain, plant materials could make up as much as 25 per cent of a car. Professor Tat Smith, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, is investigating ways to wean the pulp-and-paper industry – a voracious consumer of energy – from fossil fuels.
Other faculty members are investigating climate change and habitat loss. What’s interesting about much of this research is that it’s cross-disciplinary. This approach, which draws on expertise from a variety of fields to investigate a problem, is becoming increasingly common at universities – and has been used with considerable success at the Wasser Pain Management Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Dr. Allan Gordon, who co-founded the centre, treats chronic pain using cognitive-behavioural counselling, acupuncture, biofeedback and other non-traditional techniques (as well as some more traditional ones). Importantly, patients are encouraged to help develop their own treatment plan. Patient Catherine Seton was so impressed with the Wasser Centre that she now gives presentations about her experience. “They make you feel in control of the process,” she says.
By bringing artificial intelligence into chemistry, Prof. Aspuru-Guzik aims to vastly shrink the time it takes to develop new drugs – and almost everything else