Over 200 UTM students and faculty attended the geography department’s panel discussion on the decline in Canadian biodiversity on February 12.

The event focused on a report published by the auditor general of Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development last November. The report details the current biodiversity problem in Canada.

The panellists included Neil Maxwell, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development; Steven Price, the senior director of the World Wildlife Fund; and UTM’s Andrea Olive, an assistant professor of political science and geography, and Stephen Scharper, an associate professor in the anthropology department.

Maxwell presented a summary of the report and stressed the economic and national importance of conserving Canadian biodiversity.

“[There is] a lot of market pressure pushing us towards sustainability,” he said. “It’s a matter of our national interest as well.”

Despite the present decline, Maxwell remains optimistic.

“There [are] enough good stories on things that have been accomplished on environmental files in relatively short periods of time to show action can happen,” he said.

Price presented results extracted from the World Wildlife Fund’s past Living Planet Reports.

Olive stressed the need for additional government intervention and improved communication with Canadian citizens to emphasize and address the downward trend in the country’s biodiversity.

“Conservation is something that is in everyone’s interest, but nobody’s immediate self-interest, which is why we need public policy,” argued Olive. “There are a lot of things that we can do better.”

Scharper discussed the role individual Canadians play in contributing towards the problem.

“We are at a major historical moment,” said Scharper. “[The data] is calling into question the role of the human [and] the non-human world. We are the first generation that is experiencing this kind of decline [in biodiversity], not because of exterior forces, but because of our own handiwork.”

Students and faculty had the opportunity to pose questions to the panel after the discussion.

After the event, the event moderator, professor Monika Havelka of UTM’s geography department, mentioned the importance of inviting panellists from a broad range of backgrounds to discuss the issue.

“The more viewpoints we can bring, the more ways we can get people to connect with the problem, the more likely that people are going to see it as a problem, and see it as a priority, and see it as something that effects them,” she said.

“I was really delighted by the questions that showed that students were really plugged in,” she added. “[They] were definitely really following along and thinking about the real major themes that emerged.”

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