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Eric Isaac, Catherine McKennaEric Isaac speaks with federal environment minister Catherine McKenna after a ceremonial opening to a town hall meeting, Tuesday in Assumption Hall.

Students talk climate change with environment minister

Students concerned about climate change got the chance to question Canada’s environment minister about it Tuesday during a town hall meeting at the University of Windsor’s Assumption Hall.

“We have to figure this out,” Minister Catherine McKenna said as she opened the event, livestreamed on the Environment and Climate Change Canada Facebook page.

“We can do this.”

McKenna said she has seen the effects of climate change firsthand and has heard from Indigenous people in the far north about how the caribou are disappearing, polar bears are foraging in towns, and experienced Inuit hunters have died on the thinning ice. People in Ontario and Quebec have died in heat waves and outdoor ice rinks are becoming scarce.

“The biggest myth is we don’t have to act,” she said. “Look outside. We have extreme weather all the time.”

The event opened with Eric Isaac, an elder from Walpole Island, offering a prayer. McKenna said Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis people are among the communities her government is engaging with to protect the environment and tackle climate change.

Students questioned McKenna about such topics as the role of non-governmental organizations, engaging foreign nations, and single-use plastics.

McKenna said the key to good government policies is making them “sticky,” meaning citizens support them regardless of what party is in power. 

“We need to take action,” McKenna said. “The risks are here now.”

Dean of science Chris Houser said UWindsor is an appropriate setting for a visit from the federal minister of environment and climate change.

Citing research on arctic food webs, water security issues in Latin America and the impact of sea level rise on coastal ecosystems and communities, “climate change is an important focus on research being conducted here at the University of Windsor in the humanities, law, engineering, and science,” Houser said

“If we don’t maintain the conversation, we will not be able to address climate change and commit to growing a clean economy.”

—Sarah Sacheli