These students are building a guide to the climate crisis


Treehugger goes to school every winter when I take all my obsessions about carbon emissions, Passivhaus, and healthy materials and teach them to students of sustainable design at Toronto Metropolitan University.

For the past two years, my students have been entrusted with research papers on aspects of the climate crisis, with the aim of producing a sort of carbon encyclopedia. Some of these topics are important, such as the impact of different greenhouse gases. Some are smaller, like the impact of pets, bitcoin, or the future of hydrogen aircraft. They all had to follow the same format: an abstract, the article, references, a short biography and a 5-minute recorded video presentation explaining it.

The students are in their third and fourth years at Interior Design School and The creative school, so about half of my students come from journalism, environmental studies, photography, fashion communications, new media, etc. It’s a great mix of talented students from all over the world.

This is all largely a work in progress, with 160 submissions across 17 divisions so far varying in quality, and it will take some time to edit, fact check and put it all together. But at some point, I hope it will be a useful reference document. We just started uploading everything to but i thought i would share some of the papers here because its so interesting.

Building Design: Renovation vs. New

This is probably the biggest section of the guide, covering aspects of green building, from “mining architecture” to “electrifying everything”. A sample:

Rennie Taylor, who is in her fourth year studying photography, writes, “Which is better for the environment, renovating old structures or starting from scratch with new construction? This article explores the issue of carbon emissions in buildings, which account for 30% of all carbon emissions globally, and how to decarbonize both new and old structures.”

Clothing and textiles: Microplastics

Fashion, clothing and textiles is one of the most interesting sections so far. There’s a course called Fashion Communications at The Creative School, and, wow, can they communicate.

Alicia Lam, a fourth-year environmental and urban sustainability student with a minor in public relations, writes, “Plastic pollution has been an environmental issue that has been understood for decades, but in recent years, microplastics in clothing and textiles have emerged. , raising concerns. within this industry. Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic, either from surrounding environments or from materials breaking down from larger plastics. »

Coping with the climate: environmental impacts of pets

This section is a purse, really everything that affects our fingerprints, from Fido to Stanley Jevons, from decoupling to regrowth. Samples:

Logan Brown-DaSilva, a senior urban sustainability and environment student, writes, “In Canada, there are approximately 7.9 million cats and 5.9 million dogs, with approximately 93.6 million cats and 77. 5 million dogs in the United States. This article uses cats and dogs as a way to show the environmental impact pets have on the environment. This document includes information on the amount of CO2 equivalent emitted by cats and dogs and the impacts of pet food on the environment.

Food and design: do small kitchens make good cities?

Food, feed and agriculture make up a significant portion of our carbon footprint. Much of it is affected by the design of delivery systems, how we store it, and even how we cook it. I’ve been talking for years about how small kitchens make great cities, based on a model kitchen designed by Toronto architect Donald Chong. Of course, I had to assign it as a subject.

Madeleine Jung-Grennan, a fourth-year student in interior design after earning a degree in business management, writes, “In 2007, architect Donald Chong developed a concept called ‘Small Fridges Make Better cities,” and he was essentially proposing that if we could shop locally more often, use smaller refrigerators, and walk to the store instead of driving, it would open up our neighborhoods to less traffic and more vibrant, connected communities. This article discusses the pros and cons of this idea, exploring why it won’t work if you live in a walkable neighborhood with all your necessities close by.”

Regenerative agriculture

On a more serious note in food and agriculture:

Mary-Elizabeth Chin, currently a third-year student in environmental and urban sustainability, writes, “Regenerative agriculture is an approach to agricultural practices that acts holistically, functioning as a natural ecosystem. Some examples of regenerative agricultural practices include no-till, focus on healthy soil ecology and have crops have polyculture increasing biodiversity Regenerative agriculture considers the holistic relationship between carbon, nutrients, plants, animals and the soil, to foster a system that can ensure food security and combat climate change.

Transport: evolution of the cargo bike

When you have a class full of sharp students, you always learn something! I particularly liked this presentation where I learned how cargo bikes used to be very common for deliveries: “One of the reasons why cargo bikes were so popular among retailers as a means of distributing goods was due to the nature of the retail business itself. The retailer was a seller acting as an intermediary between the customer and the object. And as a mediator, the retailer was generally expected to deliver as well that he provides.

People didn’t have cars, so the big stores all had massive delivery fleets.

Eka Jeladze, a third-year student in the Integrated Digital Program at the School of Image Arts, writes: “This article talks about the evolution of cargo bikes and why cargo bikes are experiencing a resurgence in the world of ‘today in the daily life of ordinary citizens, as well as in logistics systems.

Design: Fast Furniture

Most people are aware of the issues with fast fashion, but fast furniture is also an issue. We used to buy things that last, but these days it’s cheaper to buy a new sofa from IKEA than to hire a mover to move a big, heavy old one from grandma’s house. .

Megan Friedrich, a fashion communications student specializing in sustainability, illustration, costume design and art direction, writes, “Fast furniture has become one of the most flawed retail practices over the past sixty years. last years. Today, furniture companies are looking for inexpensive disposable materials. instead of resilient and sustainable choices. Fast furniture has been proven to have several negative impacts on the environment, including overproduction of carbon, destruction of forests, and creation of waste.

Carbon: carbon inequality

We’ll end with a more serious topic, perhaps the most difficult problem we face in the face of the carbon crisis: the injustice of it all. The fact that “the wealthiest 1% of humans were responsible for more CO2 emissions than half of the world’s population combined” and that “nearly half of the 50 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019 issued by the richest 10%.

Wandia Muchiri, a fourth-year student from Nairobi, Kenya, studying in the interior design program, writes: “To better understand what carbon inequality is, we will first look at what this is called the carbon budget. discuss the issue of carbon inequality, how it affects the world’s population both geographically and socio-economically, and why it should inform climate change policy.”

Lloyd Alter is giving his last live talk before the pandemic, in 2020.

Lloyd Alter

In March 2020, I gave my last class in a lecture hall on campus. I started recording them because clearly something was going to happen with Covid.

In 2021, I couldn’t assign group projects or building tours; everything was virtual and my students were all over the world. I thought of this paper on the carbon crisis as a kind of plague project that could be a way for students to work individually wherever they are, working towards a collective end, a useful paper that is the sum of all their work.

This is all a work in progress. But in the end, I hope something good came out of it all. Track ongoing progress on The carbon crisis.


Comments are closed.