Current generations are ‘the most profligate that have ever lived’

York Professor Emeritus John Warkentin has seen many changes in the world over his academic career but none so dramatic as the impact of climate change and population growth.

On Wednesday, Warkentin was given an honorary degree by York University in recognition of his leading international reputation as a historical geographer and his efforts to raise the profile of Canadian history, as well as for his contributions to the University as an outstanding teacher and colleague.

John WarkentinLeft: John Warkentin

In his comments to graduands of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Warkentin urged those present to take a leadership role in ensuring fairness and equity continue to be a strong part of Canada, and to be leaders in developing solutions to problems that threaten the planet.

“We in Canada have learned these important lessons of equality as well as any country on earth, and that is to our credit. It is something we must hold on to,” said Warkentin. “This belief in fairness and equality is something that you have experienced at York and you must be leaders to maintain that in the larger Canadian community, a community of which you already are part as young men and women.”

He recalled starting his own university studies in 1945 and his pursuit of graduate studies in geography in the 1950s, noting the dramatic changes that took place in the decade following the Second World War. “We thought we were building a new Canada, as urban and regional planning were coming into their own, as new resources were developed, as communications were improved, and as a new consumer society emerged after the austerity of the great depression of the 1930s and after World War II.”

This heady mentality came at great cost, he told graduands. “My generation and the ones after mine are the most profligate that have ever lived on the face of the earth in consuming resources, and the most destructive in the damage that humans have inflicted on the environment,” he said. “The greatest problems in the world today are related to the continued availability of good water, adequate food and safe energy, and of course, all of these problems have been magnified by climate warming and differential population growth in the world.

“I am concerned about your welfare in this world where my generation has created great environmental problems,” he said. “But I am desperately troubled and worried about the world your children and grandchildren will live in. We are all the custodians of our environment now and will have to work to put things right.”

Warkentin urged graduands to strive to be well informed of these issues and be ready to talk effectively and develop solutions. “These issues won’t go away. Solutions have to be sought,” he said. “All of you are affected and each one of you can have a positive impact in protecting this earth of which we are all a part.”

In his parting words, he asked those present to use their York education to think clearly in terms of the next decade and to remember the University’s legacy to them. “A culture of respectfulness for others; an awareness that important things need to be accomplished in the world just to keep it a safe home for humans; and the capacity to be prepared for continuing personal change.”

York’s 2011 Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Warkentin’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.