York University’s free Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living is an innovative, interdisciplinary and open access program that gives participants the opportunity to earn a first-of-its-kind digital badge in sustainable living.
Throughout the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, six of York University’s world-renowned experts share research, thoughts and advice on a range of critical topics related to sustainability. Their leadership and expertise, however, extends beyond the six-minute presentations.
Over the next several weeks, YFile will present a six-part series featuring the professors’ work, their expert insights into York’s contributions to sustainability, and how accepting the responsibility of being a sustainable living ambassador can help right the future.
Part two features Assistant Professor Lina Brand Correa.
Lina Brand Correa is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) and a coordinator for the Business and the Environment graduate diploma. Her research uses an ecological economics lens and focuses primarily on energy and well-being issues, and their intersection. She is interested in exploring topics all along the energy chain, from “EROI” – or energy return on investment – on the energy supply side, to “energy poverty” on the energy demand side, and many other topics in between.
A champion of energy transformations, rather than simply reforms or transitions, Brand Correa’s work is as illuminating as it is pressing. Warning her students and contemporaries about the dangers of the rebound effect – whereby advances in energy efficiency result in greater energy use due to reductions in cost, such that any possible energy savings are undone before they are realized; the necessity for reductions in overall levels of energy use, particularly in the Global North; and the injustices embedded in an extremely unequal energy landscape – she demonstrates the immediate need for perspective shifts, not just in the realm of technology, but in the social, economic and political spheres as well.
Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change?
A: To me being a sustainable living ambassador means enacting, in your day-to-day life, the type of world you would like to live in. Every day we play all sorts of different roles. Yes, we are consumers and our consumption choices matter, but we are so much more than that: we are citizens, friends, family and community members, students, teachers, employers and employees, activists, teammates, carers, neighbours, campaigners, customers, constituents and voters, and so on.
By realizing that we play all these roles, and thinking about how we can work to create the world we would like to live in in all the spheres where we interact with others, I think sustainable living ambassadors can foster positive change. However, this work requires asking difficult questions, of ourselves and of others, and actively deciding to do things differently. Importantly, this will likely include increasing the spheres where we interact with others, as it is only as broader communities, rather than as individuals, that we will foster true change.
Q: What would make you most proud for viewers to take away from your lecture, and the series as a whole?
A: From my lecture in particular, I would be very proud if viewers could take away a critical lens on current energy issues, questioning proposed solutions that focus exclusively on technological improvements. Our climate and energy issues are not a technological problem which we can engineer ourselves out of. Our climate and energy issues are embedded in broader social, economic and political issues, and this is the time to tackle them. And I think that is the message of the series as a whole: we cannot forget about people and society when we are thinking about solving environmental challenges.
Q: Equity and equality are a common theme throughout these sustainability lectures. Why is that such a critical component of sustainability?
A: In my view, equity and justice are central to sustainability for two main reasons. On the one hand, we cannot achieve sustainability with high levels of inequality. High concentrations of income and wealth are linked to disproportionally high levels of environmental impact. This is certainly true for greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. Both between and within countries, there are certain segments of the population who are disproportionally driving emissions. So tackling carbon and energy inequalities is key for sustainability, including addressing extravagant levels of wealth accumulation and income inequality.
On the other hand, addressing inequalities is the ethical thing to do. We can’t focus on saving our ecosystems without focusing on bringing everyone along. Many climate and energy policies are proposed and assessed in relation to their environmental outcomes. However, the social outcomes of climate policies are just as important, if not more. That means, amongst other things for example, correcting the wrongs of the past at an international level – including extractive colonial practices that remain today as unequal terms of trade and debt-based financing – and lifting people out of poverty and deprivation, for example, through guaranteed access to basic services.
Q: Are there changes you’ve made in your work at York that other York community members can learn from?
A: In my work at York, I’ve tried to change my teaching style to focus on preparing students to deal with real-life situations, rather than staying in a conceptual world. I encourage students to relate what we are learning in class to their day-to-day lives and to what they are seeing around them, in the news, on social media, in politics, at the workplace. I also try to encourage them to be creative about change, how it can happen and what can the future look like.
Moreover, I try to engage with initiatives that seek to generate change at a broader level. For instance, I follow the work of YUFA’s Climate Emergency Committee and York U Fossil Free, and will also be following the work of York University’s Office for Sustainability.
Q: How do you view collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility in creating a more sustainable future?
A: I think we need both, in tandem. Collectively we need to enable and support people to be able to make individual decisions that support a more sustainable future. And individually we need to make changes that will push the collective to take the responsibility for creating the conditions for such a future.
Q: How is York leading the way towards a more sustainable future?
A: Sustainability is a key area of focus in my own Faculty (EUC), where many of my colleagues and I research and teach with a focus on environmental and social justice. York U’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Mike Layton, is an alum from EUC’s Master’s in Environmental Studies (MES). Like Mike, many of our alumni go on to make real change towards sustainability in their communities and work environments. It is there, in our alumni, where I see York having the greatest impact towards a more sustainable future.
York is also considering questions of sustainability across its own operations, taking important and commendable steps. The University has an Office of Sustainability, tasked with collegially developing a shared vision of a sustainable future, setting targets and strategies, implementing and promoting them, and monitoring the University’s progress towards that vision. However, given the scale of the interlocked crises we are facing, there is still much more to do (for example divestment from fossil fuels). I think York has the potential to truly lead the way towards a more sustainable future, in all aspects of University life, but it requires bold and brave actions from everyone in the University community.
Visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living to see Brand Correa’s full lecture, as well as those by the other five experts, and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador badge. Watch for part three of this series in an upcoming issue of YFile. For part one, go here.