Climate change may not seem to have anything to do with COVID-19, but for university climate change researchers, the connection is obvious. “A pandemic truly touches everyone on the planet, and climate change is the same,” says Alison Criscitiello, director of the University of Alberta’s Canadian Ice Core Lab, one of several university-based institutions studying the ice formations in Western Canada. The struggle for institutions and governments to adapt to COVID is like a trial run for the much bigger disruptions that climate change researchers are helping to forecast. “COVID was a matter of weeks, whereas climate change is sort of a slow, progressive problem that is only going to get more severe,” says Brian Menounos, professor of earth sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).
One way to get us ready is to provide us with as much information as possible, and universities may be better equipped than any other type of organization to provide it. That’s partly because they are free to devote a lot of time and money to gathering facts other groups might find unpleasant: Menounos says an advantage for university scientists is that they are able to “not worry about the political ramifications if they publish a paper that is suggesting, for example, that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” But it’s also because climate change and universities have something in common: they’re both global and local. Climate change affects the whole world, but it affects different areas in different ways.
For universities in Western Canada, studying climate change means understanding the big picture, but also the local and surrounding communities.