We are all familiar with the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” and one of Trent’s leading experts considers this lens through his work in the areas of climate and energy policy and community-based sustainability. Dr. Stephen Hill, newly appointed director of the Trent School of the Environment, is helping solve the climate change crisis one community-based research project at a time.
“Often these big issues, like climate change and climate adaptation, can feel overwhelming, but getting involved at a local level, you can see small changes happening, even if they sometimes seem excruciatingly slow,” Professor Hill explains. “Cities like Peterborough don’t have the financial tools and resources to deal with climate change, but by getting involved in committees and groups, we can help citizens understand the economic and climate benefits of investing in green infrastructure and preserving our natural heritage.”
Prof. Hill has been an active member of the Sustainable Peterborough coordinating committee since its inception, and also chaired its Climate Change Working Group. This initiative is a unique partnership between the City and County of Peterborough, local First Nations and community partners, to advance local sustainability. The group leverages significant external funding and influences regional planning and programming. He has also served on the board of Peterborough GreenUp--the region’s leading organization focused on climate action, environmental education, and community resilience--for eight years.
Encouraging students to take action
Through the Trent Community Research Centre, Prof. Hill and his students have partnered with local municipalities on a range of research projects. He believes that allowing students to get involved with and learn from various community stakeholders is invaluable.
“We don’t know the pathway that a student will follow in their career, but these projects give them the opportunity to be engaged in the world they live in and this is one of the many benefits Trent provides. I think it builds on the legacy of people like founding president Tom Symons,” Prof. Hill shares. “Professor Symons was very involved in public affairs and always held that the University’s role in our communities and society is to encourage students to see that the things we discuss in the classroom matter in the real world.”
Research that counts
For over a decade, first-year students in the Environmental Science & Sustainability course (ERSC 1010H) Studies have served as citizen scientists, collecting data on bike and pedestrian patterns in the City of Peterborough. Every year on the same days, around 50 students were placed in different locations across the city to count cyclists and pedestrians.
“Doing it year after year after year, on the same day helped the city analyze trends and changes as they add new infrastructure, like bike lanes and dedicated pedestrian crosswalks,” explains Prof. Hill, adding that this project is just one of many such opportunities for students.
Another important project in partnership with the City of Peterborough is the work of recent Environmental Science/ Studies graduate, Andrew Clark, who did extensive research on the impact that the implementation of stormwater management fees could have in Peterborough.
Prof. Hill and his students are active outside of Peterborough too. Currently, Greg Waclawek, a student in the Sustainability Studies graduate program, is completing a Mitacs-funded internship with the Region of Durham to gain a better understanding of the region’s community energy planning. Greg is working with the region’s manager of sustainability, as well as fellow students from Ontario Tech University and York University to design a governance framework for the implementation of the Durham Community Energy Plan.
Some Trent students also look forward to volunteering at the Haliburton-Muskoka-Kawartha Children’s Water Festival. This annual event is a highlight for Prof. Hill’s students, who get to educate future water stewards as they are guided through several experiential activities.
“What I've always hoped to do is to give students, especially in their first year, the opportunity to sign up for projects and volunteer roles,” adds Prof. Hill. “Because when they put their hand up and get involved, they discover the large group of people who are deeply concerned and committed to making a change in the world.”