Articles by author: sackles

  • Transformation to a Posthuman World: Can Systems Thinking Support Transformative Change?

    Contributors: Mike Jones and Liette Vasseur

    Transformation is the process by which systems or organizations change from one state to another. This occurs through the addition and/or removal of parts and the subsequent reconfiguration of the relationship between those parts. Transformations can be relatively small, such as those which occur at the individual level or within a household or small community. They can also be so large that they reshape the entire world. Climate change, created by the human use of fossil fuels, is a transformation that is affecting every aspect of ecology, economy, and society on planet Earth. The current Western models of capitalism and industrialization, and the belief that humans are separate from and can control nature, are at the centre of this planetary transformation. With this worldview so engrained in societies round the world, the question then becomes whether humans will be able to transform those societies to survive in a transformed world.

    Widespread pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss are undesirable consequences of global capitalism and industrialization. These crises arose from the belief that humans are both separate from and can control nature. Posthumanism is a new western philosophy that does not separate humans from the natural world. This is also consistent with evidence from the field of molecular biology, which recognizes that humans are an inseparable part of, and have co-evolved with, nature. This radical change in western worldview provides a foundation for thinking about how societies might change to meet current sustainability challenges. That is because worldviews often give rise to the laws and policies that govern the relationship between people and nature. image of a bike path on a bridge

    The ability to transform a system depends on the opportunities that arise from the stresses and disturbance that affect its ability to persist and the abilities of change agents (someone who promotes and enables change). Changing social systems is essentially a political process whereby those in power seek to maintain the status quo and resist the efforts of those seeking to create change. Systems thinking provides tools — such as the knowledge of how system traps can be released and how levers can be applied— to restore system health. Donella Meadows identified nine commonly occurring traps and remedies that occur when relationships between actors in a system are locked into patterns of behaviour that prevent change when change is necessary. Levers for system change vary from the use of relatively simple things like policy incentives that promote behaviour change to changing systemic goals such as redefining economic growth in terms of human wellbeing instead of GDP. Transformation to a posthuman world is the penultimate change lever because it requires societies to accept new beliefs and adopt new values which then affect the structures of the system and human activity. The ultimate system lever is to recognize that all paradigms are limited in relation to a constantly changing environment and that it is better to learn how to “dance with systems” because we cannot control the forces of life that propel evolution. 

    The broad adoption of a posthumanist perspective requires a paradigm shift or change in the western worldview about the relationship between people and nature. As mindset shifts are so difficult to achieve at a large scale, it is worth considering that smaller scale changes in communities or countries can serve as a first step that can eventually lead to large scale change. The application of policies and practices (at any level of scale) that establish balancing feedback to bend the curve of runaway global pollution and warming are considered to be levers, and those levers can contribute to a paradigm shift. In the case of unsustainable economic growth, balancing feedback would be developed and applied as a policy which sets a limit to growth and enables new forms of coexistence between humans and the rest of nature. If policymakers are unable to set that limit, pollution and degradation of the environment will exert balancing feedback until the human economy and population are in balance with the capacity of the Earth to provide the benefits of nature that are essential for human flourishing.

    Transformation in the relationship between people and the rest of nature is essential if humanity is to survive the crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Two major transformations that created the systems that characterize North America today began as small-scale local innovation that spread and grew are the agricultural revolution that began about 10,000 years ago and the industrial revolution that began in the 18th century. These fundamental changes in the relationship between humans and the rest of nature enables were highly successful for most people and enabled the emergence of a complex global economy. The fossil fuel and food energy necessary to maintain a global level of complexity are in decline so in general, future transformation will tend towards creation of local and regional systems that can reorganize around the biophysical resources available at those levels of scale. 

    There are many communities that can be looked to as models for others to learn from and follow. The voice of Indigenous People is North America is growing and their knowledge of human – nature relationships and their ethic that abhors exploitation for financial gain is slowly being included in decision-making processes about how nature might be used sustainably. In Latin America the concept of Buen Vivir “life in harmony” is based on Indigenous knowledge and widely applied as an alternative to western ideas of development. In Bolivia and Ecuador, the principles of Buen Vivir are incorporated in the constitution. Via Campesina is a global movement of smallholder farmers who resist industrial agriculture and practice many forms of ecological farming based on Indigenous and Local Knowledge that produce quality food for local consumption. The Transition Town movement has western origins but is global in extent and frequently draws on Indigenous and Local knowledge to transform food systems as well as local economies and energy infrastructure. All of these initiatives are based on the knowledge and the imagination of people who know that something different can be created where the desire for change exists.

    6th Assessment Report 2022, D.J. 2016. Posthumanism. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy. John Wiley DOI: 10.1002/9781118766804.wbiect220 

     Capra, F and P.L. Luisi. 2014 “The Systems View of Life” Cambridge University Press.

     Meadows, D.H. 2008. “Thinking in Systems: A Primer”. Chelsea Green, Vermont.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • My Experience as an Undergraduate OSCIII Summer Research Student

    Undergraduate summer research assistant Lindsay McConkey collecting invertebrates (left) and processing grape berry samples (right) for the lab’s Organic Cluster III project. (Photo credit: Diana Tosato)

    Submitted by Lindsay McConkey and the OSCIII team

    I do not think I ever pictured myself as an ecology research assistant when I first began at Brock.  I entered my third year of the Biological Sciences program this fall and was required to take an ecology course (BIOL 2Q04). Following completion of the course, I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to apply to the Match of Minds program this past spring, proving that hard work and developing good relationships with your TAs does make a difference! The program granted me a summer research assistant position in Dr. Liette Vasseur’s lab, which was a truly amazing experience.

    My biggest goal as an undergraduate student was to get involved in a biology lab to get real applicable experience and decide if research was something I wanted to do in my future. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to be involved in the lab this summer. I have learned more than I could have imagined about ecosystems, vineyards and grape management, data collection and entry, insect identification and general research methods (e.g., snowballing research journal references). Now, whenever I walk anywhere outside and see weeds growing, I automatically try to see if I can identify the plant. Do I recognize it from our field or lab work? I even found myself doing the same with some insects that I come across, by identifying the invertebrate order that they belong to.

    Working with Liette’s team has broadened my knowledge about research, both in the field and lab, as well as the behind the scenes that you do not learn about in a classroom setting. Taking ecology online during the pandemic did not allow me to have the same experience that would normally be offered. With this position, I was able to get experience in the field that I missed out on, as well as extra experience that is not typically offered in class. I had never had the chance to work with graduate students in biology before, so it has been beneficial to hear about their experiences. I would like to do my Masters after finishing my Undergrad, so understanding how research projects really work and how much goes into them has been interesting to see and be a part of. I have learned a ton about myself as a learner, which has allowed me to become a better researcher and student.

    This position really pushed me out of my comfort zone to improve and learn about parts of research that I would not have otherwise experienced until later in my career. I am used to doing work that only myself and the marker sees, but a lot of what I have been working on is being used in the Organic Cluster project and shared with other researchers. Instead of my work only impacting my progress and grades in class, what I do or do not do in the lab impacts everyone else’s work, which is why it is so different, but also applicable to real life.

    I believe that I am very lucky to have been approached for this position. I am thankful that Brock is a smaller university as I may have not had this opportunity at another school, where it is harder to be noticed and make connections with your professors and TAs in larger settings.

    I would like to explore other areas of biology, explore my options, and figure out exactly which direction I would like to go in my studies and future career. Although ecology was not necessarily the direction I planned to go with my education at first, this position was a phenomenal start to my experience in a lab for which I could not be more thankful. I have a particular interest in cell biology; however, I think it’s valuable to be able to experience a variety of fields in biology.

    I’ve made great connections with the people that I have worked with and am thankful for everything that they have done for me and taught me. I am especially thankful for my research manager Heather, who has worked with me through many challenges this summer given  I had never worked in a lab and had limited knowledge in ecology and field work. She personally pushed me out of my comfort zone and was always encouraging. Working on the Organic Cluster project was another truly rewarding experience.

    I would encourage others to try something new because you never know where it might lead!

    This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Diana Tosato, Kasia Zgurzynski, and Alysha Gullion (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!







    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • Beyond sustainability – radical transformation: What does that mean and how do we do it?

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur and Jocelyn Baker

    Since the World Commission on Environment and Development released Our Common Future in 1987, all nations have been talking, at various degrees, about sustainable development.

    In 2000, for instance, the United Nations launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), directed towards developing countries only. These focused on three areas: human capitalinfrastructure, and human rights (social, economic and political) with the intent of increasing the standard of living for people around the world. These goals, however, made little progress to solve inequalities between developed countries and developing countries. It quickly became clear that much remained to be done. So, in 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The major difference from the Millennium Development goals was that these were designed to apply to all countries evenly, not just developing countries.

    But is this enough?

    The impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the global economy suggests that, like the MDGs that came before, many of the SGDs will also not be achieved. This is especially true, once again, for developing countries. The pandemic has also underlined the strong dependence and focus that all countries place on the economy. The two other pillars of sustainable development – society and environment – are generally left out. This demonstrates that despite the efforts made to convince the world’s nations of the importance of integrating the three pillars, we still base all decisions on the economy.

    We do not link the pandemic, environmental crises, and societal challenges to this lack of integration — and this is now endangering human society. It may be time to think beyond sustainability because the way countries, corporations, and even individuals, operate and make decisions is unsustainable. The fixation on consumption is pushing the world to the limit — and resources are depleting faster than they can recover.

    These current patterns of production and consumption must be changed, for our own well-being and that of future generations. Despite the fact that human health and the environment are intrinsically linked, we carry on as business-as-usual, guided by unrealistic notions of infinite economic development and growth that ignores the reality that we live on a planet with finite resources1.

    We need a new path forward that goes beyond the traditional sustainability discourse. Defining sustainability as three separate pillars (economic, society, environment) has meant that the environment rarely receives equal weight or treatment. It is often seen as something to consider if there is time and money left over from dealing with issues pertaining to the other pillars.

    A radical change in the way societies function is required in order to avoid grave future predictions, such as those seen in the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCCs) recent report. This will require all 200+ countries, and thousands of corporations, around the world to work together and create the deep transformations necessary to avoid greater disasters. To create a safe operating space for all of humanity, we need to change direction in a radical way.

    Going beyond sustainability calls for radical transformation of the current system and its underlying defective worldview. There is growing awareness that the current worldview of capitalism and consumerism is one which supports resource overexploitation, the accumulation of profit and infinite economic growth, and viewing humans as dominant over nature and other living creatures. This human-driven exploitation of the environment is the root cause of our current planetary crisis.

    Transformation is understood as a profound change which requires a fundamental shift in mindset2. Radical transformation, on the other hand, looks at the root cause of problems and gets to the core of the issue. This usually requires a shift away from the type of thinking that created the problem(s) in the first place. Changing mindsets, although challenging, is possible. The status quo cannot effectively address the environmental challenges we face. What is required is a radical transformation of how we envision ourselves and the world in which we live.

    To move beyond sustainability and protect people and the planet, we envision a new conceptualization with the environment at the foundation for sustainability reforms. In contrast to the three pillars of sustainability, we propose a pyramid: the environment is the base with society and then the economy as subsequent levels. The environment needs to be healthy and robust for the next level (society) to flourish, and only when all levels below are thriving and resilient can the top of the pyramid (economy) be strong. It should also be noted that the economy is not only a vessel for profit, as it is right now, in this model. Instead, the economy would be circular and no longer strive for endless profits (beyond what’s needed for sustaining the businesses), or have its objectives developed in order to fulfill human greed.

    Communities are facing significant challenges due to climate and environmental changes caused by human activities. This has resulted in land degradation, water, soil, and air pollution, and biodiversity loss. Changing mindsets and increasing awareness, however, can create a new path for humans and the planet. Nobody can change the world on their own, but small groups of people, working together, can contribute positively to the goal of radical transformation. With every small change, the world will be forever altered for the better and, we can hope, bring us closer to a more sustainable world of all.

    1. Robinson, N. A. (2012). Beyond sustainability: Environmental management for the Anthropocene epoch. Journal of Public Affairs, 12(3), 181-194. doi:10.1002/pa.1432
    2. Massarella, K., Nygren, A., Fletcher, R., Büscher, B., Kiwango, W. A., Komi, S., … Percequillo, A. R. (2021). Transformation beyond conservation: How critical social science can contribute to a radical new agenda in biodiversity conservation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 49, 79-87. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2021.03.005
    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • I spy, with both my eyes, something that is more sustainable: Two-eyed seeing

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur, Catherine Longboat and Jocelyn Baker.

    How do we see the world? This is a question of enigma and reflection: Do all of us see the world and the knowledge that we acquire in the same way?

    Throughout human civilization, the way to acquire knowledge has changed. For hunter-gatherers, most of their knowledge came from nature, including understanding seasonal changes, the tracks of animals, etc. When humans later became sedentary and started pursuing agriculture, they began to derive knowledge not only from nature, but from their own experience with crops, and gradually, with livestock.

    With this, in the Western world, humans began to take more control over nature, leading to devaluating the value of nature. Humans instead began to see themselves as the predominant force upon the Earth’s ecosystems. This period of human history also led to the development of many religions which viewed humans not as part of nature — but as superior to nature. With the development of new technologies and the transition to the industrialized world came the use of fossil fuels and the era of science. The sciences have brought benefits that were not imagined in times past. With modernization also came an increasing need for more resources, which lead to competition, instead of collaboration, between countries and corporations. Under such a system, trade and the economy have increased. The sciences also became a major focus in academic institutions and research centres and new “discoveries” and technologies have become a must in society, while simple things, such as a having a walk in nature, are becoming increasingly obsolete.

    This nonstop race for new knowledge has led to the belief that only scientists know the answers and can solve problems. This human hierarchy has pushed aside contributions from certain groups of peoples, as their knowledge was felt to be unfit for resolving issues. Indeed, some of their principles, values and beliefs may interfere with market production. This is how Indigenous knowledge became relegated to the margins of colonial living and the Western capitalist system. Indigenous knowledge was therefore not included as Western scientific knowledge.

    With a gradual acknowledgement that technology cannot fix everything, and the increasingly dire situation of the degraded Earth, humans have started to realize that other forms of knowledge may be better suited to solving the problems that humanity faces, such as biodiversity loss, land degradation, and climate change.

    This is where Indigenous knowledge becomes important to acknowledge and respect. Indigenous knowledge is based on a different worldview than modern Western society. In Indigenous cultures, humans have a strong relationship with nature and are thus one among many other species. There is no question that mutual respect and reciprocity is foundational for understanding relationships on Earth and beyond. The Indigenous traditional knowledge is based on the natural world and information that has been transmitted from generation to generation over millennia. What is wonderful is that in recent years, there has been an increased will to embrace these two types of knowledge — scientific and traditional knowledge — into what has now been called “Two-Eyed Seeing,” or Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw.

    This concept of Two-Eyed Seeing was introduced by Mi’kmaw First Nation (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) Elders Albert and Murdena Marshall as a means to bridge Western science and Indigenous knowledge1. Two-eyed seeing promotes using one eye to see the strengths of Indigenous knowledge, the other eye to see the strengths of mainstream knowledge, and both eyes together when fully ‘seeing’ the world around us1. The goal is to create cross-cultural collaboration. Two-eyed seeing is underpinned by the belief that there are many ways of understanding the world, some of which are derived from Western sciences and others by various Indigenous knowledge systems. What is important is that both knowledges are seen as equitable, embracing the idea of having cultural respect for any action and not changing the other without agreement.

    The goal of two-eyed seeing is to bring awareness of alternative ways of knowing (where diverse perspectives can work together) with the aim of creating equity, where no one perspective has domination over the other 2.  Using both eyes together creates alternative ways of addressing solutions as afforded through different ways of seeing, by offering opportunity to look through a different lens and create solutions that may not be perfect or without flaws 2.  An important aspect of two-eyed seeing is the framework for a plural co-existence of worldviews 2. The important consideration, especially for the natural world, is remembering that all systems are interconnected, and human systems are to work in conjunction with the natural world in order to support and complete the whole ecosystem.

    1. Bartlett, C., Marshall, M., & Marshall, A. (2012). Two-eyed seeing and other lessons learned within a Co-learning journey of bringing together Indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331-340. doi:10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8

    2. Broadhead, L., & Howard, S. (2021). Confronting the contradictions between western and Indigenous science: A critical perspective on two-eyed seeing. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 17(1), 111-119.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • Parasitic Wasps: Unseen Vineyard Warriors

    Fairyfly (more formally from the wasp family Mymaridae, as seen in the photo inset) is a name given to some species of tiny wasps (mostly 0.5-1.0mm) that are thought to be important parasitoids of vineyard pests. They may also be attracted to cover crop plants such as sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), shown growing below the vines in a local vineyard in the photo above (photos by Kasia Zgurzynski and Heather VanVolkenburg).

    When grape growers consider using cover crops in their vineyards, they likely look at plants that can grow well between rows of vines, such as clover or rye. These, and other common cover crops, provide farmers with benefits such as the reduction of soil erosion, improved nutrient cycling and weed inhibition. It is also possible to grow cover crops that are attractive to beneficial insects, which can be achieved by planting directly under the vines. In doing so, farmers may encourage the presence of beneficial organisms, such as parasitoids (i.e., parasitic wasps), to target pests that feed on grapes and vines.

    Parasitoids are insects that lay eggs in the bodies of other insects, such as leafhoppers and moths. Although they vary in size, most parasitic wasps are smaller than one centimetre — some are even as tiny as a fraction of a millimetre. Mymaridae, the family of parasitic wasps also known as fairyflies, includes the smallest insects known to science. They are important to agriculture because members of this family parasitize pests, particularly leafhoppers. Another family of particular importance in viticulture includes wasps that parasitize the grape berry moth, which is a common grapevine pest. Parasitic wasps can also influence pest insect populations, but more research is still needed to fully assess their efficiency in that regard.

    It is easy to take these wasps for granted. They occur naturally throughout the landscape, but due to their small size, we are more likely to see the parasitized pests than the wasps themselves. Some grape growers choose to buy adult wasps and release them into their fields. The introduction of beneficial insects in this way is referred to as classical biological control and can be an important part of an effective and sustainable integrated pest management program. Conservation biological control, on the other hand, involves creating the right conditions in the landscape to attract naturally occurring beneficial insects, rather than manually releasing them in the area. Whether the population is natural or released, farmers can support and encourage the presence of beneficial insects by providing the adults with food sources such as nectar and pollen, i.e. flowers.

    Here at Brock University, we are currently testing cover crops that could be planted in vine rows. One of these is sweet alyssum, a popular horticultural plant that provides a floral display and sustenance for beneficial insects. Since it is the flowers of alyssum that attract parasitoids, the plant mainly serves its purpose while in bloom. The flowers on sweet alyssum are wide and shallow enough that parasitic wasps can feed on them effectively with their small mouthparts. More research is also needed to uncover other types of insects that feed on alyssum, and whether it also attracts pests. It grows as a hardy annual in Ontario, so it usually needs to be seeded every year (although it has been shown to be able to reseed itself) and does not provide the ideal winter habitat that is important to many beneficial insects.

    Alternatives to pesticides, based on conservation biological control, are expanding and gaining momentum. Research is needed to learn which plants can better attract beneficial insects (such as parasitic wasps) and to help farmers make more informed decisions about their approach to pest control. Farm management and climate change, especially extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts, may affect the performance of alyssum and other cover crops as well as populations of parasitic wasps. It is important to understand how these various factors may impact the performance of plants and parasitoids.

    This blog will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with monthly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!



    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • We can’t protect our planet without radically transforming our worldview — is it possible?

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur, Catherine Longboat, and Jocelyn Baker.

    Everyone has a worldview, a conception of what the world is like. Also referred to as a philosophy, a worldview is a collection of beliefs, values, attitudes, interpretations, and stories about the world around you. Worldviews inform your thoughts, behaviour, vision, relationships, knowledge, and actions. It is your picture of reality. Your worldview represents the reality of the world in which you live, your perception and your interconnectedness (on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level).

    Throughout history, human populations have developed a multitude of diverse ways to view themselves and the world around them. Worldviews have different origins, stemming from various social, cultural, religious, political, and economical systems that have developed over millennia. These different origins can inform and create similar worldview realities shared by different groups of people and societies.

    As humans developed neo-liberal ideas and developed different systems, civilizations, religions, and economic and political structures, humans began to believe they possessed a superiority to all other organisms on the planet. Many of these systems operated with the worldview that all organisms and resources on this planet are to be used and exploited for the benefit of human societies. For example, one of the predominant worldviews in the western world today is neoliberal capitalism, which describes one’s desire for a free market, largely unregulated by governments, based on trade, stock market and infinite economic growth. The current utilitarian mentality is, however, causing the degradation and depletion of most of this planet’s vital resources — including water, mineral resources, and organisms.

    There are many cultural frameworks and worldviews practiced by Indigenous Peoples around the world that differ greatly from this current western worldview, and many of which respect the earth as a Mother upon which all beings are expected to co-exist for their on-going sustainability. They live according to a set of ethics that reflect their obligation toward their relations whether considered animate or inanimate. Thus, protocols and processes for co-existence are about acknowledgment of balance and harmony. Acknowledgment of sacrifices and willingness to support one another are complex and inter-relationships include others than human beings. Unlike the neoliberal capitalism worldview, this worldview is not based on the importance of accumulating wealth and material goods.

    Most Indigenous worldviews involve humans striving to live in co-existence with all other beings. This is rooted in their understandings of various Creation stories that are passed down from generation to generation. While these stories vary, they all explain, from the very outset, that there is an interconnection that exists between all life. Notions such as interdependency, balance, and harmony are prominent, and the duty to care does not hinge on the human as master, but rather, on the two-legged co-existing as an equal being amongst all others, aiming for peaceful coexistence. In North America, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, for example, addresses 17 aspects of Creation to be recognized, including ‘the people’ as being given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.1.

    With the increasing urgency to advance reconciliation and find solutions for the survival and sustainability of our planet, accepting and respecting multiple knowledges, worldviews, and ways of knowing are crucial. We can, and should, learn from sources outside the dominant neoliberal-capitalist system. There is an urgency to review how such systems are destroying the environment necessary for human existence.

    There is an urgent need to change the current western worldview, which is unsustainable for the future of human existence. The continuous economic and population growth of human societies should not come at the expense of nature. We need to radically transform our relationships with the natural environment and the focus for that change must include knowledges that perceive nature and humans as inter-connected, inter-related, holistic, balanced, and in harmony.

    Transformation of the western worldview calls for rethinking humans as being the most important, superior, and dominant creatures on the planet, and the natural world as subservient to human benefit. Most Indigenous worldviews share commonalities, where humans are not the most important creatures, relationships and community are at the heart of decision making, and all life is seen as sacred and interconnected.2.  Indigenous worldviews are holistic and recognize the interconnections between all peoples and all other beings. They also look back to their ancestors for guidance while simultaneously looking, at a minimum, seven generations forward into the future.2.

    Re-embracing a worldview that genuinely reflects Indigenous ways of knowing may serve to transform our relationship with nature and bring about a more sustainable social-ecological system for all beings on Earth.

    1. Stokes, J., & Kanawahienton Benedict, D. (1993). Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the natural world (english version). Retreived from:

    2. Marshall, A., Beazley, K. F., Hum, J., Joudry, S., Papadopoulos, A., & Zurba, M. (2021). “Awakening the sleeping giant”: Re-indigenization principles for transforming biodiversity conservation in Canada and beyond. FACETS, 6, 839-869.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • Launch of Shoreline Public-to-Public (P2P) Online Survey

    In previous blog posts we have highlighted some of the various ways that we can build resilience through robust adaptation, including options for enhanced shoreline protection (

    During the MEOPAR project, we have also listened to you, as part of our interviews, focus groups, and informal chats. In addition to enhancing green spaces and using both natural and traditional shoreline protection, you helped us identify a number of other options, such as tax relief and subsidies for improvements, technical guidance, insurance coverage, and facilitating managed retreat.

    The team has compiled these options and created a survey to let you rank them in terms of your personal experience, preferences, and values. As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic does not allow us to have in-person meetings to continue our discussions; so, we are moving online with a few tools to further the understanding of opportunities and challenges for climate change adaptation in Great Lakes communities, such as Lincoln, and elsewhere. First, we will be rolling out an on-line survey. This on-line survey makes use of a public-to-public (P2P) platform decision support tool (DST) developed by the University of Waterloo’s Dr. Simone Philpot.

    We would love to get your input on what you consider appropriate risk-based options. If you are interested in participating in the survey, please contact us at and we will provide you with what you need to know to take the survey.

    We will be coming to you soon with other opportunities to continue the discussion… virtually, of course!

    Thanks again for your interest in the MEOPAR project. Your input will help us co-create community solutions to address the issues of resilient shoreline protection.

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog

  • Springtime flooding is just around the corner

    A google maps satellite image representing the five Great Lakes across Ontario and how they are all connected by a variety of water systems.

     Basement flooding, often resulting from snowmelt, intense rainfall events, and poor drainage, is a concern many of us have as springtime approaches. Basements are inherently prone to flooding because they are the lowest level in the home and are constructed below-grade. Flooding of these spaces is even possible during dry seasons, when sudden, heavy rainfall occurs. This year’s winter in the Niagara Region has been unpredictable, with a lot of snow accumulation seen within the last few weeks. This means that flooding this spring is possible, depending on how quickly the weather warms up and melts the existing snow.

    We should always plan to reduce the related impacts from flooding. Having a wet spring and summer has the potential to change the dynamic of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, as well. The five Great Lakes — Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario —  are the largest freshwater system in the world, spanning a total surface area of 245,013 square kilometers and flowing gradually into the St. Lawrence River.  This system moves a lot of water; even more so during the spring meltdown or a series of intense rainfalls like those that occurred in the spring of 2017. When excess water enters that system, flooding can then occur. It can either be localized or associated with a river or water system. An area of land that drains all of the streams and rainfall to a common outlet is known as a watershed. When too much water from smaller streams is drained into these interconnected lake systems, it leads to flooding of the riverine areas. In our region, small local watersheds all ultimately discharge into Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, or the Niagara River. The Great Lakes are considered a larger watershed consisting of all these smaller watersheds (including those of the other lakes). More snow around Lake Superior will gradually have an impact on our lakes here in Niagara.

    Flooding can cause water damage to homes (including the foundation) and can also result in the contamination of homes from sewage or mud. There are many steps you can take at home to prevent your basement from flooding, however. The INTACT centre guide on flood-proofing your home lists many strategies that can be useful to prevent damage to your home.

    Here are some examples of cost-effective flood protection measures:

    • Clean out storm drains, eavestroughs and water valves of debris to allow for clear drainage and flow.
    • Check for leaks in plumbing fixtures to prevent inside leaks.
    • Test your sump pump to ensure it is working properly and have a back-up sump pump system in place.
    • Install window well covers as well as water-resistant windows.
    • Extend downspouts and sump pipes two meters away from the home’s foundation to prevent the possibility of flooding.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt and increase resilience to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith Caspell, Bradley May, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at or email us at



    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog

  • Grape Rootstock in a Changing Environment

    A diagram representing the rootstock (the root portion of a single, healthy plant), scion (the young shoot of a different plant) and the junction where they are artificially united (graft union; diagram created by Heather VanVolkenburg).

    Managing vineyards can be challenging to say the least, especially with the added complexity of extreme environmental changes, both between and within growing seasons. In order maintain a productive vineyard, growers have several key components that they must consider when planning for vine establishment and maintenance. The selection of rootstock is one such component. The types of rootstock may determine how the vines respond to the abiotic and biotic stressors that present-day vineyards face, especially those related to climate change.

    Rootstock are an essential element in most vineyards, including vineyards here in Canada. To obtain a new vine, growers use the root system of one vine (i.e. rootstock) and combine it with a shoot from another one (i.e. scion). Each component can be from a different species of grapevine or even several species combined. Rootstock choices enable growers to select for grapevines that are more resistant to environmental adversities such as drought or disease, thus allowing for maintained or increased vine productivity Moreover, rootstock selection helps to overcome problems with soil such as texture, pH and density. While rootstock is normally selected for below-ground performance and resistance to challenges such as drought and disease (both of which occur more frequently due to effects of climate change), scions are usually chosen according to control above-ground aspects such as vine vigour, how quickly grapes ripen, fruit size, quality, and overall yield. In a simple way, the new plant has the best parts of two different plants!

    The selection of a rootstock can be quite complex. For example, if the vineyard is located in an area prone to flooding, consideration should be given to a rootstock’s ability to survive in this condition. The type of soil will also influence this selection. Other considerations may be related to resistance to certain pests or viruses. Selection considerations must constantly evolve as agroecosystems are constantly changing according the environment in which they exist. With the changing climate, especially extreme weather events, selection becomes even more challenging.

    Considering how closely existing rootstock choices interact with other management strategies (e.g. irrigation and cover cropping), defining good practices for local vineyards remains important. Here at Brock, we embrace the opportunity to work alongside vineyard growers to examine how integrated management techniques can help strengthen the sustainability of the industry. In our project, using organic vineyards as study locations, we are testing different combinations of three components of vineyard management, including irrigation, cover cropping and rootstock or their combined viability as local management techniques. By monitoring grapevine yields and growth, as well as disease and pest occurrence over consecutive seasons, we hope to evaluate how climate change may be affecting the different rootstocks and vine varieties present locally. Ultimately, we hope that results will contribute to maintain production of local grape growers in a sustainable way despite the challenges presented by climate change.

    This blog will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with monthly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!


    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • Climate data and trends in the Greater Niagara Region

    A graph from that illustrates the rising mean temperature from the years 1950-2100 under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). This increase in mean temperature can lead to negative impacts for agriculture, coastal communities and the overall health of individuals in the Niagara Region.

     In a previous blog post, we discussed how to take initiative towards adapting to and mitigating (reducing) the effects of climate change. However, before we can discuss specific methods of actually doing so, it is important to first understand the historical and predicted future climate trends in the Greater Niagara Region.

    A great tool for understanding climate trends across Canada is the publicly accessible website It provides climate data that helps individuals, communities and governments better understand historical climate data and make informed decisions for a more resilient Canada in the future. The website provides past, present and current climate trends for multiple locations in Canada. The data can be analysed on a broader provincial level or drilled down to look at specific municipalities or townships. Specific climate variables, such as temperature, precipitation, frost days and growing days, are also available. This information can be extremely valuable when trying to plan adaptation and mitigation measures in your community, for infrastructure, on farmland and even at your own personal residence. For example, frost days (number of days where the temperature drops below 0˚C) are particularly important in the Greater Niagara Region as the agricultural sector is a main economic driver for the area.

    The website generates graphs of climatic trends under three future greenhouse gas emission scenarios, also known as representative concentration pathways (RCPs). These RCPs were generated by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). RCPs represent the degree of warming of an area or location (translated in watts per square meter) under different scenarios. Those scenarios range from acting rapidly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to not acting at all and keeping a business-as-usual way of life. They include a low emission scenario (RCP2.6), moderate emissions scenario (RCP4.5) and high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). The RCP2.6 scenario leads to the least warming and reflects a future that uses immediate efforts to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RCP4.5 models a future in which some mitigation of emissions prevents the extreme warming of the high emissions scenario of RCP8.5. Analysing the high emissions scenario (RCP8.5) on the website allows you to understand and prepare for the worst-case scenario when dealing with climatic trends. Unfortunately, due to trends and behaviours we are currently seeing in Canada, such as increases in population, pollution, and deforestation (among others), the RCP8.5 scenario may become the most probable one.

    We used the website to find data about the Niagara Region under a high emission scenario (RCP8.5). Using the website, the climatic trends reported for this area show that the annual average temperature in the region was between 8.4 ºC and 9 ºC between 1951 and 2020. Under a high emissions scenario, annual average temperatures are projected to be 10.9 ºC by 2050, 12.9 ºC by 2080, and will continue to rise above 14.3 ºC by 2100. Average annual precipitation in the region was historically 866 mm. Under a high emissions scenario, this is projected to be 7% higher by 2050, 10% higher by 2080 and by 2100.

    Rising temperatures and precipitation rates can have a significant impact on agriculture, coastal communities and the overall health of individuals in the Niagara Region. Over time, climate change has become more severe and in order to take initiative and make change, we must adapt and mitigate so we can slow or stop these trends from climbing.

    It is important to note that these climatic trends are projections, meaning they are just a model and may not be 100% accurate. However, they do provide guidance as to what the future may hold for our region. With a proper understanding of the potential climatic changes Niagara could be facing, it allows us to be more prepared and create more efficient adaptation and mitigation plans. In upcoming blogs, we will discuss strategies that can be used to manage these projected climatic changes and how we can initiate change.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt and increase resilience to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith Caspell, Bradley May, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at or email us at





    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog