Happy 2021 fall semester! We’re happy to invite you to the YUFA Climate Emergency Committee’s (YCEC) next Climate Talk entitledTackling climate change via changes in energy use: Insights from research on human needs, need satisfiers and participatory workshops with Dr. Lina Brand Correa on Friday September 17 at 1PM
About the Climate Talks series: The Climate Talks series highlights the scholarship, research and activism of scholars and climate organizers across York University and beyond. The aims of this series are to advance the discussion on climate issues and to build a strong community of people in order to collectively strategize for climate action at York University and through YCEC. YCEC was created by the York University Faculty Association to address climate issues and advance climate actions and activities at York University. Working with staff and students, YCEC is building a strong coalition of researchers and activists concerned with the climate emergency.
Upcoming YCEC Meetings and Talks: October 8th: YCEC Climate Meeting – Please join us to learn more about YCEC and how to get involved! November 26th: Climate Change and Growing the Planthroposcene with Dr. Natasha Myers
As a co-chair of the YUFA Climate Emergency Committee (YCEC) with Dr. Sheila Colla, we are organizing the Inaugural Climate Talks series:
This series will highlight the scholarship, research and activism of scholars and climate organizers across York University and beyond. The aims of this series are to advance the discussion on climate issues and to build a strong community of people in order to collectively strategize for climate action at York University and through YCEC. YCEC was created by the York University Faculty Association to address climate issues and advance climate actions and activities at York University. Working with staff and students, YCEC is building a strong coalition of researchers and activists concerned with the climate emergency. To be added to the YCEC listserv or to learn more, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Save the date for upcoming talks in the series:
July 16, 2021, Indigenous Energy Sovereignty and the Politics of Climate Change with Brock Pitawanakwat & Candis Callison Brock Pitawanakwat, an Anishinaabe from Whitefish River First Nation, is Associate Professor and program coordinator of Indigenous Studies in York University’s Department of Humanities. He is a research fellow with the Yellowhead Institute and a regular panellist with Media Indigena’s weekly round table. Candis Callison is a Canadian environmental journalist and academic of journalism, who works as an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, affiliated both with the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media and the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies at UBC.
August 13, 2021, On thin ice: Are lakes feeling the heat? with Dr. Sapna Sharma
Dr. Sharma is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at York University and a York Research Chair in Global Change Biology. She is head of the Sharma Laboratory which is currently researching the impacts of multiple stressors on lake ice phenology, water temperatures, water quality, primary production and fish communities.
Friday April 30th at 1:00PM Political Economies of Climate Change and Indigenous Rights in the North with Gabrielle A Slowey
Gabrielle Slowey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at York University and is a member of the graduate programs in Politics and Socio-Legal Studies. She is also the Director of the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York. She was the inaugural Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College (USA) and a York-Massey Fellow. Her research focuses on the political economy of land claims, treaties and self-government, especially across the north/Arctic and in areas where resource extraction takes place. Her work considers questions of community health, environmental security, climate change and Indigenous rights in these contexts. Her approach is very much community-based and community-driven research. It draws upon broader theoretical concerns of colonialism, reconciliation, staples and democracy.
May 28, 2021, Cinema, Media, & Climate Change with Janine Marchessault & Melanie Wilmink and their exhibition titled Life, A sensorium.
Janine Marchessault is a professor in Cinema and Media Arts and holds a York Research Chair in Media Art and Social Engagement. Her research has engaged with four areas: the history of large screen media (from multiscreen to Imax to media as architecture and VR); diverse models of public art, festivals, and site specific curation; 21st century moving-image archives and notions of collective memory/history. She is a founder of the Future Cinema Lab, and the 2014-2016 inaugural Director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts Research. A Trudeau Fellow, she is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She belongs to the CinemaExpo67.ca research group and is a founding member of the Public Access Curatorial Collective. Her latest project is an expanded cinema festival Outer Worlds outerworlds.org—commissioning five IMAX films by artists which premiered at the Cinesphere in 2019 as part of Images Festival. She is also the PI of Archive/Counter-Archive: Activating Canada’s Audio-Visual Heritage (2018-2025) counterarchive.caMelanie Wilmink holds a PhD in Art History at York University. Her research examines the relationship between spectatorial experience and exhibition spaces within interdisciplinary media installations. This academic research is supported by her curatorial work including various projects as Programming Coordinator at the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (2007-2012), the Situated Cinema Project mobile micro-cinema (Pleasure Dome, 2015), and the Winter Warmer (Sidewalk Labs Toronto, 2019). Her recent publications include the anthology Sculpting Cinema (2018) and Landscapes of moving image: prairie artists’ cinema(forthcoming), both co-edited with Solomon Nagler. www.melaniewilmink.com.
June 18, 2021, Climate Change, Energy & Indigenous Lifeways with Angele Alook
Dr. Angele Alook is a proud member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at York University. She specializes in Indigenous feminism, life course approaches, Indigenous research methodologies, cultural identity, and the sociology of family and work. She is a co-investigator on the SSHRC-funded Corporate Mapping Project, where she is carrying out research with the Parkland Institute on Indigenous experiences in Alberta’s oil industry and its gendered impact on working families. Currently, the CMP is funding Angele with five other authors and activists to write a book on what a green new deal would look like in Canada if Indigenous-settler relations were central to discussions on a just transition.
On the Just Powers project, Angele is researching traditional subsistence practices in her Indigenous community; simultaneously, she is investigating the practices of settler allies who are also stewards of the land in her traditional territory, all while exploring peoples’ relationships to industry in the area. She is interested in synergies and disjunctures between ways of being, knowing and doing on Bigstone lands. She is directing her research toward a just transition of Alberta’s economy and labour force and the impact climate change has on traditional Treaty Eight territory.
“The food supply chain is breaking,” Tyson Foods Chairman John H. Tyson wrote in an open letter published in the New York Times earlier this week.
And he’s not wrong.
Over the past month, anyone following the news might have noticed images of seemingly endless food bank lineups juxtaposed against footage of milk being dumped down the drain by the truckload and literal mountains of potatoes, onions and other crops left outside to rot.
Tyson, though, was referring specifically to the crisis in the American meat packing industry caused by the closure of more than a dozen plants due to devastating COVID-19 outbreaks among workers. Just three of those plant closures – including the Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa – have already reduced U.S. pork production by 15 per cent.
In the Waterloo plant alone, nearly half of the plant’s 2,700 workers have already tested positive for COVID-19. Despite health risks to workers, President Donald Trump has ordered meat-processing plants to stay open.
Given Canada’s even deeper level of corporate concentration – with only three meat processing plants accounting for 95 per cent of all beef production in the country – our supply chain has been even more disrupted by the pandemic than its U.S. counterpart. Two plants, accounting for 70 per cent of Canada’s beef output, have already seen serious COVID-19 outbreaks. Last week, the massive Cargill Foods plant in High River, Alta., was forced to shut down completely after more than 500 local cases of coronavirus and one death were linked to the facility.
The thousands of the mostly racialized and vulnerable meat packing workers falling ill in the past few weeks is even more awful given it could have been avoided by a more robust regulation and inspection system. Before the first cases in High River were confirmed, workers from the plant wrote a letter stating, “We the workers and our families are worried and scared for the possibility that we might bring the virus with us at home.”
Yet, in the case of the High River facility, the last Occupational Health and Safety assessment of the plant before its closure was conducted via cellphone video. The operation was then given the go-ahead to stay open despite crowded working conditions that make physical distancing impossible.
As we found while researching our book, this combination of increasing corporate concentration, industry deregulation and growing dependence on the low-waged labour force of racialized and often exploited workers has significantly weakened our food supply chain. And it’s not just the meat industry where COVID-19 has brought into focus the vulnerabilities at the heart of our food system.
Just four multi-billion dollar corporations (Cargill, JBS, Maple Leaf and Olymel) control nearly all of Canada’s meat production; 80 per cent of the retail grocery market is owned by only five companies (Loblaws, Sobeys/Safeway, Costco, Metro and Walmart), and just a handful of companies (Bayer, ChemChina, Corteva and BASF) control more than 60 per cent of global seed and pesticide sales.
Throughout the food chain, extreme corporate concentration has seen the slice of the economic pie grow dramatically in these companies’ favour, while only the largest farm operations have been able to stay profitable. Even then, these farms have gone into millions of dollars of debt while continually being pressed to overlook their lands’ soil and environmental health, cut labour costs and become dependent on temporary foreign workers and undocumented labourers.
Make no mistake: most farmers and nearly all workers are on the losing end of this, whether it’s the cattle ranchers who suddenly have no market for their beef following the closure of only two plants, the grocery store workers who put their lives at risk every day for low wages, or the more than three-dozen temporary foreign workers at greenhouse operation Greenhill Produce in Kent Bridge, Ont., who just tested positive for COVID-19. Their lives and livelihoods are the weak links in a food chain that has been forged by government policy to disproportionately benefit the rich and powerful.
The food supply chain really is breaking. But it’s breaking because our food system has been transformed to disproportionately benefit massive multination corporations like Tyson, Cargill and JBS at the expense of farmers, workers and – as we’re now seeing in the form of empty grocery store shelves and steadily rising food prices – consumers.
Daniel Rück, Sean Carleton, and I co-wrote this Active History piece to point out specific harmful patterns in the way non-Natives respond to Indigenous sovereignty claims and actions. We also offer alternative ways settlers can respond to important Indigenous assertions like #WetsuwetenStong and #ShutDownCanada.
Where: Founders College, Room 305, York University, Toronto
Our industrial model of growing and consuming food is contributing to both climate change and social inequity. Put simply: industrial capitalism is undermining our ability to build sustainable food systems for all.
In this panel discussion, organizer, educator, and writer, Kali Akuno, will share his experiences leading Cooperation Jackson, an emerging network of worker cooperatives and supporting institutions. Akuno and Cooperation Jackson are fighting to create economic democracy by creating a vibrant solidarity economy in Jackson, MS that will help transform Mississippi and the South. We will then hear from local voices, including Leticia Deawuo of Black Creek Community Farm and Adabu Brownhill Jefwa with the National Farmers Union.
Many rightfully argue that alternative economies—including alternative food networks—continue to benefit middle class white folks, while further marginalizing communities of colour and low-income folks. In this panel, we ask: What alternative economic models can we point to, and to what extent can these models help achieve food, racial and climate justice together? To what extent can alternative economic models work for everyone, and how can they more meaningfully prioritize racially and economically marginalized folks?
A group of us have been busy developing a research project!
As a research collective, we are using anti-colonial feminist methodologies to do community-based research based on the vision and objectives expressed below. Our research collective currently includes Indigenous and settler academics, food provisioners, and community-based activists: Adrianne Lickers Xavier, Ayla Fenton, Danielle Boissoneau, Terran Giacomini, Lauren Kepkiewicz, and myself (Sarah Rotz), as well as RAIR research and program coordinators, Stephanie Morningstar and Sonia Hill.
The RAIR website is in development and coming soon!
Please note that this is a working vision document
The purpose of this research project is to support
grassroots Indigenous rematriation[i]
and (re)connection to land. We seek to support the convergence of food
sovereign peoples in ways that advance dialogue and action for Indigenous land
rematriation. This work centres Indigenous women and two-spirit presence,
experiences and relationships to land and traditional territories. In turn, our
work is grounded in emergent feminist, decolonial, and activist methodologies.
The goals of our project are to:
Develop resources for Indigenous women, two spirit people, and their communities and relations to reconnect with and return to their traditional territories. To do so, the project has allocated its economic and social resources directly for Indigenous women and their communities. As well, Indigenous women and feminist modalities will remain at the centre of the decision-making process. The priority of the research collective is to use the resources that we have been given to serve this community.
Build relationships for food sovereignty that centre Indigenous land and food systems. This project will bring together both Indigenous and settler peoples in dialogue about land and rematriation in ways that are guided by our purpose to centre Indigenous relations to land. The goal of these dialogues is to advance understanding of and mobilize action around new ways of thinking about and relating to land. This includes not only legal ‘owners’ of land, but those who are on the land in various ways (e.g. renters, hunters, gatherers, and those involved in ceremonies and rituals etc.).
Decolonize relationships to one another and to land. This project is grounded in practices of relational accountability. We aim to remain accountable to one another and to share power. This work challenges hierarchies and affirms alternative ways of working together. Our work is based on a recognition that we each come from different places and experiences, and that our experiences are shaped by unjust power divisions. We continue to ask: how do we work together in a good way, in relation to each other and to the land? In this sense, we see our process itself as a method of research. We strive to build intentional and accountable relationships with each other and those within the broader movement for food sovereignty.
We will engage in outreach, writing and knowledge creation
practices that extend beyond academic forums and that benefit the communities
to which we are accountable. We prioritize community-based knowledge
dissemination and aim to publish popular resources as well as audio and visual
mediums, including podcasts and/or videos.
We strive to come together and share space as much as possible. We
aim to prioritize in-person meetings rather than phone and webinar
Popular education models. We strive to work collectively and build
community with each other. We will explore the methodology of ‘encounters’ as a
way of building authentic relationships based on shared struggle. The
methodology of the encounter prioritizes participants own experiences and
worldviews, and allows them to shape the agenda (i.e. deciding what to
prioritize and discuss, and what research looks like). It also encourages
learning and solidarity through collective work, skill-sharing, art-builds and
opportunities to share knowledge. Through the encounter process, we will mobilize knowledge and share what we’ve been doing. We are
also interested in working with other groups who have been doing encounters in
different parts of the world.
We prioritize hiring Indigenous community-based research
assistants and coordinators who have connections with the communities we serve.
We aim to work collectively to explore protocol(s) before forming
the Indigenous Advisory Committee. The Committee will be made up of Indigenous folks
who are connected to the communities we serve. We
will provide honoraria for their work, guidance and support. Together, we will
take direction from the committee to explore the language, ways, means, places
and timelines through which to conduct the encounter process.
[i] The term rematriation has been described as actions “to restore a living culture to its rightful place on Mother Earth,” or conditions where lands, waters and our relationships to them are intentionally returned to their natural or spiritual context (Newcomb, 1995). Bernedette Muthien has described rematriation as “reclaiming of ancestral remains, spirituality, culture, knowledge and resources, instead of the more patriarchally associated repatriation. It simply means back to Mother Earth, a return to our origins, to life and co-creation, rather than patriarchal destruction and colonisation, a reclamation of germination.” If, as Fanon describes, colonization has violently structured how we come to know and relate to the world. We understand the concept of rematriation as an act of restructuring how we relate to the land, one another, and ourselves. It encompasses the collection of thoughts, feelings and behaviours (both internal and interpersonal) that intentionally allow us to (re)connect, (re)interpret and (re)learn in ways that prioritize and restore an embodied and spiritual relationship to land.
There’s a lot of talk about digital technology and smartcities, but what about smart farms? Many of us still have a romantic view of farmers surveying rolling hills and farm kids cuddling calves, but our food in Canada increasingly comes from industrial-scale factory farms and vast glass and steel forests of greenhouses.
While changes in agriculture show promise for increasing productivity and profits and reducing pesticides and pollution, the future of farming is not all rosy.
Corporate control of many agricultural inputs — seeds, feed, fertilizers, machinery — is well documented. Agricultural land is also increasing in cost and farms are getting bigger and bigger. It is likely that digital agriculture will exacerbate these trends. We’re especially interested in what farm work will look like as the digital revolution unfolds.
Marginalized workers are set up to lose
While rising costs are always a concern for producers and consumers, we have two main concerns about how the digital revolution is changing farm work in particular.
First, who owns all of the data being produced in precision agriculture? Farm owners and workers produce data that has massive potential for commercial exploitation. However, just who gets to harvest the fruits of this digital data labour is unclear.
Should it flow to those who produce it? Should it be something that we own collectively? Unfortunately, if smart farms are anything like smart cities, then it looks like corporate control of data could tighten.
Second, it’s very likely that ag-tech will lead to an even more sharply divided labour force. So-called “high-skilled” managers trained in data management and analysis will oversee operations, while many ostensibly “lower-skilled” jobs are replaced. Remaining on-the-ground labourers will find themselves in working conditions that are increasingly automated, surveilled and constrained. For instance, in fruit and vegetable greenhouses inputs are increasingly being controlled remotely, but migrant workers still do much of the planting and harvesting by hand. And, they do so under conditions of severe physical and social immobility.
The digital revolution in agriculture has a double edge. Smart farms bring promise, but automation in agricultural production and distribution will eliminate many jobs.
Our concern is that the suite of jobs that remain will only deepen economic inequities — with more privileged university graduates receiving the bulk of the well-paid work, while further stripping physical labourers of their power and dignity.
There is no magic pill, but our governments do have options. Policy and legislation can shift the path of ag-tech to better support vulnerable farm workers and populations. In doing so, the looming issue of land ownership and repatriation must be addressed in Canada, with Indigenous nations at the head of the table alongside marginalized workers and farmers. Supporting pathways to farming and permanent residency for migrant workers, as well as training for digital skill-building can help to close more immediate gaps.
We need to ready ourselves for how radical transformations in food production and distribution will impact land prices, property rights and working conditions. Our folksy view of farming is due for an update.
New technologies in
agriculture are collecting massive amounts of agricultural data. Drones, robots, sensors, and satellites are
generating more data than farmers know what to do with. Take for example, Climate Pro sensors, which
are said to generate up to 7
gigabytes of data per acre, and with the average farm size in Canada
acres – that’s a lot of data! While these technologies have been hyped to increase
sustainability and productivity, a key question still remains: how
does all this data get turned into information – and – information for who?
Farmers are still
learning how to use this data to make decisions to improve their farms. When I interviewed farmers for my Master’s thesis,
many of those using these technologies had taught themselves how to interpret
the data. Others were beginning to make use of a new line of services being
offered by a growing number of agricultural companies providing data management
While we are starting
to understand the impacts of data and new technologies on the farm, there are
still a lot of questions about what happens to the data once it leaves the
farm. Companies have a lot to gain by collecting this data, and according to
many data sharing agreements, farmers don’t necessarily own the data that their
technologies are generating. According to one
report by the American Farm Bureau, 82% of farmers said that they
had no idea what companies were doing with their data. Additionally, some companies are even
starting to pay farmers for their data, such as Farmobile,
who sells their sensor technologies to farmers, the sensors collect information
such as harvest data, and then Farmobile finds buyers for this data and pays
the farmer. Who is buying this data
though? Are other companies selling these types of technologies also selling
farmer data but not paying farmers for it?
The farmers that I
spoke with were a bit divided over what the outcomes of all this big data
collection would be for the industry – some were hopeful that it would lead to
new innovations that could benefit their farm, while skeptics believed that
this data would lead to new regulations and monitoring. Some organizations have attempted to create
more transparency in agricultural data governance, such as Ag Data
Transparent, which is a third-party that provides a certification to
companies who are practicing best management principles for handling farm data.
The Ag Data
Coalition is another non-profit organization that is working to
create a neutral place for farmers to store and share their data in an attempt
to give farmers more control over their data.
Still the black-box of
how agricultural data moves from the farm through the agricultural supply chain
remains, as large processors (such as Mondelez
International) are increasingly starting to require the type of data
that is generated by precision agriculture technologies in order to make
sustainability claims. As these new
technologies continue to be adopted by farmers worldwide, the agricultural industry
is in need of effective policy around data management.
Within this context, a group of us got together to explore some key trends being observed at the nexus of agricultural production, technology, and labour in North America, with a particular focus on Canada. After reflecting on our discussions, reading the literature, and analysing the data, we wrote a paper that highlights three key tensions we’ve observed: 1) the complex relationship between rising land costs and automation; 2) the development of a high-skill/low-skilled bifurcated labour market; and 3) growing issues around the control of digital data itself. In the paper we apply a social justice lens to consider the potential impacts of digital agricultural technologies for farm labour and rural communities, which directs our attention to racial exploitation in agricultural labour specifically. After all, structures of racism, classism and patriarchy have long underpinned Canadian agriculture (Carter, 1990; Holtslander, 2015; Laliberte and Satzewich, 2008; Perry, 2012; Preibisch, 2007). After exploring these tensions over the past year, it seems that policy and research must work to shift the trajectory of digitalization in ways that support food production as well as marginalized agricultural labourers. We also point to some key areas for future research—which is lacking to date. We emphasize that the current enthusiasm for digital agriculture should not blind us to the specific ways that new technologies intensify exploitation and deepen both labour and spatial marginalization