Science & Tech

Hundreds of U of O students take part in the Global Climate Strike in September 2019. Photo: Matt Gergyek/The Fulcrum

Of the 246 academics who signed the letter, seven of them were from the U of O

In response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2018 report on climate change, 246 Canadian academics collaborated with Extinction Rebellion — a global environmental movement — and signed  an open letter in early February that called on the Canadian government to take action against the climate crisis.

Of the 246 who signed the letter — which was published in the National Observer — seven of them were faculty members from the University of Ottawa. 

The Fulcrum spoke to two U of O  faculty members from the department of sociology and anthropology who signed the letter: Karine Vanthhuyne, who is an associate professor, and Meg Stalcup, an assistant professor.

The main focus of Vanthuyne’s research is on identity, memory and the advocacy of Indigenous rights. She has examined different Indigenous groups of people in Guatemala and Canada, namely the Chuj and the Crees of Eeyou. 

Currently, she documents how the history of colonization and the process of decolonization affects these groups of people and how mining activities impact them.

The Fulcrum: What is your stance on the climate crisis?

Karine Vanthuyne: I have children that participate in strikes with their peers. Therefore, I am aware of the responsibility I have to take as a citizen to make sure I do my part before it’s too late.

The Fulcrum: What important steps have you taken in the past as a professional contributing to the fight against the climate crisis?

KV: I am not too focused on the climate crisis itself but rather, I focus on research and teaching while raising awareness among students. I reach out to Members of Parliament concerning mining activities in Canada, Guatemala, and Chile. I take part in documenting the human impact on mining. In this area of expertise, there is a larger definition of human rights. You have to take into consideration water as a natural resource, for example, and how mining affects how this natural resource is used. I also work with Indigenous people to exercise their rights as a collective body.

The Fulcrum: Why did you choose to sign this letter?

KV: I’m worried about what the government is doing so far to address the climate crisis. I signed this letter in order to do my duty as a citizen because of what I know concerning the topic. I also want to exercise some kind of pressure so that something is done about it, so that more concrete and effective actions are taken. Our Canadian economy is too focused on extracting resources, and reducing this trend should occur, and using the energy to then recycle and reuse resources should be done. These projects have an important impact on extracting and other activities taken with the use of natural resources. There are many impacts that could be avoided while these extracting activities take place.

The Fulcrum: Do you think the signatures on the open letter are making an impact on the resolution of this issue?

KV: I am not very optimistic about the impact that signing the letter could have. Instead, I believe that by raising awareness this could encourage people to express their voices and express their concern as well.

The Fulcrum: I understand that your field of expertise can directly impact and contribute to global sustainability. How does your stance on climate change and global warming contribute to your program/expertise?

KV: Firstly, indirectly, I focus more on Indigenous rights.

Secondly, I believe that climate change is only one piece of the puzzle. Not only with environmental but on social justice issues as well. At the end of the day, those that are paying or suffering those changes are the same people that suffered in the extraction of resources, just like in mining. Therefore, climate change is affected. For example, mining activities use lots of resources like water. Now, subsistence becomes more difficult because more people are affected by the disappearing activities of natural resources such as water.


Stalcup’s work is primarily concerned with data and technology in different domains. She works mostly on cases in Brazil that are focused on security, the environment, health and politics.

The Fulcrum: What is your stance on the climate crisis?

Meg Stalcup: Climate change is happening. We need to address it.

The Fulcrum: What important steps have you taken in the past as a professional contributing to the fight against the climate crisis?

MS: I think the choice of topics that we do research on is always political and this is one way of intervening in the contemporary. What we choose to teach in our classes and the way we present that is another kind of intervention.

The Fulcrum: Why did you choose to sign this letter?

MS: I agreed with what it was proposing. I got a letter from a colleague that asked me to sign it. I had heard of Extinction Rebellion, but I didn’t know a lot about their approach to addressing climate change. So, I went and read a couple of chapters of their book, and then got in touch with a colleague whose work is directly about political steps needed to address climate change. He agreed with me that it was great and that we need more of this. Since I already agreed with what the letter was proposing, that strengthened my decision to sign it.

The Fulcrum: Do you think the signatures on the open letter are making an impact on the resolution of this issue?

MS: I have seen no evidence in favour of or against that. But at the university, we’re in a structurally privileged position, and because we’re in Ottawa we’re in a geographically privileged position. Everyone’s voice should count, but we’re really in a place for voices to be heard. There should be a protest outside of Parliament every day. And I would like to see that come into being, something like a coalition with U of O and Carleton students who know that if we go to Parliament every day, that will mean something, because we’re here. The ways that things become events is through this back and forth between activism and the mainstream media commenting on activism. You need different elements in an assemblage in order to produce change. Interventions can come in at different levels, and there are different scales of ways to act. So there’s the potential for something like signing this letter, and then you writing a story, and people reading the story and understanding that change needs to occur.

The Fulcrum: I understand that your field of expertise can directly impact and contribute to global sustainability. How does your stance on climate change and global warming contribute to your program/expertise?

MS: I work principally on science, data, and technology and the ways that those are shaping the possibilities of humans today. One of the groups that I work within Brazil, for instance, is engaged with digital activism around environmental catastrophes and different environmental events that have taken place. There have been some significant events in the country in addition to the fires in the Amazon, and there was also a major oil spill.

Focusing on these anthropologically means looking at not just what people say about these things, but what they’re actually doing and how those come together. I think we have to understand that, because it’s one thing to actually look at the stories that are told, which is important, but we also have to understand what’s going on in people’s lives, how they’re doing their practices, and how that shapes their possibilities and options.