Faces of Sustainability: Kimberly Strong

Thursday, July 11, 2013 11:37:00 AM

Faces of Sustainability:

Kimberly Strong, Inaugural Director of the School of the Environment

Physics Professor Kimberly Strong started on July 1 as Inaugural Director of the School of the Environment. She is featured here in the U of T Office of Sustainability’s Faces of Sustainability, a monthly series launched in
January 2013 as an ongoing feature to highlight individuals who contribute to environmental progress at the University of Toronto. 

The interview, courtesy of the U of T Office of Sustainability, follows here:

How do you define sustainability?
I go with the Brundtland Commission’s definition: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
So, in our everyday lives, sustainability means living and working in a way that minimizes negative impacts on the environment for our children and their descendants.

How did you get started in environmental work, and how long have you been interested in it?
I grew up in Newfoundland, where the natural environment is always nearby. I studied physics as an undergrad, and pursued summer jobs in geophysics, aeronomy, and astronomy: fields that involved applying physics to help understand the world around us. I specialized in atmospheric physics in my graduate and post-doctoral studies, as I became increasingly engaged in trying to understand how and why our atmosphere is changing.

What do you do on campus related to the environment/sustainability?
My focus is on research, teaching, and outreach in environmental science rather than explicitly on sustainability. I see my role as helping to train the next generation of scientists and citizens, enabling them to put their environmental knowledge to use in many positive ways. In my new position as Director of the School of the Environment, I am looking forward to enhancing and expanding environmental teaching and research across the Faculty of Arts and Science.

What have been your greatest environmental successes?
On the research side, my environmental successes are all the result of teamwork, and include the establishment and operation of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in the high Arctic, and my involvement in the Canadian Space Agency’s incredibly successful Odin/OSIRIS and Scisat/ACE satellite missions, both still in orbit and returning data a decade after launch. On the education side, I have been fortunate to work with many terrific graduate students and post-docs, as well as engaging more than 70 undergraduate students in environmental research.

What exciting environmental opportunities lie ahead for you?
I will continue my research, and of course, there will be many exciting new things to do at the School of the Environment: We will be launching the new environmental sciences major and the revamped environmental studies major, developing initiatives to engage students, faculty, and the public in the School, and looking for a new home somewhere on campus.

What's the biggest challenge facing U of T students, staff and faculty that keeps our campus from becoming more sustainable?
Habit, convenience, and cost are all barriers to sustainable behaviour. Good intentions and guilt will get us part of the way, but for real long-term change, we need to make sustainable behaviour easy – part of our everyday routines. That comes from individual initiatives, good policies, and creating an environment that encourages and enables such behaviour.

What's your favourite environmental hobby or activity away from work?
I like being outdoors with my family, exploring the city’s ravines, the Toronto Islands, the Niagara Escarpment, and other wild spaces farther afield.

Who are your eco-heroes?
I also have great admiration for climate scientists, particularly those who are willing to discuss and defend their science on the larger public stage. This is a tough time to be working in this field. While the scientific evidence for climate change mounts, those who present it are often ignored, dismissed, or vilified. However, this is an issue that will only grow in importance in the years to come.
’d also like to mention Brian Mulroney. While scientists can make measurements and run models to explain what is happening to our environment and why, it takes policy makers and politicians to recognize the importance of such science and to have the vision to enact appropriate legislation. The Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons was signed under Mulroney’s watch, as was the Acid Rain Treaty with the USA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. He also created eight new national parks, established the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and ratified both the Climate Change Accord and the Biodiversity Accord. Also notable was his early endorsement of the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission and the concept of sustainable development.


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