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UBCO forum in Kelowna to debate climate change impact

Debaters tackle timely topic in civil discourse format

UBC Okanagan is making an active attempt to revive civil discourse in one of the partisan-dividing issues of our time.

In a reserved seating public forum at the Okanagan Community Theatre on Wednesday evening, May 15, that effort will focus on a discussion about the impact of climate change, asking the question is climate change a time for ingenuity or urgent action?

It is the third in a series of public debates hosted by UBCO. The others which took place last year dealt with free speech and Artificial Intelligence.

Marten Youssef, associate vice president of university relations at UBCO, said in the present societal climate of political polarization, we are driven apart by issues rather than coming to a consensus.

“We have been in this polarized place for quite some time now, so much more radicalized with our own perspectives and personal viewpoints,” said Youssef, noting that universities have a role to play in changing that civil discourse tone.

“There is a place for ideas to be cross-examined and challenged, for someone to poke holes in someone else’s argument, I really do think there is a hunger for that to happen.”

But Youssef acknowledges social media doesn’t engage in meaningful debate, which has descended into individual silos, where people look to hear what reinforces their own beliefs, and their own facts, rather than listen and learn from an opposing point of view, where the exchange of facts gets lost amid the search for clicks and vitriolic response.

He feels one social media debate’s pitfalls has been the granting of anonymity for those expressing opinions.

“It allows people to make a particular comment on anything and not be held accountable for it…one of the things in a constructive debate is testing out someone else’s theory who thinks differently you that might lead to arriving at a consensus,” he said.

“This idea of holding these debates is to create space where people can connect, to find a way to move away from the vitriol of online dialogue, the cross talking…what happens on social media is like debating a ghost…it is not debating.

“I feel we need to unplug from that chaos to bring back the art of civil discourse, to encourage people at these debates we host to engage and talk about these tough issues we face.”

Youssef contends there is no issue our society faces that we can’t tackle together if done in a respectful way.

“I truly believe it starts with sitting across from each other, looking in the whites of that person’s eyes, and having a healthy debate. I feel we have forgotten how to do that.”

For the climate change forum, the resolution before the debaters is what opportunities climate change presents for positive change and does climate change presents a crisis where some personal freedoms should perhaps be sacrificed for the common good.

Speaking on the side of opportunity will be Dr. Ross Hickey, a public economics researcher at UBCO, and Shauna Sylvester, lead convener with the Urban Climate Leadership.

Debating how to manage the crisis challenge situation will be Carol Liao, associate professor in UBC’s Allard School of Law, a legal expert on corporate law and sustainability, and Brett Favaro, a scientist and dean of the faculty of science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The debate host will be Dr. Lesley Cormack, principal and deputy vice-chancellor of UBC Okanagan, and the moderator will be Nathan Skolski, UBCO Office of the Provost and vice-president, academic.

“This debate will challenge our audience to consider if our efforts and resources are better spent in an existential battle against greenhouse gases or finding ways to prioritize human resilience and economic evolution,” Youssef said.

The debate will begin at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 15. Tickets are $8/person, available online at

READ MORE: Kelowna Community Theatre warns not to get played when purchasing tickets

Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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