The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is celebrating its 25th anniversary — and with that milestone comes an opportunity to expand its mandate to include the greater Hamilton area. TAF is an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and while it focuses most of its efforts on Toronto, Julia Langer, CEO of TAF, knows that it’s time to expand.
“It’s about recognizing that opportunities for solving climate change are not limited to the 416.”
A self-described “perennial optimist”, Langer thinks Ontario and Toronto have won a lot of battles on the environmental front, but in the end they may be losing the war.
“It can be solved,” she said in an interview. “[Climate change can] get waylaid with a bunch of things along the way, whether its political will, lack of capital right now, short term versus long term priorities…It’s all about where we work and where we play — making sure that we can live and work in a way that is a low-carbon lifestyle.”
Langer always had an awareness of the environment, as well as a passion for life. When she was 10, her parents would discuss social and environmental issues, often bringing their daughter along with them to clean up Don River and dredge through the garbage. This mentality was passed on to Langer, who developed a keen interest in marine biology.
“I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau the Second,” she said. However, Langer learned early on that she would most likely end up in a lab, and she was more interested in integrating science and policy. So, she transferred to the University of Toronto and continued her studies in toxicology there.
“Academic and scientific work is super important in highlighting and understanding problems, but it was a bit frustrating that academics don’t do policy reforms,” she said. Her attention was focused on taking information provided by these scientists and experts, and enacting positive change — something she has been able to do rather successfully throughout her illustrious career.
After university, Langer landed a number of summer jobs, including a position in James Bradly’s office, the minister of environment at the time. Her work involved providing policy analysis and advice on files involving toxins, pesticides, and sewage treatments, among other things. She went on to work for Friends of the Earth in Ottawa and was hired by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) working with the toxicology program, where she was eventually promoted to Director of the Cuba Eco–Regional Program. She also spearheaded the WWF Climate Change program.
At TAF, Langer has a wide portfolio. She is responsible for managing campaigns, defining strategy, working on policy, and communicating with the public about pollution and greenhouse gas reduction. Recently, she has spoken at a number of town halls about the impact of climate change.
While others may see this portfolio as daunting, Langer speaks about it with great fervour. It’s all about focusing on three main things Toronto (and the surrounding GTHA) needs to do to reduce its greenhouse emissions, she said: improve the energy efficiency of our economy, decarbonize our energy system, and make smart land use decisions.
Langer also co-founded Eco-Babes in Toronto, an organization that facilitates networking among women who work in the sustainability industry. Once a month, women interested in the environment or in energy can meet up, ask for advice, exchange business cards, and usually enjoy a good glass of wine or pint of beer.
At the same time, Langer says the demographics in the environmental industry are pretty evenly matched. “A challenge in the environmental community isn’t gender, but diversity,” she said. “It hasn’t yet permeated into the staffing within the environmental community. I think it is changing, but it’s not there yet.”
When she isn’t working, Langer is an avid vegetable gardener and recent canning aficionado. “There is something satisfying about growing and making food, and packing it away like a squirrel,” she said with a laugh. Beyond that, she is quite active. During the summer, she goes canoeing and hiking with her husband and daughter, passing on the tradition of environmental awareness, as it were.
Langer is reading Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset.