Catherine Abreu

Photo credit: Katie McKay

Catherine graduated in 2009 with an Honours BA in Anthropology, with a minor in Environmental Studies. She is one of Canada’s foremost sustainable energy campaigners and currently leads the energy and climate change mitigation programs at the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), Atlantic Canada’s largest and longest-running environmental advocacy organization. As the EAC’s Energy Coordinator, she advances policies that enhance Canada’s investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy while phasing out fossil fuels. She is the former Coordinator of the Atlantic Canada Sustainable Energy Coalition (ACSEC).

An accomplished public speaker, Catherine has been honoured to share the stage with some of Canada’s leading environmental thinkers including David Suzuki, Maude Barlow, and Megan Leslie. Her commentary has featured in many news outlets including the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, the Financial Post and VICE. She regularly writes opinion pieces for Atlantic Canada’s most widely-read news sources, The Chronicle Herald and The Coast. She appears frequently on CBC, CTV, Global and other current affairs television and radio programs.

Catherine is committed to work that confronts climate change head-on, wielding bold and creative strategies. She thinks a lot about citizenship, community, and beauty, and does her best to incorporate these values into each of her endeavours.

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Describe yourself in up to 75 words.

 I say yes a lot.

Why did you choose New College (be honest) and what were your expectations?

I chose New College for a few reasons. I knew I wouldn’t be living in residence, and New College seemed the best option for a student living off-campus. I liked the history of NC: the lingering flavour of ‘60s experimentation; the dedication to social diversity; and, the breaking from religious affiliation that defines some of U of T’s other colleges. The college registrar at the time — the most excellent Sally Walker — is my high school best friend’s mother, and so I had familiarity there (not to mention said friend also enrolling at New). Finally, I’m a sucker for puns, and Gnus are cool.

What was New College like when you were here?

It was an extremely supportive place for me. Though I didn’t live on campus, or take many of the college’s academic programs, I often found myself in NC’s administrative building. I always felt relaxed, taken care of, and celebrated at New College. Coming from a background of limited means, the assistance I received applying to grants offered through the college made my time there possible. And when I was diagnosed with cancer in second year, the interventions of staff in helping me manage stress, workloads, and medical appointments was invaluable. New College made it easy for me to take the year off of school that I needed to recover, and to come back with a new academic focus. I was proud to graduate from NC with high distinction.

How do you think your academic and social experience at the University/New College has prepared you for life and your career?

I was determined to approach University as an opportunity to plunder the treasure troves of knowledge that an institution like U of T maintains. Rather than striking a linear path through school designed to lead me to a specific job, I spent my time exploring. I was really lucky that I chose a university, and a college within that university, that gave me the freedom to design my own journey. Along the way, I was privileged to learn with some of the most brilliant thinkers in this country, and to be embedded in a context that encourages excellence. What I learned and, almost more importantly, the way I learned at U of T helped me to cultivate the kind of creative, generative thinking and analytical acumen that is critical to every single day of my professional and personal life.

Tell us about some of the lessons you learned here.

During my time at New College and the University of Toronto, I learned that I don’t have the patience for archaeology or the heart for chemistry. I learned that language is the tool we use to co-create our world. I learned that Harlequin romances offer a really fun read, and that my Spanish is better than I give myself credit for. I came to grasp the foundations of the globalized economy we function within, and barely glimpse the manifold repercussions of that system. I fell in love with Aristotle, then Nietzsche, then Kierkegaard, then Camus. I experimented with cutting capital letters out of my writing, then accepted that bell hooks does it best, as she does so much else. I faced my mortality. I learned the names of all known ancestors of Homo sapiens sapiens. I broke my heart. And I found some of the incredible women that would show me what it can look like to be smart, ambitious, unyielding and female in our society.

What do you consider your major achievements, and who has had the most influence on your career?

In December 2015 I attended the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France and joined the official Canadian delegation there. It was an incredible experience. I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed for a number of films in the last couple of years. And over the course of my career, I’ve gotten to share the stage with several of my heroes. I was nominated for Nova Scotia Music’s 2015 DJ of the Year. Those are a few things that stick out for me.

It’s difficult to pinpoint one person that’s had the most influence on my career. Maybe my 10th grade biology teacher, whose amazing class forced me into an early life crisis and ignited my passion for science and systematic inquiry.

In your personal or professional life, what are you most looking forward to?

I’m pretty excited to see what a shift in Federal government means for Canada. I’m looking forward to the release of the next instalment of Rat Queens. And I have a feeling 2016 holds some changes for me. I’m curious to discover what those are.