Tuesday, July 29, 2008

saving energy

As the cost of energy continues to rise, so do ways of reducing energy use and thus costs.

Last week, NPR had a piece on cutting your energy use at home. As new laws are implemented around the globe, reducing your energy use is becoming a necessity.

In Vancouver, the Sustainable Building Centre offers a series of speakers and events on how to reduce your energy and become more sustainable.

Monday, July 28, 2008

flying squirrels

August 9, 10:15 - 12:00, FLYING SQUIRRELS: DENIZENS OF THE DARK at the West End Community Centre:

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Although a little late...

The One Laptop Per Child Grassroots Web Conference (link) was started to increase communication between grassroots projects, as well as increase the general visibility of OLPC projects around the world. This ranges from computer development to pilot programs and public awareness campaigns.

While this conference took place on Saturday, you can catch highlights of the presenters, discussions and questions at Jusin.tv.

The One Laptop per Child project is an interesting look at how technology can be implemented into development and education, and the web conference allows for discussion on how these programs have been implemented around the world.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Slum Issues

The Economist recently released an interesting article on India's pollution.

It goes into a good amount of detail describing pollution in India and it's implications for sanitation and health, particularly around the Ganges. They provide a quote from Sunita Narain, a prominent environmentalist, which mocks the tourist ministry’s slogan: “Incredible India, drowning in its excreta”.

In the developing nations, environmental problems are as significant if not more so as in the developed world. In the book Planet of Slums by Mike David, he discusses the primary issues facing the growing urban slums today. In the chapter, "Slum Ecology" he discusses the environmental issues facing third world slums. One of these that he mentions is that slums are literally "living in shit" without the proper infrastructure and resources available to handle their own excrement. While this effects everyone living in the slums, it is particularly a feminist issue in many ways. Other than obvious health issues that arise with no private toilets to use, women are also often forced to relieve themselves only at night thus creating issues of safety, exposing them to harassment and even sexual assault.

In determine a way to deal with these issues, one has to consider which is the best option for these areas. Obviously, an immediate option is ideal, but as discussed in the Economist article, many infrastructure projects do not end up working to their full capacity and are often dwarfed by better technologies that arise. This is one of many issues that growing urban centers must confront.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Greater Van - Adapting to Climate Change

Yesterday was the Future of the Region Sustainability Dialogue on "Adapting to Climate Change" put together by Metro Vancouver.

These dialogues have been put together in an attempt to bring professionals, government and the general public together to ask questions and discuss matters relating to sustainability.

Yesterday's symposium hosted four speakers talking on climate change and the implications for the greater Vancouver area and sought to determine how the region can change to deal with the changes, challenges and opportunities.

Matt Horne is the Acting Director of BC Energy Solutions with the Pembina Institute. His short presentation discussed how to adapt to the changing economy that will inevitably come with climate change. He stressed a need for strong mitigation on carbon. He also discussed how the challenges of climate change stretched across culture, income and geography. Each group within the community will have to deal with challenges that arise. He cited low income families who already have 20% of their income going towards energy costs, the transport industry and the island communities which rely on easy transport for their livelihoods. All groups must be considered to have access to a solution.

Jim Vanderwal is the Program Manager for the Climate Change Program with the Fraser Basin Council. He began his talk with 2 assumptions:
1 - Adaptation isn't possible without serious cuts in emissions.
2 - Adaptation needs to happen regardless.
He discussed how there does exist a concern surrounding climate change in the community, but just because people understand what is happening, doesn't mean they necessarily act and it is role of the community to empower people to act. One example he cited was the trucking industry which has difficulty adapting because a) they do not know where they currently stand in terms of emissions, and once that is determined b) they are confronted with many 'solutions', not all of which will work, but are unaware of which ones will.

Jim discussed recommendations, the first three which can be immediately dealt with:
1 - Leading by example, measure carbon footprints for all new developments and infrastructure;
2 - Focus on water consumption and demand as equally as we do energy consumption;
3 - Local governments have new incentive towards sustainable development, so they should use it; and
4 - Determine a plan for 2050, look at the future and focus on how we will get to these goals.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC. John discussed how finally the jurisdiction in Canada exists to change towards more sustainable living, but the scale needed to change has yet to be understood. He stressed using adaptation and mitigation together to create change, but doing so intelligently. Simply adding adaptation and mitigation to undeveloped packages is a recipe for failure. It is important to think about broad term sustainability rather than just climate policy. Large collective decisions will determine the framework, while culture and lifestyle choices will determine the behavior of those in the community.

Dale Littlejohn is the Strategy and Outreach Manager at the Community Energy Association. John discussed how the adaptation response depends on what we're adapting to. If we don't get a handle of mitigation, it will be much more difficult to adapt. He talked about the need to expand ideas around district energy and distributed energy, for example solar power, and create a partnership with local companies and the community. Climate change needs to move beyond actions by the individual and look at what the entire community can do to adapt to the situation.

The speakers were followed by about an hour worth of questions and discussion surrounding climate change. One of the interesting points I thought came from John Robinson when discussing green buildings and technology. He pointed out that the barriers to change are not economic or technological, but institutional. Therefore, creating change requires changing the way the institution thinks about how things are done.

Overall I found they symposium to be quite interesting and am looking forward to how it all comes together. There are four of these forums around greater Vancouver leading up to the Sustainability Summit on October 7. One can see highlights from the forum and a written summary on the Metro Vancouver Website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

local urban food

The concept of 'eating local' has been growing in recent years. This can be partly attributed to rising transportation costs, a new concern on the amount of greenhouse gasses which are released due to transport, and a desire to support local farmers and growers.

Urban planners and designers, environmentalists and agricultural scientists have been researching how this can be applied in the context of the city and some interesting designs have come forward.

The Vertical Farm Project takes an interesting look at how to best cultivate food in an urban environment. As the world's population continues to predominately reside in urban areas, this is an area that will continue to be researched and discussed.

The Vertical Farm Project discusses the problem and their proposed solution and is an interesting take.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

driving, driving

In the 1990's Saturn had created and was leasing to the public the very first modern electric car in California. However, it was shortly shut down and all the cars were destroyed, not because of safety standards, but it was instead speculated to be pressure from big oil companies and the government. This has all been documented in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car".

Since the release of that movie, petrol prices have now soared to close to $150/barrel and this in turn has stimulated discussion on the future of our automobiles. The New York Times today released an article "Designing Cars for Low-Carbon Chic". An idea I liked from this article stresses how "instead of selling cars based on the size of the engine, the car’s relationship with its surroundings and how it interacts with people should be increasingly important".

While I think it's sad that we had and destroyed the technology over 10 years ago that could deal with cleaner emissions and the rising cost of fuel, I believe that we now have it in us to continue to pursue these technologies and create a new transport economy that is not dependent on fuel. Returning back to the quote, "the stone age did not end, because we ran out of stone.". Whether one agrees that there is an oil crises or not, creating more efficient technologies can only be beneficial all around in the long run.