Friday, March 26, 2010

Fellowship Opportunity for Non-Profit Leaders

In partnership with Opportunity Collaboration and in honor of International Women's Day, World Pulse is inviting social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders who work on empowering women and alleviating poverty to apply for the Cordes Foundation Fellowship. This fellowship provides a PulseWire member with the opportunity to participate as a Delegate in the Opportunity Collaboration.

Opportunity Collaboration is a four-day strategic and problem-solving retreat for nonprofit leaders, for-profit social entrepreneurs, funders and social investors. The aim is to break down the silos of unproductive competition and go beyond the boundaries of conventional poverty alleviation. The retreat takes place, October 15-20, 2010 in Ixtapa, Mexico

Fellows participate fully in all aspects of the Opportunity Collaboration. In addition, Fellows may earn a certificate of completion awarded by the University of the Pacific Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship. This on-site professional training symposium covers areas critical to the success of organizations and individuals creating social impact and combating poverty. The curriculum is designed in partnership with the Fellows and other Opportunity Collaboration Delegates.

To learn more about eligibility and the deadline for applying, please visit

Thursday, March 25, 2010

After the bees are gone

Marcelo Aizen and Lawrence Harder wrote an editorial today in the New York Times on the death and disappearance of bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder has spread across North America and Europe in the past five years. IF the bees are to disappear, this has serious implications for our plants.

Overall, about one-third of our worldwide agricultural production depends to some extent on bee pollination, but less than 10 percent of the 100 most productive crop species depend entirely on it. If pollinators were to vanish, it would reduce total food production by only about 6 percent.

The authors discuss how this wouldn’t mean the end of human existence, but if we want to continue eating foods like apples and avocados, we need to understand that bees and other pollinators can’t keep up with the current growth in production of these foods.

The reason is that fruit and seed crops that are most dependent on pollinators yield relatively little food per acre, and therefore take up an inordinate, and increasing, amount of land. The fraction of agriculture dependent on pollination has increased by 300% in half a century.

The paradox is that our demand for these foods endangers the wild bees that help make their cultivation possible. The expansion of farmland destroys wild bees’ nesting sites and also wipes out the wildflowers that the bees depend on when food crops aren’t in blossom.

Learn more about recent findings in the article, Too-Busy Bees.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Petropolis - Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands

Petropolis is a film by Canadian media artist and filmmaker Peter Mettler. Mattler aerially filmed the tar sands of Alberta, Canada from a helicopter to highlight the vast scope and impact that the industrial mining site has on the environment.

The mining area of the tar sands is as big as all of England and the tar sands oil production releases five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production.

In a follow up from yesterday's post, getting the oil out of the tar sands uses roughly as much water as a city of two million people. Afterwards, 90 per cent of this water is so contaminated with toxic chemicals that it must be stored in tailings ponds so huge that they can be seen from outer space.

Read more about Peter Mettler's experience making Petropolis on New Scientist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The dirty oil in Alberta's tar sands

Yesterday was World Water Day, and to mark the day, the event, Water: Challenges and Opportunities took place in Vancouver.

The opening guest speaker was Canadian author Andrew Nikiforuk talking about the impact of the Tar Sands on water quality. Nikiforuk is author of the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil And The Future Of A Continent.

In the book, Nikiforuk discusses the disastrous environmental, social, and political costs of the tar sands and argues forcefully for change.

Canada has one third of the world’s oil source; it comes from the bitumen in the oil sands of Alberta. Advancements in technology and frenzied development have created the world’s largest energy project in Fort McMurray where, rather than shooting up like a fountain in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the sticky bitumen is extracted from the earth. Providing almost 20 percent of America’s fuel, much of this dirty oil is being processed in refineries in the Midwest. This megaproject is polluting the air, poisoning the water, and destroying boreal forest at a rate almost too rapid to be imagined.

A recent report by the Pembina Institute, looks into the major drawbacks of steam-driven projects which are used to extract crude from Canada's oil sands and are often held up as more environmentally friendly than mining.

The Alberta-based Pembina Institute compared nine projects that employ "in situ" extraction methods -- where steam is pumped into the earth to liquefy the extra-heavy crude so it can be pumped to the surface -- and found all need to make improvements to varying degrees.

"The impacts of in situ have sort of been framed as low-impact oil sands development, but when you look at the data that isn't actually borne out," said Simon Dyer, one of the authors of the report, called "Drilling Deeper: the In Situ Oil Sands Report Card".

"Some of them indicate actually higher impact on a per-barrel basis than mining, for instance greenhouse gas emissions and sulfur-dioxide emissions and some of the cumulative impacts on land."

Projects were judged on general environmental management, land use, air emissions, water use and impact on climate change, and then given an overall score.

Open-pit mining gets most of the attention in the oil sands of northern Alberta, the largest crude deposits outside the Middle East. But the lion's share of the crude is too deep to mine, and must be extracted using in situ techniques.

"The main message is there's clearly room for improvement," Dyer said. "There's a wide range of performance, we don't have half the regulations that would necessarily drive implementation of best practices that are there currently."

Source: More regulation needed for Canada oil sands, Reuters

Friday, March 19, 2010

Urban Density in Developing Countries

Most of the world's population lives in urban areas. In the developing world, these urban areas have been drastically increasing in population over the past 50 years. This has lead to higher density and resulted in urban slums as people look for affordable housing options.

A new vision of urban planning was presented in a study issued today.  The vision involves a flexible building design that would allow residents to expand their homes upwards by up to three floors - as and when their families grow - and create socially and economically successful communities that are as dense as, or even denser, than buildings that are up to six floors high.

The new design, which promises a brighter future for millions of the world's poorest urban citizens, is detailed in a study and multimedia collection funded by the International Institute for Environment and Development and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Its launch today coincides with the opening of the United Nations Fifth World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, where thousands of delegates from governments, academia and nongovernmental organisations will discuss solutions to the
challenges of urbanization.

The following is a short film on the Karachi settlements and the study's conclusions:

For more information, please visit

Bridging the Gap 2010

Engineer's Without Borders Bridging the Gap 2010 conference is happening on March 27. The conference is a chance for passionate students and professionals to explore how local actions impact extreme poverty. This year's conference will be held at the Life Sciences Institute on the University of British Columbia Campus.

With the theme "Local Action to Global Impact: Vision, Action, Voice" professional and student delegates will examine the influence of our choices at home, on the development field, in parliament and in boardrooms. The attendees will have a full day of discussion, debate, collaboration and learning, with workshops and sessions led by an engaging line-up of speakers. The conference will close with a keynote address from Dr. Hans Rosling, professor of International Health in Stockholm, Sweden, co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden and Director of Gapminder Foundation.

To learn more about the conference, visit

If you haven't seen Hans Rosling's TED talk, it is definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The newly redesigned Woodward Building in Vancouver's downtown east side has recently hosted the exhibit Vancouver, Vancouverize, Vancouverism: Building and Idea.

"Vancouverizing" is a term that has been used by architects and city planners over the past decade to describe the redevelopment of under-populated, un-loved urban cores. Vancouver has become first a verb, and now, an ideology promoting an urbanism of density and public amenity.  Vancouverism at its best brings together a deep respect for the natural environment with high concentrations of residents.  Within condominium residential towers downtown and courtyard and boulevard-edging mid-rise buildings elsewhere in the city, Vancouverites are learning to live tightly together.

The Vancouverism exhibition hopes to be a catalyst for debate and reflection and includes photographs, drawings, videos, scale models, and full size building details of innovative design and city building in Vancouver.

If you would like to learn more about Vancouverism and it's origins, be sure to check out Trevor Boddy's article - Vancouverism vs. Lower Manhattanism: Shaping the High Density City.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eco-certifications, Eco-labels and Eco-logos in the Food Sector

Yesterday, Metro Vancouver, hosted a sustainability community breakfast on Eco-certifications, Eco-labels and Eco-logos in the Food Sector.

The three speakers included Mike McDermid with Ocean Wise at the Vancouver Aquarium, Brad Reid from Certified Organic Associations of BC, and Lloyd Bernhardt with Ethical Bean Fair Trade Coffee.

All three speakers discussed how eco-labelling and certification have become an integral part of their industry and present a number of challenges and opportunities. While there is much confusion around eco-certification and the ensuring of a reliable standard with consistent monitoring, all of the presenters noted that in the end, it is the consumer who has the greatest power in creating change.

One of these examples came from Mike McDermid with Ocean Wise. Ocean Wise was created in 2005 in Vancouver when 16 restaurants signed on to sell sustainable seafood products. This has now spread across Canada with over 300 restaurants on board. When they first started the program, they approached suppliers directly to see if they would like to sign on to promise sustainable fishing. At that time, none of the suppliers were willing to participate; however, since 2005, the number of suppliers that provide sustainably fished seafood has increased from an average of 47.50% sustainable product to 75.26% sustainable. This has been credited to the pressure of chefs and consumers who have demanded more sustainable goods.

 The power of the consumer is the keystone to sustainable business. One of the reason that business has become so unsustainable is because consumers have demanded the cheapest products without considering the impact of these products on the environment, society, and resources. By creating standards and certification processes, consumers now have a way of determining where their products come from and if they are sustainable. It is this increased demand for environmentally and socially sustainable products which has led industry to become more responsible.

As part of the question and answer portion of the breakfast, one of the participants invited the audience to participate in a 90 day challenge to only consume sustainably certified products. By participating in this challenge, it is hoped that consumers, in considering where their products come from, will realize the value of sustainable goods.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Portia Munson's Artistic Plastic Kitsch

The artist, Portia Munson, has found a way to turn heaps of plastic kitsch and junk into beautiful mounds of stuff that both uplift and mock our contemporary consumer culture.

Her art installations are a contemplation of and comment on our manufactured perceptions of nature. Our culture is defined by the objects we mass-produce, consume, and throw away. Portia collects these objects and assembles them into congested installations, in essence using the refuse of consumer culture that usually ends up in landfills and yard sales as her resources.

 The Pink Project:

Green Piece; Sarcophagus

The Garden