Posts filed under ‘Environmental news’

Cities Alive tour showcases green roofs

I just found out about a tour of green roofs on in Toronto this week, part of a program called Cities Alive. The tour is part of a push to show how helpful green roofs can be in reducing resource use.

Green roofs and green walls absorb heat (reducing cooling costs in summer), insulate (reducing heating costs in winter), capture carbon dioxide, emit oxygen, and even create a sense of serenity among the hard surfaces of urban landscapes. While planning a green roof may be easier in creating new buildings, the Cities Alive tour features the YMCA’s green roof retrofit project. Thanks to a $250,000 grant from TD Bank, as well as thousands of hours of volunteer time, the YMCA was able to build a new green roof as part of their running track at the Metro-Central YMCA at 20 Grosvenor Street, Toronto. YMCA members will be able to go for a run or take a yoga class on the green roof, a little green oasis in the city!

To read more on how the YMCA green roof came together, have a look at the project blog.

October 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM 1 comment

Lobbyists losing power in climate change argument?

I grinned from ear to ear yesterday when I read that Apple has decided to terminate its membership with the US Chamber of Commerce. That’s because the Chamber has been lobbying aggressively against government assessments of climate change effects, assessments that could spur legislation to control waste such as CO2 emissions and other pollutants.

According to this New York Times story, the Chamber of Commerce threatened to sue the US Environmental Protection Agency unless they hold a debate on the impact of climate change on human health, in spite of overwhelmingly clear evidence.

Apple’s letter to the Chamber of Commerce said, “We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis. However, because the Chamber’s position differs so sharply with Apple’s, we decided to resign our membership effective immediately.”

Wow! And apparently other major companies, including energy companies and big brands such as Nike, have also left the Chamber of Commerce for similar reasons. It looks like there’s an opening for a new Progressive Chamber of Commerce!

I think a lot of businesses, big and small, are seeing the bigger picture on the environment and climate change. Sure, there’s money to be made in being the good guy, but aren’t most businesses just made up of people, many of whom might want future generations to enjoy this beautiful world?

October 9, 2009 at 2:43 PM Leave a comment

Local eating events abound in Toronto… and beyond

Last weekend I took in the Picnic at the Brickworks, an annual event held by Evergreen and Slow Food Toronto. It’s hard to imagine an event nicer than this — dozens of local food producers each teamed up with a top chef to serve up delicious bite-size num nums, complemented nicely by a splash of local wine or beer. I was in local food heaven!

Another local dining opportunity is coming up: Localicious is a WWF event offered at restaurants in many Canadian cities. The participating restaurants will serve up dishes made with local food, and a portion of the proceeds will go to WWF Canada.

Aside from these kinds of delicious events, I just hope I can take in a few more farmers’ markets before they close for the year.

How are you enjoying local food this year?

October 7, 2009 at 11:25 PM Leave a comment

So what’s wrong with burning coal?

Coal mining in the Rocky Mountains

Coal mining in the Rocky Mountains

As a followup to my recent post about Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, I thought I’d note a few of the reasons I think it makes sense to move to renewable energy from burning coal.

What is coal? It’s a type of rock made of carbonized plants that holds a lot of C02 and, when burned, releases harmul toxins, including lead, mercury, and even radioactive components such as uranium and thorium. And we’ve found a way to mine this energy-rich, abundant material relatively cheaply.

To mine the coal, we clear-cut the trees, then scrape away the topsoil exposing the rock below so we can carve out the mountain sides to expose the carbon-rich black material. Naturally this process destroys habitat, creates blights on the landscape and causes long-standing health issues in humans, not just wildlife.

The journal of the American Public Health association says of study subjects who live near a coal mine: “high levels of coal production were associated with worse adjusted health status and with higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.” OK, that sounds pretty bad. A York University study on a mining area near Nanaimo, B.C. cites research showing that water leaching from coal mines builds up a lot of sulphuric acid, which in turn releases heavy metals, such as lead, zinc, copper and mercury. Delicious!

Not long ago, we ran this story on the surprising range of health effects of air pollution in Homemakers.

Having enjoyed an afternoon picnic under a massive wind turbine, chatting about the future of power, it’s hard to imagine that coal could somehow be better. I try to be open minded, but I just don’t see the logic.

October 5, 2009 at 3:42 PM 1 comment

Ontario’s new Green Energy Act

Farm in Germany with turbines and solar arrays

Farm in Germany with turbines and solar arrays

I’m trying to read through new legislation passed in Ontario, the Green Energy Act. I’ve heard a few positive things about it so far. Based on some news from agricultural sector representatives, the act should allow farmers to be part of green energy solutions, including turning agricultural products into biofuels. According to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), “New biomass [unused crop leftovers such as corn stalks, straw or pods] regulations will provide a base to start an industry for the future using crop scraps along with purpose-grown crops [plants grown for the purpose of energy production] from Ontario farms. Biomass and energy crops create revenue opportunities for farmers.”

Apparently the Act also restricts noise levels on wind turbines and prevents those interested in building solar farms from doing so on top-quality farm land. On the surface, these restrictions make sense, but I’m nervous that traditional energy companies may have lobbied for controls on renewable energy. After all, isn’t residential development of high-quality farmland a bigger concern? Once that good soil is carted away to make room for homes and streets, it’s gone for good.

Clearly I have more reading to do.

What do you think a green energy act should do?

September 28, 2009 at 12:21 PM 15 comments

Great results: Global Wake-Up Call

Monday’s Global Wake-Up Call was a citizen effort to press politicians to act on C02 reductions at the climate change talks in Copenhagen this December. Here’s a terrific video showing some of the events that went on around the world.

September 25, 2009 at 2:30 PM Leave a comment

LED street lights. What a great idea!

Listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, I heard about CRS Electronics, a company in Welland, Ont., that’s making LED lighting for streetlights. Since LEDs are many times more efficient than fluorescent lighting, that’s a whole lot of money cities could save by having their repair crews install LEDs lights as conventional bulbs burn out. In the town of Welland, they replaced 65,000 street lights with LED lights.

The best way to compare efficiency of a bulb is to look at how much light you get out of it for the energy it uses. Incandescent bulbs give you about 15 lumens (a measure of light output) per watt. Halogen bulbs give you 24 lumens per watt. Fluorescent bulbs give you 50 to 100 lumens per watt. And LEDs give you 150 lumens per watt (and last for about 50,00 hours).

In my home, we have a mix of incandescent, fluorescent and LED bulbs. I’m finding that LED bulbs are becoming available in brighter and brighter styles, so they are not just for accent lighting anymore. I’ve noticed major lightbulb manufacturers, such as Philips, making LED bulbs for household lighting.

Have you tried making your home lighting more efficient? What do you think of the results?

September 23, 2009 at 10:04 AM Leave a comment

Join a “Flash Mob” on Monday to urge action in Copenhagen

My friend Julia let me know about a “flash mob” she’s organizing this coming Monday as part of a “Global Wake-Up Call” designed to urge politicians to act on climate change. This Monday, September 21, at 12:18 p.m., in locations all around the world, groups of people will converge to show that people want action on climate change, and that we want our politicians to come up with a solid plan during the UN Climate Change Conference on from December 7 to 18.

The idea is we’ll all set our cell phone alarms to 12:18 p.m., so the entire group’s alarms will go off at once. Everyone is encouraged to place calls to our MPs and others who we think could influence action in Copenhagen. The event will last just a few minutes, so it’s not a big time commitment, it’s just a chance to converge with a bunch of people and send a message.

Julia’s event is at the Toronto Sculpture Garden, 115 King St. E. (just east of Church St.). To join her at noon on Monday, click here. She’s even encouraging people to wear suits and carry briefcases to show that “climate change is everybody’s business.” I’m going to take part in the flash mob near the Homemakers offices in North York.

To find an event near you, click here.

Participants are encouraged to take photos and video during the event and send them to others, post them to blogs and otherwise get the message out about the critical nature of the Copenhagen talks. For one take on why the talks are so critical, listen to the “Oceans of Trouble” podcast from CBC’s Quirks and Quarks.

September 17, 2009 at 11:58 AM 1 comment

Ontario Tire Stewardship rolls out plan for used tires

iStock_tiresWho can forget the Hagersville, Ont. tire fire of 1990? For me it’s the images of millions of burning tires, smouldering toxins curling into the sky, an unhealthy situation that could have been avoided if tires were recycled, not just collected in a heap. Tires were collected, for a fee, so lots of people just keep them. Now often they do get new life, as bumpers along docks, or are mooring buoys, in my experience.

But now tire recycling in Ontario is going to become a formal program. The Used Tires Program is funded by the tire industry, and managed by the Ontario Tire Stewardship. According to their media release, the program “…will bring new life to the millions of used tires that come off vehicles in the province every year by responsibly recycling them into useful products, creating investment and new green jobs, driving innovation.” It will also try to deal with the estimated 2.8 million tires currently stockpiled around the province. The release notes that, ” Until now, approximately 50 percent of Ontario’s used tires were trucked into the US to be burned.” Ugh.

Ontarians can now drop off up to four tires each at designated retailers, municipal sites and other drop-off points listed here. There will be no charge for turning in tires. According to Andrew Horsman, Executive Director of Ontario Tire Stewardship, “The Program will remove tire stockpiles, recycle tires into household, commercial and automotive products, and create green jobs and economic benefits right here in our province.”

Potential uses for the tire material detailed in the release include rubber mats, playground products, hockey rinks and
automotive parts. Who knows, perhaps one innovation out of this program will be a cottage industry around building mooring buoys.

Do you have a smart idea for recycling used tires?

September 10, 2009 at 12:07 PM 2 comments

Shoreline cleanup just 10 days away!

TD GCSC Toronto Launch 090109The TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup runs from September 19th to the 27th this year. This is your chance to bring together friends, neighbours and people who’ve collaborated online to make a green space litter free. It’s not just for shorelines: the Cleanup also runs in many parks and ravines.

Here’s a photo from the official 2009 Toronto event kick-off – this bike was among many items pulled from Lake Ontario by a police dive team.

“While submerged car parts and shopping carts are impressive trophies, the real victory will be to rid our shorelines of common litter like cigarette butts and plastic bottles and bags that threaten marine ecosystems,” said Mary Desjardins, Executive Director, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
Register and choose a cleanup site here.

Canadians are also invited to attend one of five TD GCSC kick-off cleanup events to be held in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax on September 19th and 20th, 2009. These free public cleanup events will feature live entertainment – including hit Canadian band Crash Parallel in Toronto and Montreal – refreshments, great prizes, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF) Kids Monster Mural, and more!
September 19, 2009:
– Vancouver, British Columbia
Kitsilano Beach Park: 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. PST
– Calgary, Alberta
Bowness Park: 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. MST
– Toronto, Ontario
Woodbine Beach Park: 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. EST
– Halifax, Nova Scotia
Point Pleasant Park (Black Rock Beach): 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. AST

September 20, 2009:
– Montreal, Quebec
St. Lawrence River/LaSalle Riverfront: 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. EST

September 9, 2009 at 12:21 PM Leave a comment

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