All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Archive for November 2016

Heyhey! Trudeau! KinderMorgan’s got to go!

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img_0876Vancouver: hedonistic, apathetic, disengaged.  The only time crowds gather is for fireworks or the Sun Run.  Usually.

It was so uplifting to see so many, many people gathered yesterday for a demonstration against the KinderMorgan pipeline.  This was organised by a group called Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver.

kinder-morgan-cut_origConvergence is an apt word.  There was a lot of diversity in the crowd.  Some folks were mostly concerned about climate change.  Others, about the img_0867impact that a leak from the pipe or the tankers would mean for our rivers and our coast.  Others yet were there for social justice: among the people most at risk from the impacts are First nations who have never ceded their lands by treaty and have been ignored by the mainstream – until now.

Why was I there – why were so many people there?  I’ve participated in demonstrations in the past, and there is such a thing as demonstration fatigue.  I was waffling, I was gonna maybe go, maybe not.  But then I saw a post from one of my students.  Then another.  Then at a meeting a colleague said “we’ll see you at city hall tomorrow, right?”.  That tipped the balance for me, I had to go – I wanted to go.



img_0885-2I don’t want to exaggerate and call this a historical event.  But I might have witnessed, I might have participated in a social tipping point, a true grassroots moment when a lot of people, like me, went from  feeling of “I should go, I s’pose” to one of “that’s gonna be special, I gotta go”.img_0911


I couldn’t attend all of it, and I missed all the speeches.  Oh well.  But I caught up with the march on Cambie Bridge; what I saw was a dense crowd covering the whole of the 1.1 kilometre-long span.  I hoisted myself on the guardrail and took pictures.  Pictures, more disbelieving pictures.  The crowd kept coming.  I waived at a few people I know.  More people still marching.  I waited until the end, I made may way back to the beginning.  There were block after blocks after blocks worth of people.


Crowds can turn ugly, crowds can be somber.  Not here.  There was a sort of an buoyant, elated feeling from the crowd, a recognition that something special, something unusual was going on.  As if all of us, selfish individualistic Vancouverites that we are, had finally found a way to get together.  I felt proud of Vancouver, suddenly.

Written by enviropaul

November 20, 2016 at 8:49 am

Open House Video Night

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A view of the Langley campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Kwantlen’s Langley campus is hosting an open house this Wednesday (November 9th between 4 and 7:30), at the same time as my class.  I thought I’d take advantage of this to show a bunch of videos we don’t usually have time to see in class, and invite whoever’s interested to come and discuss afterwards.

I have basically an hour and a half of short videos, including some TED talks, and I’ll follow with a presentation of Chasing Ice (at 5:45, room 1305), a documentary about glaciers with images that are just amazing.

The problem I faced was picking the videos.  There are a jillion videos about the environment.  I narrowed the field by opting for the ones that are optimistic – but that’s still a large field.  I’ll list my second choices below, but first here’s what I’ll be showing – everyone welcome! The links are there for anyone who’d like to see any of them some other time (I think they are well worth it).

I could not not show Rose George’s TED talk; she goes over the key points of her 2008 book The Big Necessity, which is fabulous.  Hey, sanitation is at the beginning of environmentalism, and there’s nothing like talking about poo.

Many people haven’t heard of the beautiful Flathead River valley in Eastern BC, so that very short clip was a go, as was George Monbiot’s fabulous TED talk about rewilding.  Every environmentalist wants to save wil areas, and Monbiot shows how that affects all of us.

But the key issue we’re facing nowadays is climate change, which is tied to how we use energy.  So I chose the very inspirational TED talk by Monica Araya, who shows how a country who got rid of its army afer a civil war can also get rid of fossil fuels – entirely.  I follow that with two clips from Germany, one that shows similarly how Germany could realistically get rid of fossil fuels without sacrificing its industrial power (it’s a bit geeky), and the other on the miond-blowing BIQ, the Hamburg appartment building that uses algae to harvest the sun for power and heat.

But that left many on the cutting floor.  Here’s what didn’t make the cut, and I sure wish I had time to show them.  So here are the links, if anyone wants some upbeat videos full of hope.

There’s a British show called Fully Charged, with a whole series about the energy situation in Germany.  The one I (almost) picked is a ten-minute intro found at .

I also was partial to a short TED talk about the energy budget of building a new house from the ground up, found at

I really liked the TED talk where architect Aziza Chaouni expalins how her team rehabilitated the stream that flows through Fez in Morocco: the old walled city (or Medina) is the largest pedestrian-only zone in the world, but there are no open spaces nor green parks, and whatever part of the stream that wasn’t paved over was terribly polluted – but not any more.  The six minute clip is at

I also picked a sweet talk by two Balinese schoolgirls, whose doggedly persistent campaign pushed the Island to ban single-use plastic bags.  Ifthis doesn’t convince you that young people will be theones saving us, nothing will (to say nothing of the importance of a good education system!).  The video is at

I rejected Christina Figueres talk about what went on inside the Paris climate accord as a bit too geeky, but it’s well worth watching at

For the same reason Gavin Schmidt didn’t make the cut – but for anyone who doesn’t get the idea behind climate models, it’s a must.  The video is at

Oh, how could I not show this? It’s funny (especially the comparison between politicians and vultures) and inspiring, at

And here’s another favourite, which unfortunately at over twenty minutes is too long for what I could show.  But Allan Savory’s TED talk about how grazing cattle, well managed, build soils and prevents desertification is fabulous (though Savory’s conclusions remain controversial), and it’s quite handy for  showing anyone who takes you to task for eating meat.  It’s at


Written by enviropaul

November 7, 2016 at 5:27 pm

“Mechanical parking systems” – uh?

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A dumb-waiter for cars...

A dumb-waiter for cars…

In my last post I mentioned that the new MONAD building in Kits has a mechanical parking system.  To quote myself: “I’m a bit ambivalent about those.  On the one hand, a green building should not be car-dependant; but on the other, it saves space, and reflects the reality of car ownership.  Even in uber-green German cities, one sees these contraptions.”

But what are these? Here’s an example, from Hamburg.  It’s in a fancy building in the Neustadt neighbourhood, in other words, pretty much smack downtown.  This used to be a dense, working class neighbourhood (and an actual slum before then), but it is now a sought-after neighbourhood, near downtown, canals, etc.

The buildings, canal-side

The buildings, canal-side

In Vancouver such a neighbourhood would be Yaletown-like, restricted to only the well-off.  Not so in Hamburg; the city has managed to keep a stock of affordable rental units.  This makes it easier to stomach the sight of these luxurious contraptions that seclude the cars of the wealthy.  But, on the practical side, if car-ownership is a non-negotiable item, this is how you can have it all: density, liveability, and cars.

Besides that, geek that I am, I just thought these were cool…


Written by enviropaul

November 6, 2016 at 11:28 am

The MONAD building in Kits

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In Kits, I found another building that should convince everyone that we have the technology to reduce emissions – it’s just a matter of getting on with it.

The MONAD is a smallish four-story building on Fourth Avenue, facing the park.  It holds six dwellings and a ground-floor store and office, and wraps around an interior courtyard.  Mixing commercial and residential is great: this is what makes streets interesting and lively with pedestrian traffic.

The façade facing the street is what has become a Vancouver signature: all glass.  In typical buildings, this is kinda dumb:  too hot in summer, but losing too much heat in winter.

A view of the windows in the rear suites, and the roof-top garden

A view of the windows in the rear suites, and the roof-top garden

Not so the MONAD; the windows are triple-glazed to minimize heat loss, and screens can be used when there is too much sun.  This minimizes the need for heating (or cooling) but along with light wells allows natural light to penetrate the building year round.  Extra-thick insulation in the walls complete the picture to make this building an energy miser.    The needed heat is supplied by a deep-well geothermal system supplemented with solar heat.

Add to that natural ventilation, radiant floor heating, and a roof-top garden.  Nice.  There is also a green roof to minimize runoff (which also contributes to insulation).

One final touch: a mechanical parking system.  I’m a bit ambivalent about those.  On the one hand, a green building should not be car-dependant; but on the other, it saves space, and reflects the reality of car ownership.  Even in uber-green German cities, one sees these contraptions.

Not a cheap building, for sure; but the energy-saving features add only about 10% to the final cost.  If this becomes an example to follow, economies of scale should bring these costs .  As for land prices, well, that’s another story, but dense, liveable buildings are a step in the right direction.


More info can be found here, here, or here.

Written by enviropaul

November 6, 2016 at 10:57 am