All things environmental

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

Archive for September 2019

Globe and Mail, Sept 28 2019

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Naia Lee of Sustainabiliteens, an organizer of yesterday’s march

Just a little plug for the paper.  And maybe I’ll add: the hard copy, the one made out of paper.  The G&M can be a bit meh at times, and the editorial policy infuriating.  But today’s issue contains much more coverage of climate issues than usual.

Of course, much of that was occasioned by the marches from a week ago to last Friday.  There is good reporting (even if the photos are Toronto-centric) here.  The on-line version offers links to pieces such as Trudeau, Singh, May throw support behind climate activists’ call for action while Scheer skips marches across Canada, or Facing the risk: Climate impacts that young Canadians will have to contend with, or again Indigenous teen Autumn Peltier addresses UN: ‘We can’t eat money, or drink oil’.

There are also two interesting opinion pieces from Gary Mason.  Not that I always agree with him; but claiming that kids should be able to sue over climate inaction, or that meaningful climate action is doomed in this country, hit the right notes with me.  This last piece has a title guaranteed to be controversial, but it simply exposes the difficulties activists are encountering; in a Facebook post, activist Tzeporah Berman writes that  “this piece exposes the new climate denial – incrementalism posing as climate leadership while refusing to plan or even talk about need to stop expanding oil & gas & plan for a phase out in line w Paris goals.”

But it is the week-end opinion section that has a few thought-provoking gems.  These are often harder to find on the web version.  I had to do a search to find David Bird’s piece about the loss of three million birds or Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s essay about trees holding answers to life’s problems,  or David Christie’s piece If a tree grows in a forest (hard to find, that; the on-line version, here, has a different title).

Maybe you are a better browser than me, but I couldn’t an on-line version by Jonathan Safran Foer in the literary section, entitled a crisis of belief, from his book We Are the Weather. Maybe it will appear later.

Easier to find is the article by guest writer Matthew Hague on the needed modernization of the design of our washrooms.  Not environmentally related?  You’d be surprised; Hague does describe at length the design short-comings that lead to wastage of paper and water.

Why get the paper version?  I try to go on-line, but always seem to miss cool articles that I see in the paper just by flipping pages and reading headlines.  Editorialist acknowledges the problem in today’s column, Too little coverage of climate change, too much coverage of blackface, or just the right amount? She writes

What I learned from these messages is that while more climate-change coverage is needed, what is also needed is for The Globe to organize and highlight content in a way that’s easy to find and navigate, amid the flood of daily breaking stories. Along with beefing up coverage, The Globe should consider a single spot on to organize this content, as well as perhaps provide a newsletter that contains science and the environment stories.

True enough.  But until then, do yourself a favour, get today’s paper.  It’s one of the good issues.

Written by enviropaul

September 28, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Biking Hamburg’s Blue Port at night

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Wanna get people on bikes?  Give them cool bike paths.

Hamburg, Germany, is doing exactly that.  One of its recent initiatives is the creation of well-lit paths for night-time riding.

Blue glasses add to the effect

And what paths some of those are!  In 2006 Hamburg decided to create a light installation along the harbor for the World Cup.  The installation has since grown to encompass the whole harbor; now thousands of LED lights bathe the river in soft blue light for two weeks every September.  This year the city decided to extend the illumination to a circuit linking some well-established bike paths.  Cycling is ideal to view such a display; it allows the viewer enough speed to see the lights from many vantage points, while enjoying the safety of the bicycle-only paths.

Hamburg’s Blue Port installation

The creator is visual artist Michael Batz.  The installation now spans over 8 kilometers, and requires over 50 kilometers of cabling and 20,000 lights.  But, says Batz,

the installation does more than just light up the city with special effects, however…the installation should enable people to see their city in a new light and tell Hamburg’s urban story.  The port – a place where everything that appears only has value once it disappears again. Light installations, which in their very nature are temporary, belong to this category. They glow and shine the brightest once the light has gone out. As fugitive reflectors of the world and of life in general, they mirror their darkest melancholy. And their deepest longing.

I think it is fabulous that the city takes this opportunity to tell cyclists: you matter, and you should be able to ride at night safely.  And it’s not just along the harbor for the Blue Port installation: new bike paths are also provided with their own special lighting.  A new section of Veloroute 5, for instance, includes a bicycle-only path crossing the brand-new urban development of Pergolenviertel.  Cyclists were thrilled to discover the whimsical lights set up there (see below).

The whimsical light installation along the Pergolenviertel bike route (photo from

But here’s what I find remarkable: the city agrees that cycling is important, but not just as another commuting mode. Rather, it’s about a new way to enjoy the city. I just love it.

The main separated bike routes in Hamburg

Written by enviropaul

September 23, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Green education and cool schools

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The September edition of the Sierra Club magazine has once again published its ranking of North American universities and colleges according to sustainability criteria, and there is a big surprise this year: the top score was granted to a university in BC.  No Canadian University had ever scored in the top twenty before, let alone place first.

The winner is Thompson Rivers University.  Here’s what Sierra had to say:

The first Canadian school to top our ranking deserves kudos for diverting more than 70 percent of its waste stream away from landfills and avoiding fossil fuels for heating—no easy feat in chilly British Columbia. Thompson Rivers heats some buildings using a biomass system that burns waste wood and others with electricity produced from hydropower, wind, and solar. The 28,000-student university is also in the process of transitioning its entire vehicle fleet to electric or hybrid vehicles. At convocation, students with a Leadership in Environmental Sustainability certificate—earned through environmental engagement in and out of class, in tandem with any undergraduate or graduate program—receive special recognition. TRU rewards Sustainability Ambassadors, students who spearhead zero-waste initiatives and educate their peers on smarter consumption, with partial-tuition vouchers. How cool is that?

And it’s not as if there was little competition.  The runner-up is UC Irvine, a perennial high scorer, which boasts of a campus with EV stations, an energy- and water-efficient cooling system, zero-waste LEED platinum buildings, among other things. The University of New Hampshire (#4) has the first campus sustainability office ever created.

But it’s not just about efficient buildings and facilities. The University of Connecticut, in fifth place, scored high in part because of its curriculum. UConn features an environmental literacy general education requirement: three credits from among 26 sustainability-related courses.

University of Calgary, the next best Canadian entry, placed 17.  The judges noted that

No matter their major, the 30,000+ students at southern Alberta’s largest university can choose from more than 400 sustainability-affiliated courses or go on to earn an Embedded Certificate in Sustainability by completing core and elective courses and a capstone project. The Dinos’ ambitious 2019 Climate Action Plan—which calls for energy retrofits, an electrified vehicle fleet, and behavioral initiatives such as certification for Sustainable Offices and Sustainable Events—has the campus on track for 97 percent carbon neutrality by 2050. Ii’ taa’poh’to’p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, was developed with extensive community consultation and guidance from Elders in the region. Launched in 2017, the strategy presents a vision of Indigenizing ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being to transform the institution in the months and years to come.

Other ranked Canadian entries were SFU (36), Nova Scotia Community College (47), Wilfrid Laurier (86), University of Ontario Institute of Technology (108), U Winnipeg (134), U Ottawa (136), York (188), Carleton (212), Selkirk (230), and St Lawrence College (265).

Inside SFU’s Sustainable Energy Engineering building in Surrey

There are also unexpected omissions; for instance, UNBC, which markets itself as “Canada’s Green University”, is not on the list.  That is because Sierra ranks only those schools that have applied, and that are members of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE); Sierra uses the AASHE STARS ratings system. One of the things I like is that they give a full 40 points for curriculum, out of 200, the highest single category.  Others categories include campus and public engagement, (21 and 20 points each, respectively), or waste management (10 points).

KPU is also missing from these ratings.  How would it rate?  I don’t know.  But it wouldn’t be that bad in terms of facilities: several of our buildings are energy efficient (LEED Gold) and we are (recent) members of AASHE. Our facilities group keep pursuing interesting initiatives, from fitting washrooms with water-saving devices, to reducing plastic waste and using paper made from bagasse (a sugar cane waste).

We could certainly do better, though: electric commuter buses, on-site composting or anaerobic digestion of organic waste, reduction of meat-based offerings in the cafeterias have all been suggested.  But the school is hampered by the fact that all big capital investments must be preapproved by the province schools can’t run a deficit), and that, for historical reasons, KPU’s funding is lower than elsewhere in the province on a per-student basis.  We certainly can’t afford large outlays for community-based sustainability research, as TRU does.

Inside the LEED Gold Wilson School of Design at KPU

But where we could certainly do a better job is in our curriculum.  Requiring B.A. or B.Sc. students to demonstrate environmental literacy before graduating, for instance, could easily be accomplished without even having to create new courses.

There are many models, such as the U of Calgary certificate mentioned above. U of Illinois created a cohort of Teaching Sustainability Fellows: faculty tasked with building sustainability elements into existing courses and developing new environment-related classes. Specific credentials can also easily be created, such as U of I’s certificates in environmental writing, or Santa Clara University’s awarding of badges to students who commit to actions such as eating one vegan meal a day, choosing carbon-free travel across campus, or taking a sustainability course.

It’s not that we lack either offerings or expertise; we have programs such as Environmental Protection Technology, Sustainable Agriculture, or Urban Ecosystems (in Science & Horticulture), Policy Studies in Sustainability or Geography and the Environment (Arts), Foundations of Design (in the School of Design, with its strong environmental component), or Green Business Management and Sustainability (in our School of Business).  But a real meaningful effort at the institutional level would call for much more integration, communication, and curriculum flexibility than currently exist.

I hope we can get there.  We need to prepare our grads for the challenges of this century, not the previous one – and sustainability in the face of climate change is what we’re staring at.


Written by enviropaul

September 22, 2019 at 4:10 pm

A high tech cruise on the Energy Observer

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The autonomous hydrogen-powered Energy Explorer moored at the futuristic Hafen City project in Hamburg.  A view of the future?

Over a week ago Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City in advance of the Climate Summit and the various climate strikes scheduled for the week of September 20. The media has been silent about her since then; I found a mention of a talk with Naomi Klein, but that’s it.  It’s absurd that the climate news should be all focused on a 16-year old; but if that’s what it takes to get the climate emergency on front page, then so be it.

Greta chose to sail to NYC, so as to avoid the emissions associated with flying.  Below is an image that describes the boat that she sailed on: the Malizia II, a beautiful high-tech zero-carbon racing yacht.

This reminded me of another ship that was moored in Hamburg last April: the Energy Observer, an experimental small ship, the first one to be fueled by hydrogen generated on board.  The ship was first tested travelling through the Mediterranean before embarking on her more challenging leg in the high north.  The ship has already successfully sailed to Spitzbergen, one of her 101 scheduled stops on her 50 country, 6-year journey.

Spitzbergen? The crew of six is testing the ship’s system in cold waters and northern seas, because it is solar energy that ultimately generates the electricity that generates the hydrogen that powers her engines.  The ship has been fitted with wingsails to improve its performance and efficiency, but the main power are the two 41 kW electric engines.  The electricity is fed either directly from the solar panels, from a lithium battery pack, or from the hydrogen fuel cell.  The hydrogen is produced by electrolysis from sea water; a tank can store up to 62 kg of compressed hydrogen, which holds roughly three times as much energy per unit weight as a battery pack.  Much of that hydrogen is generated while the vessel is in port.  There is also a heat recovery system – important for sailing in arctic waters.

The Energy Observer last year as she crossed the Corinth Canal in Greece

Ultimately, the objective of the journey is to test and improve the hybrid technology used, and demonstrate that it could be used on larger vessels (a proof of concept, as it were).  Details can be found in the press kit here, an update on the wingsails here, or this video below, as well as the home site of the expedition here.


In Hamburg I was told that the Energy Observer was going to be in Vancouver as part of its Pacific leg.  I hope so; the official website mentions only California.  As for Greta Thunberg, she will come to Canada, joining the protest on September 27th.

Written by enviropaul

September 8, 2019 at 5:17 pm