“Here in Yellowknife, we’re over 2º warmer than we were in the 1940s. My patient population is already affected by the changing climate—the ice is more dangerous to travel on, so people fall through; caribou herds are dwindling; permafrost is heaving and making buildings less stable; and we spent the whole summer of 2014 cloaked in wildfire smoke.”
At 24, I was living the life. I was a geological engineer, working for the world’s largest oil-services company, travelling the globe from Texas to London, Nova Scotia to Norway, Louisiana to Mexico. Working with people from around the world was exciting for a kid from New Brunswick.
I’d spent my childhood hiking, canoeing and fishing with my grandfather. I loved the adventure of my new job, exploring for oil and gas deposits in the pristine, untouched wilderness: the “frontier,” as we once said in the business.
The scale of the undertaking, the power of the effort and the human ingenuity were awe-inspiring. Running computers and exploration technology worth millions of dollars seemed a long way from the life I knew growing up in Fredericton.
After several years I found myself in an unfamiliar area of the Gulf of Mexico. There I faced a personal and professional day of reckoning.
For the first time I witnessed the full extent of the extraction side of the fossil fuel industry.
Standing on the bridge of a ship, I had a 360-degree view of a city of oil and gas platforms — each almost the size of a city block — extending to the horizon in almost every direction. Huge plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky.
I realized then just how much oil and gas we burn every day to power our lives. Even without the aid of textbooks or science, it was clear to me that this direction was unsustainable.
I had no idea where I would land, but I decided then and there that I wanted to focus my time on solutions to modernize our energy systems and resources with cleaner sources and more energy-efficient technology.
Within months, I resigned.
The year was 2001 and news about the risk of climate change fuelled by rising atmospheric carbon emissions was just starting to hit the mainstream media.
Today I find myself working as science and policy manager for the David Suzuki Foundation, pursuing innovative, cutting-edge research to find solutions that will modernize our energy systems while reducing society’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Over the years I’ve learned plenty about what we humans do to the planet and what we could do to improve.
Today we are at a point similar to my experience in the Gulf of Mexico. We are collectively experiencing an epiphany — at least we should be if we listen to the world’s leading scientists.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows scientists are more certain than ever that burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests are driving climate change and extreme weather. We’re already feeling the effects.
Perhaps the most crucial finding from the full IPCC report is that our knowledge of global warming can lead to positive outcomes. Our future will not be determined by chance. It will be determined by choice: Either we ignore the science or we make changes to reduce carbon emissions.
The report shows it is still possible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change if we make the necessary changes to reduce carbon emissions and switch to cleaner energy.
In most fridges, there is always a dried out piece of lettuce, leftover casserole that’s growing its own eyes or a jar that’s been in the back of the fridge since before Christmas. Inevitably you clean out your fridge, and look at the amount of waste that goes into the trash (or hopefully into the compost or food waste bin). How often does this happen to you?
The amount of food that gets thrown away around the world has a big effect on climate change. Approximately one third of the food is wasted around the world.
Many people have a bad habit of throwing out leftovers and produce from the fridge. And fair enough, we all do it, but there are undeniable consequences.
In the Western world, stores have a strict code of aesthetics when it comes to the presentation of food, no one wants to purchase the ugly duckling of produce. According to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations), between twenty and forty percent of farmers produce can be thrown out because they know it will not meet the vendor’s specifications. In developing countries food rots for different reasons like failure to provide proper methods of refrigeration and a lack of supply chains to distribute the food to the masses.
Rotting food releases methane gas into the air which is a contributing factor to climate change. Some foods are worse than others; for example, rotting beef would have more of an effect than your rotting tomato. While car emissions are still a big contributor to climate change, food waste is not to be ignored.
According to the FAO, food waste accounts for 3.3 tons of yearly green house gas emissions ranking food waste as the third biggest contributing factor to climate change. Around fifty-five percent of the waste occurs during the production stages, post-harvest handling and storage while the other forty-six percent occurs during the processing, distribution, and consumption of food. Production waste occurs more in developing countries while consumption losses occur more in higher income countries.
The FAO study suggests that in order to address the issue of food waste they must plan better, look into dealing with post-harvest losses in a better way and use extra food that cannot be sold by giving it to livestock farmers.
Food waste has a sizeable impact on the health of the Earth and it’s time to start prioritizing its importance.
Read more about the FAO’s report on the impacts of food waste.
Many cities, such as Vancouver experience issues regarding transportation including congestion and added pollution. To help improve this growing issue, Vancouver has contributed to supporting methods of active transportation in the city including cycling and walking as opposed to using a motor vehicle.
A pattern emerged after the war that suggested a luxurious lifestyle associated with owning a car and the freedom one could have being able to go wherever they wanted. This led to the sale of more and more vehicles and fast forward to today, we have a big problem.
Canada’s preferred method of transportation is the car which accounts for two-thirds of the trips people make. Thirty-two percent of people walk and bike but obviously not for longer distances (under two kilometres).
Vancouver is the second leading city for urban congestion in North American due to our growing vehicle dependancy and land constraints. Unfortunately, there is little room to build active transportation routes and with Vancouver’s population predicted to grow twenty-five percent by 2040, this proves to be a challenging issue.
Some good news however is that Vancouver does have the lowest yearly traffic fatalities of any city and is leading North America in trips made on foot and by bike at an approximate total of eighteen percent.
With all of the negative issues in mind, there are many reasons to support greener methods of transport including the possibilities of cheaper infrastructures, health benefits for everyone and better environmental outcomes. We cannot simply shift the infrastructures within our cities but also the mindset of transportation and its impacts in the greater sense.
Active transport infrastructures are cheaper to build and maintain per kilometre thereby reducing the city’s tax costs. There are also road, parking and other consumer savings.
Another important factor to consider are the health advantages associated with supporting active transport. Cities that have bikers have lower numbers of toxic air pollutants which can cause severe health challenges. There also appears to be less accidents in traffic. Utilizing active transport in your city can reduce the public’s risk of cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
There are also obvious environmental benefits from using methods of active transportation. A biker or walker releases no greenhouse gas emissions into the air when traveling whereas a car can contribute approximately 200 grams of CO2 pollutants per kilometre.
As a society, our goal is to lessen our carbon footprint to the best of our ability in order to create a healthier living environment for today and for tomorrow. Lowering green house gases in the transportation sector is a challenging feat especially since so many people depend on motor vehicles for transport.
With this cloud of pollution hanging over our heads, Vancouver has taken some pro-active steps in addressing the transportation issue and creating a plan entitled Transportation 2040. It is a strategic guide in creating an inclusive, healthier city. The goal is to have transit and active transportation make up two-thirds of city trips by 2050 and so far we are off to a good start.
Cycling numbers have increased by forty percent in Vancouver between 2008-2011. It is difficult to say exactly why this occurred but one factor can be the increased safety regulations. It is suggested that separated bike lanes will also contribute to more participating in cyclists.
While the Transportation 2040 seems quite ambitious, Vancouver has already been making decent strides. From 2006 to 2011, active transport grew by about three and a half percent and motor vehicle use dropped over two percent.
By enacting changes gradually, we can have a noticeable impact on the amount of our green house gas emissions. If we can reach the goals provided in the Transportation 40 strategy, we could reduce our green house gases by fifty percent. This number will also improve when you take into account the added efficiency of less vehicles.
It may be hard to imagine two thirds of the trips to be traveled by active transport, buthopefully we can continue to use the method more than we presently do. Also by 2040, we will conceivably have greener fuels for vehicles.
If biking to your destination isn’t always an option, try including public transit into your schedule; anything you can do to lower your own green house gas emissions makes a difference.
Active transport methods and supporting infrastructural systems are big step in the direction of a healthier more sustainable and livable city.