Archive for the ‘Climate change’ Category

With this great spring weather we’ve been having here in the frozen north, it was time to get the bikes back out and try to get back to leaving the car at home for short trips.

Yesterday was sunny, warm and all the streets were clear for a quick six-minute trip to one kids’ preschool. It was so nice to be back out on the bike with a baby who actually likes riding in the back (unlike last summer with the non-stop screaming.)

I was happy to see that the city of Montreal estimates that leaving your bike at home one day a week instead of commuting to work will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 232kg per year.  You can read more here.


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Earth Hour is tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. wherever you live.

Think you’ll be bored in an hour without electricity? Here are some suggestions to keep you busy:

  1. Read
  2. Play board games
  3. Knit
  4. Talk to your significant other. Who know what that could lead to…
  5. Play with your kids
  6. Sing
  7. Play an instrument
  8. Draw
  9. Sleep
  10. Go for a walk
  11. Montreal Canadiens’ fans: listen to the game on a battery-powered radio
  12. Eat chocolates and peanut-butter sandwiches

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People around the world are making plans to shut off their electricity for an hour on March 29 (that’s two weeks from tonight) in a global statement against global warming. More than 32,000 Canadians – including our family – have already pledged to turn off their lights between 8 and 9 p.m., local time.

Last year, more than 2 million people in Sydney, Australia, switched off. This year, the movement has gone global and Montreal is one of the cities that is taking part.

You can learn more about Earth Hour here. That blue dots on that globe above represent people who’ve pledged to join in Earth Hour. You can see an updated globe here.

Spread the word.

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There’s an interesting story in today’s Montreal Gazette about the impact of idling your car. Besides polluting and wasting fuel, it also damages the car engine because newer cars are designed in order not to have to be idled before you start driving, even in the winter.

Idle Threat

Bylaw rarely enforced. Only 106 out of 1.3 million tickets issued last year were for idling

Andy Riga, The Gazette

With some exceptions, it’s illegal to idle your car for more than three minutes in Montreal. But don’t worry too much about getting a ticket for the infraction.

In 2007 – the first year the bylaw was on the books in most boroughs – only 106 tickets were handed out for illegal idling. Of those, just two were in the downtown Ville Marie borough, the area with the heaviest traffic and most motorists needlessly idling.

They were among the 1.3 million tickets given for non-moving violations across the island.

Despite the low number of tickets, Alan DeSousa, the city executive committee member responsible for the environment, said he thinks the bylaw has reduced idling and raised awareness about its detrimental effects. The practice wastes fuel, causes pollution and creates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

If Montrealers are ever going to break the idling habit, however, experts suggest the first steps will be to debunk persistent myths about car engines and to convince motorists they should forego the luxury of toasty cars.

The rest of the story is here.

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I’ve been reading a couple of interesting things recently about the oil sands projects in Alberta.

The first is this series, published earlier this year in the Globe and Mail. The eight-day series looks at the development of the oil sands, and the environmental and social cost of the projects, which are estimated to have a worth of $90 billion.

The second is the book Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn’t Seem to Care) by William Marsden, a colleague of mine at the Montreal Gazette. Marsden, who is an investigative reporter, spins a great yarn about the development of the oil sands, from a loony plan to blast the oil from the sand with a nuclear bomb to the boom/bust/boom experience of a Calgary oil man.

Reading the book left me with an impending sense of doom. The amount of fossil fuels left on the planet is finite, yet we seem not to care, building more roads, buying more cars, and ignoring the environmental costs of harvesting energy this way.

Reading about the oil sands has been making me think about what our family can do to conserve fuel and oil around our house.

We switched to an electric furnace a couple of years ago to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption. Now our biggest fossil-fuel user is our minivan, and I’ve been trying to use it less. It has been more challenging than I thought.  I’m hoping once the weather warms up and I can get my bicycle and kids’ trailer back out on the road I’ll truly be able to reduce the amount of time we use our van.

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A few years ago I wrote a story (see below) for the Montreal Gazette about a British Columbia couple who were following what they called a 100-Mile Diet. For a year, they would only eat food that came from a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver home. Their project later became this book.

Writing that story really put the idea of trying to eat local in my head. Ever since, whenever I’ve had the choice, I try to buy locally grown food on my weekly (okay, sometimes daily) shopping trips. It’s not a hard job in the summer, when Quebec produce is everywhere, and we get a weekly box of organic vegetables from farmers  Jamie & Nora Quinn’s farm in Elgin, Qc.

But in the dead of February, with 20 cm of fresh snow on the ground, and last summer’s harvest just a dim memory, it’s another question altogether. You can usually find some root vegetables, maybe some hydroponically-grown lettuce and tomatoes, and apples from storage. Still, I thought I did a good job on a locally-grown dinner for the fam tonight:

  • Mashed Quebec potatoes and one of the last heads of celeriac from last summer’s vegetable deliveries
  • Quebec-grown turnips
  • Quebec-raised turkey meatloaf with Quebec carrots and onions
  • And for dessert, stewed Quebec apples.

Not bad for a snowy February day, I’d say.

Here’s that story I wrote:

How what we eat helps climate: What’s good for the environment is great for the economy
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
By Monique Beaudin, The Gazette

Eight months ago, Vancouver writers and J.B. MacKinnon undertook what many thought would be an impossible task – for a year, to eat only food produced within a 100-mile (160-kilometre) radius of their home.

They were concerned about the environmental impact of the global food-distribution system: trucks carrying summer fruit and vegetables to snowbound Canadians, burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“Our food is travelling even more than we do, and that seems ridiculous when a lot of things like salads, carrots and potatoes can grow locally, but you don’t necessarily see them in your local grocery store,” Smith said.

They never expected their “100-mile diet,” which they chronicle in an online magazine, to draw international attention and generate buzz all over the Internet.


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Now that we’ve been thinking greener for a while, I thought it would be interesting to find out what kind of an impact our lifestyle has on the planet. Using a carbon footprint calculator, I plugged in all sorts of information about our family from the number of kilowatt hours of electricity we use every year to whether we own a motorcycle or if we’re vegetarians. The calculator figures out the impact of human activities on the planet by calculating the amount of greenhouse gases we produce in our daily lives. It measures the impact in tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

You can see how we did above: 11.5 tonnes, which I was very happy to see was below the Canadian average but still far above the ideal world average, which would be two tonnes. There is a lot we could do to reduce our footprint, such as turning down our thermostat, reducing our water temperature by a degree or two, eating less meat, and one I really want to look into — recycling our grey water.

I’m going to check back in at the end of the year and see if our footprint has shrunk.

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