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“Climate Change is NOT a hoax” (B. Obama) blog #4: David Miller lectures to students in Climate Change Science & Policy (ENVS 3400)

While it's possible for university students to spend all of their time outside of scheduled classes, so as to be learning even more (perish the thought!), by attending additional guest research seminars and lectures, most students don't take advantage of opportunities to hear well-known speakers who come to campus.

Realizing this, Annette Dubreuil, the IRIS co-ordinator, spearheaded an effort to bring invited speakers, who will be of interest to the broader community, into the classroom, and to open up these lectures as IRIS events. Last Thursday, former mayor of Toronto, David Miller spoke to students in Dr. Kaz Higuchi's course, Climate Change Science and Policy (ENVS 3400).

Originally, Kaz had discussed convening a panel to debate opposing views on climate change, but David categorically dismissed this option; as he put it - the climate skeptics funded by corporate interests don't need another platform.  In case you're wondering, Dr. Higuchi is a climate scientist who recently retired from Environment Canada's Adaptation and Impacts Research Group. He has been teaching in the Faculty of Environmental Studies for several years, and he is very concerned that academics from all disciplines learn how to debate and handle arguments for and against climate change.

David Miller, who has been teaching at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University based in Brooklyn, showcased his oratorical skills in a tour-de-force lecture about how Toronto and other cities are mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

It was a text book lesson in how to explain, very clearly, evidence-based policy that leads to actions which are beneficial for people, the planet and, profits. Citing many statistics and studies, as he laid out the challenges facing cities, David described and explained the steps that Toronto took while he was mayor. He described Change is in the Air, the 2007 Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan, as well as other Toronto city plans, and how they are driving action on combatting climate change.

David also explained some fascinating, green jobs technologies, including one in which heat is extracted from sewage - this also has a high "ick" factor. He challenged the audience of students, faculty and staff to come up with a snappier name for the company and product - International Wastewater Heat Exchange Systems (IWHES)! (Check out the awesome video on their site).

We filled one of the gorgeous new lecture halls in the recently opened Life Sciences Building which is built to LEED silver rating standards, on the Keele Campus. After a 45-minute lecture, students lined up to ask David questions, for 45 minutes, about all kinds of sustainability, climate change and social justice issues. After the talk, I asked Roger Keil, director of York's CITY Institute, who was sitting behind me, why he hadn't asked a question, he quipped "what for? the students did a great job!"

And, after all the questions were finished, David stayed for a bit longer, and chatted informally with students, many of whom were keen to have their photos snapped with him. Enrique Miranda (Student Engagement co-ordinator) and Ramsen Yousif (President) of the Undergraduate Political Science Council executive, a co-sponsor of the event, are shown above left, with the former mayor.

At the end of the day:

Score one for a brilliantly delivered explanation of evidence-based policy.

Score two for articulate speakers who can explain the science and connect the dots for making the social justice case clear, when it comes to climate change.

Score three for former politicians who live on in more ways than in old fridge magnets (that's my super-duper green fridge at right, on which we have a collection of old magnets, including one from when David Miller was our city councillor - back in 1995). One student remarked after the lecture "I just learned more about municipal planning in this lecture than I did all year!"

The lecture will soon be available on the IRIS website, in case you missed it and want to hear what David had to tell the students.

Dawn R. Bazely

Food Blog no. 10 – cities as sources of food – The Toronto Urban Veg Tour 2012 & 2011

The City of Havana, Cuba produces a tremendous amount of the food for its citizens, as we see in the BBC show, Around the World in 80 Gardens. In the 2004 documentary, The End of Suburbia, the futurist, James Kunstler talked about how people living in the 'burbs, will, in the future, use their front gardens to grow food.

Just how close are we to this being the case in Toronto? Based on my experience across the city, with schools, neighbours, various botanic gardens and teaching the Plants course, I would say that we are still pretty far off. But, there has been movement and a steadily increasing interest amongst youth (for me, that's everyone under 30) in gardening and growing food over the last 5 years - the same trend is happening for knitting. One example of why I think we are far off this, is that I spent a good chunk of my volunteer time in the mid 2000s on my knees, digging, with other dedicated parents (see Catherine Majoribanks, Pete Ewins, myself, Sheila O'Connell and Jeff Hanning above), and restoring an overgrown public school butterfly garden to have a focus on food and herbs, and installing a new native species garden. My various strategic attempts, at that time, to make the sporadic efforts of parent-driven efforts in school gardens more sustainable and widespread over incoming generations of parents, teachers and children, failed. There was simply not a broad enough interest and uptake on multiple fronts - in other words, the tipping point hadn't been reached.

In 2011, The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto became a part of the local urban food movement. In an initiative led by Beth Kapusta, a resident of the High Park-Roncesvalles,  the Society supported the highly successful Veg Tour 2011. When Beth was looking for local gardens to include in the tour, my family's garden got volunteered as a stop on the tour by the owner of our local cheese shop, the Thin Blue Line.

In 2012, instead of a public Veg Tour the local gardeners previously involved in the tour visited each others' gardens as well as new gardens, and exchanged ideas, as well as a taste of  food grown in our' gardens (those are my tomatoes and nasturtium pesto on the tray - photo by Howard Rideout, used with permission).
It was very interesting and educational. This year's tour was an illustration of the principles of successful grass-roots movements. First, it was notable that the leads and participants in the Veg Tour were neighbours who are activists, gardeners, writers, etc. with lots of background knowledge and experience. For example, the 2011 Veg Tour included gardening writer Lorraine Johnson and social innovator Tonya Surman, while the leader, dynamic Beth Kapusta, grew up in Delhi, Ontario, a farming community. What the tour did, was to allow us to aggregate as a group. Reaching critical mass is important for grass roots efforts. As we say at IRIS, "if you're not networking, you're not working".

There are two main challenges for local urban food movements like the High Park-Parkdale Veg Tour. The first is to broaden the community participation to include diverse gardeners from varied cultural backgrounds, who might not normally think about getting involved with such a group. A few years ago, the Toronto Botanical Garden held a workshop aimed at figuring out how to be more relevant to the broader Toronto community. I, along with others suggested the idea of asking culturally diverse gardeners to plant gardens characteristic of those that various waves of immigrants to Toronto created when they arrived: so many immigrants have brought with them knowledge about growing crops. Many of us at the workshop also suggested increasing engagement with school gardens.

A second challenge facing these urban food movements is to transfer the knowledge to less experienced and skilled, but interested youth. Bottom line, is that sustainability-ideas such as growing more local food  in urban locations is not new. It's about getting to a tipping point where a critical mass sustains the movement. In Cuba they had no choice. In Toronto, it's more of a choice, at the moment.

Here are some of my favourite veggie gardens in my west Toronto neighbourhood.


Dawn Bazely

PS Through the Veg Tour events, I discovered some interesting York University connections. Clement Kent, the president of The Toronto and Parkdale Horticultural Societies is a post-doctoral fellow in the Biology Department. He was  featured in a Y-file article, about the Pollinator Advocate Award that he received for his Pollinator Garden Project.

The City of Toronto’s Core Service Review

As my previous postings have referenced, I am working for the Toronto Environment Office for the summer. It is an extremely interesting time to be working for the municipal government. Last week, the Core Service Review, conducted by KPMG, recommended that the City undertake a number of changes and reductions in its environmental protection and improvement activities to help the city realize cost savings and close the deficit gap.

Political leanings and ideology aside, this is a great example of how our government works and the democratic process. On Thursday July 21, the public is invited to provide deputations (in person or written) expressing their opinion about these proposed reductions. 

As an MBA student focusing in both sustainability and organizational change, I am very interested in the outcomes of this process. How will the vision, mission, and activities of the Toronto Environment Office evolve? How will these changes be communicated not only to TEO staff, but within City Hall and to the general public? How will the key decision makers obtain buy in from key stakeholders?

Live Green Toronto Festival

With the sun shining and the mercury soaring (30+ degrees), I think we can breathe a collective sigh and say, "summer is here". The July long weekend is the official start of cottage weekends, summer concerts, and events and street festivals in the city. From Pride Week to Taste of the Danforth, the Honda Indy to Caribana, there is no shortage of action this summer.

One of the festivals I am most looking forward to is the Live Green Toronto Festival at Yonge and Dundas Square on July 16. This is Toronto's largest outdoor green festival with hundreds of green products and services, outdoor vendors, and live music throughout the day!

I can't wait to check out the vendors, munch on some local (and wheat free!) food, and take in some great live music. I'll also bring some of my duplicate, or less loved, DVDs for the SWAPZONE. I'm always looking to update my DVD collection at home and at the cottage (I need to at least entertain the possibility that there might be a rainy day) and this swap event is a totally free way to add some new titles to my collection -- plus, unlike other no cost options i.e. holding up your local blockbuster or downloading titles online, it is legal! 

Meaning, after it's all said and done, I'll have some new movies and music, and some extra coin in my wallet for some more tasty treats or perhaps a local microbrew on a patio that evening…

Summer Internships in Sustainability Do Exist!

As an MBA student at the Schulich School of Business at York University interested in sustainability, I started to wonder late this spring what summer internship opportunities are actually available in The City of Toronto? As my friends and colleagues, one by one, received internship offers at financial institutions, consulting firms, consumer packaged goods companies etc. I began to wonder; maybe the summer internship in sustainability was just an urban myth? An experience reserved for the sibling of a friend of a friend…

I can now say, from firsthand experience, that there are opportunities to work in Sustainability. You just need to find them!  Talk to anyone and everyone you know – and even people you don't - and let them know what you are looking for. I was able to secure a 16 week internship with the City of Toronto Environment Office (TEO) supported by a grant from York University and the Knowledge Mobilization Unit.

In addition to blogging on the IRIS website, my primary focus is on Climate Change Adaptation. Adaptation? You ask, as you scratch your head quizzically? What is that? I thought we were focusing on mitigation, you know, reducing our Greenhouse Gas emissions?!?

Well, you are right, we are still focusing on reducing our GHG emissions, but TEO is also recognizing that our climate is changing and we are currently experiencing more extreme weather events (remember all that rain in May or the record breaking heat on June 8th??). There was a great article in the Globe and Mail on Saturday June 4th, 2011 that further explains adaptation and actions currently being undertaken in Toronto

I have been at TEO for just over a month now, so I can say with some credibility, that it is going to shape up to be a pretty exciting summer!  I am working on some really neat projects with regards to Climate Change Adaptation in the Toronto region and with the upcoming Live Green Toronto Festival on July 16th.

In the coming weeks I hope to be able to update you on my projects!

LCBO probably makes more progress in one flyer than Toronto’s cycling advocates make in two years…

My latest set of blogs are a bit delayed, because following on from teaching BIOLOGY 2010, York's Plant Biology course, and the arrival of a very early spring, I am writing a lot about food - security and sustainability. These blogs take a lot of fact-checking and research and are time-consuming to write.

So, here's a quick shout out to the LCBO - the Liquor Control Board of Ontario - who this past weekend, likely did more to promote cycling as a form of sustainable transportation among non-enthusiasts, than all of the cyclists, cycle clubs and cycling advocates that I know, put together, including the City of Toronto cycling office!


They put a very handsome young man, dressed in an impeccably tailored suit on a bike, and made it the cover of last weekend's flyer promoting French wine. This arrived as an insert in our Saturday paper.

Marketing-wise, we'd normally expect to see this chap in an ad for an expensive sports car, but here he is, on a bike, looking cool and trendy. Ahem, note to male members of my fellow middle-aged cohort "you are more likely to keep fitting into your expensive suits, if you cycle, rather than buy a sports car".

I have cycled hundreds and hundreds of kilometers in Oxford and Cambridge, as well as in the Netherlands, and Sweden. Everyone and their dog cycles around. BUT here in North America, despite the best intentions of  advocates, cycling's just not as widely perceived as something that everyone should do, for all of their life. I hope that this flyer cover has some unintended consequences that are good for the environment and people's health.

Just one beef about the adverts: as the parent of a teen, who thinks that bike helmets are totally dorky, despite the stats and the wide availability of cool helmets (widely reviewed, including at the website, Outdoor Urbanite) - I do wish that the inside shot with the baguette and flowers showed the model wearing a bike helmet.

[photopress:LCBO_french_lessons2.jpg,thumb,pp_image] DrumTom

Dawn R. Bazely

NIMBYism and windfarms in Toronto

The City of Toronto was well ahead of the Canadian curve when it came to adopting basic principles of sustainability around public transport, intensification of building density and the need to increase sources of renewable energy. The Ontario Green Energy Act has provided marvelous opportunities for increasing provincial sources of renewable energy. I have been amazed at how wind farms built in recent years in southwestern Ontario and on the way to Grey Bruce have livened up the landscape.

But, as the province moves on from terrestrial wind farms to offshore projects, one Toronto community is mobilizing against them. Some Guildwood residents have asked their city councilors, Paul Ainslie and Brian Ashton, to bring forward a motion to the city’s executive committee asking the province for a blanket-moratorium on wind-power development. The Globe and Mail article, Bluff residents fight wind turbines, explains that this motion, if passed, will be purely symbolic. But, while it will have little impact, it illustrates the nature of local opposition to such projects. The article quotes my colleague, Mark Winfield: "it would be “tragic" if fear of angering residents prevented the city’s politicians from pursuing much-needed renewable energy initiatives."

I am grading final exams right now. Since my head is in this space, my response on hearing about this motion in the last week was to imagine a take-home exam that I would like to set all of the voting residents of this local community. Here are the essay questions:

1. Explain what the acronym NIMBY stands for and discuss how this may or may not be applicable to Guildwood.

2. Define the term “ecological footprint” and explain how you would calculate your personal footprint.

3. In the documentary, The Age of Stupid, the filmmaker, Franny Armstrong illustrates the case of local residents opposing a wind farm project on the basis of landscape aesthetics. Compare and contrast this case with that of Guildwood in terms of how you are still “do[ing] your bit for the environment” (quote from wind-farm opponent in The Age of Stupid).

4. Discuss the evidence in the peer-reviewed literature for the harmful impacts of wind farms on human health and the environment. In your answer, define the term, peer-reviewed literature. (hint - you may want to use Google Scholar for this).

The purpose of these questions? Well, none of them have definitive right or wrong answers, so they are aimed at improving the level of informed opinions on the issue, because, obviously, there is homework that would need to be done to answer these questions. In the Globe article, Mr. Ainslie comments “there’s a lot of things that are unanswered”. These questions would help in addressing his concerns.

And, I am NOT advocating for only peer-reviewed science to drive action and policy. My close colleague,  environmental ethicist, Dr. Nicole Klenk proposes that “scientific narratives should be denied a priori privilege over non-scientific interpretations of nature for policy purposes”. I completely agree – local knowledge is very important and should be taken into account. BUT just how much local knowledge is there about wind farms in Guildwood?

I have lost patience with the dominant notion in our society, that an uninformed opinion should count for as much as an informed opinion. Too many people, including my teenager,  are getting away without doing their homework. The question of exactly whom I see as being responsible for this lamentable state of affairs is a topic for another blog.

Dawn R. Bazely

PS the quote is from the 2008 article, Listening to the birds: a pragmatic proposal for forestry in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Values, volume 17, pages 331-351

Upcoming conference 21-22 Oct 09: Environmental Assessment at a Crossroads

The Ontario Association for Impact Assessment (OAIA) invites interested researchers, students and faculty to attend their upcoming conference  (see UniversityPoster2009) at the Ontario Science Centre, Toronto, on October 21st and 22nd 2009.

Student registration is $75. The OAIA is dedicated to supporting students, and is hosting a range of networking events at the conference.

Save The Walrus – by reading and subscribing to it

We have just decided to do our little bit, and to renew our family subscription to The Walrus magazine, which has been in financial peril, as far as I can tell, since its inception. This is very unfortunate, because it has some of the most thoughtful, in-depth writing about sustainability issues to be found anywhere in Canada, and, indeed, in the world.  For example, the article on urban agriculture, The Future Has Begun in Jan-Feb 2009 is excellent. When I look at our attempt at an urban eco-garden - note the clothes line, upside-down tomato planters, beans, peppers, many herbs, composter (rat-free, this time, we hope), rain barrel, and lots of native plants, aimed at encouraging insects - I believe that it is significant that I don't see this replicated much, if at all, in my neighbourhood. In Toronto, we have a very long way to go compared with Havana, Cuba, and The Walrus can help us along the way. Please think about supporting it.

Dawn R. Bazely

PS Update in September 2010 - I just renewed my Walrus subscription AGAIN and gave it as gift to Annette Dubreuil

City Walking

I am currently in Boston (well Cambridge really), my old residence of years past. Like my subsequent five year sojourn in Toronto, I never needed a car in what Prevention Magazine cited as the number one walkable city in America. Indeed, this fact is proclaimed quite proudly with a sign in front of Cambridge City Hall. Moreover, the fact that Boston's Logan Airport itself is connected to the subway system makes an even bigger regional difference when you realize that Pearson Airport in Toronto is one of the traffic epicentres of the entire country.

The Walk Score web site puts Boston as a whole at number three behind San Francisco and New York City on its walkability index. Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Seattle, Long Beach, Los Angeles (!), and Portland round out the top ten. Not surprisingly, these are also the top American cities that I could live in.

At HuffPo, the least walkable cities are also highlighted. Not surprisingly, these grotesque car dependent cities are almost all located in the South, where a culture of American individualism has metastized into a anti-social nightmare of unaccountable ecological choices. It is no wonder that the South is also trapped within a reactionary political culture which reinforces these trends, even as the built environment neutralizes collective action and community spirit.