Climate Change Survival

It’s another season of local flooding, see-saw temperatures, western wild fires and severe storms to the south. Locally, we are hearing some farmers around Simcoe County lament the losses that they are, and will be, suffering this year.

Now, a new study published in the journal, Science, predicts that “unmitigated climate change will damage the poorest-third of US counties to the tune of 20% of total income. The regions that will be hit the hardest in the US over the coming years economically will be primarily in the South and in the lower Midwest. In other words, economic centers will be likely to move northwards, leaving the hotter, southern parts of the US impoverished …”.

(Perhaps not wanting to wait, Missouri just voted to lower the minimum wage in St. Louis by 23% from $10/hour to $7.70/hour, but that’s another story.)  Continue reading


Growing Urgent

It’s interesting that, just as the U.S. is pondering whether to honour the Paris Climate Change agreement, Clean Technica is drawing attention to research with alarming implications for the future of food security by 2050:

“Global production of the 4 most important staple crops in the world — maize/corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans — will be reduced by around 23% by the 2050s as a result of worsening anthropogenic climate change, according to new research published in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change.

Notably, even by the 2030s — not that long from now — production of the staple crops mentioned above are expected to fall by ~9%, owing to rising temperatures (both rising minimums and maximums), increasingly extreme weather, and drought.

It should be noted that the findings don’t take into account rising soil depletion/erosion problems, the possibility of synthetic fertilizer shortages, or the possibility of large-scale wars or social breakdown. In other words, things could get notably worse than the figures above, which are already quite extreme.”  Continue reading

Can We Change … for the Better?

I’ve been browsing the full Climate Change Action Plan released by the Ontario government. I see a lot of encouraging policy and a fair share of more vague intentions. But I can foresee the plan hitting some speed bumps along the way too.

The Abandel development proposal that Council just approved is a good example. It is a classic 1950’s strip plaza design with lots of vehicle parking and two drive through lanes. We are being graced with this architectural embarrassment, which does not conform with Innisfil’s Official Plan, because the developer insisted on having the project ‘grandfathered’ under old rules with the assistance of the OMB.

Before it is even constructed it is a fossil, totally incompatible with modern urban planning policy. We’ll be stuck with it for a generation. How many other “grandfather” projects are lingering out there in Ontario? This is a huge obstacle when architects and developers obstinately insist on designing for the 1950s instead of 2015. The government needs to outlaw all ‘grandfathering’ of development proposals. Regular recertification of architects, or early retirement for some of them, might be necessary too.

Let’s look at how out-of-step some current development proposals, like Abendel’s, are when compared to Climate Change Policy:

  • “The government intends to update the Building Code with long-term energy efficiency targets for new net zero carbon emission small buildings that will come into effect by 2030 at the latest, and consult on initial changes that will be effective by 2020.”
  • “Minimum parking requirements would be eliminated over the next five years for municipal zoning bylaws, especially in transit corridors and other high-density, highly walkable communities… Instead, bylaws will encourage bike lanes, larger sidewalks, and enhanced tree canopies.”
  • “The government intends to consult and propose amendments to the Planning Act to make climate change mitigation and adaptation mandatory in municipal official plans.”
  • “Municipalities would be able to require installation of electric vehicle charging stations in surface parking areas.”
  • “Ontario intends to establish a green bank to deploy and finance readily available low-carbon energy technologies to reduce carbon pollution from Ontario buildings.”

In theory, existing strip plazas in Innisfil like Trinity Crossing, Crossroads Plaza, and Innisfil Town Centre are ideal sites for rooftop solar or other renewable energy. There are no nearby buildings, trees or other obstructions. In practice this doesn’t happen because the roof belongs to a landlord with no interest in it, while the benefit would accrue to the tenants below who don’t have legal access to the roof or the means to install renewable energy. I don’t see how a ‘green bank’ is going to solve this problem. The only way I can see to break this impasse is to require landlords with buildings above a certain size to offer all tenants net metering of electricity. This would put the onus firmly on the building owners.

These are some of my initial thoughts as the climate change plan moves forward. I’m sure I will have more to say on the topic.

Our Low Carbon Future

The announcement of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan is something of a turning point for this province. The announcement was met with a mix of hopefulness and skepticism. So far it is not much more than words on paper but it indicates a real shift in public policy that may or may not be successful in effecting meaningful change.

Let’s keep in mind that no government can ‘solve’ the problem of climate change and there is no one magic cure. The solution lies in the changes each of us can make in our homes, jobs and businesses. Government policy only aims to encourage positive changes and discourage harmful choices, something that would be unnecessary if we were already collectively moving in that direction. Progress will only be measured by how many people take up the challenge.

It’s pretty obvious that the petroleum age is coming to an end, like the coal age before it. Fundamental changes are coming one way or another. It’s disappointing, then, to hear shrill and, frankly, ignorant comments coming from some Opposition members.

It’s been said that the devil is in the details but I’m impressed that a move is being made to mandate net zero home construction. I’ve been writing about innovative ‘passive’ and ‘net zero’ energy technologies since 2011, so I’m glad to see it has finally caught the attention of policy-makers. Some of the biggest obstacles are regulatory and building code specifications.

According to CMHC, “A net-zero energy (NZE) house is designed and built to reduce household energy needs to a minimum and includes on-site renewable energy systems, so that the house may produce as much energy as it consumes on a yearly basis.” A net zero house would have insulation levels of R60+ in the attic, R40+ in above-grade walls and R10+ in a basement slab to substantially reduce heating and cooling costs. After all, why would you want to use more energy than you absolutely have to, if you’re already vexed about the current cost of electricity and a carbon tax?

There’s no doubt that effective technologies exist. CMHC sponsored the development of net zero building plans and technologies in 12 demonstration projects across Canada starting in 2006. (Equilibrium Sustainable Housing) It’s not necessarily all high-tech. Some things like building orientation, maximum use of natural light, ventilation, and passive solar gain are just as important.

I already started the first step of cranking up insulation levels in my home a few years ago without government incentives. The pay-off was more comfort and lower utility bills. Now I’d like to see how much closer I can take this toward a ‘net zero’ energy status with the help of whatever incentives, and possibly new technologies, that will be made more readily available.

Carbon is the New Tobacco

If we could tax tobacco to save our lungs, it seems just as legitimate to tax carbon to save the planet and ourselves. A recent report, commissioned by more than 20 governments, estimated 5 million deaths wordwide are due to climate change annually, mostly in impoverished countries. So it was interesting to witness the hysteria coming from the government benches in Parliament over the idea.

There are three approaches out there: Continue reading

Consider the Future of Food and Farming in an Uncertain World

I have the greatest admiration for people who earn a living from the land. They will be the first to tell you that it’s a “lifestyle” as much as a career. This summer I had the opportunity to meet the local food producers who made the Innisfil Farmers’ Market such a success. I learned first-hand about their hard work on and off the fields and their passion for growing local food in a healthy, sustainable way.

So it seems appropriate that a new local organization, Innisfil in Transition, is showing a documentary film this week, A Farm for the Future, Continue reading