Friday, February 23, 2007

The Nature Challenge

If I had to list my most respected role model it would be David Suzuki. He's an environmentalist, but not a screaming roadblock-chaining type. The 'Suze is direct about what he expects people to do, but not nasty or vindictive. Overall a pretty friendly guy, but up-front and direct about what he thinks people should do.

So I try to make a substantial contribution every year to The David Suzuki Foundation because I think they do very good work. This enviro group has a few interesting initiatives. One of them is the Nature Challenge, which over 250,000 people have signed up for. The Nature Challenge is a set of ten steps that individuals can take.

These are my new year's resolutions so to speak. Ok, let's review see how I currently stack up. I am going to comment on each goal, and whether it is SMART (Specific Measurable Attainable R-something and Time Bounded)

1. Reduce home energy by 10%

This is an expensive and time consuming goal. We've been working on this since 2003 and have

invested substantially in houshold energy efficiency. But the truth is I don't know what the results are. Need to check the actual change in energy consumption

2. Eat meat-free meals once a week

Already doing it. This is dead simple Get some frozen wild salmon and throw it in the oven once a week. It's also inherently in one's self interest to not eat too much red meat.

3. Buy a fuel efficient, low-polluting car

This is pretty straightforward. If you are buying a new car, SUV's generally suck. The hard data for fuel efficiency is at After reviewing the data, our car, a 1993 Saturn, supposedly gets 28 mpg city/ 36 mpg highway driving.

4. Choose an energy efficient home and appliances.

When we buy an appliance, we generally fork over a little extra cash to buy more efficient appliances. We have a BigWash Samsung washing machine and two efficient new Energuide appliances.

5. Stop using pesticides

Dead simple. I am inherently lazy, so not doing something is pretty easy. "Honey did you spray the weeds". "No, I am taking the Nature Challenge"

6. Walk, bike or take transit to regular destinations
Transit yes. Bike, mm not so much currently. We still end up using our car too much. I would like to get rid of it and switch to Zipcar.

7. Prepare your meals with locally produced food

This is quite difficult. I would rewrite the goal to say "Select Ontario or Canadian fruit wherever available. Avoid food from faraway places: kiwis from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, etc."

In Toronto and Vancouver there are agencies like Green Earth Organics that deliver organic, produce items. We are a GEO customer, and I am curious about where GEO gets its food and have put in an enquiry.

8. Choose a home close to regular destinations

Done. Though I burn a lot of fossil fuels getting to my Ultimate games in the summer.

9. Support alternatives to the car

Hmm, difficult to measure. This goal should be chartered to be more specific and measurable . E.g write one letter to an elected representative pushing for better transit funding.

10. Get involved, stay informed

This goal should be more specific and measurable.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Top NASA scientist speaks out

Dr. James Hansen from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies spoke in a webcast today that was watched by 500,000 plus viewers. The webcast is part of an emergency teach-in, designed to alert teachers, scientists, and other professionals of the necessity to act on global climate change by 2010.

My partner's architecture office sent two people to watch the webcast at a local engineering office. The entire engineering office was watching the webcast. The great news is that obviously climate change is taken seriously by teachers, scientists, engineers, and architects. Now it needs to be taken seriously by federal governments and business.

Hansen outlined some basic truths that are clear to most informed observers not on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry

1. Nuclear power is useful but not the only answer.

2. Technologies for fossil fuel reduction are already available. Political will is needed.

3. Regulation and taxation of fossil fuels is necessary to effect change.

In an ABC news story, Dr. Hansen says the U.S. federal government is attempting to silence him and other scientists that speak out on global warming issues.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Meanest Book Club

I've been searching for a book club. Here's one that I won't be joining, or trying to join any time soon. The Book You Crew on; quite possibly the meanest book club in existence. Think Jack Black in High Fidelity. Think English Lit majors with a God complex and constipation. Anyone applying to the Book You Crew must submit their top 20 favorite books, and then face a merciless barrage of questions. Over 80% of applicants are banned.

"...If your list reads like the most recent NY Times Bestseller list, reads like
your high school summer reading list, reads like the front table at
Borders/B&N, or includes anything by John Grisham, you're deluding yourself
that you're qualified to be here. Make like a tree and branch out."


I plan to consume, read, and eventually dispose of this collection of essays from MIT press. The book explores the meaning and psychology of garbage. From a typology of dust bunnies to an essay on brownfields redevelopment. In a consumptive society, our trash defines us to a large extent. So a study of the ethics and significance of trash is appropriate.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Frigid Times in the Annex

The mercury finally dipped to normal February temperatures in Toronto. What a relief. I was worried Vancouverites would start moving here.


At my sister-in-law's behest we went to Live, the new raw vegan restaurant on Dupont Ave. And when I say raw vegan, I don't just mean 'animal products bad'. I don't mean just the 'milk is evil' vegan type. I mean mouth foaming, Fire-is-a-misguided technology-baking-is-bad-we-don't-serve-bread here (infidel) raw vegan.

Now I was a little skeptical, because while I sympathize with vegetarians and other mildly subversive types, I am of the conviction that that you know, 'fire' and 'cooking' technology were basically good inventions.

It turns out they have one or two cooked items. I had an excellent hot (cooked) soup and a (not cooked) salad. The cafe is beautiful and cheerful. Food was a little pricey, and there was an awkward moment when I tried to order a steak, medium rare. Steak is not funny. Not. funny.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Frigid February

Politicians looked up this week and saw the storm over climate change brewing. Conservatives and conservative pundits, who until recently spent much of their efforts denying the problem existed, now shifted their efforts to painting the issue as hopeless. As in: there's nothing we can do about this, so might as well get really, really rich.