Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Vancouver winter games: 300,000 tons of emissions

Winter games of the future?

If that sounds like a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, that's because it is. Of course it includes not just the construction of the Olympic venues, but also the transportation, airfare in particular, for the tens of thousands of participants and fans from across Canada and the world. Despite spending billions for this global warming extravaganza, organizers are scrambling to find a few million to purchase carbon offsets to allay any guilt.

2010 Games officials eye global warming costs
Organizers of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games said on Monday they are confident they can find sponsors to help with the estimated C$4.5 million ($3.6 million) cost of keeping the event from adding to global warming...

The Vancouver Organizing Committee said it is in talks with carbon offset management companies it hopes will help sponsor the cost of buying credits, which it said is running between C$10 and C$20 a tonne.

The Suzuki Foundation, which is working with VANOC, released its own report on Sunday warning that global warming is a threat to traditional winter Olympic sports in Canada as shorter winters leading to less ice and snow.
Ironic. Not only will BC residents likely be saddled with huge debt that will take years to repay, the Olympic efforts will contribute to the deterioration of winter sports in Canada.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cheese subscriptions...

Here's something new.  You've heard of buying a piece of a cow in order to get milk? Or a share in a farm in order to get fresh produce? Now you can buy a subscription to a cheese dairy.

Monforte's Ruth Klahsen sells 'subscriptions' to build a new dairy

Ms. Klahsen was the first artisan cheesemaker to get major attention from both Toronto chefs and food critics alike, touching off a revolution in the artisan cheese world and encouraging countless artisans to follow in her footsteps...

But making ends meet isn't easy for an artisanal dairy in Ontario. In Vermont, a budding cheesemaker can launch an operation with $40,000 and a credit card. Here, in this province, it costs closer to $1-million to build a regulation dairy.Subscribers typically buy a "share" in the farm's harvest. Last year, I paid $770 to a farmer and received about $35 worth of produce a week, over a 25-week growing season.

Farmers like the model because it allows them to raise money at the beginning of the growing season, when they need it most. Consumers like it because it allows them to participate in the production of their food - without having to wield a hoe.

This is the first time this financial model has been applied to a food processor.

"I hope this gets copied by everybody," says Ms. Klahsen, who has so far raised $60,000 through subscriptions.

She needs to raise at least $300,000 via subscriptions before she can access bigger-ticket loans from banks and government...

For more info, go to monfortedairy.com.

OPSEU members party on Earth Hour...

Earth Hour was a big success in Ontario this year with a 6% overall drop in power usage and about a 15% drop in Toronto.

Thanks to all OPSEU members who took part in Earth Hour 2009. There were eleven prize winners in OPSEU's first Earth Hour photo contest.

Here they are. Photos are posted in the order they were received.

Hi There. Here is dated photo.
I am the person 3rd from left in 2nd row. thanks.
Chao Ma, Local 596

The attachment is from Donna Calhoun, Local 542 celebrating Earth Hour in Collingwood, ON with 10 friends at Georgian Manor Resort.

Hi there, Please find attached the photo for our Earth Hour Party!
Thanks organizing this! Happy Earth Hour!
Janice Cho, Local 270, MTO, Region 2

Here is my photo from our earth hour celebrations, we decided to have a campfire seeing it was so warm outside!
Julia Buck - Local 362 - MNR

This photo was taken on March 28/09 in my back yard,we had a BBQ. Steak, Ribs, Sausages, baked potatoes, etc, with a fire to help keep us warm.
Avis Thompson, Local 164

Many of the families on our street went for a walk during earth hour. Here we are heading out for the walk. After that it was Monopoly by candle light. Les Yatabe, Local 507

We had a dinner party by candlelight to celebrate Earth Hour.
Elaine Mallory, Local 603, MNR, Sault Ste. Marie

We celebrated by having a late candlelit dinner, with my daughter Keleigh, and her friends, Shannon and Cheresa and my chum Melissa Harvey. Brian O'Toole ( my husband) took the picture. Cheers...Brenda O'Toole - Local 365 - Trent University
PS. We should have at least one Earth Hour a month!

Here are some photos of our CCAC Pediatric team Curling party, held at the RCMP curling club in Ottawa on Saturday March 28th, 730-10pm. We were 5 OPSEU members: Lori Savage, Shari Greenhorn, Shannon Haggerty, Anne Carpen, and Lorina Mahon. Some of us invited our partners, our children, and our friends to help make the games livelier. The lights were on while we curled on the ice (for safety reasons) but we turned out the lights in the lounge at 8:30 - 9:30pm Thank you for supporting Earth Hour.
Shannon Haggerty, Region 4

Here is a photo of me and my friends during Earth Hour. Unfortunately you cannot see my black dog who also took part in the festivities.
Melissa Daigle - Local 500

It is quite odd that that there are so many people vociferously opposed to Earth Hour calling in to radio talk shows. There were many reasons I heard. First, the climate change deniers. I heard a denier/skeptic say that he was going to participate anyway "just in case" he's wrong. He won a $150 prize.

Others feel that turning off the lights is a token gesture and that we ought to be engaging in conservation all the time or we'll be rationing electricity on a permanent basis. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. Of course we need to do more than turn off the lights for an hour, but Earth Hour raises awareness about wasted electricity while sending a clear message that every effort counts and that together we can make a noticeable and important difference.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour 2009 - Have a party!

Dear OPSEU members,

Looking for something to do on the evening of March 28th? Why not throw an Earth Hour party? The first 30 OPSEU members who submit a photo of their Earth Hour get-together will receive $25 to help with refreshments.

Earth Hour is inspired by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund). The idea is to turn off all your lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 28 and be part of a global action that is hoping to reach over one billion people in 1,000 cities. Earth Hour began in Australia in 2007. Check out all the Ontario communities that are participating this year. Ontario Power Generation will be monitoring the electrical grid in Ontario and reporting on the results.

OPSEU’s Executive Board endorsed Earth Hour in 2008. OPSEU turned the lights off in our four owned buildings. OPSEU has signed up again and will extend Earth Hour to as many of our leased offices around the province as possible.

As in 2008, we are encouraging you to flick the switch for Earth Hour (or longer) to share your concern about climate change. You can download and print an Earth Hour participant or party host window sign. OPSEU is going one step further this year and encouraging you to host an Earth Hour party. It could be as simple as a candlelight dessert or a walk in the park. Or perhaps board games or music making?

$25.00 prize criteria

Open to all OPSEU members. Party must have a minimum of five people. A photo should be time and date-stamped and received by email no later than Wednesday April 1 at 5:00 p.m. All lights must be off in the photo. Send your pics to earthhour@opseu.org. The first 30 members to submit their pics will win a prize. We will post the photos on OPSEU’s environmental blog – GreenUnion.

For more information, you can contact earthhour@opseu.org.

In solidarity

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President

Patty Rout, First Vice-President/Treasurer

p.s. – Don’t forget to take a picture of your Earth Hour party to receive a special thank you prize of $25.00

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NUPGE joining Earth Hour

NUPGE joins Earth Hour calling for climate action

"But don’t stop at turning off the lights. Think about what else can be done to reduce your footprint like taking transit, unplugging unused electrical appliances and washing your clothes in cold water. The list is endless and your action will make a big difference.

In order to make Earth Hour more than a symbolic event, it is important people understand that we each have a role to play in the fight against climate change. Our everyday actions, like turning off unnecessary lights, individually add up to make a big difference. Individual action also is important because it sends a strong signal to business and government that Canadians want action."

Community orchards...

Speaking of locally sustainable food, I attended a meeting in my general neighborhood last night to hear the details about a proposed orchard that is being organized by some members of the community in the north end of my ward. 

They hope to plant 40 fruit trees this spring in Ben Nobleman Park which is at the corner of Eglinton and Allen Road.

Although popular in England and gaining steam, in Vancouver, Boston and elsewhere, this will be Toronto's first community orchard where members of the public can volunteer and reap part of the harvest.

Ben Nobleman Park Orchard Proposal

Community orchard in England

Monday, March 23, 2009

Local sustainable food...

As people become more and more aware of the link between transportation of food and the production of greenhouse gases, locally grown and sustainable foods are becoming more popular. There are a growing  number of retailers, restaurants and caterers that sell locally grown food products. 

Local Food Plus has a lot of information and a list of these food providers.  So next time you are planning a local meeting or some other event, consider using locally grown food products  as much as possible. 
What is Local Sustainable Food?

Simply put, local sustainable food is a long-term, comprehensive strategy whose time has come.

Going beyond organic certification or “buy local” campaigns, local sustainability integrates economic, social, and environmental considerations, and rewards local farmers, both conventional and organic, who employ ecological practices.

Local Food Plus believes a food system is sustainable when it addresses the issues affecting agriculture by being:

» Financially viable for all stakeholders
» Primarily local and regional
» Ecologically responsible in its operations
» Socially responsible

Reducing first responders idle time

OPSEU received an invitation from Fleet Challenge to participate in a consultation on issues related to the idling of emergency vehicles - ambulances and police cars in particular. There are at least two key issues related to idling emergency vehicles - greenhouse gas production and worksite air quality. We were asked to send a front-line paramedic to the meeting in order to assure that this perspective was part of the process. 

First responder vehicles idling at an accident scene

OPSEU's paramedics were represented at this meeting by Brad Thomson, health & safety rep from OPSEU's ambulance division. Here is his report from the March 13 meeting.
From my perspective the meeting was very interesting and the changes to fleet vehicles purposed can affect most vehicles used as Ambulances in the province.
The meeting began with introductions and a get to know each other session. The large group was divided into groups of 6-8 people. Most groups had a broad mix of participants, all including a rep from Fleet Challenge. The group that I worked with included a rep from GM engineering, head of Hamilton Police Fleet division, owner of a business in Ancaster that designs "alternate power units" [Simplicity Air] and myself. 
For the day Fleet Challenge had us all respond to a general questionnaire specific to fleet vehicles and their perceived uses/emissions. Following that session we worked in our small groups trying to come up with ideas to reduce idle times, to provide alternate power sources for all the vehicles secondary equipment, and any ideas to reduce vehicle emissions period.
My group specifically did well  Some examples include using a separate small diesel generator, shutting down half of the cylinders in the motor while at idle or even programming the vehicle to shut off at idle and start up by removing your foot from the brake and back on the gas, or increase use of lithium ion batteries. 
I have requested to be kept up to date on any progress or future meetings.
Thanks again for including me in this process. I find the concept of Fleet Challenge very interesting and hopefully, very successful.

World Water Day meetings & demos in Turkey

Yesterday was World Water Day. Here's an account of the goings on in Istanbul, Turkey by the World Water Council (industry), the People's Water Forum and the police by Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch, Mary Ann Manahan of Focus on the Global South, and Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations General Assembly.

Water Rights Activists Blast World Water Forum as "Corporate Trade Show to Promote Privatization"

Maude Barlow: They basically say that they are the collection of people around the world who care about water, and they come together every three years to have this great big summit. And every single year, the police presence gets more and more like the World Trade Organization, every single year, from the very beginning, when there was none, to this. But basically, the World Water Council, which puts this on, is really the big water corporations and the World Bank and some UN agencies and some northern development agencies, some academics, the odd small NGO -- small as in, you know, NGOs, but really, it is the corporations, and it's a big trade show.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Green Product Guide

Find safe, healthy & green products

This came to my attention today from the GreenNexxus newsletter. I haven't checked it out yet but it looks interesting. Comments are welcome.

* What chemicals are in your baby shampoo?
* Was sweatshop labor used to make your t-shirt?
* What products are the best, and what products should you avoid?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bottled water study - Variety of contaminants

Tip of the hat to Jen Giroux for this story.

Bottled water has contaminants too, U.S. study finds

Tests on leading brands of bottled water turned up a variety of contaminants, including cancer-linked chemicals three times higher than California's health standard, according to a study released Wednesday by an environmental advocacy group.

The findings challenge the popular impression - and marketing pitch - that bottled water is purer than tap water, the researchers say...

However, all the brands met federal health standards for drinking water. And most of the detected contaminants are common in tap water, too.

Lab tests detected 38 chemicals in 10 brands, with an average of eight contaminants found in each kind of bottled water. Tests showed coliform bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium...

The researchers also said the Wal-Mart brand exceeded California's limit by five times for a second chlorine byproduct, bromodichloromethane.

The Environmental Working Group said it notified California's attorney general of its intent to sue Wal-Mart. The group wants the company to label its bottles in California with a warning of cancer-causing chemicals. Wal-Mart did not respond to a request for comment.
There was also a recent article brought to my attention by a couple of people about possible dangers in tap water from chemicals. The Canadian government is supposed to be looking for a company that can do research and testing to see the extent of the problem. OPSEU has installed filters on select taps in most of its offices.

Feds to test taps for cancer contaminants
The federal government is ordering tests of Canada's drinking water over concerns it may contain contaminants thought to raise the risk of cancer and other health problems.

Health Canada is now seeking a contractor to determine if the contaminants - known as disinfection byproducts - flow from the country's taps.

Water-treatment plants have long used disinfectants such as chlorine and ozone to eliminate bacteria from drinking water. But in the 1970s, scientists discovered the disinfectants react with organic materials in untreated water, such as decaying vegetation, to form the byproducts.

There are hundreds of byproducts. Some of the more common ones are trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, bromate and chlorite...

Last May, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported there were 1,760 boil-water advisories across the country - excluding those for 93 First Nations.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Passive houses...

One of the original Passive Houses at Darmstadt, Germany

While I know there have been many efforts to reduce energy consumption in homes, I didn't realize there was a term for it - "passive houses". Once again, when we see what's happening in Germany and the rest of Europe, it's easy to see how far behind we are in Canada. And every day that we don't take action is another day we've fallen further behind.
The term passive house (Passivhaus in German) refers to the rigorous, voluntary, Passivhaus standard for energy efficiency in buildings. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling...

The Passivhaus standard for central Europe requires that the building fulfills the following requirements:[12][13]

* The building must not use more than 15 kWh/m² per year (4746 btu/ft² per year) in heating and cooling energy.
* Total energy consumption (energy for heating, hot water and electricity) must not be more than 42 kWh/m² per year [14]
* Total primary energy (source energy for electricity and etc.) consumption (primary energy for heating, hot water and electricity) must not be more than 120 kWh/m² per year (3.79 × 104 btu/ft² per year)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another NUPGE videoconference

The National Union (NUPGE) is continuing to roll out its Polycom video-conferencing system. The National Executive Board was provided with an update yesterday on several issues by President James Clancy. There is a unit in the head offices of each of the NUPGE affiliates. There were eight units connected for yesterday's meeting from across Canada.

OPSEU's unit has been installed in the auditorium/theatre.  Once the unit is set up and everything's plugged into the right places.  One of my roles at OPSEU is to show people how to turn on the system and connect to videoconferences.  It's almost as easy as making a phone call.

Of course I'm oversimlifying slightly but as more and more organizations turn to different conferencing technologies, the manufacturers need to keep it as simple as possible (despite the complex technology behind the scenes) for the people using the equipment. 

Corporate triage

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

OPSEU calls for action on Niagara Parks

Maid of the mist, Niagara Falls

The health and sustainability of Ontario parks, depends on the integrity and accountability of the organizations which manage them.  The Ontario government is the primary legal steward for our collective, natural heritage. It is recognizing more and more that committed, concerted and creative efforts are needed to slow down the freight train of global warming. OPSEU is calling on the Ontario government to re-assume responsibility for the management of the Niagara Parks Commission. 

OPSEU has been the union of choice for members at the Niagara Parks Commission since its inception in 1967. OPSEU has long been working to highlight and fix problems at the Niagara Parks Commission, like here, while defending jobs - many which are "green jobs" - against contracting out to the lowest, private-sector bidder or even non-bidder. There's big money in ferries. The G&M is taking a closer look at the situation.
Niagara Parks' union wants Ontario to take control of park's commission - Globe and Mail

Citing a “record of mismanagement and secrecy” at the Niagara Parks Commission, the union representing Niagara Parks workers wants the Ontario government to assume management of the 1,720 hectares of land under the commission's control.

The call comes days after The Globe and Mail reported on a controversial, no-bid, 25-year lease extension for the Maid of the Mist tour boat operation, the oldest and most popular attraction at Niagara Falls, which nets the parks commission millions of dollars in fees....

That record, the union said, includes a non-tendered marina lease, unmet crowd targets for a new $40-million attraction, and questionable spending while workers have been laid off, leading to a decline in maintenance of the commission's popular parks and infrastructure.

“Our members report that the park's infrastructure and lands are deteriorating while the commission makes irresponsible spending decisions,” OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas said in the release.
OPSEU Newser

Edited to add: There's at least one website focussed on the Maid of the Mist deal

Suzuki on forests

Some good information in the context of the big picture by David Suzuki. 

Forests are another piece of the global warming puzzle

But the Nature study shows that tropical forests absorb more carbon than we realized...
One thing we do know is that we cannot rely on tropical forests to prevent dangerous levels of climate change. But the amount of carbon they store gives us another compelling argument for protecting forests, as they may at least provide a buffer while we work on other solutions, such as reducing our energy consumption and switching to renewable sources of energy.
Clearly, it’s not the only reason to protect forests. Looking at the ability of forests to absorb carbon allows us to see that they have economic value beyond resources such as lumber that we have traditionally considered. Forests are a source of medicine, food, and clean drinking water and are habitat for over half of all land-based plants and animals on the planet. Forests also provide spiritual, aesthetic, and recreational opportunities for millions of people.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mileage tax in US?

I haven't heard this one before. 

Mileage tax idea gains congressional support, raises privacy concerns

Despite opposition from the White House, a proposal to tax motorists on the number of miles they drive each year is gaining speed on Capitol Hill.

Its popularity is increasing as Congress searches for alternatives to the federal gasoline tax, which is not indexed to inflation and which has not been raised since 1993....

(Barbara) Boxer said the 2007 collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis – which killed 13 people – is a reminder that Congress must move quickly to increase spending on the nation's infrastructure. She said there's now a backlog of projects that would require $495 billion just to maintain the current system.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Habitat loss hurting Ontario wildlife

One more reason why OPSEU's move to reclaim habitat for native plants and animals at head office is a good idea.

Protect at-risk species: report
Environmental commissioner says habitat loss main problem

Ontario's environmental commissioner is urging the province to legislate more protection for biodiverse areas such as the Frontenac Arch, near Kingston.

In a 74-page report critiquing the province's new Endangered Species Act, Gord Miller said the state of Ontario's species at risk has worsened in recent decades and the main cause of that is habitat loss...

"Without concrete measures and swift action, many of Ontario's wild species and the natural areas they depend upon may be lost forever," the report states.

Ontario currently has 183 species identified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern. At least six species native to Ontario have become extinct in modern times.
You can view the entire report here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Climate change: It's a union issue

That's the name of the generic course that a number of unions worked together on last year with Jackie Larkin in Vancouver. The OPSEU reps included Kay Singh, Geraldine Ryan and myself.

The Canadian Labour Congress has now posted the course online. If you'd like to see it, here's the link:

Climate change: It's a union issue

OPSEU has drawn from these materials to design a one-day OPSEU-focused course. It was piloted last fall. It is expected to be ready for delivery in OPSEU's regional member educational program later this year.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March 22 - World Water Day - Let's Toast

I received notice of this campaign from Joe Cressy at the Polaris Institute yesterday. Please get involved. 

Take Action Now

1.   Sign-Up and pledge to making a toast to public water.  Click here or visit www.insidethebottle.org to sign-up.

2.   Download a sample Toast to Public Water here.

3.   Encourage your friends and colleagues to join in and make a toast.

"We raise our glasses to the back-to-the-tap movement."

Municipal bottled water campaign

OPSEU leant its name to a campaign co-ordinated by the Polaris Institute to provide useful information to mayors and municipal politicians in every municipality in Ontario. Our partners in this mailout included: 

The bottled beverage industry has become quite aggressive in lobbying municipal politicians as more and more of them break away from bottled water, and in the case of Niagara Falls, plastic bottles altogether.  There are currently at least 13 municipalities in Ontario with a bottled water ban. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ottawa River: Nuclear dump?

NDP says resources minister misled public about water leak at reactor

The NDP wants the federal minister of natural resources to apologize for leading Canadians to believe that no radioactive water ended up in the Ottawa River after a recent leak at the nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ont.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s natural resources critic, said that on five different occasions Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt misled the House of Commons about the Dec. 5 leak....

The NDP also took issue with the minister’s statements in the House during the week of Feb. 2. While the minister denied a leak of radioactive water into the Ottawa River, she did not deny a controlled release of radioactive water, although she didn't reveal it either.
While the Harper government, Atomic Energy Canada (AECL) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) might not think there's a problem dumping radioactive nuclear waste in a river which supplies drinking water to Ottawa, the NDP is not the only one with concerns.

Ottawa riverkeeper raises alarm about reactor leaks
Meredith Brown, Ottawa's Riverkeeper released a two-page report last week. 
"Under the best of circumstances I am uncomfortable with the very idea of a nuclear reactor operating on the banks of the Ottawa River," said Brown.

"However, when that reactor is old and prone to leaks, I am particularly concerned. Even more alarming is the fact that these leaks are not reported to the public in detail in a timely manner...

"I did the math on the amount of tritium (a highly carcinogenic substance) contained in the heavy water being released. The results were alarming..."

Recently, Sun Media uncovered that the 51-year old reactor released radioactive tritium into the air during an incident on Dec. 5, 2008. It was also discovered the reactor had been leaking up to 7,000 litres of water a day for more than a month from a crack in a weld.

Brown's short report is worth reading and ends with the following action item, 
We look forward to your support and promise to keep you informed. Lastly, I personally encourage you to tell your elected representatives that you find the present situation unacceptable.
Tip of the hat to staff reps Annelle Vercuiel and Kathleen Demareski from OPSEU's Toronto office for this story.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Under the Sea 3D

On Saturday night I went to see the recently released "Under the Sea 3D", the latest IMAX film from Director Howard Hall and his production team. Having never seen an IMAX 3-D film, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was a huge "WOW". The photography is truly breathtaking and the 3-D effects make you feel like you're right there with the fish and sharks swimming around you. I wholeheartedly recommend this 40 minute documentary to everyone, but particularly anyone with younger children.

The movie was filmed in underwater locations in Australia and Papau New Guinea. Here's the non 3D trailer.

The climate change message was a bit subtle - i.e. increased carbon dioxide levels are killing coral reefs and destroying habitat for thousands of species of fish. There was a slightly unsettling reassurance by narrator Jim Carrey that since we now know about the problem, we expect action to be taken. Not sure it works that easily.

Here's the New York Times' positive review of Under the Sea 3D.

Seedy Saturday

On Saturday afternoon I dropped by Toronto's Seedy Saturday which took place this year at the Artscape Wychwood Barns. What a huge, enthusiastic (and mostly young) crowd. It was shoulder to shoulder as people from around town came by to purchase or swap seeds for this year's spring planting. There were also many other environmentally friendly booths at the event. There were a number of workshops which I ended up not attending.

I was really glad to run into Greg Hagan, OPSEU's native plant advisor and my mentor and hero when it comes to anything to with indigenous plants. Greg is looking forward to moving the native plant gardens at OPSEU forward in 2009.

You can find more pictures and a detailed report of Seedy Saturday on the TasteTO website.

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