Voting for the Climate

Montreal is gearing up for this Friday’s Global Climate Strike, part of a global week of protests. While the event follows the Fridays for Future movement that began just over a year ago, this Friday is of particular importance because of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 taking place in New York.

Here in Montreal, students, schools and businesses are getting ready.

Just four weeks away from a federal election, one can’t help wondering how much — or how little — this issue will matter when Canadians are actually standing in the voting booth, pencil in hand.

How many of the young people who will be attending this Friday’s rally are of voting age? And for those who aren’t, what if they could vote… would it change how the media is covering the election? Would it change the election’s outcome?

Polls suggest that climate change is a key issue for about 25 percent of voters (see the Global News/La Presse survey in September and Forum Research in July).

Somehow, though, judging from the day-to-day mainstream headlines, it doesn’t feel that way.

All four main parties are talking about climate change to some degree, but they all have different approaches to tackling it. A quick Google search led to several articles on the topic. Four are presented below. Their main focus is climate change, although one could argue that taking a broader approach to environmental issues would be a more holistic way of addressing this massive problem.

  • The Globe and Mail offers a fairly in-depth “explainer”: Federal election 2019: Where the four main parties stand on climate policy, by Shawn McCarthy and Marieke Walsh. It begins with a review of what the science says, describes the overall political context and then looks at each of the four main parties’ stated commitments. For analysis, a university professor comments briefly on the gaps in and feasibility of each party’s plan.
  • Maclean’s provides an Election 2019 primer: Energy and the environment, by Shannon Proudfoot. The article summarizes “where each of the parties stand on the increasingly top-of-mind issue of climate change—and what they propose to do about it,” although it does not provide much analysis.
  • The Narwhal’s explainer, Canada’s major parties on all things environment, goes a bit beyond the climate change issue. Jimmy Thompson examines each party’s platform in three environmental areas: climate change; energy; and land, water, wildlife and ocean conservation.
  • Finally, Election 2019: Comparing the federal parties’ climate change commitments, by ecojustice lawyer Julia Croome, offers its own take on how the parties’ climate commitments stack up, rating them according to whether they have (1) a strong target, (2) a realistic plan, and (3) accountability tools.

On Friday, young people are voicing their concerns. They’re asking not only politicians, but all adults, to make the environment a priority. Voting is one way of taking action. Perhaps the most important part is to make representatives aware this is something that matters.

monarch on white hydrangea

When Adrienne Campbell first saw the new movie “A Plastic Ocean,” she was left speechless. “Even in the middle of a vast ocean, where you think it’s just a big blue sea and pure, clean water, they find bits of micro-plastic.”

Although she’d been aware that plastic pollution was a problem, she hadn’t realized how big the problem really was.

Yet rather than be overwhelmed, she started thinking about her own habits, and how simple it is to change them. And she decided to spread the word by helping to organize the first Quebec screening of the movie in Montreal. The date: June 8, 2017, to coincide with World Oceans Day.

In “A Plastic Ocean,” an international team of divers, adventurers and researchers go on a mission to discover what lurks beneath the surface of our seemingly pristine ocean. The feature-length documentary was made by the Plastics Oceans Foundation, an international network of independent not-for-profit organizations. Filmed in 20 locations around the world, “A Plastic Ocean” gives a global perspective on the issue of plastic waste in our oceans and examines the extent of the problem. Most importantly, it shows how we can turn it around, through knowledge, behavioural changes and technology.Poster snippet

The screening, to take place at Concordia University in downtown Montreal, will be followed by a panel discussion, led by Peter Stoett, director of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre and a senior research fellow with the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change. He and other local experts will talk about plastic pollution in a Montreal context.

The event is being organized by a team including Jordan Keenan from the 5 Gyres Institute, Emma Langson from the Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada, Adrienne Campbell and other concerned citizens. Sustainable Concordia and Life Without Plastic are also contributing.

Plastic-Free Fair

Just before the screening, the public is invited to a Plastic-Free Fair to meet people from different organizations and businesses and learn about local resources for reducing waste. The evening will end with a raffle draw for a variety of gift certificates and sustainable supplies. The raffle will help cover the event’s costs, and any profits will support local projects of the Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada.

“There are so many causes, and you can’t be invested and involved in all of them,” says Campbell. “But this is something where even people who are busy . . . can have an impact, just through their own day-to-day actions. It doesn’t require a whole lot of effort.”

The event is FREE but tickets can be reserved through EventBrite, where you can also purchase raffle tickets ($3 each or five for $10).

And there’s still room for other local groups or businesses to participate! If you’d like to have a table at the fair or contribute to the event, contact Adrienne Campbell. She also encourages people to share the poster, spread the word and bring their friends!

WHEN: Thursday, June 8, 2017
WHERE: Concordia University’s Sir George Williams Alumni Auditorium (Room H-110, Hall Building), 1455 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West, Montreal, QC
6 – 7 p.m.: Plastic-Free Fair
7 – 8:30 p.m.: Screening of “A Plastic Ocean”
8:30 – 9:00 p.m.: Panel discussion, Q&A and raffle draw for prizes

RESERVE your tickets
SHARE the Facebook event page

From the Plastic Oceans website:
• We use over 300 million tonnes of new plastic every year. Half of this we use just once and usually for less than 12 minutes.
• 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year.
• Over 600 species of marine life are known to suffer directly from plastic pollution. . . .  Over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs.

Over the last 20 years, monarch butterfly populations in Canada have declined by 90%. In fact, the species is considered of “special concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

To assist in protecting the monarch and developing a national conservation plan for this species, the Montreal Insectarium and several Canadian universities have launched the “Monarch Mission,” which invites the public to take part in an inventory of monarch eggs and caterpillars on their host plant, the milkweed.

One group taking part in this initiative is Les Amis de la Montagne’s conservation team in Mount Royal Park. Each week, the team has been collecting information and reporting its observations to the Insectarium through the website dedicated to this project: www.mission-monarch.org

And this Saturday, August 20, Les Amis de la Montagne is inviting the public to join them on Mount Royal for a blitz census of the monarch butterfly population. So far, about 30 people have registered to take part.

“We’ve identified six sectors on Mount Royal where there are large concentrations of milkweed. We’ll divide into teams, and in this way cover the whole park,” explains Julie Faucher Delisle, Conservation Agent with Les amis de la montagne. To date, she said, they haven’t spotted any monarch butterflies, but they’ll be on the look-out for the eggs and first-stage caterpillars. “It’s also possible we won’t find any. But that’s important information too.”

Why the decline?

There are many reasons for the decline in the monarch population. These include deforestation and urbanization, as well as systemic pesticide use. (See more on COSEWIC’s species profile page for the Monarch.)

Another issue, however, is invasive plant species. Delisle explains that monarchs lay their eggs on a very specific host plant, the milkweed. Sometimes, however, monarchs are attracted to another plant from the same family, commonly known as dog-strangling vine. Yet while the survival rate for caterpillar eggs on milkweed is very high, on dog-strangling vine, it is very low. So the conservation team is also working to identify and remove dog-strangling vine throughout Mount Royal park.

How does the census help?

The information collected throughout the summer will be used to help protect the monarchs. “If we know they’re concentrated in a specific area of Montreal, then we know that may be an ecosystem to protect,” Delisle explains. “This could mean, for example, not mowing a lot that contains a large concentration of milkweed plants and is known as a reproduction site for monarchs.” Since the census is a Canada-wide project, it will hopefully lead to improved protection nation-wide.

If you can’t make it to the mountain this Saturday, there are still many opportunities to help out. While no more “blitzes” are planned for the summer, every Saturday morning the public is welcome to come participate in Les Amis de la Montagne’s Environmental Stewardship Program. No registration necessary: just present yourself at the Smith House (1260 Remembrance Road on Mount Royal) at 10 a.m.

More info:

Les amis de la montagne: www.lemontroyal.qc.ca

Learn all about monarchs and/or the Monarch Mission: www.mission-monarch.org

COSEWIC: www.cosewic.gc.ca

















Last week I attended the 7th annual Canadian Water Summit, a day-long event bringing together water leaders from government, industry, non-profit organizations and academia. Held June 23, 2016, in Toronto under the theme “The Business of Water—Innovation Across the Entire Life Cycle,” this year’s edition focused on best practices in water innovation and the latest trends in managing water-related risks.

In a keynote address, Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, talked about how, in Canada, we tend to take water for granted. “No one here was surprised when they turned on the tap this morning and clean water came out,” he said. Yet the sad reality is that nearly all of Canada’s once pristine lakes and rivers are now polluted.

On this topic, Ontario recently passed the Great Lakes Protection Act, which aims to strengthen the province’s ability to keep the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River clean, as well as to protect and restore the waterways that flow into them.

Murray referred to climate change and environmental problems as “a cultural problem.” The Indigenous people have treaties with nature, he explained: they consider all of nature’s creatures of equal importance, and they consider water sacred. “Can you imagine if we started treating water as sacred?” he asked. Instead, decisions are made according to four-year election or business cycles. We need to evolve not just in terms of technology: “We need to advance our culture to be sophisticated enough to live on this planet.”

Water tech challenges

Among other things, Summit panelists and participants discussed the challenges of introducing new technologies in the water sector: for example, no municipality wants to take the risk of being the first to implement a new wastewater or drinking water treatment technology. As well, procurement policies often require going with the lowest bidder but may not take into account full life-cycle costs or environmental impacts; moreover, when preparing specifications for calls for tender, engineers tend to go with the technologies they know.

The Summit also looked at how water issues affect businesses, and offered a glimpse into the fascinating ways in which some companies are reducing their water use, using rainwater or grey water, or recycling their wastewater—often generating substantial dollar savings in the process.

In a session titled “The Big Picture: Engaging water users in a conversation about sustainable water use,” Matt Howard, Director of the Alliance for Water Stewardship–North America, explained that no one is immune from water risks. The issue is not always scarcity; it may be regulatory, or quality—he pointed to recent examples of toxic algae in Lake Erie (causing Toledo, Ohio, to declare a state of emergency in 2014) and the fiasco in Flint, Michigan, both within the Great Lakes basin.

“We need to move beyond the fact that we have abundant supply of inexpensive water,” he stated. He noted that in a survey on global risks, businesses ranked water as third most important in terms of impact, and second in terms of likelihood.

Jonathan Radtke is the Water Sustainability Program Director for Coca-Cola North America. The company is present in nearly every country in the world. Their number one ingredient: water.

The company has a multi-component water strategy, which includes making sure its plant is efficient and discharges clean wastewater, working on these same issues with suppliers, and collaborating on projects with municipalities and communities worldwide.

What I found most interesting, however, was its “replenish” strategy. “Our goal is return to nature and communities the same amount of water that we use in our products and production process,” explained Radtke, “that is, to be water neutral by 2020.”

This is being done through a number of projects and partnerships, from donating its syrup barrels for use as rain barrels to supporting wetland restoration projects. Recent Canadian projects include funding to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to support four conservation projects in Alberta’s Bow River Watershed, and funding to support the Tommy Thompson Wetland Park in Toronto. Here in Quebec, in 2012, the company pledged $250,000 to restore the damaged St-Eugène marsh and help improve the natural flow in the St. Lawrence River.

Circular systems

Canada has much to learn from other countries, too. Alex van der Helm is with Waternet, the public water utility of Amsterdam. With its dense population and nearly half of the country below sea level, the Netherlands has become renowned for its water technology expertise.

Van der Helm described a number of sustainable initiatives they’ve adopted, adding that Amsterdam’s ambition is to become climate neutral, “the circular city of Europe,” by 2020. He touched on concepts such as circular water and energy systems, aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES), and capturing heat from showers. “Forty percent of total energy losses come from warm wastewater leaving houses,” he noted.

In a panel on “The Value of Water: Overcoming Challenges to Innovation in the Water Industry,” Bruce Taylor, President of Enviro-Stewards, gave numerous examples of how his consulting firm has helped large companies reduce their water and energy consumption.

In one case, a food manufacturer was using tremendous quantities of water to dilute the fat waste going down the drain. By recovering and transforming this fat into lard that could be sold, the company reduced the fat going down the drain (good for the municipal wastewater system, where Fats, Oils and Greases, a.k.a. FOGs, are a huge problem), reduced its water requirement (water fees are rapidly increasing), and now generates some additional revenue by selling the lard.

A few years ago, Enviro-Stewards designed a project for the City of Guelph to harvest rainwater to wash its buses. Not only does this save water, but it reduces the amount of chemicals used for removing calcium spots, for example.

These were just a few of the many projects mentioned, offering an inspiring glimpse into the world of water technology and innovation.

About the Canadian Water Summit


 “Treat our freshwater as a precious resource that deserves protection and careful stewardship, including by working with other orders of government to protect Canada’s freshwater using education, geo-mapping, watershed protection, and investments in the best wastewater treatment technologies.” Excerpt from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Mandate Letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.


Since my blog post about visiting Montreal’s Sorting Centre for Recyclable Materials, several people have written to ask how they can arrange for a tour of the facilities.

Visits to the sorting centre, which is part of the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex (SMEC), are now managed by TOHU (better known for its circus activities).

Laurence Dupont from the tickets and guided tours office explained that the regular environmental tour has four components (order may vary):

  1. History of the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex (SMEC) and the TOHU
  2. Visit of the TOHU Pavilion, a LEED GOLD Canada certified green building
  3. Visit to the lookout for a panoramic view of the complex
  4. Short visit of the Montreal Sorting Centre for Recyclable Materials. A more complete visit of the plant, where you get to see the sorting machinery in operation, is offered upon request. For safety reasons, participants have to be 18 or over.

Duration: 90 minutes (2 hours if visiting the sorting plant as well)

Reservations can be made for groups of 10 people or more. For individuals or smaller groups, they can add you on to another tour. There could be a slight wait, because they’ll do their best to match you to a group of similar “level” (for example, they might place adults with a university group) since the tour is adapted to the audience.

Tours are available in English or French. Visits are free for Montreal residents, otherwise the cost is $6 for adults and $4 for kids, and free for children under 6 (but not recommended). Special rates for social integration organizations.

For information, you can email visites.guidees@tohu.ca or call 514 374-3522, ext. 4000.

Visiting the city landfill

An equally interesting destination is the landfill in Terrebonne. Although a visit to the city’s garbage dump may sound boring, it’s actually quite fascinating (see my post “A visit to where our garbage really goes“).

See their website (French only) for more information about tours and activities. You can also email André Chulak or call 450 474-7222.

I’m at the grocery store, staring at two boxes of strawberries. One is organic; the other, half the price, is not. I stand there, debating: is it really worth eating organic? Does it really make a difference to my or my children’s health?

According to a little experiment carried out by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith for their book Toxin Toxout, the answer is a resounding yes: eating organic foods is worth it.

They recruited nine kids from families that don’t usually eat organic foods, and had them eat all-organic foods for four days. In the days before, during, and after, they measured and compared the levels of pesticides in their bodies.

Convincing results

“During the organic part of the experiment, levels of cancer-causing pesticides were reduced in their bodies by two-thirds,” said Smith. “As soon as the kids went off the organic foods, those levels almost immediately doubled.”

Toxin Toxout book cover (Canada) Smith and Lourie, both with impressive backgrounds in environmental research and activism, talked about their new book at a lunch-hour event organized last week by Equiterre. In their first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the two authors had explained how there are 80,000 synthetic chemicals in everything from our shampoos to our carpets, and how these chemicals end up in our bodies and cause harm. In Toxin Toxout, they tackle the question “How do I get this stuff out of me?”

First, they show how if you avoid certain products, you will have lower levels of these harmful chemicals in your body. In addition to the organic foods experiment, they used themselves and volunteers as human guinea pigs for experiments on indoor air quality (measuring benzene, toluene and other VOCs in their bodies) and on cosmetics and personal care products. The results were convincing. For example, on the days volunteers used “greener” perfumes, shampoos and deodorants, the levels of parabens and phthalates in their bodies were 80 times lower than on the days they used conventional products.

Next, they looked at various detox strategies. “Our bodies actually have very effective detox systems,” said Lourie. “But they’re built to deal with natural foreign elements, such as bacteria — not synthetic and hormone-disrupting chemicals.” Despite this, they did find that the body eliminates certain chemicals not only through urine, but also through sweating — another reason why exercise is good for you. Chelation therapy, which involves removing heavy metals using an intravenous solution, is also effective, but should only be done under medical supervision (and is only recommended for people who are highly sensitive to certain heavy metals). Ionic footbaths, they said, are a complete scam.

Canada: poor regulatory controls

The last section of the book looks at how to “detox” the economy.

“If you look at protections that Canadians have against the kinds of toxins we talk about in the book, at a provincial or federal level, they’re terrible compared to other countries,” said Lourie. “Europe has completely reoriented its chemical and pollution regulatory systems, putting the onus on companies to demonstrate that these chemicals are safe prior to putting them into products.” He noted that certain U.S. states, such as California, have also recently enacted legislation to protect their citizens against various cancer-causing chemicals.

While the Canadian picture may seem bleak, Lourie and Smith are optimistic. They point out how a number of big companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Target, have started announcing changes in their product formulations to get these chemicals out of their products.

“As a community, we need to acknowledge the problem, and push our governments to do better.”

Because right now, said Lourie and Smith, we are all part of a “vast, uncontrolled scientific experiment on humanity through all these synthetic chemicals that we’re releasing into the environment and absorbing into our bodies.”

The talk was the first of a new English-language series being organized by Equiterre.

Disclosure: I haven’t actually read the book yet. Let me know what you think.

Where to get organic produce and products: A few options in Montreal are Equiterre’s community-supported agriculture program, Lufa farms, Jardin des anges, and Coop la maison verte.

Stay Green

As regular readers will have noticed, over the last few months, enviromontreal posts have become few and far between. The blog is taking an official break for a time, while I focus on other projects. Meanwhile, stay green!

A retrospective of some topics covered in the past (click on any photo to access the slideshow view).

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