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Sustainability, IdeasXChange Hub Events

Note: From January until June 2015, our events were promoted under “Values in Perspective”. We have since changed our name to IdeasXChange.

March 3, 2015: Approximately 30 participants from UBC and the community joined four insightful panelists for a workshop on food security hosted by IdeasXChange.

What is Food Security?

As the number of hungry and under-nourished grow around the world, concepts of food security have changed and evolved.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.”

Panel Discussion: Local and international perspectives on access to proper nutrition

Four panelists discussed ways in which food security can be guaranteed – from a nutritional, local, international and policy perspective.

They each brought their experience on actions society and individuals can make to improve access to nutritious, sustainable and cultural appropriate foodstuffs.

The panelists included:

Karly Pinch: Community organization and Coordinator for the Vancouver Urban Farming Society. Pinch touched on supporting local food systems

Karen Giesbrecht: Registered dietitian with Planted, a community food network. Giesbrecht spoke on the securing access to nutritious foodstuffs, and vulnerable populations.

Stephanie Lim: Coordinator at the Renfrew Collingwood Food Security Institute. Lim noted the importance of local and community food initiatives and the role that policy plays.

Jill Guerra: MA, interdisciplinary background. Guerra shared with the audience her research on the intersection of sustainable agriculture initiatives, food security & poverty reduction, with a focus in Latin America.

After a short question and answer period, participants split into different breakout sessions and got a chance to interact closely with other attendees and panelists.

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Technology, Innovation
You can now buy a computer for the price of one beer. The UK-based Raspberry Pi Foundation – a charity promoting the study of basic computer science to schools – announced the Raspberry Pi Zero, a tiny computer at the cost of $5 USD or about $7 CDN. The first one they first announced was about $33 CDN.
CEO of Raspberry Pi Eben Upton said in a video when he was a child, the high cost of computers where a real barrier for him trying to learn about computers, ”really what we are trying to do with Raspberry Pi is to make sure that cost is never going to be a barrier to anyone who is interested in getting involved in coding.” The tiny computer has half a gig a ram, an HDMI connector, and SD card and USB slot – allowing users to connect a keyboard, screen and mouse. It also runs applications like Minecraft, Scratch and Sonic Pi. Raspberry PI has manufactured several tens of thousands Raspberry Pi Zero units so far. As much as Eben would like to provide free computers, he says they aren’t going to go any cheaper in the foreseeable future, “we’ve gone from the cost of, let’s say four lattes to one latte.”
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Science
A new study from the University of British Columbia has found light therapy to be effective in treating non-seasonal depression. “These results are very exciting because light therapy is inexpensive, easy to access and use and comes with few side effects,” says Dr. Raymond Lam in a statement, a UBC professor and psychiatrist at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. It is the first placebo-controlled trial that shows light therapy to treat depression not brought on by seasonal affective disorder – a type of depression associated with late autumn and winter caused by a lack of light. Lam and his colleagues followed 122 patients and evaluated whether light therapy improved their mood when it was used both with and without the commonly prescribed antidepressant fluoxetine. The research involved light therapy exposure with a fluorescent light box for 30 minutes soon after waking up every day for two months. A group of participants were given placebo pills and devices instead of real therapies. Researchers found those taking light therapy had improved mood and provided the most benefits taken alongside antidepressants. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability with one in 20 people suffering from the ailment worldwide. Medications alone are effective but only in about 60 per cent of cases, according to researchers. Lam says, “it’s important to find new treatments because our current therapies don’t work for everyone. Our findings should help to improve the lives of people with depression.”
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Technology
A study by the University of British Columbia says jealousy and self-importance drives Facebook users to portray their best selves through their posts. Researchers say this cycle of comparison with others leads to a decrease in metal well-being. “Social media participation has been linked to depression, anxiety and narcissistic behaviour, but the reasons haven’t been well-explained,” says Sauder School of Business Professor Izak Benbasat. “We found envy to be the missing link.” According to Benbasat, travel photos cause the most Facebook envy, pushing friends to posts their best pictures. He says the posts aren’t fueled by the need to compete, but rather the need to keep up appearances. Benbasat and his team of collaborators from the Sauder School of Business led the study. The team surveyed about 1,000 Facebook users from a German university then asked the students a series of questions about their Facebook habits – cross-referencing their responses with the feelings they reported when using the site. “Sharing pictures and stories about the highlights of your life – that’s so much of what Facebook is for, so you can’t take that away… but I think it’s important for people to know what impact it can have on their well-being,” says Benbasat.
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Environment, Politics
Thousands attended the Global Climate March in Vancouver filling the streets with messages to world leaders who have arrived in Paris. The UN climate summit kicks off on Monday where discussions on national limits of greenhouse gas emissions will arise. People began gathering in the early afternoon in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery then marched throughout the downtown core. Climate change activists held protests across many cities. Check out how some people described the events on Twitter:    
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Politics, IdeasXChange Hub Events

Note: From January until June 2015, our events were promoted under “Values in Perspective”. We have since changed our name to IdeasXChange.

On February 24, 2015, IdeasXChange launched its sustainability workshop series with over 30 participants and five well-respected community leaders as panelists. The theme of discussion: social sustainability.

About 30 participants including UBC students and community members gathered at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre to hear about what social sustainability means to some of Vancouver’s community leaders.

But what is social sustainability?

One of the most well-known definitions includes environmental, economic and social sustainability.

The concept of “social sustainability” encompasses topics such as:

Social equity – a state in which all members of a group or society have the same status in certain areas, including civil rights, freedom of speech and property rights among others.

Community development – a process where members of a community come together to take action and generate solutions to common problems.

Social capital – the expected economic or collective benefits from the preferential treatment and cooperation between people and groups.

Human rights – rights that are believed to belong justifiably to every person.

Labour rights – a group of legal rights relating to labour relations between workers and employers.

Panel Discussion: From addressing poverty to finding solutions

Five panelists addressed social sustainability from different perspectives – from working side-by-side with Vancouver’s poor population, to finding solutions through social enterprises and advocating for greater access to education and legal representation.

The panelists included:

Jeff Baergen – community and engagement director at the UGM – a charity organization in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Tara Taylor – Manager at Potluck Catering and Recipes for success – a social enterprise that provides opportunities for those who face employment barriers

Marcia Nozick – CEO of EMBERS – a social enterprise that offers economic and employment opportunities to individuals and advice for companies

Cherie Payne – a former Vancouver School Board member and advocacy lawyer

Patti Bacchus – an elected Vancouver School Board Trustee and active player in the field of local education

For information on our other workshops follow this link.

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Politics, Society, Features, Featurable

In Western countries, it has become commonplace or even trendy to consume so-called “superfoods” that developing countries produce and export. They sit on shelves in nearly every grocery store and their health benefits are well known to consumers. In particular, Western demand for grains such as quinoa and teff have exploded in recent years. But why? Superfoods are food products that are relatively high in nutrients. What drives Western demand for them? If you live in a developed country, it’s likely you’re well versed in, or at least conscious of the superfood conversation. They tend to be popular with vegans and vegetarians, lifestyle choices that have become more prevalent in Western culture, as superfoods are nutritious alternatives for meat products. As we become more preoccupied with making healthy food decisions, foods deemed “superfoods” are front and center. But there’s more to the equation than just demand – somebody has to meet those demands, and this responsibility falls upon the superfoods’ countries of origin.

Background on quinoa and teff and its impacts on countries of origin



Quinoa and teff are highly nutritious, gluten-free grains. Quinoa traditionally grows in Peru and Bolivia and is low fat, high in protein, and full of amino acids. Teff, which has 50% more protein, five times more fiber and 25 times more calcium than brown rice, hails from the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. With these stats, it’s no wonder that health-conscious Westerners covet them – consuming foods with these nutrient levels likely impacts our own health in positive ways (which is why demand is so high), but the impacts of our consumption on producing countries is another story altogether. While consuming superfoods like quinoa and teff may have positive health effects for Westerners, we can’t say the same for the health of the countries that produce them. In fact, the “Columbusing” of superfoods, or the “discovery” of these crops in developing countries, tends to benefit global consumers more than producers.

Quinoa industry damaging Bolivian development

Increased global demand – how much people desire a good as a whole – for quinoa spurred Bolivia to export higher volumes of the grain. While this increases Bolivia’s revenue and incomes of local farmers, it also causes the domestic price of quinoa to soar. In other words, while individual living standards of farmers have improved, it has become more difficult for the general population to afford quinoa, a staple in their diets. In 2011, a kilogram of quinoa cost $4.85 USD in contrast to $1 for the same weight of rice. The problems don’t stop there. In attempting to meet global demand, Bolivia faces pressure to allocate more land for quinoa production. If it follows through, Bolivia will in effect transform its agricultural portfolio into a monocrop of only quinoa. Without diverse agricultural production, Bolivia will become subject to volatile food prices and limited food security. If the price of quinoa plummets, its agriculture industry won’t bring in revenue; if it only produces one crop, Bolivia risks pest or disease infestation that can wipe out its only source of food, potentially resulting in famine.



Ethiopia’s teff dilemma

In recent years, Westerners have lauded teff for its nutritional value, so much so that the Ethiopian government decided to lift its ban on teff export with tight controls in place. Previously, there was a complete ban on raw teff export, with only processed teff in the form of injera allowed to leave the country. While this prevented the re-entry of teff into the Ethiopian market at inflated prices, the government and manufacturers were involved in the economic process, leaving farmers with little of their deserved revenue. Lifting the ban means Ethiopia needs to control price fluctuations. It hopes to do so by licensing commercial farms to produce teff for export to avoid flooding the market and bringing teff prices down. According to CEO of Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency Khalid Bomba, licensed producers will supply exports first, and then extend to small-scale farmers who comprise most of Ethiopia’s working population. The Ethiopian government’s hopes to meet both domestic and global demand will be tricky business. If it wants to engage in export, Ethiopia should first satisfy its own population’s demand. This involves increasing production levels by introducing modern farming techniques. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of agricultural research on teff production, so Ethiopia must first figure out which modern farming techniques are best suited to teff. Another issue is other countries have successfully planted teff crops. In the United States, 25 states produce the superfood. Al Jazeera reports that because of such successful transplantation, Ethiopia is losing out on its staple crop. Perhaps the best way for Ethiopia to combat this loss is to capitalize on the fact that the quality and taste of foreign-produced teff can’t hold a flame to its own. If it manages to brand Ethiopian teff as a premium product, Ethiopia may be able to overtake its competitors.


Consequences of superfoods on health in developing countries


Let’s now consider the impact of Western demand for quinoa and teff on the health of Bolivian and Ethiopian populations. When goods become too expensive, consumers substitute their consumption of that good with cheaper alternatives. In Bolivia, people substitute less nutritious rice and noodles for quinoa. In Ethiopia, teff farmers are selling the bulk of their harvests instead of eating it to take advantage of high global prices. The consequence of these actions is rising malnutrition, especially in rural communities. In both Bolivia and Ethiopia, consuming more quinoa and teff can alleviate malnutrition, but this task competes with Western cravings.

What can we do?


This paints a fairly bleak picture of guilt. Evidently, Western eating habits are directly related to economic conditions and poverty levels in developing countries. How can we reconcile our health-conscious love for quinoa, teff and other superfoods with the adverse affects it creates for countries that produce them? One way is to practice ethical consumerism. Movements like Fairtrade aim to ensure local farmers receive fair payment for their work; purchasing Fairtrade products means more of your money goes to the producer rather than distributors or manufacturers. But this only solves half of the equation – how can we ensure that our consumption of superfoods doesn’t come with the price of malnourished communities who can’t afford the same product? This is a question of social and economic policy. We have seen how Ethiopia is taking measures to ensure domestic prices (the current price for teff in the economy) of teff don’t skyrocket. To see lower domestic quinoa prices, Bolivia may restrict exports or increase production (both of which will bolster domestic supply and push down price) or introduce some kind of policy that balances its exports with domestic concerns. It’s unlikely that Western demands for superfoods will cease or even plateau any time soon. Indeed, such demand can produce incentives for more people or countries to become involved in superfood industries and drive more efficient production. Taking this into consideration, the key lies in how, rather than what, we consume, and the ways in which we can all improve our consumer behaviour.

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Environment, Science
Warnings of a “mini ice age” have circulated the media. The news came after researcher Valentina Zharkova, a professor of mathematics at Northumbria University in England, looked further into variations in solar radiations predicting a significant drop of 60% in solar activity between 2030 and 2040. It was first noticed by scientists about 170 years ago that the Sun’s activity varies over a cycle lasting around 10 to 12 years. Cycles do vary, but researches have yet to create a model that fully explains these fluctuations. “The waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that out predictions showed an accuracy of 97%,” said Zharkova in a statement. During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030 to 2040, the two waves will become out of sync – causing a significant reduction in solar activity. “When they are out of phase, we have solar minimums. When there is a full phase separation, we have conditions last seen during the Maunder minimum, 370 years ago,” explains Zharkova. The Maunder minimum was a period in the 1600’s and early 1700’s of the “Little Ice Age” – a period that coincided with Europe and North America experiencing cooler than average temperatures. Professor at the University of British Columbia Dr. John Innes, doesn’t think we should be jumping to any conclusions, “the direct link between the minimum in sunspot activity and the temperature cooling is not quite so definite.” Innes explains in an email statement that there may have been other factors at work during the Maunder minimum, such as increased volcanic activity, which would have generated ash that reduced the amount of energy reaching the Earth’s surface. “They are virtually all based on models, and models are often wrong …  the idea is interesting, and worth looking at more carefully,” says Innes.
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Science, Features
We have compiled a list of our favourite YouTube channels and playlists filled with educational, nerdy and thought provoking content. These channels will leave you wanting for more – so just let them talk nerdy to you.

1) DNews

DNews produces videos covering thought provoking subjects and research on new scientific findings. They also answer questions you may have asked yourself, but never had the nerve to ask – such as why do dogs spin before they poop?

2) Stuff Mom Never Told You

Cristen Conger talks about the history, science, psychology and culture of women. Covering topics such as the history of wardrobe, makeup and dating culture. She shatters gender stereotypes and attempts to solve today’s gender-based misunderstandings.

3) AsapSCIENCE

AsapSCIENCE produces weekly videos that touch on various subjects including the brain and mental health, space and exploration, the effects of drugs on the body, pets, romance and sexuality and more. You name it!

4) TestTube News

Playlists: The Art of War looks at hypothetical scenarios of countries with tensions going to war. What would happen if two rivalring nations had a war against each other? Who would win? The Strength of Nations looks at the military and economic strength of nations at a worldwide level. Can’t we all Just Get Along? discusses why nations are in conflict with each other. Whether there are borders cutting cultural or tribal territory, or just a violent history – this series takes a close look of those stories.

5) Laci Green

Laci Green hosts Sex +, covering all sorts of topics about gender, feminism and sexuality. Talking about important topics – from consent, body image, to the problems with the objectification of women, Laci has all the sex related education you’ve been looking for!

6) Vice

Vice focuses on documentary-style investigative journalism – covering world news, politics, sex and travel among others.

7) Motherboard

Motherboard travels the world to uncover stories of the future – examining the intersection of technology, science and humans.

8) Numberphile

Numberphile is a series by mathematicians and physicists teaching you all about numbers. Do you want to know how you can win at rock paper scissors by using math?

9) It’s Okay to be Smart

It’s Okay to be Smart is hosted by Ph.D Biologists and Science Writer Joe Hanson. He also covers a variety of topics and states on his website his mission is to teach science as more than facts – science is for everyone and it impacts every part of our lives.

10) Crash Course

Crash Course is a YouTube channel teaching different subjects including: world history, chemistry, psychology, anatomy and physiology, government and politics, astronomy and economics.

11) Minute Physics

Minute Physics is a series explaining psychics-related topics. From the theory of gravity to examining the hollow earth theory, minute physics will tickle your learning senses. Our favourite: Is it better to Walk or Run in the Rain? (Good to know if you live in Vancouver, like we do!)

12) Top 6

Top 6 is a quirky, educational and comedic YouTube series – part of the YouTube channel =3 – it is sure to give you a laugh! Kelly Landry brings you a facts count down on various topics: Top 6 Facts About Kissing, Top 6 Smartest People Alive, Top 6 Real Life Super Powers, Top 6 Things Science Got Wrong, well, you get the point. Most videos have a section titled, “You’re About to Learn Some Shit,” – for being both nerdy and funny, we had to include it in this list.
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