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Sustainability
When living in Vancouver, one can’t help but notice an obsession with being green and environmentally friendly. There is an insistence that, for example, food should be locally grown to reduce car emissions, as well as be grown organically to reduce the use of pesticides. Yet another example is the strict recycling and garbage sorting for households and institutions like UBC. Sometimes it feels like a riddle placing my garbage into the right container, though I know it’s for a good cause. In other words, what I’ve observed since moving to Vancouver is that it seems like the city wants to make sustainability a part of its residents’ everyday life. It certainly makes an effort for it, as seen in the strict sorting rules. This then brings the following question to mind: how can we make sustainability a part of everyday life? How can we make being sustainable a habit and the norm rather than the exception? Why don’t we take a look at Moana? Coconuts and insights from Moana   Using a Disney movie for an argument may seem weird, but I would argue that Moana has some vital lessons to teach us. Consider this part of the song Where You Are: Consider the coconut Consider its tree We use each part of the coconut That’s all we need We make our nets from the fibers The water is sweet inside We use the leaves to build fires We cook up the meat inside Here we can see that no part of the coconut is wasted – every single aspect of the fruit has an intended purpose. We can also see that the people are content with the island’s resources, and have no want of anything more. Now compare this with modern capitalist, consumerist societies in North America like Vancouver. It’s quite the contrast. Instead of being content, we want more – whether it is coffee, or electronics, or food, we want endlessly more of it. Being wealthy and well of in this type of society means having an abundance of everything you can possibly want. Certainly, we have all heard this before – the excess we have in this part of the world being compared to poorer societies and the few they have, and as contributing to the strain on the earth, manifesting as climate change. Perhaps it is a rhetoric that we are getting tired of as well. However, if Vancouver and all of us want sustainability to be an integral part of our society, as a habit rather than the exception, than this is something we need to consider. We must rethink our relationship with our planet to be successful in this goal. Rethinking our relationship with the Earth So the argument I’ve posed to you here is that one of the main lessons to be gained from Moana is that we must rethink our relationship with the earth. I would also extend this argument to include Indigenous peoples, first because Moana is a story portraying the ancestors of the peoples in Polynesia today, but also that Indigenous societies can be an example for the type of relationship we want with the earth. We have much to learn from Indigenous peoples like Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh on whose lands Vancouver sits on, who have had this knowledge for thousands of years. Overall, it’s grand to say that we must make sustainability a part of everyday. However, when being green is still the ‘good alternative’ or exceptional task, it’s hard to do that. We must therefore rethink how we interact and engage with the earth and our environment. We must fundamentally change how we think of the environment, ideally moving from a thing from which we can extract resources and wealth, to a provider of these resources and our needs that thrives when we respect and take care of it. What can we do? Work is being done to this end already, such as with IC-Kindness, whose president I interviewed a couple of weeks ago. Their message is that just as we must be kind to each other and ourselves, we must also be kind to the earth, forming this triangle of kindness that will hopefully lead to a better world. But of course, more needs to be done. We must carry the sentiment we have here in Vancouver of wanting organically grown food and strict garbage sorting rules into our everyday interactions and how we think about the earth, whatever position in life, in work, or generally that we’re in. Let’s take some guidance from Moana, a story about a girl who loves to sail, and respects the water and environment around her.
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Environment
According to research published in Nature Climate Change, the acidification of the world’s oceans could result in a cascading loss of biodiversity in some marine habitats. Up until now most research in this area focused on the impact of ocean acidification on individual species.  The new research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests. “Not too surprisingly, species diversity in calcium carbonate-based habitats like coral reefs and mussel beds were projected to decline with increased ocean acidification,” said UBC zoologist and biodiversity researcher Jennifer Sunday, who led the study. Species using calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons, like mussels and corals, are expected to be susceptible to acidification. “The more complex responses are those of seagrass beds that are vital to many fisheries species. These showed the potential to increase the number of species they can support, but the real-world evidence so far shows that they’re not reaching this potential “. This underscores the need for more research to evaluate how climate change affects individual species, and more importantly their supportive habitat. The researchers gathered data and observations from 10 field studies, measuring impacts of underwater volcanic vents. These vents release carbon dioxide and are analogous to the conditions of future ocean acidification, on the density of habitat forming species. The data were combined with 15 other studies analyzing how changes usually impact local species to make their projections. According to marine ecologist Christopher Harley, senior author on the paper, it has been known for a long time that with climate change there will be some losers and some winners. Harley further added, his team won’t have time to measure the effects of climate change on each individual species, but said this approach will allow them to make reasonable predictions. He also said, they now have a much clearer vision as to how some species can bring down biodiversity with them while other species might be able to help their habitat mediate a response to acidification. “For example, in the Pacific Northwest, the number of medium to large-sized edible saltwater mussels is likely to decrease as the chemistry of our oceans changes, and this is bad news for the hundreds of species that use them for habitat,” added Harley.
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Environment
Rising levels of ocean acidification contribute to smaller, misshapen and weaker skeletons in juvenile coral according to a team of scientists from The University of Western Australia – predicting devastating wide spread effects in coral systems by 2100. The UWA research team created ocean conditions based on “business-as-usual” emission scenario testing both increasing water temperature and CO2 levels. In early development, small coral 1mm in diameter are more vulnerable to mechanical damage, overgrowth and predation. The vulnerability of these structures is increased by the added difficulty to calcify under rising CO2 levels. With the use of a 3D-Xray microscopy and scanning election microscopy, the team examined the newly settled coral recruits and observed visual and quantitative differences in skeletal structure. The damage high CO2 levels caused in coral skeletal structures include disruptions of symmetry through misshapen, overgrown walls and deep pitting contributing to a corroded-looking skeletal surface. Severe deformities included gaps and fractures as well as large areas of the skeleton entirely absent. Adult coral calcification have already declined by 14% to 30% world wide in recent years according to multiple studies. Results of the UWA study report that no fractures were observed in the corals grown in low CO2 environments. The paper Ocean acidification causes structural deformities in juvenile coral skeletons by Taryn Foster, James Falter, Malcolm McCulloch and Peta Clode is published in the journal Science Advances. The project was funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
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Environment, Politics, News
According to a Stanford University study, collective efforts to reduce deforestation are more than twice as effective as “confrontational” programs implemented by either nongovernmental  organizations or industry. Various eco-certifications inform consumers of their impact on deforestation. However, there hasn’t been much research on their effectiveness up until now. The study finds that  these certifications have improved forest product sustainability to a great extent. According to “Impacts of Nonstate, Market-Driven Governance on Chilean forests” published in “Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences”, Market-driven attempts have reduced deforestation to a great extent, with multi-party collaborations having the greatest impact. “Our research shows that these market-based conservation efforts have reduced deforestation in Chile,” said lead author Robert Heilmayr, a recent graduate from Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, in the paper “Impacts of Nonstate, Market-Driven Governance on Chilean forests” published in “Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences” A comparison on the conservation outcomes between CERTFOR, a largely industry developed certification program, Joint Solutions Project (JSP), an NGO-instigated deforestation moratorium and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a cooporation between industry and nongovernmental organizations, has provided insight into this issue. While CERTFOR had 16 percent reduction in deforestation on average, JSP-only participants experienced an average reductions of 20 percent. With 43% reduction in deforestation, FSC resulted in the greatest success. According to Heilmayr and co-author  Eric Lambin,the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, the balance between strict environmental requirements with cost-effective solutions was responsible for FSC’s leading success. This balance creates a notion among participants that their interests have been protected and hence they follow through on requirements. The analysis also suggests in contrast to government policies, private and market-driven programs are better at lowering deforestation rates in places of high deforestation. “Traditional conservation policies like national parks often protect remote, pristine locations,” Heilmayr said. “Agreements between companies and environmentalists can reduce deforestation in more threatened forests.” “In the globalization era, deforestation is increasingly associated with consumption in distant, international markets,” said Lambin . “We need new approaches to environmental governance that regulate the impact of international actors.”
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Environment
As of 2015’s concluding months, China’s air pollution problem has been hitting the headlines, serving as a constant reminder of its persistence and severity. Although 10 cities in China had been issued red alerts December last year, and announced unsafe for citizens to remain outdoors for prolonged periods, Greenpeace’s 2015 data reveals that PM 2.5 levels (particulate matter levels from coal combustion) in China had in fact dropped by 10%. Premier Li Ke-Qiang was also said to be waging a “war with pollution”. Despite this unexpected reversal, most of the major Chinese cities maintain dangerous levels of smog and air quality. So, after all, is China in the process of improving air quality to meet international safety standards, and what are some of its measures due to be implemented in the near future? To nobody’s surprise, as the world leaves 2015 behind and prepares for the dawn of 2016, Beijing’s smog levels also strike an all-time high, resulting in streets to be cleared and gas masks to be pulled out. China’s pollution problem has remained a tenacious one due to excessive coal-burning in local factories and power plants. The multiple red alerts and smog-filled photographs issued last year are grabbing more international attention than ever. However, following Greenpeace’s 2015 report revealing China’s improving air quality, China had announced its termination in the constructing of new local coal mines within the next three years, as well as its plans of closing down up to 1,000 mines in correspondence to its persistent pollution problem. China’s coal ban and declining coal consumption is a heavily persuasive progress in its journey to cleaner and safer air.   What are some of China’s measures for improving air quality? It has been revealed that China had devised multiple plans to keep smog levels in check, which are possible reasons behind the decreasing levels of particulate matter. Apart from the central government’s efforts to decrease pollution levels, provincial governments in China are also warming up to join the pollution resistance, and this was an ongoing process since 2014. The Aviation Industry Corporation of China presents flying parafoil drones: unmanned bots with wings and chemical parachutes that are equipped with particulate-clearing technologies. These drones will be tested in major Chinese cities, and are useful resources for surveillance, disaster relief, and as an integrated tool in agriculture. Furthermore, the central government had been encouraging its citizens to abandon their cars, and to replace them with riding bikes and walking, as well as implementing 25-year environment laws and tax breaks to boost the market of eco-friendly green cars. If China had all these proposals under their belt, the process of relieving pollution and improving air quality should be a quicker and more effective one than it is at the moment. Why have red alerts for hazardous smog levels been issued all over the country, even after these measures have taken place? The Diplomat states that China still “faces problems in implementing and enforcing these proposals”, pinpointing its improper operating of pollution control units and realized difficulties of catching and convicting non-compliance scattered nationwide. The Tianjin explosion that happened last summer would be a case on point, as it had created a leakage of toxic cyanide chemicals that infiltrated a populated residential and commercial area in the city. Within the warehouse, discrepancies in the storage content reports were noted by Tianjin’s State Administration of Work Safety, and authorities did not find out what the warehouse contained until after the incident. Greenpeace’s data conveys that China has been making progressive efforts that led to a perceivable drop in its PM 2.5 levels last year. It is clear that although China has theoretical ideas and measures since 2014 to lower pollutant levels and clear the atmosphere of smog and dirt, implementing them would require rigorous efforts, intricate organization, as well as increased funding.
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Environment
Researches have found the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting three times as fast as it did during the entire 20th century. The Greenland Ice Sheet is the second largest in the world. Satellite images reveal it has been melting since 1997 at an alarming rate, contributing to a significant rise in global sea levels. Climate researchers from the centre for GeoGenetics along with national and international researchers collected about a century’s worth of data. This is the first time information was collected through observation rather than through computer model-generated estimates. The United Nations Climate Panel’s (IPCC) however, did not include the Greenland Ice Sheet as a contributing factor in their latest report from 2013. The reason is due to the lack of direct observation – information on thermal expansion of ocean water was also missing for similar reasons. “If we do not know the contribution from all the sources that have contributed towards global sea level rise, then it is difficult to predict future global sea levels. In our paper we have used direct observations to specify the mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet and thereby highlight its contribution to global sea level rise”, said Kristian K. Kjeldsen from the centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen in a statement. The loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet between 1900 and 2010 accounts for 10 to 18 percent of total sea level rise according to the results published in the journal of ‘Nature’. Associate Professor Shfaqat Abbas Khan, at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) says the average melting rate has been the greatest in the past decade over 115 years of observation. “We are one step further in mapping out the individual contributions to global sea level rise. In order to predict future sea level changes and have confidence in the projections, it is essential to understand what happened in the past ”, said senior author on the paper, Professor Kurt H. Kjær, from the centre for GeoGenetics in a statement.  Kjær also says the data will be an important contributor in future IPCC reports.  
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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 17, 2015: Over 50 participants – ranging from UBC students and faculty, practitioners and community members joined some of Vancouver’s most known ecological economists for a discussion on how to move towards more sustainable models to drive the economy.

As the discussion around the environment increases, some economists and scholars are challenging the very foundations of economic models created to distribute resources. They are doing this through a new discipline called ecological economics.

What is Ecological Economics?

Ecological economics aims to improve and expand economic theory – the distribution of resources in an efficient way – to include the earth’s natural systems, human values and human well-being. These are factors that some say are often times excluded from traditional economic models. Most economists refer to these costs as “externalities.” Ecological economists want to change that model.

The concept of ecological economics encompasses topics including, but not limited to:

Interdisciplinary thinking – the environment (e.g. earth, biosphere), social issues (e.g. poverty, inequality), time (e.g. long term impact of human activities) and sustainable development all form part of ecological economics. It is a model that challenges the focus on human-made capital (money).

Planetary boundaries – economies should respect biophysical limits. Economic growth is not sustainable because the Earth and its resources has limits.

Sustainability – ecological economists generally reject that all natural capital (e.g. water, arable land, species) can be substituted or purchased by human-made capital. There is a focus to preserve and protect resources instead of depleting them.

Environmental economics is not the same as ecological economics.

Environmental economics is the mainstream model that essentially puts a price on natural capital (e.g. resources). Ecological economics instead has a strong emphasis on sustainability and sees the economy as a subsystem of the environment.

Panel discussion: Moving towards a more sustainable economic model

Three of Vancouver’s most known ecological economists joined a diverse audience to address how society, individuals and policy makers can move towards more sustainable and inclusive economic models.

The panelists included:

Tom Green: Vancouver-based ecological economist with a PhD (UBC). Associate Faculty with at Royal Roads University, visiting faculty at SFU, former post doc at Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Michelle Molnar: Economist at the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), and VP for Programs at the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics (CANSEE). Professor at BCIT, MA (Public Policy), MA (Philosophy); BA (Economics & Philosophy).

Michael Barkusky: BA (Honours) in Economics; MBA, and the CGA designation (since 1985). He is the Secretary-Treasurer of CANSEE. Diverse experience in a wide range of sectors as an employee and entrepreneur.

After panel introductions and a question and answer period, participants worked together through breakout sessions on how to move towards more sustainable economic models – from a local, international, policy and corporate perspective.

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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, Innovation
You can now grow your own organic vegetables, herbs and even rainforest in your own home. BioPod is the world’s first Smart Microhabitat – just tap the environment you wish to have on the BioPod App and it will produce the conditions necessary to create it. The tank comes with an IOS and Android app – through your phone you can regulate lighting, humidity, temperature and rainfall. The BioPod also comes with a high definition camera allowing users to check in on what’s happening while they’re away. Currently, three versions of the tank are in development: The Biopod One is suitable for vegetables, herbs and small animals; the BioPod Terra is the same, but of a larger size; and finally, the BioPod Aqua, which works like an ecosystem designed for plants and fish – it uses fish and fish waste in combination with plants to grown food. The BioPod was created by Canadian biologist and BioPod Founder Jared Wolfe, with the purpose of mimicking a rainforest environment to help save endangered frogs from extinction. The company states their vision on their website: “to bring a community of plant and animals lovers together in order to solve some of earth’s conservation and sustainability issues.”
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