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How to stuff the perfect vegan stocking

Making a stocking for a vegan can be a new experience for family members who aren’t familiar with the most animal-friendly treats out there. Where do you get vegan chocolate? Are there some items that aren’t environmentally-friendly you should stay away from? Women’s Post is here to help. May I present: the dream stocking that is vegan, eco-friendly, and delicious to boot.

Most stocking stuffers can be found at a local grocery store with ample organics options. Loblaws is a great option and alternatively, any community food store like Whole Foods will work as well. The first thing to look for is your food and dessert alternatives. Vegan protein packs, such as the sample or sample size of Vega One will fit in the stocking and provides a delicious protein supplement. Chocolate is a must-have and vegan chocolate options are fairly easy to track down. Endangered Species has many dairy-free chocolates, including coconut-filled crèmes and sea salt. These dark chocolate bars also donate a portion of the proceeds to a wildlife conservation network, which makes this vegan dessert a double-hitter! Cleo’s peanut butter cups taste exactly like Reese’s and are available in several stores.

Protein filled nibbles can also be put in stockings, like roasted chickpeas. They come in various flavours and spices. Maybe try some nut mixes, as long as there isn’t an allergy in the house. Pistachios are a delectable treat and are expensive to buy regularly, so they make a great gift during the holidays. Magic Vegan Bacon Grease is also a treat that cannot be purchased regularly, but is a necessary indulgence for vegans everywhere. The magic mix is a coconut oil sauce that has a natural smoky taste. It can be added to tofu scrambles, greens, and beans. Finally, a gift certificate to a Whole Foods market, a community market, or a popular vegan restaurant can go a long way.

For stocking stuffers not related to food, cruelty-free cosmetics and lotions are a great option. Rocky Mountain soaps has cruelty-free soaps, lip balms and lotions that are affordable. Lush is also a cruelty-free advocate and their bath balms fizz and smell heavenly. Many vegans will make their own cleaners and beauty supplies using Dr. Bronner’s castile soap, which can used to make hand soap, body wash, lotions, laundry detergent and cleaner — why not give them a head start by placing a tiny bit in their stocking? For something a bit different, try purchasing a reusable tote bag. They are cheap, and you can’t have too many of them.

Don’t forget to add vegan stickers, patches and pins because love for the animals and the environment is normally accompanied by a desire to publicly advocate on behalf of beings that can’t speak for themselves. Any small books and pamphlets that provide more information for environmental groups and any donations to non-profits that advocate for the environment, climate change and animal rights are a quick last-minute addition as well.

Whether it be desserts, snacks, cruelty-free cosmetics or vegan decorations, there are many sustainable stocking stuffers that don’t need to come from animals or wasteful products. Instead, go for the eco-alternatives and feel good about the stocking stuffers you purchase from local companies that are looking to make a difference. Hopefully this, vegan stocking stuffer guide gave you some great ideas for a different kind of gift, one that helps animals worldwide and keeps your vegan family member warm and full on Christmas day.

Ontario is gearing up for groundbreaking cap and trade project

Ontario has been working hard to prepare for cap and trade, an environmental initiative that will put a cap on greenhouse emissions and help high polluters to lower their carbon levels.

The program will lower greenhouse gas emissions substantially and will help Ontario reach its climate goals to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and up to 80 per cent by 2050. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has been ramping up in preparation of the ground-breaking environmental program in Ontario, with three officers of the legislature releasing detailed reports on the cap and trade program over the last few weeks. This included the Environmental Commissioner on Nov. 22, the Financial Accountability Officer on Nov. 23, and the Auditor General on Nov. 30. The Ontario government is clearly demonstrating transparency and public awareness of the many positive aspects that involve the cap and trade program.

On Nov. 16, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray also met with Quebec Premier Philip Couillard and Matt Rodriquez, Secretary for Environmental Protection for California, at the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech, Morocco. The three leaders discussed their plan to link the cap and trade programs across international boundaries. Ontario plans to link the cap and trade program to Quebec and California by 2018, which will help the new green economy flourish with increased opportunities for competition. Nova Scotia recently announced it is planning to start a cap and trade program as well.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne Saxe, mentioned the partnership in her report and commends its positive aspects: “The key purpose of linking is to reduce compliance costs for Ontario emitters. Linking reduces compliance costs in two main ways: Creating a bigger, more liquid market for allowances; and giving Ontario emitters access to lower cost allowances from other jurisdictions.”

Cap and trade is a a large undertaking for Ontario, but increasingly crucial in our climate-based economy. The program forces large polluters to cut down on greenhouse gases or contribute to provincial revenue through carbon credits. Alternatively, if a company lowers their emissions, they can make money by selling their extra credits. The program is expected to make $478 million in its first year, and will generate 1.8 to 1.9 billion in the following years until December 2020. The funds will be directed towards green initiatives such as solar power, energy conservation methods, and battery storage. Either way, both initiatives help the ‘green’ agenda because either a high polluter will help fund green projects or they will lower their carbon emissions.

Cap and trade program will be activated in January 2017.

The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is leading the way on the climate change agenda, and it is exciting to imagine the significant impact that cap and trade will have on greenhouse emissions in the province.

The environment is screwed with Donald Trump as president

If the environment wasn’t under imminent threat before, it most certainly is now that the United States elected Donald Trump as their newest president.

President, Donald Trump (I can’t believe that string of words in now a reality) has proposed to cancel President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, threatened to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and famously claimed in a tweet that climate change was a ‘Chinese Hoax’. Trump’s various claims do not bode well for the planet and its future.

So what does Trump’s presidential win mean for the environment? Essentially, it means that the planet is in peril.

Trump represents an American ideology that focuses solely on the economy at the expense of lowering carbon emissions. At a conference in Bismarck, North Dakota in May 2016, he supported oil fracking and also stated he would minimize the U.S commitments to the Paris Agreement. The U.S is currently the second largest producer of oil and Trump’s agenda to push fossil fuels even more will increase carbon emissions tenfold. He hinted that the failing oil economy can be resolved if the United States exploited the lands that have been previously considered off limits, including the Outer Continental Shelf. He also wants to push more production in the non-renewable energy sector. This would be a short-term solution and would harm the economy, not to mention the environment, in the long term. By over-flooding the energy sector with more oil through fracking, it would further lower the value per barrel of oil and would decimate even more land that is already threatened in the United States.

Trump has publicly stated several times that he would wipe Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was a fruit of labour for the democratic president. Within the Clean Power Plan, the environmental protection agency (EPA) gave each state the power to decide for themselves how to lower carbon emissions in power plants by using renewables or nuclear energy instead of carbon pricing. States were supposed to submit plans by 2016-2018 and would start cutting emissions by 2022 at latest. The EPA estimated that the plan would lower power plant emissions by 32 per cent by 2030 as compared to rates in 2005. Trump has claimed he intends to cancel this plan and has vaguely threatened to get rid of the EPA all together. He has not recommended any alternative plans to lower carbon emissions.

The future of the environment in the United States looks dark, but there is hope. Strong environmental advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental advocacy groups in the United States that has been fighting to protect the earth since 1892, are not going to give up.

There are many other groups that are preparing to continue the fight for climate change despite this unwelcome change of leadership in the country.

Trump may surprise his citizens by not canceling environmental agreements, though I won’t be holding my breath. It is a historical and frightening time to be living in such close proximity to a country that has a leader who cares so little about climate change. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. We can only hope he was serious about creating clean air and clean water (the only vague environmental commitments he has made), and is willing to see that climate change goals are inextricably linked to providing those very things.

Otherwise, Canada may want to start building that wall.

Canada and the U.S protest oil pipelines in our waterways

Mixing oil and water has never been a good idea, and oil companies should remember that rule of thumb. The thought of another pipeline blowing up in a fresh water source in North America leaves many environmentalists shuddering in fear — and for good reason.

People are joining together to demand that the Canadian and US governments put an end to this practice. Oil pipelines are coming under fire this week with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation protests in North Dakota and the Kinder Morgan protest at Parliament Hill. Social media has blown up with over one million people “checking in” to Standing Rock on Facebook to show support for the protests and deter police from trying to gain background information about protesters on social media and knowing who to target for arrest at the protest. On a slightly smaller scale, but nevertheless equally important, was the protest north of the border, in which over 100 protesters gathered in Parliament Hill and 50 were arrested for storming the fences to demonstrate that this pipeline is not wanted in British Columbia.

The Dakota Access pipeline is a project that is set to be built near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota and crosses under the Missouri River. The pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil and any oil spills would leave the reservation without clean water. In April 2016, a few representatives of Standing Rock Sioux Nation set up camp to block the pipeline from beginning construction on their land, and in the last few months the camp has increased by the thousands. The police have made several arrests and the tension is escalating at Standing Rock, but the protestors continue to protect their land.

Across the prairies and into Canada, the Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline transports 300,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to British Columbia and Washington. The new leg of pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby would increase crude oil transport to 890,000 barrels per day, a formidable number. The National Energy Board (NEB) approved the project with 157 conditions. Though the federal ministerial panel is conducting a series of public consultations about pipeline, the time is prime to protest Kinder Morgan because the federal government is set to end public consultations and make a final decision in December. Among many other protesters, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has strongly opposed the proposal. The expanded pipeline goes right into Vancouver at the Burnaby Chevron Refinery and if an oil explosion occurred, it would be dangerous to local residents and would cost millions in repairs. Ocean tankers having more access to increased amounts of oil is dangerous for the ocean if a spill were to occur as well. Robertson also argues that the pipeline threatens the green sector, a growing industry in Vancouver. Protestors crossed the fence to gain Prime Minister Trudeau’s attention and were subsequently banned from Parliament Hill.

Both demonstrations show a growing concern for the devastating environmental effects of oil spills in waterways. The public outcry against pipelines is the result of years of unkept promises by oil companies, who all say they will protect the waterways and then claim little responsibility when detrimental oil spills occur. This was certainly the case in 2010, when Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline burst in the Kalamazoo River and leaked thousands of gallons of oil into the river, contaminating the water source and  harming wildlife. Enbridge has another pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac that was built in the 1950’s and is growing old, heightening the threat of it breaking down. If this pipeline were to burst, it would spread oil into the Great Lakes, the largest fresh body of water in the world, at a rapid rate.

Building pipelines under water requires a lot of maintenance and the threat of leaking oil is consistently an issue. Alternatives to oil pipelines needs to considered because the threat of environmental disaster is extremely high. Furthermore, the ability for oil companies to carry unprecedented levels of the product is unsustainable and dangerous because it allows them to exploit the earth to an even larger extent.

The solution — end the reign of oil.

Currently oil is a necessity for the transportation sector. Instead, more sustainable technologies need to be embraced. This can include biofuels and electric vehicles. Biofuels are made most often with ethanol, and are highly available because they are made most often from corn, a common North American crop. This form of renewable energy has a closed carbon cycle where carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is recaptured by the plant material used to make the biofuels. It is then used to produce more fuel.  Cars can use biodiesels, which are a bi-product of biofuels. Another alternative is embracing electric vehicles that would make cars fuelled with oil obsolete and are a step forward to being rid of the dirty product.

On Nov. 5, protestors are joining together at Queen’s Park to peacefully march for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and call to everyone who cares for land and water to unite with them. The march will stop at TD Bank, RBC, and Scotiabank, companies that are funding the pipeline, and then end at the US Consulate. Protests will be happening worldwide to honour the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. The time to act is now before all of our waterways are contaminated. Putting in an effort to end pipeline use is the only option for a healthy future living in North America.

Woman of the Week: Julia Langer, CEO of TAF

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is celebrating its 25th anniversary — and with that milestone comes an opportunity to expand its mandate to include the greater Hamilton area. TAF is an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and while it focuses most of its efforts on Toronto, Julia Langer, CEO of TAF, knows that it’s time to expand.

“It’s about recognizing that opportunities for solving climate change are not limited to the 416.”

A self-described “perennial optimist”, Langer thinks Ontario and Toronto have won a lot of battles on the environmental front, but in the end they may be losing the war.

“It can be solved,” she said in an interview. “[Climate change can] get waylaid with a bunch of things along the way, whether its political will, lack of capital right now, short term versus long term priorities…It’s all about where we work and where we play — making sure that we can live and work in a way that is a low-carbon lifestyle.”

Langer always had an awareness of the environment, as well as a passion for life. When she was 10, her parents would discuss social and environmental issues, often bringing their daughter along with them to clean up Don River and dredge through the garbage. This mentality was passed on to Langer, who developed a keen interest in marine biology.

“I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau the Second,” she said.  However, Langer learned early on that she would most likely end up in a lab, and she was more interested in integrating science and policy. So, she transferred to the University of Toronto and continued her studies in toxicology there.

“Academic and scientific work is super important in highlighting and understanding problems, but it was a bit frustrating that academics don’t do policy reforms,” she said. Her attention was focused on taking information provided by these scientists and experts, and enacting positive change — something she has been able to do rather successfully throughout her illustrious career.

After university, Langer landed a number of summer jobs, including a position in James Bradly’s office, the minister of environment at the time. Her work involved providing policy analysis and advice on files involving toxins, pesticides, and sewage treatments, among other things. She went on to work for Friends of the Earth in Ottawa and was hired by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) working with the toxicology program, where she was eventually promoted to Director of the Cuba EcoRegional Program. She also spearheaded the WWF Climate Change program.

At TAF, Langer has a wide portfolio. She is responsible for managing campaigns, defining strategy, working on policy, and communicating with the public about pollution and greenhouse gas reduction. Recently, she has spoken at a number of town halls about the impact of climate change.

While others may see this portfolio as daunting, Langer speaks about it with great fervour.  It’s all about focusing on three main things Toronto (and the surrounding GTHA) needs to do to reduce its greenhouse emissions, she said: improve the energy efficiency of our economy, decarbonize our energy system, and make smart land use decisions.

Langer also co-founded Eco-Babes in Toronto, an organization that facilitates networking among women who work in the sustainability industry.  Once a month, women interested in the environment or in energy can meet up, ask for advice, exchange business cards, and usually enjoy a good glass of wine or pint of beer.

At the same time, Langer says the demographics in the environmental industry are pretty evenly matched. “A challenge in the environmental community isn’t gender, but diversity,” she said. “It hasn’t yet permeated into the staffing within the environmental community. I think it is changing, but it’s not there yet.”

When she isn’t working, Langer is an avid vegetable gardener and recent canning aficionado. “There is something satisfying about growing and making food, and packing it away like a squirrel,” she said with a laugh.  Beyond that, she is quite active. During the summer, she goes canoeing and hiking with her husband and daughter, passing on the tradition of environmental awareness, as it were.

Langer is reading Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset.

Preparing for climate change: how to make a resilient city

Nature is resilient, evolving and changing over time to survive surroundings. It is time for people to take a lesson from nature’s finest and learn how to be resilient.

Climate change is imminent and preparation is the key to saving cities that are otherwise under threat from rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and water shortages. AECOM, a company that designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructures assets for governments, businesses, and organizations in over 150 countries, is helping countries create a strategy to prepare for the future and survive the inevitable effects of climate change.

In a recent report report called “What’s Next in Making Cities Resilient?”, AECOM outlines a set of criteria that could change the way infrastructure is built in large urban centres, focusing on sustainable planning choices. By starting at the end, planners can predict the outcomes of potential natural disasters that could occur in the future and make decisions through strategy instead of just designing only for immediate city needs. The company also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and updating transit infrastructure to make sure that people and business can move around the city quickly. This also reduces the environmental impact of other types of transportation. Finally, city planning must begin using sustainable and resilient planning tools right now instead of in the future. Climate change has been determined to be true, and every city must be responsible and made aware of that fact.

Climate change will impact vulnerable areas around the world, and the coast is at the top of the list. Coastal areas are popular for human habitation, with 40 per cent of the population living in these regions. This creates key challenges for urban planners because of rising sea levels and the risk of flood. AECOM is working with these cities to provide insights on how to prepare for flooding and adapt infrastructure goals to this natural threat.In Australia, 85 per cent of the population lives along the island’s coastline. AECOM released reports that presented the future impacts and hazards of climate change to the federal government. In response, Australia has adopted a new set of standards called “Considering Climate Risks when Managing, Owning and Funding Coastal Assets”, which forces developers to properly assess how to build infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of flooding and extreme coastal weather.

To respond to a variety of planning challenges across the world, AECOM has come up with a Sustainable Systems Integration (SSIM) tool that measures the costs and benefits of any plan by making urban planning more environmentally focused. SSIM measures environmental, social and economic sustainability by analyzing energy and water usage, transportation options, green building, ecology and carbon footprints. For example, the city of Tianjin in China used the SSIM land-planning tool to decide on the most environmentally effective way to build the most sustainable city possible for Samsung, just south of Tianjin. The smart city includes electric car charging outlets and is built entirely on an LED light grid to save energy.

An approved criteria of SSIM includes using natural systems as a way to protect cities. Natural systems include flood plains, bioremediation tools, and using plants that absorb pollution. By creating green space near open water for example, this green infrastructure filters pollutants and helps prevent flooding by creating a natural floodplain between the city and the open water.  A city that is using natural systems is Jeddah, acity in Saudi Arabia, which has implemented green infrastructure in the form of green space at the waterfront to prevent from extreme flooding. This is an issue that plagues the city as climate change progresses.

AECOM is leading the way with resilient infrastructure around the world. Every city should begin to look at their urban planning agenda with the future of climate change in mind. Extreme weather conditions, whether it be fire or water, which will become more common and if we don’t prepare, our cities will be ruined. In the age of internet and mass communication, we have one final shot at saving ourselves from a planet that has been devastated by human consumption. What will you do to save our home, the great planet earth.

Ontario needs to make conservation a priority

Have you ever been hiking on Manitoulin Island or in the Niagara Escarpment and paused for a moment to appreciate the ethereal beauty of the natural land?

Conservation is the only way to ensure that certain areas remain protected  in Ontario. The problem is that it is no easy feat to keep land from the greedy hands of major developers, and every single day more of these natural habitats disappears. Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy is a land trust that is dedicated to ensuring natural landmarks are conserved in the province. Unfortunately, the province of Ontario has removed their funding and this leaves the charity in a difficult position to continue protecting natural regions.

As a land trust, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy accepts donations of land for conservation and also helps property owners to protect their own land from buyers. The conservancy is spearheaded by Robert Barnett, a passionate conservation advocate and architect by trade. The charity has 151 nature reserves making up 47 km altogether in the province. Biosphere focuses operations in the escarpment, but has several reserves across the province and is the second largest conservation charity in Ontario.

Thomson Reserve near Wiarton, Ont. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy.
Thomson Reserve near Wiarton, Ont. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy.

However, the charity has been facing roadblocks since their funding was removed in 2012. In that same year, the provincial government released a new plan called biodiversity: it’s in our nature to compliment Canada’s decision to sign a mandate towards conserving 17 per cent of Ontario land by 2020. The plan indicated that by 2020, “17 per cent of terrestrial and aquatic systems are conserved through well-connected networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures”. Four years later, conservation areas stand at 4.4 per cent.

“The minister announced this plan in 2012 and now of course nothing is happening. They aren’t increasing the land protected area at all,” Barnett says. “The premier has given the minister a mandate to protect our biodiversity and once again, nothing is being done. The environmental commissioner at the time, Diane Sax, recommended that they put funding into protected areas. This means the environmental commissioner, the premier, and the biodiversity initiative are being ignored.”

More than that, the province removed the charity’s funding the same year they introduced the new plan to increase biodiversity conservation. Previously, Biosphere received $30,000 to $40,000 in provincial funding to support operations at the charity. Now, Barnett can only rely on cash donations and limited federal funding for the projects.

“We spend $100,000 a year to protect the land, for legal fees and getting inventories done. It costs $5000 to receive a land donation because of appraisals and paperwork,” Barnett says. “That is a lot of money for a charity and we just don’t have it.”

Barnett believes that the funding cuts are in part due to the budget cuts the Ontario ministry of natural resources has experienced in the last five years. That being said, natural areas bring $84 billion to the economy and the conservation funding only costs $135,000. The Ontario government could easily fund such a low budget to complete such an important task.

Cape Hurd where one of the cottages to rent is located. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere conservancy.
Cape Hurd where one of the cottages to rent is located. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere conservancy.

One MPP is trying to make a difference for property owners interested in conservation. Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle has introduced a private member’s bill to lower the property tax on private properties that place covenants protecting the land on their property. If a person owns a piece of land, they have the option to contact a land trust such as Biosphere to create a list of restrictions — known as covenants — to prevent future land owners from ever building a gravel pit on the land for example. In exchange for placing covenants on the land, homeowners receive a $100,000 tax receipt from Biosphere as a part of the land trust.

Placing covenants on the land lowers the property value, but the province continues to charge them the same property tax anyways. Colle has presented a bill to lower the property tax for conservation covenants to zero. The bill has had its first reading in 2012 and has since been stalled.  It is yet another example of the province not putting conservation of the land as a priority.

It is apparent that the province needs to pull up its britches and take conservation seriously. The fact that only four per cent of land in Ontario is protected when there is a mandate in place to have 17 per cent is unacceptable. The funding for Biosphere and other conservation charities needs to be reinstated and hopefully Colle’s bill will pass second reading and become law. Conservation doesn’t appear to be a priority — let’s make it one!

Concrete has potential to be the greenest building materials

When I walk downtown, I am always slightly in awe of the construction of these magnificent concrete buildings looming over me. How can people build to such heights? Then my environmental brain kicks in, and I wonder if these concrete edifices are the result of years of planetary destruction. As it turns out, concrete has more potential to be green than I originally thought. If all concrete companies made sustainable production their priority, I dare say it could become the most environmentally-promising building material currently available.

Concrete is versatile, low maintenance, strong, diverse, and affordable. It is also one of the oldest building materials in the world, dating back to both the Roman and Egyptian times. It is a reliable thermal insulator and retains heat inside of the home, but it also cools buildings in the hot summer months. Concrete is also recyclable and can be broken down and used as aggregate when a building is torn down. A 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that concrete saves 20 per cent of the energy consumed by buildings made of wood.

That being said, concrete is still responsible for five per cent of carbon emissions. In order to become the greenest building material on the market, companies have to modify the way they produce their building blocks. Holcim, who recently joined forces with Lafarge, is one of the top ranking concrete company to use sustainable building practices on a global basis.

It takes a large amount of thermal energy to create concrete and that strongly contributes to its large carbon footprint. Holcim and Lafarge are sourcing their fuel from renewable energy resources such as waste and biomass. This production change will help Holcium meet global goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels, or 40 per cent by 2030. To date, they are on track with a 26 per cent reduction. Using carbon capture mechanisms to prevent high levels of carbon from being released also creates a more sustainable product.

It appears that concrete has potential to be one of the most sustainable building materials, but how do other building materials compare?

Tree sequestration is a popular construction material, and a lot of people think it’s sustainable because forests absorb carbon dioxide while they are growing. However, it is only sustainable if there is a larger plan to replace the wood cut for construction. Even if a company replants the trees and leaves portions of the forest untouched, it is still impossible to replace the natural biological diversity that existed before harvesting. It also takes time to regrow the trees that are used, which reduces the sustainability of this building material.

Another popular building material is glass, but there are arguments to be made that concrete is still the better choice. Glass is a sustainable building material because it is 100 per cent recyclable. Though glass is environmentally-friendly, it is not very durable and requires high maintenance and care. It is also not an efficient thermal insulator in comparison to concrete.

The highest polluting building materials are aluminum and steel, because these products need several materials. It takes six pounds of bauxite ore to yield one pound of aluminum, and the bauxite is strip-mined from tropical rainforests. Aluminum also requires 270 GJ/t of production energy as compared to concrete that only uses 1.4 GJ/t. Obviously, aluminum and steel are not sustainable building options and builders should avoid using them at all cost.

Compared to other options, concrete is clearly one of the best environmentally-friendly building materials available. The next step now lies in the companies themselves. If every concrete company embraced carbon capture and used biofuels, it would help reduce the global carbon footprint and the world would still have a truly reliable type of construction.

New climate change legislation puts emphasis on electric cars

The Ontario government has finally released the long-awaited Climate Change Action Plan — and it is jam packed with lots of incentives for electric vehicles and green home retrofits.

The strategy works in tandem with the cap and trade program finalized by the Liberals a few months ago. This strategy is expected to create around $1.9 billion in revenue through the auctioning of emission credits, which will then be invested into a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction account. These funds will be “responsibly and transparently invested into actions that directly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, create jobs, and help people and businesses shift to a low-carbon economy.”

One of the biggest concerns people had with the government’s climate strategy was that the plan would include a ban on natural gas and would negatively affect businesses and drivers that use a lot of carbon. The 86-page document addresses this concern by saying “it will not take away personal choice: no one will have to stop using gas in their home or give up their gas-powered car by a certain date. Rather, the plan creates the conditions that provide choice. It gives consumers and businesses more reasons to reduce their carbon footprint, and creates competitive conditions for the adoption of low-carbon technology.”

Here are some of the highlights:

  • A Green Bank will be established to help homeowners and businesses access and finance energy-efficient technologies to reduce greenhouse gasses. This includes a number of rebates for retrofits in social housing. Homes being sold after 2019 will be provided with a free energy audit.
  • More than one third of Ontario’s greenhouse gasses are created by transportation. Cars and trucks make up 70 per cent of this carbon. The Ontario government is offering rebates of up to $14,000 per eligible electric vehicles, including a $1,000 rebate for charging stations. The goal is to have every new home buying built after 2018 to include a charging plug in the garage.
  • The government will establish a four-year free overnight electric vehicle charging program for residents starting in 2017.
  • A “cash for clunkers” program will work with the rebates for electric vehicles to get older, less efficient vehicles off the road. Companies and drivers who buy green vehicles will receive a special license plate that will allow free access to provincial HOV and tolled lanes.
  • Focus on researching and developing new green technologies and transitional allowances for high-polluting businesses.
  • Emphasis on implementing more cycling and walking networks throughout the province to rid gridlock and therefore reduce the amount of carbon emitted by vehicles on the roads.

The purpose of all of these programs is to cut Ontario’s greenhouse gas pollution to 15 per cent bellow 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050.

The government is spending between $5.9 billion to $8.3 billion over the next five years on new programs, incentives, rebates, and green technologies. The $1.9 billion earned by selling emission credits through the cap and trade program will make up some of these funds.

The plan will add about $5 a month to home heating bills and 4.3 cents a litre to gas prices.

The Climate Change Action Plan outlines the provincial (and sometimes municipal) responsibilities for the next five years and will be reviewed and updated every five years after the fact. An implementation update will be provided annually for transparency.

Hon. Minister Glen Murray deserves the spotlight

It seems like every week a new headline relating to climate change is gracing the front pages of the news.  Whether it’s the unruly weather or the destruction of a natural habitat, it seems like climate change is on everyone’s mind.

The Ontario government has made a number of promises to invest in green retrofits, electric vehicles, and renewable energy, and for that, Women’s Post salutes them. It’s impossible not to see the negative effects climate change is having on this planet, and it’s time for Canada, especially Ontario, to take action.

But all of these changes would not be possible without the leadership of one man — the Honourable Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray.

Minister Murray is enthusiastic, driven, and level-headed — something all politicians can’t claim. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. It’s worth mentioning that he was the first openly-gay mayor of a large city in North America, which was a big deal at the time.

After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Minister Murray has thrived in each of these positions and has incorporated the sustainable practices he has learnt throughout his political career to push through impressive legislation. The minister was instrumental in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May. The policy will place a cap on carbon emissions and allow companies to sell or trade unused credits for profit. This will ultimately reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emitted from high-polluting industries. The government will be auctioning off a number of credits to companies that may have a hard time adjusting to the cap. In 2017, emission allowances are 142,332,000 tones, which will decrease over four years to 124,668,000 in 2020.

The program will take effect on July 1.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing humanity today,” Murray said after the cap-and-trade policy was revealed. “Ontario is doing its part to reduce harmful greenhouse gas pollution by putting in place a cap and trade program to limit emissions and invest in the kind of innovative solutions that will give our kids and grandkids the sustainable and prosperous legacy they deserve.”

Through the cap-and-trade regulations, Minister Murray has ensured $1.9 billion in additional revenue for the provincial government. This funding will be used to support future green initiatives.

In the next few weeks Murray will unveil the provincial government’s ultimate climate change plan, which promises to help Ontario households and businesses adopt low- and no-carbon energy in homes and the workplace. It also puts an emphasis on incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations. The climate change strategy is said to cost an average household about $13 a month, but is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

And these are only a few of Minister Glen Murray’s accomplishments, just from the past year!

Later this month, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to do a major cabinet shuffle — and all Women’s Post can do is hope that Minister Murray is given the opportunity to expand on his vision. He has spearheaded a number of environmentally friendly and revenue building policies over the last year. What is needed now is the strength, determination, and tenacity to implement them — and Minister Murray has that in spades.

If Ontario wants to prove that it is serious about fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse emissions, Minister Murray has proven his ability to steer this through. The political arena doesn’t support a rising star and we can only hope his cabinet supports him to carry out his role as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. His consistent hard work, determination, and refusal to back down under pressure from private industries makes him the ideal candidate for the position.