Thursday, May 08, 2008

Now check my own domain!

It's been WAY too long since I posted on Blogger. Admittedly, some people still end up here (I'm hoping Google will soon realize the errs of its way). Anyhow, just as I told you that my next posts would be hosted on, now may I present to you the new and improved Random Thoughts of a Student of the Environment (if you click on this link you'll reach, my new domain). How cool is that? Please update your bookmarks and your RSS feeds. Thanks!

Monday, March 10, 2008

New posts will be hosted on WordPress

Dear all,

I've noticed that some of you have not changed your RSS feeds, changed your bookmarks and updated your blogrolls. I just wanted to say that in the future my posts will be hosted at:

I have imported all of my posts from Blogger on to WordPress, so even if you liked an old post of mine, you will still be able to find it on my WordPress site. So, please make sure to check that one.

Thanks so much for your continued support and readership!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Please update your bookmarks and blogrolls - I've moved

Well, I figured the time would come eventually for me to move platforms. Blogger, it's been a great time. I created 632 posts on Blogger and I progressed from basically nothing to now having more confidence in my writing and my minimal Geek Factor. But since a number of awesome Vancouver bloggers have offered to have my back if I need help with WordPress (you know who you are!), I've decided not to wait any longer.

So, despite the annoying 'by hummingbird604' little thing over there at WP, I've decided to migrate. It may take a while to adjust, but hey whatever. I am just hoping my loyal readers will have no problems switching their RSS feeds, Google Readers, bookmarks and blogrolls.

So, welcome to my WordPress blog!

Please be patient. I'll be adding bloggers to my blogroll and playing with the themes until I find a nice one.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Review of "Two decades of failed climate change policy" by Mark Jaccard

First, I want to apologize because while I heard the second half of the lecture, I couldn't take notes as my battery died half way through (actually, exactly half way through). So, the notes you're going to read are pretty much only from the first half. Since Mark is an academic (and so am I), I think I would be making him a disservice if I wrote what I recall. The rest of my notes are pretty verbatim (I type really really fast) so I think I captured what he said.

Second, my overall assessment. I think Mark's lecture was excellent. I know that a lot of people are going to complain about certain points that he made, or about his particular viewpoints on a number of issues (for example, on why he opposes Gateway). And quite honestly, I do disagree with some of his points as well (particularly in regards to carbon offsets). But the truth is, he really made it easy for a general audience to understand the rather conceptually complex theory behind environmental policy instruments. I think that there is a place for academics like Mark who are able to connect to general audiences and explain these concepts to them in an easy and accessible way. I know three other experts in the field of climate change in Canada who have the same ability, although they are based at UBC (not SFU).

He first started by explaining four broad categories of environmental policy tools to reduce GHG emissions from fossil fuels, based on four methods of reduction:
  • Energy efficiency
  • Switch to renewable energy sources or nuclear energy
  • Pollution control (carbon sequestration)
  • Catch-all
In Mark's words, politicians don't do the above. Consumers, households and industry do it. So, governments only have policy tools to lead us to change actions. The four categories of policies he suggested are:
  • Information programs
  • Subsidies
  • Regulation
  • Financial charges
Mark made a point that I found interesting - he is NOT an advocate of a carbon tax, as often portrayed in the media, but he said he was an advocate of compulsory policy because research has shown him that's the way to do it. That's not surprising to hear (that his research is often misinterpreted and portrayed in the wrong way on the media - that's happened to a number of other researchers - just ask Robert Putnam and his latest research on social capital, diverse communities and 'hunkering')

Mark also made a point that all previous policies that had been implemented in Canada had failed to meet the target. According to Jaccard, energy efficiency is more costly than we think (what he called the second inconvenient truth), but that doesn't mean that we ought not to do it, we still should do it.

While I have a smattering of other notes, I think that the best I can do is to just give you what were his main points. He suggests that non-compulsory policies (like subsidies, information programs, etc.) are NOT a substitute for compulsory policies.

I was a little surprised (and taken aback) that he apparently doesn't advocate or even like the idea of offsets (as noted below)
With apologies to people who have worked very hard to establish offsets emissions. It can give us a sense that “we don’t need to put in the compulsory policy”. An offset is a subsidy from an individual to another individual. Still has the same problems with subsidy – we have to try to make sure that the money will indeed make people behave differently – how can you be sure of that?
I do like the idea of offsets because (a) at least they're at least a first step in reducing emissions and (b) there are systems that can be third-party audited. But then again, each one of us is entitled to our own opinion.

Overall, I liked his delivery style, and it was an interesting lecture. I think that what VTACC is doing is rather important (educating people on climate change issues). I also think that they can't stop with three lectures and they need to keep this going. You'd be surprised. I got to the Canadian Memorial Church to see a room pretty much full with people who wanted to learn more about climate change. I don't think that VTACC should stop, they should continue the lecture series (and bring lots of other perspectives, even within the academic realm).

VTACC will make his PowerPoint slides available freely on their website (he didn't want us to 'read the slides' so he only showed one or two throughout the conference). If you want to learn more about what Dr. Mark Jaccard does, you can look here.

Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do

While I admit that I'm somewhat of a clean freak (my apartment is about 450-500 sq ft so it's tiny and thus needs to always be clean and impeccable), I also know myself. Once I'm tired, the only thing I want to do is read, read and read. I hate doing dishes and having to clean up. However, last night (if we consider this Wednesday morning) I felt extremely frustrated by the state of affairs.

Let me explain. I hadn't rented a movie in a long while. When I do, I usually rent either at Happy Bats Cinema or a very tiny local store. On Tuesdays, said store has the 2x1 special. I have almost never been able to make use of it as I almost never make it to the store on time to pick up a movie on a Tuesday.

However, last night I went home straight after Mark Jaccard's lecture (which I will discuss on my blog probably later today or tomorrow) and while tired, I felt still really full from having eaten curry chicken in the afternoon and a very late dinner. So I thought "well, instead of reading, tonight it's time to rent 2 movies". So for the first time in a long while, I have two movies to watch.

I've seen the first one (Sydney White - yes, I know - it's definitely a brainless movie) and I am waiting until later today (tomorrow) to watch the second one (Smokin' Aces with a number of good actors but the one I want to see is Ryan Reynolds in a completely different role to all the ones I've seen him in).

The title of the post relates to the fact that I am still awake after having responded to my cleanliness frustration and urges despite being so tired. While I wanted to just curl on my couch and watch the movie, seeing my apartment as messy as it was before I had this urge to clean up just made me not enjoy the movie. So I decided to do a full clean-up. The floors still need some moping, but I think the rest of the apartment looks ok. Hence the title of the post - sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. I needed to feel as though my place was tidy, clean and livable. Now, if I could just get back to sleep... :)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Green Living Show recap

My good friend HZ and I were talking about the fact that we already lived 'green' and he pondered "how much greener can I live?" I think that while generally I live a fairly environmentally-aware life (that's what I do for a living, so it would be kind of ironic if I didn't). But the Green Living Show did give me an opportunity to see a number of other opportunities for improvement.

For example, transportation choices. Yes, electric cars can be an option, I think. Since I am not a transportation expert, I can refer you to the blogs of Stephen Rees and Paul Hillsdon if you want to talk about those issues. But definitely, walking or biking or taking the bus are the only options we have.

Another area (rather important to me given my busy social life) was beer consumption. I am not kidding! Organic beer is good :) I will send you to check Rebecca's, Keira's and Phaedra's blogs for very good recaps of the Green Living Show that include the topic of organic beer. Furthermore, a visitor to my blog informed me that the Canadian Wildlife Federation's magazine (Checkerspot) was liveblogging, so check them out too. Here I would like to just make some broader comments about GLC.

First, I really think that BC Place was a very good choice, but I wonder if Canada Place would have been better (just simply in terms of transportation access to the show). Although come to think about it, maybe it was just the fact that I didn't remember how to get to BC Place by transit. I attended the Green Living Show on Saturday morning with Phaedra, and we walked from Our Town Cafe on Broadway and Kingsway all the way down to BC Place. It was a very beautiful walk. But if it had been raining, we probably would have had to take the Skytrain. I really had forgotten that Stadium Skytrain station is very close to BC Place.

Second, the overall theme and design of the show was fantastic. I didn't feel that the show was crowded at all. And they really brought some high-powered speakers (Stephen Lewis, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Adrienne Carr). Really, that was a very very good idea.

Third, the only thing I was a bit surprised was that Green Table wasn't there. Almost every aspect of every day life was showcased. To give a few examples, soy-based candles, organic beer, water-saving and energy-saving appliances, sustainable and sweatshop-free clothing, organic snacks. But the question in my head remains - why wasn't our very own Sustainable Restaurants Association there? Of course, I can always email and ask :)

Going there with Phaedra was really a highlight of the weekend, because she is really awesome. We have had the chance to e-mail and comment on each other's blogs, but it was very very nice to really hang out outside the blogosphere. It's always awesome to get to know the person behind the blog.

One of the things that really hit home with me was that the organizers realized that the show would have environmental impacts, and looked for ways to reduce them. You'd be surprised how many organizers of environmentally-themed events don't really look INSIDE their event! But this wasn't the case with Green Living Show. If you click here, you can read all the ways in which they reduced environmental impacts.

All in all, I really enjoyed the show, and will definitely do my best to attend next year's. Kudos to the organizers! Now, on the critical side of things - the statistical profile they provide of a typical Green Living Show attendee would suggest (and thus, even possibly confirm) that to be more sustainable you need to make enough money to pay the environmental premium price (just read this fact - 37% of last year's attendees make more than $ 100,000. Wow!).

I am not sure that I like reading this fact, to be quite frank. Saving money is one of the selling points of going greener in this city (given the exorbitant prices of housing and gas). Thus, if you tell me that I need to first make more money and THEN go green, it becomes a hard sell (particularly for those like me whose money-making power is not yet in the six figures realm).

Overall, as mentioned, the show was great and I'm looking forward to next year's.

Please note: This post is cross-posted on both my blogs (Blogger and WordPress) for the time being, but I think that the time is coming for me to just continue on with WP. I'll post an announcement when that happens.

Small oooooops...

So I was very proud that I had remembered to write a post to celebrate International Women's Day, and raved about the women in my life, etc. But the small detail I forgot is that I am about four days early! Sorry about that. Since I'm attending a seminar today on the experiences of women researchers investigating gender issues, I seriously thought it was today. But it's not. Ooooops!

So, I fully deserve to have experienced the frustration I felt last night. I was a bit annoyed that, since I wanted to highlight IWD, I basically had to leave all my other ideas in draft form until the day was over (or half-way over) to start posting again. I usually follow this guideline because not everybody is subscribed in a RSS reader, so sometimes they check blogs in the morning, and thus this would be the first post at the top of the page.

But I had a few other ideas on the making (like reviewing the bar Library Square, the restaurant India Bistro) and I didn't write anything because I thought "well, if I do post something AFTER having posted the IWD thingy, the focus on IWD will be lost, so better not to post anything until mid-day". But reading today's Morning Brew I realized... it's March 4th, not 8th. So thus the title of the post... OOOOOOOPS.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Upcoming events - International Women's Day

Mark your calendars! March 8th is International Women's Day. It is a date to celebrate the contributions of women to society in all realms (social, political, economics, natural sciences, etc.). For me, it is slightly bizarre to have such a day (and before I get bombarded with negative feedback, let me explain why).

Let me start with the most important woman in my life, my Mom. My mother is highly educated, undertook her PhD in political science when she already had grown kids, has lived abroad, maintains a leadership position in her school and has many amazing qualities. The thing is, to me, that has always been completely normal. We (my brothers and I) were raised in such a way that gender really didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was(and is) amazing, period.

Then, let me continue with my friends. As some of you may know, my first degree is in chemical engineering. Traditionally, there has been a distinct absence of women engineers (I have observed this trend particularly in three fields: chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering). But the funny thing is (and to my male peers' surprise) that the top six students in my class were the only five women in the class and yours truly. So much for "male superiority in the engineering field"!

As a matter of fact, the person who made me fall in love with chemical engineering itself is a woman (the most beautiful professor of Separation Processes, and Process Control ever). Fashionable, trendy, and extremely bright. To this day, AMVG and I remain really close friends (we became friends after I finished my undergraduate). She was by and large my favorite instructor in undergraduate.

The vast majority of my girlfriends are experts in their fields, some of them in non-'traditionally female' areas. They are urban planners and epidemiologists, geographers, computer geeks and nurses, project managers and strategy consultants, specialists in environmental issues and policy analysts. I have them in all flavors and sizes (and all of them astoundingly beautiful, but that's just a bonus) and they're all leaders in their fields. And some of my best former students are women!

Of course, I am not about to suggest that there haven't been historically gender disparities. I was quickly scanning a report online mentioning that women engineers were earning 70 cents per dollar earned by their male counterparts (sorry that I don't provide the link, I was just quickly browsing and didn't save the source). Income disparity is an unfortunate but real fact of life.

So please join me in celebrating the achievements of women and their contributions to humanity. And to all my girlfriends, sisters-in-law, nieces, fellow bloggers, former students, female colleagues, and former professors: Happy International Women's Day!

Tired from the weekend

Weekends are supposed to be fun and relaxing, right? Well, yeah I did have some R&R and had friends over for dinner, but the weekend was also stressful. Had to deal with a lot of stuff, missed volleyball due to a migraine and literally dozed off on the couch while watching Superman II. Thus, I missed this morning's lecture on climate change and I'm exhausted from a very busy weekend. I need a vacation from my weekends :) (j/k)

Content will be published intermittently. I am preparing a guest post for Rebecca on the history of Mount Pleasant. Have a couple others in draft form.

UPDATE - I forgot to mention that I had a couple of days of tranquility away from my unbearable neighbours. But apparently they're going on holiday next week and then the following weekend (Easter Weekend) I'm house sitting so maybe March will be the month I won't hear screaming kids.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Testing the waters I: From Blogger to WordPress

It's kind of ironic. Now that I've gained a more-or-less steady readership, and I'm on a few blogrolls (thank you guys for adding me!), I'm in the process of switching from Blogger to WordPress. A couple of days ago I imported my posts (it seems that even though WordPress says that only 500 out of my 622 blog posts were imported, I kind of can't see which ones weren't). And I can see most of the comments even though the converter says none of the comments were transferred.

So, go check my WordPress blog (it's pretty much the same content as here) and if you could, leave a comment or a trackback. I'm trying to see how it works. For the time being, most likely I'll be cross-posting (e.g. posting here AND there) to avoid potential surprises -- please don't change your blogrolls just yet, give me a few days to adjust. .

So, Matt Mullenweg and WordPress, here I come :)