Canada Weak on Climate Rights

Climate change wise, it's hard to be Canadian these days. According to a recent WWF report we have the highest emissions per capita of any G8 country and we rank dead last in terms of what we are trying to do about it. What's more, no one seems all that concerned. Thousands of protestors are gathering on Blackheath in London, while on Parliament Hill in Ottawa we've got... well Parliament Hill.

Charlotte Sachs (of Oxfam Canada) broke the silence in Wednesday's Halifax Herald by making a connection that helps give a better picture of what climate change has in store.

Say you don't care about polar bears (I suspect that silenty, that's most of us).

Let's look at people instead: Climate Change will kill more women than men. It will decrease the opportunities that poor women and girls have for education, and make it more difficult for them to work their way out of poverty. I'm not focusing on women by chance; these realities are grounded on unsettling statistics:

-- 80% of the people who die in climate disasters are women and girls.
-- Those disasters have increased 400% since the 1980s.
-- 70% of the 1.3billion people living in abject poverty are women.

-- Women in many of these poor communities already walk an average of 6 kilometers a day for water. Climate Change induced drought will only make this worse. [I'd add that it will also make subsistance agriculture – another area dominated by women – much more difficult and time consuming.] As time spent on basic necessities increases, little or no time is left for eduction or training.

Human rights, gender equity, the idea that girls should be able to go to school and build a better future for themselves. These are all issues that Canadians have helped to define and defend. As Sachs says, it's time that we start seeing the links between these issues and a changing climate. What's more, it's time for our governments at all levels to start acting as if they understood that climate change will have real impacts on real people. Many of those people will be men, but the overwhelming majority of the most vulnerable will be women.

Feel like grabbing a tent and going to Parliament Hill? It's here. Feel like writing your MP? They're here. (Well not literally of course).

see also: Women and Climate

"Cree aboriginal group to join London climate camp protest over tar sands"

images: reuters, guardian, panhala


Barefoot Solar in Sierra Leone

I just came across these videos on grassroots solar electrification projects in Africa and India. Trained in India for 6 months, local women return home with the skills and materials needed to electrify their own villages. They are what is known as Barefoot Solar Engineers, and are part of a larger program run by by the Barefoot College in India.

"Any illiterate woman - including women who have never left their villages - from any part of Africa can be trained to be a confident and compitent solar engineer."

These are largely illiterate women, grandmothers often, who can do work most people would have though impossible. Buying kerosean in little quanties at a time, poor communities like these spend a much bigger proportion of their income on energy than their wealthier neighbours. By installing renewables these women free up both the time and money that would otherwise have gone to getting fuel, and give their communities the independance that comes from managing their own energy supplies.

The first video travels from Gambia to Tanzania to look at the Barefoot College's solar electrification programs across Africa. I thought their argument for training women rather than men was particularly intersting: After being trained, women return to their villages and use their skills to increase the community's living conditions. Men, by contrast, generally leave for the city to try to turn their new credentials into a paying job.

Earlier posts on renewable energy and energy poverty here. And two related videos from specific communities after the jump.


Bike Elevators, the missing link?

If only it could be downhill, both ways! That's every cycle-commuter's dream. Sometimes its just laziness, but other times steep hills are a real barrier for cyclists. Enter... The Bike Elevator. Since 1993 Trondheim (Norway) has been running a bike lift, built directly into the curb on one of its steepest hills. Rumour has it that North Vancouver (Canada) is also considering one. In the picture above (click to enlarge), the cyclist's right foot is resting on a moving footplate that helps him up what looks to be a brutal hill. (more photos here, and here, video below after the jump)

If you've ever taken your bike on the sea bus across to North Vancouver, you know that similar slopes wait for you when you get there. The bike elevator can take 1 new passenger every 12 seconds (or 300 cyclists per hour). It looks a bit crazy, but it may just be the missing link for cycle commuters who live in steep terrain. And when you stop to think about it, it's not any more elaborate than some of the infrastructure that we build for cars.

According to the website for the existing lift, the TRAMPE, costs for the system are similar to building a normal urban bike path, and over its lifetime no injuries have been reported. Other than North Vancouver, 4 other cities are supposedly considering installing one. I'm curious to know which, and also how the system deals with rain, snow and winter weather (for those really hardy Vancouver cyclists out there).


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.