Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Preparing for an World Without Oil

For Rob, By Maus

My interest “A World Without Oil”. I am curious as to how we would survive if we couldn't use oil anymore, or if it was extremely, extremely expensive. This is not so unlikely, and we have a few technologies developing- though some oil experts (For example, Peter Hubert, author of The Bottomless Well) suggest we still have “over 100 years” until we run out of oil. It is a commonplace thing in our society to exaggerate. Take for example “bottomless well”... Peter Hubert says that we are only running out of cheap oil. Even if this is the case, we will eventually run out, even if it is in 100 years- and before that, prices will rise astronomically, and then we will have another bit of expensive to produce oil as exorbitant prices that will also not last forever. Great... then where does that leave us? Hubert does reluctantly admit that oil is indeed a finite resource, but points out that the sun is also finite. I think this comparison is ridiculous. The sun will last another 5.5 billion years, the expensive to refine oil in Alberta will last about 100 years. When this is pointed out to him, he says: “Look, 100 years from now, one thing I'm sure of is things will be very different.

Let's talk about oil... Let's use one liter of oil for comparison. For visionary purposes, imagine half a bottle of large pop.
One liter of oil:
  • 8 carbon, 20 hydrogen
  • distilled over 100,000 million years
  • energy dense, easy to refine
  • energy of about 5 weeks of human manual labour, 35 strong people
  • you can turn it into medicine, clothing, laptops...
  • we have based our whole way of life around it
  • for every 4 barrels of oil we consume, we discover 1
Oil is commodity our ENTIRE world is based around. We rely on it for so many things... And yet it is a resource that is not renewable, and that is finite! As well, the more we use, the more expensive it gets. Sure, it may be 100 years plus until it runs out... Even 200... Not in our lifetimes! But isn't that exactly what failed us in the past? Current generations not thinking about the future? Through the environment, smoking, etc. I think that the more we rely on oil, the more vulnerable we are. So, ratio of oil dependance = degree of vulnerability. Also, we have to consider that we only find 1 barrel of oil for ever 4 we use, and that there are 98 oil producing nations but 65 have already past their “peak”.
That leaves us very vulnerable, doesn't it?
So what can we do? We can immediately start to use and discover new alternative sources for energy, hopefully renewable ones, so that we can slow the use of our current oil supply and hopefully prepare ourselves for a world without oil, even if that happens to be in two hundred years.

What can we do to reduce consumption?

-buy and grow local food. 90% of oil is used for transportation!
-ride bikes
-invest in community owned energy companies
-promote and practice recycling

Another thing I am interested in is alternative energy. Costa Rica is a great inspiration as a 99% carbon neutral country. 81% of their energy comes from hydroelectricity, 10% is geothermal, 7.7% thermal, 1.1% wind and 0.2% other. Obviously not every country is built with the ability to be as self sustainable as Costa Rica. But, they have created man-made lakes for hydroelectric purposes, which and country with enough room and the right environment to do. This is just one example.

Other alternative energy sources:

Let's focus on the advantages/disadvantages of each of them, along with a short summary

-Low environment impact
-World usable
-Useful energy created
-Smaller models depend on availability of running water

-No byproducts
-Small plants
-Only can be built in certain areas
-They can run out
-Trace amounts of chemicals released in hot water
-High initial costs
-20% failure rate can cause damage to environment

-No fossil fuels
-Take up little space individually
-Technologies are becoming more efficient
-Wind is free
-Can be combined with solar energy
-Can be built anywhere on large plots of land
-Cannot rely on the wind to always be there
-Noise pollution

-Theoretically inexhaustible
-Minimal environmental impact
-Available throughout world
-Helps in solid waste management
-Could contribute to global warming
-Small scale, net loss of energy due to energy needed to grow plants

-The sun won't explode for at least 5.5 billion years.
-Does not require fuel
-Low maintenance
-Can be put anywhere
-Influenced by clouds, night
-Solar cars are much slower

"There is a cheap, plentiful supply of energy available for the taking," he says, and we won't run out of it for billions of years. "It's called sunlight." - David Goodstein

I think these alternative sources, if implemented as much as possible, could help to diverge some of the “impending doom” of running out of oil. Unfortunately we don't have any long term magic that is suddenly going to save us, but if we start working on it sooner rather than later (as Hubert suggests), we might not be let cold, naked and helpless The Day The Oil Runs Out Forever. We cannot have the attitude of “who knows when that might be though? Not in our life time... so who cares?” because even if it isn't YOUR life, it's your children, or your children's children's world that are relying on you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kensington Market

The History of Kensington

In 2006, Parks Canada declared Kensington Market a National Historic site. Kensington, the modest, artsy, hip square in the middle of town? Why’s that?
Well, you see, almost two hundred years ago in 1815, a man named George Taylor Denison bought an area of land from Queen West to Bloor Street, now mostly what we know as Kensington. He was a Canadian soldier, and used our very own Bellevue Square Park as a parade ground.
The area slowly developed over time into a Jewish community. Over 80% of the Jewish and Italian immigrants at the time moved into Kensington market area. They were driven out of Russia by persecution, and found Kensington a welcoming home for over 45,000 by 1931. There are still many synagogues around today in Kensington.
Soon after, a Portuguese community started to develop. The Jewish community had a tradition of opening stores on the first floor of their house, which they continued (and still continues in that area today!). They also added their taste for warm, bright colours, vegetable gardens, and beautiful grapevines. 
In the 1960’s, Kensington was almost replaced with large apartment buildings- but the mayor at the time opposed, seeing the value of the culture.
In the late 1980’s, at the original Portuguese store owners started to age, a new wave of Latin-American immigrants started to move in, opening up new stores. Many seedy customers scared away the yuppies in this area, despite the fact that it seemed to be the hippest spot in town. A Nike store even tried to open, but the community shut it down by piling dozens of running shoes splattered with red paint outside their doors.
Eventually, both the “too seedy” and “too mainstream” shops moved out, leaving Kensington the wonderful, cultural place it is today.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Preachy Mc Preach Pants

A project for school. I'm a little self conscious about it sounding too preachy and like I am a perfect angel, but I guess that's the point?

Outreach tie-in project – Homelessness in Toronto

For my Outreach, I volunteered at a community meal by the name of “Lawyers Feed the Hungry”. This program runs Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays at Osgood Hall in Toronto, Ontario. “Clients” come to the dinners and are given two tickets, one for a meal, and one for dessert. Everyone gets only one meal and one dessert, though soup, and beverages are unlimited (to a degree). Occasionally, a bag lunch is given to them as well for the next day. It is a fantastic program that accepts all sorts of people from all walks of life. I have seen people there old as the moon and babies no older than a few months. I have talked to and gotten to know quite a few of the patrons, who all are amazingly fascinating, brilliant, lovely people.

Would You Hire a Street Kid?: Stigma in Society

One of the first things we have to talk about when discussing homelessness and the reasons for it is that typical question that people who have never had to live in fear of losing their home might ask: Why can't homeless people just “get a job”? Or, “they are just lazy, they don't need help”.
An Anonymous quote says:

Have you ever tried getting a job when you have no phone number for
potential employees to call, no address, no nice 'interview' clothing, no resume or recent
references, and are so focused on just being able to eat or find a safe place to sleep that you
can hardly think straight?”

I think this quote covers the basics quite nicely. Once you become homeless, it is not just 'being homeless' in the physical sense. Being homeless takes a huge mental toll on you. You are either staying on the street or in a shelter. According to The Toronto Street Needs Assessment in 2009, on August 15, 2009, over 5,086 homeless people stayed in a shelter, and about 400 on the street. Now, okay, so most likely you are in a shelter, which may sound nice- it's indoors, you probably get a meal, there are people to support you, perhaps information about jobs... But there are also crowded rooms with about 100 people. According to the British Medical Journal, 1997), 30% of those over age 30 snore, rising to 40% in middle age. So in a room of about 100 people, that is 35 people snoring. If that wasn't bad enough, Tim Myles of UofT wrote in 2003 about the bed bug infestation in local shelters (http://www.ontariotenants.ca/health/articles/2003/gm-03l20.phtml). As well, every single Shelter in the Out of the Cold program in Toronto kicks people out by 8am latest, 6:30am earliest. So, imagine this. You are trying to sleep on a mat on the floor, after eating frugally. Some people around you are rowdy- perhaps intoxicated. Others are fast asleep, snoring loudly. If you do sleep, bed bugs will come and bite you. You are afraid to fall asleep, but you know you have to go out again tomorrow, so you must.
Now imagine you are the manager of a local chain coffee shop. Some... dirty homeless person comes in, they look very ragged. They give you typed a resume that doesn't have any references, and no recent job experience. You worry what your customers are thinking. “Please,” they ask. “Give me a chance.” “I'll give you a call,” you say.
I think one of the things that scares us about homeless people is their extreme need. Did you ever meet a friend, or even have a partner, someone who you liked very much but they just needed too much from you that you couldn't give? People who have dealt with homelessness can be that many times over. Their need can be very overwhelming, and we are not sure if we can give as much as they need. When you have everything taken away, anything you are given is an opportunity. I noticed, at the meals sometimes clients could be aggressive over their meals. I believe is related – that is, when you have very little, you must protect what you have. Everyone deserves to be treated with patience. Everyone has something inside of them amazing to show if they are treated with dignity. (http://www.covenanthousebc.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Change.mp3)

The point is not feel guilty. The point is: help in the ways that you can, and be willing to learn new ways to help.
Luckily, street homelessness – that is, people living outdoors- is down in Toronto by over half since 2006 (though Aboriginal people still represent 28.7% of street homeless [ and only 3.8 per cent of the total population of Canada). The number of people in emergency shelters and outdoors together, though, is about the same, only 0.7 lower than 2006. This means that yes, we do have more shelters, but there is still quite a ways to go.
The previous mayor David Miller says: “Homeless people are frequent users of expensive emergency services. The math is simple: it’s cheaper to house someone and provide supports than to do nothing.”
A 2004 study by Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, found that 60% of Toronto Homeless had chronic health problems, and that the mean age of death for homeless people in the Toronto study was 45 years. In Ethiopia, the average life span is 49 years of age.

So what can we do?

There would be no use writing this essay if I ended it here. I don't know everything, and I am not about to solve the problems of the world, but I do want to offer some ways that you can help- whoever you are, whatever your situation.

  • If you know someone that needs an emergency shelter, tell them to call 311 if they can. 311 is for personal assistance with (Toronto) city related questions, and they can direct anyone to a shelter. If you see someone in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately.
  • Treat the under-housed like humans: Give a smile. Eye contact. Some change if you can spare it. A short chat if you have the time. A discussion if you're comfortable. A hand and some help will change a life. Forgive them, and forgive yourself. Kindness can give them the weapons they need to fight depression, paranoia, and isolation.
  • Support creative endeavors: One of my favorite places in Toronto is Sketch, an arts studio for street youth. It's a place that homeless or under-housed youth can go and... make art! Being creative and being able to express yourself in a comfortable environment, master-artist or not is very empowering.
  • Volunteer: Small changes make a big difference. Even if it helps you, it helps someone. Host a clothing drive. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Find out information by typing in “Volunteer _____ (your city here)” in a search engine.
  • Donate: If volunteering is not your style, donate to your proffered homeless charity. Make sure you research the charity first to ensure the money is going toward the people who need it!
  • Educate yourself: Take a CPR course. If possible, educate yourself further and take a Mental Illness First Aid Course. http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca/Pages/default.aspx

As a supplementary piece, I have attached a calender I created inspired by my time volunteering at Lawyers Feeding the Hungry. It is a list of places to get a free meal in Central Toronto for people of an age or gender, any day of the week, and every meal (except Tuesday dinner! Although you could grab a late lunch at Good Sheppard and save it for later).


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Two Ideas for Sustainability

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastics are plastics that will decompose in any composting or landfill environment. They can either be made of renewable raw materials, or petroleum-based plastics which, with heat and moisture, neutralize the plastic. They are mostly used for things such as plastic forks, knives, etc, or plastic wrap for packaging fresh organic products.
I think this idea is quite brilliant- the only issue is that when the plastics are decomposing, the carbon is released as greenhouse gases. Though, when they are made from natural resources (such as corn, tapioca), the net gain is leveled out at 0.
Perhaps one day in the future we will be able to develop a bacteria that eats plastics, such as we have done with nylon. A few horror novels and movies were written based on the ideas of a plastic-eating bacteria rampaging about a city.
Something recent that I want to bring up involving plastic bags is the plastic bag fee. Our new Mayor Ford is suggesting eliminating it. On one hand, this seems like a totally stupid idea and taking two steps back in our search of sustainability. On the other hand, the money was not going toward anything- the retailers keep it. In a perfect world, we would keep the plastic bag fee, but send the money to the city instead of the retailers, and use it right back for environmental purposes. Toronto consumers use around 55 million plastic bags a week- that would be add up to about 150 million dollars every year.

Green Roofs

Living roofs provide several things for a building. They collect rainwater, provide habitats for wild animals, help with insulation and give us oxygen. There are intensive and extensive roofs, intensive requiring more care and holding more vegetation, while extensive roofs support themselves. In Toronto, a by-law requires some developments to have a green roof. I think this idea is brilliant. It will help cut down on energy requirements, clean our air and make our city more beautiful. Potentially we could even grow foods on the tops of some buildings… I think a roof without solar panels or green roofs is a waste of valuable space, especially in a city so compact!
The only disadvantage to green roofs is the high initial cost- around 15-20 dollars per square foot. This is eventually returned through saving costs in energy.

Which would work best?

Out of these two ideas, I think the later is more likely to work best. Green roofs are something that can be created all over the world for benefit for all. On the other hand, biodegradable plastics are still not yet perfect and many still create a large amount of carbon waste and take hundreds of years to bio-degrade. There is a parable that says "when to you plant the seed to grow a tree?", the answer is "ten years ago". I think if more buildings had green roofs, we could save a lot of energy and create a beautiful city.

Does sustainability have a chance?

It's hard to be sustainable in a world that needs to keep moving forward, especially when everyone people has different interests (self interest, etc). I do not know if we could create a completely sustainable society. I think it is very unlikely. I do think that we could sacrifice some pleasures and work towards a more sustainable future.