Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dealing with Water Usage in Canada's Oilsands: "There is no system"

Hello everyone,

Hope everyone is enjoying their winter holidays. I wanted to post this recent article about the water system (or lack of a real one) used at the Oilsands in Alberta (essentially the Canadian Oilsands). As we know, water usage, conservation, and preservation is a very crucial issue not only to all the people living in Canada but all the people living around the world.

Please take a read at this news article by CBC, and form your own conclusions and opinions! If you stick around, I have a few words to say after the article.

Oilsands panel recommends critical fixes

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | 5:22 PM ET 

A high-level scientific panel has sharply criticized the water quality monitoring system in Alberta's oilsands, going so far as to say “there is no system.”
The Oilsands Advisory Panel, appointed by former federal environment minister Jim Prentice, made its findings public in Ottawa on Tuesday in a joint news conference with current Environment Minister John Baird, who promised to act on the panel’s recommendations. The panel’s chair, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, was critical of a piecemeal approach to water quality monitoring, saying the system is fragmented with no links between data on water quality — including ground water — and air quality.

She also said there is no reliable longitudinal data that would give a solid understanding of the environmental impact of the oilsands.

“There is no holistic and comprehensive system. There is no system,” said Dowdeswell, president of the Council of Canadian Academies and former executive director of the United Nations Environment Program.
“The panel was unanimous: Do we have a world class monitoring system in place? In short, no. However, we could have,” she said.

The panel underlined a critical need for a new governance structure including an inter-jurisdictional steering committee, an external scientific advisory committee and sufficient resources to follow through.
Dowdeswell did not cast blame. “It’s not that anybody has had any particular ill will,” she said. Rather, the present regime of water quality monitoring has just grown up as a very piecemeal system.

Response to criticism

She was one of six experts appointed to the panel in September and given a mandate by the federal government to review water data in the oilsands and make recommendations on the monitoring system.
The other panel members were Peter Dillon of Trent University, McGill University's Subhasis Ghoshal, Andrew Miall from the University of Toronto, Joseph Rasmussen of the University of Lethbridge and Queen's University's John Smol.

Prentice convened the panel in response to criticism about water monitoring in the Athabasca watershed in northern Alberta. In particular, a peer-reviewed study published by University of Alberta water scientist David Schindler found elevated levels of cadmium, mercury, lead and other toxic elements in the Athabasca River.

This contradicted provincial government and industry scientists who claimed the toxins were naturally occurring.

Despite previous federal claims that the oilsands are properly monitored, Baird said on Tuesday that his government accepts the panel’s findings and will act on them.
"For far too long, we have heard concerns about quality of water downstream from the oilsands," he said

'Ready to act'

"We've heard the panel loud and clear and are ready to act…. We accept this responsibility and will ensure our monitoring systems are properly and securely in place,” said Baird.

The minister said he has already directed senior officials to create a water quality monitoring plan in co-operation with the provincial government within 90 days. Once that is complete, he said the government will ask for scientific input to assess the plan, after which it will be implemented. He said monitoring data will be made public at no charge.

The government plans to use same process to examine air quality and biodiversity in the oilsands region, Baird said.

On Monday, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said his province is changing how it monitors water in the oilsands. He announced that a group of independent experts will gather in January and report to the province in June on how to best set up an environmental monitoring system.
He said the expert group will guide the province on how to implement recommendations from both the federal and provincial panels.

In September, Alberta announced its own panel of independent scientists to review the oilsands water quality monitoring system. It is due to finish its report in February.

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/politics/story/2010/12/21/oilsands-pollution-report.html


Regarding the oilsands, it is especially necessary for all measures in minimizing environmental disturbance to be taken. One probably cannot believe just how much water is used and used and used to process the oil. Now, because Canada currently is so reliant on the operation of the Oilsands, overseeing parties such as the government and the operating companies must be more than responsible for their day to day actions.  There is no hiding from that. Until the day when they are forced to ween off from using the Oilsands, responsibility for the entire environmental issue spectrum is number one.

In general, the Canadian government needs to be much more prudent and responsible with what they do for the environment. Right now, we are witnessing the Canadian federal government focusing almost solely on the economy. Undoubtedly, improving the economy should be a top priority, but if the government made the environment as much of a top priority as the economy in terms of rigourous planning and investment, we would probably have a healthier economy, too. It comes down to not only the direct connections between environment and economy, but the intricate and infinite relationships between humans and the environment - ecosystem health. If the health of an ecosystem is optimal,  it leads to a healthier community and stronger performing economy. I strongly believe that a healthy environment is a healthy community and healthy economy. Higher ups in the government just overlook this.

What can you do? It's hard to deal with some upper level issues like this one, but citizens in Canada and around the world can and must just continue to voice themselves to press their governments to demonstrate more environmental conscientiousness. Don't quit trying if you care.

We must be responsible with this:

To protect this.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saving the Chinook Salmon - A Story of Grassroots Action

Andrew at Hidden Valley Park
First of all, happy Thanksgiving!

I returned home for this weekend, and was absolutely in love with the pleasant autumn weather. So I thought, what better to do then spend some time enjoying the beauty of the Canadian outdoors? With one of my best friends, we decided to go to Hidden Valley Park in Burlington to observe the seasonal Chinook salmon that are currently running up the rivers and spawning.
Chinook Salmon
When we got to Hidden Valley Park, we ventured through some brush to get to a shallow, somewhat narrow stream. We were suddenly amazed to see at least a dozen large Chinook salmon attempting to swim further upstream!

Chinook salmon are an anadromous fish species, meaning live in the ocean mostly, and breed in fresh water. They are native to the Pacific Ocean, but some were planted in the Great Lakes in the 1970s to control the population of an invasive species known as the alewife.
The Alewife, an invasive species to the Great Lakes.
So, the Chinook salmon are currently passing through the rivers of Southern Ontario, upstream to larger, deeper, and safer spawning grounds. Their nests (called redds) are the place where females they lay hundreds of eggs that will be guarded by the female fish for several weeks before they die. At the same time, the males mate. 

Returning to what we saw during our outing, we soon wondered why the salmon hadn't moved upstream at all after several hours. Then, as we looked upstream, we noticed a very major problem that confronted the salmon, and that was the existence of a beaver's dam blocking the entire width of the upstream. With the dam there, the salmon could not go any further upstream. This troublesome situation prompted us to go and investigate the beaver's dam.

You may be wondering what we saw once we got there. Luckily, I brought my camera with me, so I actually ended up making a short documentary to capture the amazing action that we witnessed. Now you may be thinking, "it's just a beaver dam, how could there be any 'amazing action' "? I'm talking about watching people getting their hands dirty to make real grassroots action to solve a problem.

Please watch the short video below to find out what one man (and some very motivated youth) took upon themselves to save hundreds of future Chinook salmon, and in doing so, preserve, support, and respect one of millions of species of wildlife.

This is just one incredible example of the kinds of people that we have in our communities; people who take action and do good deeds when no one is necessarily looking. I hope that, by reading this story and watching the video, you have been inspired even a little bit more to become a person who takes the time to help the world become a little better - healthier, cleaner, safer, happier - through your own personal actions.

Keep striving,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Post-Arctic Expedition! The Photo Album!

The Arctic Expedition. 
It was a beautiful, life-changing, eye-opening, very real, and at times shocking experience. 
I learned a lot not only about the Arctic and its issues but about the human nature. Since returning back home, I've done a few presentations sharing my experiences and what I saw to friends other community people. Mind you, it's been surprisingly difficult getting used to urban life once again, 
as the contrasts are huge between the Arctic and back home. While I could describe this as a 
once-in-a-lifetime experience, I won't, because I do hope to return someday, 
hopefully soon, and with a renewed sense of purpose.

That was a little snippet of a journal entry about how I felt right after the expedition upon returning to the urban world.

Well, it's been quite a while since I last wrote a post, dating back to pre-Arctic expedition times. Well, I thought it is definitely worthwhile (and quite overdue) to share with you my Arctic expedition photos by now!

My original vision in sharing my experience on my blog was to post my authentic expedition log accompanied by these photos, but I have not gotten around to doing so as of yet.

Please still enjoy and appreciate these photos in the link below. But remember, photos only capture what is seen through the lens. It is difficult to really know what the Arctic is like, and what is happening there without actually planting your feet on that soft tundra moss, looking up with amazement at the dancing Northern Lights, smelling the pristine and wholesome air of the Arctic, tasting that Arctic char (an Inuit staple food), or...listening to the chorus of hundreds of walruses as they (roar?) !

I hope, however, to soon share with you what it is like to embrace the Arctic's spectacular elements with all five senses through my writing, documented videos, and more.   

Click here to see my Arctic Expedition Photo Album! 

In the (post) expedition spirit,

Monday, July 26, 2010

Andrew Wong embarks on Arctic Expedition 
with Students on Ice - August 2010
Today I would like to share with everyone that I have the very special privilege of joining Students on Ice as one of the participants of the Students on Ice 2010 Arctic Expedition!  This expedition, happening from August 4th - August 20th, 2010 involves a ship-based journey encompassing regions around Nunavik and the Eastern shores of Baffin Island. 

The team on the expedition includes 79 youth.  These 79 members include youth from every region in Canada, 25 aboriginals, and youth from around the world- China, Monaco, Norway, and the United States.  Also embarking on this expedition are 35 scientists, historians, artists, Inuit elders, explorers, authors, educators, leaders, innovators, and polar experts.  The year 2010 is a very important year.  We all join together in celebrating many important year-long events, including the: International Year of Youth, 2010 International year of Biodiversity, Year of the Inuit, and continuing on the legacies of the International Polar Year

During each and every moment of the expedition, I will open their eyes wide to deeply appreciate the stunning wildlife the Arctic region has to offer.  Wildlife certainly includes: whales, seals, walrus, seabirds, and of course, polar bears.  The expedition also involves meeting and spending time with local Inuit communities to learn and appreciate their culture and way of life.  Equally if not more valuable are the lessons to be learned: grasping the real effects that climate change on the Arctic ecosystems, connecting and integrating scientific knowledge with social implications, and participating in very real research relating to sciences such as glaciology and climatology.

**Throughout the expedition, from Day 1 to Day 17, I will be writing a daily journal entry** which is viewable here.  I encourage everyone to join in and read the sure-to-be exciting and unique adventures, lessons, and experiences that I encounter while on the Arctic Expedition.  Feel free to write a comment or ask questions;
I will try my best to respond to you! 

To learn more about the expedition team, itinerary, and educational program, please visit here: http://www.studentsonice.com/arctic2010/
To learn more about the innovative Students on Ice organization, visit here:  http://www.studentsonice.com/

In the expedition spirit,

Saturday, July 24, 2010

BP 'Spills Coffee'

By now, the world should be well aware of the destruction that has been going on in the Gulf of Mexico - that is, the extremely large crude oil spill caused by a broken British Petroleum (BP) oil well in the middle of the ocean.

Every day we keep on reading the news about the 'progress' BP is making to stem the leak. What progress? I put the word progress in quotations because there really hasn't been much progress. The truth is, it is very difficult to cleanse a GULF of water that has been choked with hundreds of millions of litres of oil. Undoubtedly, this event is a very serious issue and the future of oil drilling and oil exploration must be re-evaluated constantly. I shudder when I hear that oil exploration is happening in the Arctic.

As I said earlier, we keep reading the news about the oil spill. But information and opinion on this tragedy is not contained to only the news. It has leaked to many different media, from concerned citizens making their own youtube videos in offering their own solutions to stop the oil spill, to blogs and much more. I found a youtube video today that I would say is a very truthful representation - a comedic parody - of how British Petroleum and other parties have handled the situation thus far.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Canadian Federal Government ADMITS Greenhouse Gas Targets WEAKER than Predicted

There is something terribly wrong with that title.

More than one thing wrong.

I mean, how often does a government admit wrongdoing, and when you read that 'greenhouse gas targets are weaker than predicted', you know there is a problem.

In fact, the Canadian federal government today announced (through a posting on the Environment Canada website) that their climate change policies would be 10 times weaker in effect than what they had said only 1 year ago.

A news article in June 2nd's National Post stated, 'the government said its policies would reduce the growth in greenhouse gas emissions from Canada by about five megatonnes in 2010. The figure marks a substantial drop from an estimate made last June that federal policies would reduce the growth of emissions by 52 megatonnes for the year.'


It means that the Canadian government is remaining consistent in their absolute non-effort, their sit-back-and-watch-the-glaciers-melt approach towards establishing stronger environmental laws and policies. And they are certainly living up to their honour of being the planet Earth's Fossil of the Year.

As a young Canadian citizen, I feel utterly disgraced to have my country's leaders do just about nothing for the environment! With Canada's beautiful natural outdoors, wildlife, and resources, the Canadian people should ALWAYS feel privileged to live here. Canadians must do everything we can to be gentle on the Earth. Canadians must appreciate, enjoy, and protect our natural surroundings.

Stand up for what you believe in, Canadians, and citizens of the world! Stand up and do whatever you can think of to send the message through the thick skull of Mr. Government Of Canada. Think of some innovative action ideas or find existing campaigns that are bringing awareness and advocacy to environmental problems that relate to poor environmental governance. Look at the great world awareness and advocacy that the 350 campaign brought to the world, about the dangers of exceedingly high carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere.

You can begin your creative awareness and advocacy action by yourself, or with your friends. Just think, the 350 campaign must have started out with a small group of individuals who were inspired to do something about what they felt passionate for. You also have the same ability to create change, just as they did.

Start now.

(To read the entire National Post news article, click here.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day!

Today, is Earth Day. I am writing now as this inspirational day of appreciation for the environment comes to a close. Although April 22nd is coined as 'Earth Day', every day must truly be lived as an Earth Day. Every Day.

Watch this video made exclusively for Earth Day that is just awe-inspiring:

The video starts with a dark scene, of human hands desperately extending up in futile attempts of obtaining these wants. Manufactured wants. Think: what do we really want? What do we really need?

I want to write more, and I want to share so much more about this topic, but it will have to wait a few days. Several interesting posts are coming!

Monday, March 1, 2010

2010...International Year of Biodiversity! Plus: A Look into the depths of the Plastific Ocean

"You are an integral part of nature; your fate is tightly linked with biodiversity, the huge variety of other animals and plants, the places they live and their surrounding environments, all over the world.

You rely on this diversity of life to provide you with the food, fuel, medicine and other essentials you simply cannot live without. Yet this rich diversity is being lost at a greatly accelerated rate because of human activities. This impoverishes us all and weakens the ability of the living systems, on which we depend, to resist growing threats
such as climate change.

-from the International Year of Biodiversity website

2010 is synonymous with: the International Year of Biodiversity! But what is Biodiversity and why are we celebrating it this year?

Biodiversity is...

Everything in nature, all the different species of animals and plants living on this earth. Throughout the year, I will be promoting and celebrating biodiversity with you.

Why are celebrating it this year?

Why? Because there is no better time to bring awareness to this seemingly hidden but strangely obvious topic. Biodiversity, or the diversity of biology, is decreasing every minute, and every hour of every day. Did you know that ONE species goes EXTINCT every 10 MINUTES? After reading that last sentence, your lack of urgency and lack of empowerment probably kicked in. Do you realize that everything you do has an influence on the survival or extinction of all life in nature?

That plastic bottle cap that you properly recycled may have made it to the recycling station...or it may not have. It may have found its way out of the recycling bin and was washed into the sewage, where it then made its way to the nearby lake and out to sea. Who knows, a few years from now, that same plastic bottle cap may be one of billions of other plastic bottle caps floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, choking the aquatic environment out of a school of endangered fish species. If you want to prevent this from happening, just STOP USING PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES. Use a reusable aluminum/plastic canteen!

What I just described in the paragraph above is not some make-belief story. It happens every day. The Pacific Ocean really is becoming a Plastific Ocean (I just made that up), or better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Watch this amazing video about Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation who first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch an endless floating waste of plastic trash. In this video, he draws our attention to the growing problem of plastic debris in our world seas.

Enjoy the video, but keep in mind that we are all always interconnected by our actions. Interconnected with nature, and interconnected with each other.

Visit the website of the International Year of Biodiversity: http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Biomimicry, human innovations from Nature's R+D

My friend showed me an incredible TED presentation by Janine Benyus, who presented an amazing idea called biomimicry. Biomimicry is the act of looking to nature for solutions to our world's problems. This means observing how nature (insects, plants, animals) does things in daily life, and how they have successfully adapted to their environments to overcome problems. Janine Benyus tells us that nature has spent millions and millions of years in R+D (research and development), developing new behaviours, and physical traits in their quest for solutions to age-old problems that pose a threat to their survival. Benyus argues that the solutions nature's creatures have found can be applied by humans to solve similar problems that humans face and have not solved; problems such as pollution, energy conservation, production and efficiency.

I personally think this is idea is simply ingenious. There are countless applications of biomimicry, as long as we are able to locate solutions in nature that we can model. However, this question should be asked: is Biomimicry all about creating human innovation from unoriginal ideas? Absolutely.

This concept has been applied to many situations in the world already, as Benyus explains in the presentation. Humans should be so thankful of nature's doing. Nature has provided humans with an Earth to live on, resources to thrive on, and now solutions for problems that humans have caused themselves (pollution, efficiency issues). Here's a thought: maybe humans should repay nature for once. Act in the good interest of nature!

Watch Benyus' presentation below:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Outlook on the Upcoming Decade

Happy New Year everyone!

We have an entire decade in front of us, one where we can achieve a lot. After all, a decade is 10 years and in that time, progress can and will be made on all fronts, whether it be in the fast-paced technology innovation, strengthening the economy, improving all facets of life in developing countries such as world peace and poverty, the environment, and so many more. We have an entire decade to excel at what we do and make this world a better place for everyone.

Below, you will find an inspirational video telling us that after the flurry of environmental events that happened in 2009, it is not over yet. We must realize that. We are not done trying, and we must not stop just because it's a new decade and it may seem that there is so much more time to get things done.

I certainly hope that in 2019, the world will not be where it currently is or worse yet, moving backwards in terms of environmental sustainability practices. We are all very capable people and have the capacity to act as local and global citizens to make the world a better place.

Just a thought about world leaders. They sometimes need extreme, extreme motivation to act. I just really hope that their motivation to do environmental good does not come in the form of a natural disaster. Knock on wood (tree).

Enjoy the video, and keep in mind what you wish to accomplish this decade!