What Graphs Cannot Tell


This week, we’re using art to build relationships with nature. Becca Lawton is a natural scientist and river guide who also writes creatively. Stefan Thompson has made the jump toward environmentally conscious art.

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What Graphs Cannot Tell

Many scientists are uncomfortable speaking about what their work means without sticking to the bounds of their data. But Rebecca Lawton is both a natural scientist and a creative writer. Chris Chang-Yen Phillips spoke to her in Edmonton, where she served as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Humanities, Social Sciences, and Fine Arts at the University of Alberta.

Eyeopener: “Back to Normal”

From time to time we bring you Eye-Openers, moments when people share a big realisation they’ve had. Today, we’ll bring you a moment with Eric, an engineer in Edmonton. He’s been reflecting on the recent downturn in the price of oil—and how it’s changing—or not changing—his industry.

Stefan Thompson

When you become too familiar with the old, creating something new can be challenging. You have to grapple with the unknown. Change is hard! Canadian artist Stefan Thompson was able to shift his focus towards environmental consciousness, with great results. Stefan works in several mediums, and is starting to explore natural sculpture. Terra Informer Yvette Thompson spoke with Stefan about his art, his inspiration, and what he believes we can learn from his eco experiment.

What’s Happening

The Sierra Club BC is meeting on Wednesday, February 25th at 5pm, at the Heartwood Community Cafe in Vancouver. They are a non-profit environmental organization that works to protect BC’s wilderness and ecosystems. Come out to find out what they’re up to these days, and how you can get involved.

The Living Centre is putting on a weekend course in London, Ontario, on February 28 and March 1. Permaculture is an ecological approach to design that can be applied to creating resilient, stable, and productive communities. The workshop has a mix of theory and hands on exercises. The focuse will be on the creation of a forest garden.

The Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative Bee-Day is on Saturday, February 28th! Come out to the annual daylong workshop to learn about urban beekeeping. They’ll cover topics like equipment, bee friendly gardens, wild bee conservation, and hive management. This is a ticketed event, and your registration includes breakfast and lunch. Don’t miss out on your chance to be a Queen B.

Kite Mapping & Winter Cycling

Woman holds up a camera by strings, like a puppet.

Timo Perälä of the Winter Cycling Federation convinces us that riding your two wheeler when it’s 40 below isn’t so hardcore after all. Then, Ann Chen from Public Lab takes a group of map enthusiasts into the cold to make homebrew aerial maps.

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We Can Be Winter Cyclers

The president of the Winter Cycling Federation, Timo Perälä, was recently in Edmonton for the Winter Cities Shakeup. He’s from Oulu, Finland and winter cycling is just a fact of life there, part of people’s daily routines. Timo thinks that if we stop labelling winter cycling as a niche culture here in North America, more people will get into it. He spoke to Carson Fong and Trevor Chow-Fraser.

DIY Google Maps Could Save Habitats

Ann Chen is a visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of Alberta and a member of Public Lab. They’re a group that’s making it super easy for anyone to produce high resolution, satellite style maps. Trevor Chow-Fraser met up with Ann Chen and one of her workshops. With point-n-shoot cameras, duct-tape, pop bottles and a kite, she soon had the group shooting maps out of a cold winter sky. Better yet, she explained how those maps can be used to protect fragile environments and hold polluters to account.

If you want to learn how to make your own aerial mapping tools, Ann Chen might be traveling through your town soon. From February 14 to March 7, she is travelling up BC’s inside passage, making stops in Bella Bella and Bella Coola. Then, from March through early May, she will be in Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Hartley Bay and Haida Gwaii.

Follow Ann Chen at pipelinemapping.tumblr.com.

We’re Bringing Sexy Back


We’re celebrating Valentine’s Day the only way we know how. We dive into the worlds of environmental activism, conservation and sustainable food, finding love and lust behind the headlines. It’s the return of The Sexy Show.

We find out if sex sells when the product is animal rights. We sample that classic love-drug known as chocolate. And we uncover the terrible cost of certain rumored aphrodisiacs, and the passionate conservationists trying to undo the damage.

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The Naked Tooth

From clothes to cars and booze to shoes, sex in advertising is so widespread that you can hardly swing a neutered cat without hitting a half-naked model trying to sell you something. The whole notion that “sex sells” has become an axiom in modern marketing, so much so that it seems like the only “madmen” out there are the ones deliberately avoiding it. But can sex effectively sell something like moral concern? Hamdi gets to the bottom of it by speaking with psychology researcher Dr. Renata Bongiorno from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia and PETA Campaign Specialist Ashley Byrne in New York City.

Links:  When Sex Doesn’t Sell: Using Sexualized Images of Women Reduces Support for Ethical Campaigns from PLOS ONE, Why’s PETA’s shock tactics barely make an impact from Brisbane Times, and Does Sex Always Sell? from the University of Queensland.

The Quintessential, Edible Token of My Love

What food, more than any other, reeks of sensuality, indulgence, and pleasure? Why, that devilish desert known as chocolat, of course. As a nod to this week’s sexy theme, Danielle and Yvette ask the question: What’s the most famous aphrodisiac of all? They also explore why every supermarket and drugstore goes overboard with the red, pink, and gold boxes wrapped in cellophane that market love in each edible morsel. Danielle sat down with Jacqueline Jacek of Jacek Chocolate Couture from Sherwood Park, Alberta to find out more.

Aphrodite, Take back Your Aphrodisiacs

Feeling horny? Chocolate ain’t doing the trick in seducing your sweetie? Try some alternative aphrodisiacs! Actually, don’t, because they may come from a certain endangered horned-mammal. Fortunately, the world contains rhino-lovers who devote their time to saving them. Trevor spoke with Toronto-based rhino-lover Greg Gubitz of Canada’s Big Life Foundation, as well as UBC’s Rene Beyers, to find out what they’re doing to save these lovely horny creatures.

Links: “Big Life Foundation’s Rhino Project,  “2013 worst year for rhinos” from BBC

Edward Burtynsky & Powered Plants


We ask when you should let environmental issues speak for themselves, find out your thoughts on the unusually warm winter, and Science Faction tells us how nanotechnology is turning plants into self-powered machines of the future.

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Unusually Warm Winter

January 2015 was surprisingly balmy all over Alberta. While New York City and the East Coast of Canada were buried under with snow, many Edmontonians were frolicking outdoors. Corinna Demas hit the streets to ask people how they were enjoying the warm weather—and didn’t it make them feel a little bit worried?

Burtynsky’s Photos Speak For Themselves

Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has photographed extreme landscapes made by humans: abandoned marble quarries, mountains of e-waste, never-ending freeways. Rather than putting any judgement on the people who created those landscapes, he tends to let his photographs speak for themselves.

Terra Informa’s Trevor Chow-Fraser works at the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability and helped bring Edward Burtynsky to Edmonton for International Week in January 2014. That’s how Chris Chang-Yen Phillips got a chance to speak to the photographer about his approach.

Science Faction: Powered Plants

This episode of Science Faction brings us to the chemical engineering laboratory of Dr. Michael Strano of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where a group of scientists has developed a way to integrate microscopic technology into the leaves of plants, transforming them into the self-powered machines of the future.

If you enjoyed this episode of Science Faction, be sure to listen to their first story on fire ants.

Keeping Oil Underground + Inside Animal Minds


This week, we speak to a cognitive psychologist and crawl into the minds of animals—specifically, the minds of our cats. But first, we discuss how tricky it will be to avoid climate change by keeping the world’s oil in the ground.

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Keeping Canada’s oil in the ground

On January 8, the top scientific journal Nature published a letter that outlined the amount of fossil fuels the world needs to leave in the ground to limit global warming. Titled “The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius”, it was written by Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins. The article drew a lot of mainstream attention, particularly here in Canada, due to the claim that 85% of Canadian bitumen reserves are unburnable. The Enbridge Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Alberta, Andrew Leach, is a contributor to Maclean’s magazine and wrote a response to the article. Andrew Leach spoke to Carson Fong about the issue.

Cats on cats

After speaking with cognitive psychologist Robert Cook about animal minds, Trevor Chow-Fraser asked a few of his friends to talk about their cats. And while they’re sometimes loving and hilarious — other times, they just don’t make any sense at all! Here’s his story about crawling inside the minds of our alien companions, including contributions from Robert Cook, professor of psychology at Tufts University, and the University of Alberta’s Hannah McGregor and Clare Mulcahy.

Saving native plants, Alberta geothermal, regenerative buildings

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 7.53.24 PM

When it comes to tackling climate change, some focus on mitigation and others on adaptation. This week, we learn about promising technologies for energy, architecture and urban planning that could help stop the climate crisis in its tracks. But first, one for the skeptics: we’ll meet someone going all out to help rare plants survive the coming, planetary heat wave.

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Jennine Pederson is saving Alberta’s plants

D: We all know that even now species are going extinct at an alarming rate. Tasmia Nishat met with Jennine Pederson, a Master’s student in Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, to talk about her research on preventing the loss of biodiversity. Jennine studies rare plants, and looks at how we can save them from the most devastating effects of climate change.

Geothermal Energy in Alberta

Last fall, Trevor Chow-Fraser spoke with Alison Thompson, director of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association. Part of that conversation (which we’ve held back until now) touched on a surprising fact about Alberta: it turns out the province best known for oil and gas has significant geothermal potential. Learn about Alberta’s alternative energy future with Trevor, Alison and policy advisor Justin Crewson.

Regenerative Buildings

We’ve all heard of net-zero buildings—structures designed so they give back to the grid as much electricity as they take. But what if a building could actually regenerate its habitat? What if it could send electricity back to the grid, recharge the aquifer below it, and more?

Back in 2012, we first heard about the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability—or CIRS—at the University of British Columbia. Chris Chang-Yen Phillips spoke with one of the CIRS’ architects to learn how this incredible building was giving back to the environment. Since then, the CIRS has been certified LEED Platinum, making it one of the greenest buildings in Canada.

In this story, learn all about CIRS from architect Martin Nielsen, principal at Perkins + Will Canada.

Bugs Can Show Us a Thing or Two

White-lined sphinx moth from Wikimedia Commons

This week, we’re taking cues from creepy crawlies—for solving crime, and for innovative new technologies. And we’re beginning a new partnership with the show Science Faction. Today, they’ll divulge the fascinating secrets of fire ants.

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Piecing Together a Murder using Bugs

Piecing together a crime can be a messy business. Police can run up against unreliable witnesses, or destroyed evidence. But what if the animals around a body could tell you a story about what happened? Chris Chang-Yen Phillips has this story from forensic entomologist and Simon Fraser University professor Gail Anderson in Vancouver.

Science Faction: The Physics of Fire Ants

This week because, we’re starting our inaugural partnership with the show Science Faction. They’re committed to telling unbelievable science stories, with none of the jargon. Once a month you’ll get a tagged-team show, and this month, we hear about one of the most fascinating family of insects out there: the ant. Specifically, the fire ant. What you’ll find out will surprise you.

Science Faction starts at the 14 minute mark.

What’s Happening

BioBlitz with Wildlife Society and Beaver Hills Initiative – January 18th

On Sunday, January 18th, from 1 – 4 PM, at the Strathcona Wildlife Center, the Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society & Beaver Hills Initiative will be hosting a fun-filled BioBlitz . Activities include: meeting a live owl and some cold-blooded friends; a short talk on how biologists count moose from above, find clues from scat, and learning about the fascinating world of beavers; heading out on the trail with a professional biologist to learn more about the study of wildlife through tracks, signs and sounds; short demonstrations on using wildlife cameras, radio telemetry and the art of tracking, and a scavenger hunt. At the end there’ll be a hot drinks and campfire snacks. You can walk, ski or snowshoe (equipment rentals available) – fun for the whole family!

Edmonton WaterCity 2040 – January 19th

On Monday, January 19, the Edmonton Transformative Leaders of the Future Team are putting on their first in a series of events that examine future scenarios for the City of Edmonton. The event will explore Edmonton WaterCity 2040, a scenario planning initiative that maps out a sustainable water strategy for the next twenty five years. Attend the event to learn about how the initiative applies innovative thinking and design strategies to create a water system that is resilient, responsible, and responsive. You don’t need to be a water expert to attend! The event starts at 6PM and takes place at the University of Alberta.

Sustainable Building Advisor Program – January 16 to May 2

The Sustainable Building Advisor (SBA) Program is a comprehensive certification program that trains you in practical, forward-thinking ways to design, construct and manage buildings that are resource efficient, environmentally responsible, cost effective, and healthy for all occupants. The SBA Program is applicable to new construction and existing buildings, in both the commercial and residential sectors.

The program is delivered in the form of interactive lectures taught by subject experts, with hands-on exercises and field trips to exemplary projects. The course culminates with a final presentation based on team projects and an exam that earns you the designation Certified Sustainable Building Advisor, (CSBA). The early bird deadline is November 14, 2014.The program is being provided through the Canada Green Building Council.

Your Fracking Answers + Warning: May Contain Climate Change

Industrial well and buildings on the horizon of a green field. How do you deal with issues that seem too big to handle? Well, first, you learn about what the issue entails, and then take some action. Here at Terra Informa we bring you the nitty-gritty of what fracking actually is, what’s up with Alberta’s deregulated electricity market, and a smart answer to the behemoth of the problem that is climate change.

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What The Frack Do We Know?

For some it’s the dirty energy with the dirty-sounding name. For others, it’s a revolutionary new way to provide clean energy. We’re talking about fracking. You probably feel you belong in one camp or the other—but have you thought about why? How well do you really know the actual risks and benefits of fracking? Trevor Chow-Fraser and Danielle Dolgoy realized they didn’t even know exactly what fracking is. So they researched and talked with experts who do. This story brings together the expertise of Dr. Avner Vengosh, Dr. Daniel Alessi, C. Alexia Lane and Dr. Rick Chalaturynyk. All together, we answer three big questions that we found you had about fracking. +Bonus! Extended cut with expert policy recommendations starting around the 15 minute mark.