Dandelions: Aesthetic Crime or Unexplored Potential?


This week’s episode includes a story on dandelions from guest contributors Jacques Gartner and Brendan Wyant and an ecobabble on weeds from Chris Chang-Yen Phillips.

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What if we could make use of something that people typically try to throw away? That was one of the questions we wanted to explore when Jacques Gartner and Brendan Wyant began their project on dandelions. Dandelions are a contentious issue; the topic comes up every spring as the little yellow petals begin to appear. People often resort to spraying herbicides on them purely for aesthetic reasons. Locally the city of Edmonton has typically regarded the dandelion as a weed and has resorted to spraying herbicides to eliminate them. Recently however the city of Edmonton has cut down drastically on its spraying practices resulting in numerous complaints.

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Photo by Greg Hume

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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Maintaining the Biodiversity of 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.

Tackling Climate Change, Balancing Development

People's Climate March

Today we’re live at the People’s Climate March in Edmonton. Reflecting on the challenge of tackling climate change, we’ve selected some pieces dealing with sustainability and social justice. Learn about Ecuador’s constitutionally enshrined ‘rights of nature,’ hear from Julian Agyeman on just sustainability, and meet a teacher bringing permaculture into the classroom.

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Rain Gardens & the Peoples’ Social Forum

Kelly Pike

This week, completely unintentionally, we’re all in Ontario! We’ve got a story from Hamilton for anyone with a roof over their heads—did you know it might be making life harder for your local wetland? Rain gardens can help, and we’re going to find out how to make them. We’re also stopping in on the Peoples’ Social Forum in Ottawa, where thousands of community activists and organizations are cooking up a social change soup. We’ll find out how they intend to work together to build Canada’s future.

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Changing the Conversation

A snaking river winds its way through a wide mountain valley

The Wind River is one of six navigable rivers that make up the vast waterway system of the Peel River Watershed.

This week, don’t fear the tears. Terra Informa takes a hard look at a threatening future and has to ask the question, what are we thinking? We’ll get an analysis of the troubled plans for a parcel of Canada’s North that stretches far beyond the horizon. And a person who spends all their time thinking about the far future tries to get the rest of us to look beyond the next quarter. We’re examining the at times ineffective processes that we have in place to protect the land and plan for the future.

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Nature on the Brink

Courtesy: Courtney Johnson

Courtesy: Courtney Johnson

On Terra Informa this week,we look at stories of nature on the edge. From the Yasuni ITT in Ecuador and the failing fight to keep it protected from developers, to two stories from our archives. One on the Banff Spring Snail; an endangered species, and the other on the idea of ‘just sustainability’ and how a necessary shift in our perspective on what it means to be sustainable may include a cultural shift.

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Ecuador Abandons Unique Amazonian Nature Reserve

Take an area about one fifth of the size of Banff National Park, or around one eighth the size of the city of Edmonton. That’s roughly 120 thousand hectares and that is the size of Yasuni ITT (Ishipingo-Tambococha-Tiputini)  in Ecuador. What makes Yasuni ITT special, however, is that the area contains more reptiles than the entire continent of Europe, as many birds and mammals as the entire country of Canada, and in one hectare, there are more tree species than Canada and the US have combined.

Yasuni ITT was meant to preserve the country’s biodiversity and make a stand against global climate change. But, less than a month ago, the Ecuadorian government announced they were pulling the plug on the initiative, and allowing oil exploration to go forward in the area. Terra Informa’s Nicole Wiart talks to a Professor of Ecology and an Ecuadorian exchange student to get a better idea of what this announcement means for Ecuador.

More on this story: Amazonwatch, The Ecologist, Ecuadorian Government’s Yasuni ITT website

Girl Gone Wild: Banff Springs Snail

From the time we’re little, most of us are told to be proud of what makes us unique – what sets us apart. But what if the thing that made you different was also the thing that made you vulnerable? On this week’s edition of Girl Gone Wild, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips brings us the story of the endangered Banff Springs Snail from wildlife documentary filmmaker Jamie Pratt.

More on this story: Parks Canada, CBC Calgary, Girl Gone Wild documentaries

Just Sustainability

Julian Agyeman is chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University in Boston-Medford, Massachusetts. His research focuses on the intersections between social justice and sustainability, an idea which he terms just sustainability. He describes just sustainability as “the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems”. Kathryn Lennon spoke with him about the need for the sustainability movement to broaden its work beyond ecological and conservation issues, to include issues of inequality and social justice.

More on this story: Julian’s Blog 

What’s Happening

Youth Summit for Biodiversity and Green Solutions

From September 20th to the 22nd, youth in Orillia Ontario are invited to take in the Youth Summit for Biodiversity and Green Solutions. It’s the 4th annual event of it’s kind, brining together young leaders from across the province of Ontario to partake in activities and workshops, everything from bird watching, to learning about First Nation traditional medicine. Its for people in grades 9 to 12, so if you, or someone you know might be interested in building your leadership skills and learning more about conservation, don’t miss it.

Public Lecture on Oil, Gas, Fracking and the Yukon!

In Whitehorse, Yukon on September 17th, be sure to head to Beringia Centre for a public lecture on how the proposed oil and gas and fracking industries might affect people in the Yukon. Journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk is leading the event, and is also hosting a workshop during the day on understanding the oil and gas industry. It’s 5 bucks at the door, everyone’s welcome!

What is the universe made of? The case of dark matter and dark energy.

Have you ever wondered what the universe was made of? Well, at the University of Alberta on September 18th at 7 p.m. You’re invited to attend a public lecture about dark matter and dark energy. It’s a free event, but to reserve tickets, head to

The 13th Annual Gorge Waterway Cleanup

Grab your boots and gloves and join in on the 13th annual Gorge Waterway Cleanup in Victoria on September 21st. Every year the community gets together to make a difference in the local environment and protect Canada’s shoreline. It begins at 10 a.m. and ends at noon.

Great Bear, Green Screen, and Great Lakes

This week, we talk about two “great” things in the Canadian ecosystem, the Great Lakes and the Great Bear.
And, we have the inside look at a documentary called The Carbon Rush, that tries to connect viewers emotionally with the impact of carbon credit programs in the global south.

Great Bear, Green Screen, and Great Lakes

The Spirit Bear has become symbolic of the Great Bear Reserve of Northern BC. Photo Credit: Valard LP

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Canadians for the Great Bear 

The use of charismatic megafauna is an important tactic used to raise attention to important issues. The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline threatens many species in the Northern Western BC area, but the WWF had seemed to choose the Great Bear as an ambassador to the ecosystem they are trying to protect. Kyle Muzyka talks with the WWF vice president of conservation and pacific, Darcy Dobell, about the use of the Great Bear as an ambassador, and how the pipeline is merely an obstacle in the scheme of things.

More information on Canadians for the Great Bear:

Green Screen: The Carbon Rush

Next up, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips brings us a Green Screen review of The Carbon Rush. It’s a documentary that tries to do something brave – making viewers connect emotionally with the hidden underbelly of carbon markets. But does it live up to its own hype?

More information:

State of the Great Lakes

The Canadian and US governments recently renewed their commitments to cleaning up Canada’s fresh water bodies by amending the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This new plan expands the scope of concern to include issues like impact of climate change, and the protection of lake species and habitats. To get a better sense of the problems currently facing the Great Lakes, we contacted Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a charity that’s working to help make the lakes safer, cleaner, and healthier for the public. Last fall, Hamdi Issawi spoke to Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s Vice President, Krystyn Tully, on the state of the Great Lakes.

More information:

Net Zero Homes and Tsunami Debris Tells a Story

This week on Terra Informa,  we’ll be diving into our archives to revisit the Tsunami Debris project, wherein the debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami that is discovered along B.C.’s shores is collected and displayed to remember. We’ll also take a look at a net zero home in Edmonton, Alberta. Shafraaz Kaba and Matt McCombe talk about their experiences building high efficiency homes and what they learned along the way.

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Tsunami warning sign in B.C. Coast along which debris from the Japanese tsunami has been washing up (credit Jen_Cruthers)

Tsunami warning sign in B.C. Coast along which debris from the Japanese tsunami has been washing up (credit Jen_Cruthers)

Net Zero Homes
When it comes to high efficiency, net zero is the holy grail. That’s when you construct a building that’s so efficient it requires only minimal amounts of heat and electricity, and then you supply that power by adding some form of green energy generation to the structure — solar panels, wind turbines, or geothermal heating. On a day to day basis it may draw some power from the grid, or feed some back in, but over the course of a year things average out and it doesn’t consume any energy at all. The initial investiment can be a bit pricy, but the idea is that over the lifetime of the building it really pays off. Shafraaz Kaba and Matt McCombe are huge proponents of energy efficient buildings. Shafraaz is an architect and Matt is a builder, and they both practice what they preach in their own homes. Terra Informa spoke to them about what it’s like to live in a high efficiency home, and what a person needs to know if they want to make the switch.

More on this story: Shafraaz’s Blog: Chasing Net ZeroShafraaz on The Nature of Things with David SuzukiSolar Energy Society of AlbertaCanadian Net Zero ResourcesCMHC EQuilibrium Program

Tsunami Debris Tells a Story
When the 2011 tsunami struck the coast of Japan, many people lost their homes, their belongings, and their lives. Some of those objects, though, are beginning to surface an ocean away. Debris from the tsunami is showing up on North American beaches from Haida Gwaii to Oregon. Victoria’s Maritime Museum of British Columbia has stared a website to let users post photographs of the debris. Terra Informa’s Chris Chang-Yen Phillips spoke to the project’s coordinator, Linda Funk.

Read more: Maritime Museum of BC Tsunami Debris Facebook pageNew app called Coastbuster that lets you take upload pictures of any debris you find right from your smartphone.

Ecobabble: What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is a term we hear a lot, but there’s more to it than simply the number of species in a particular area. Rebecca Rooney defines the term for us in this week’s ecobabble.

What’s Happening
Winterfest in St.Catherine
St. Catherine, Ontario is having their annual Winterfest in historic downtown St. Catherine on Friday January 25. Come out and enjoy the wintertime with local wines, food, and entertainment from 5-9pm; admission is free!
St. Catherine Winter Calendar

Dolls of the Canadian Arctic
The Royal Alberta museum in Edmonton, Alberta is currently presenting the exhibit: Inuujaq (In-oo-jak): Dolls of the Canadian arctic. This display showcases colorful and traditional doll making in the land of snow and ice. Made with great care and an eye for authentic detail, these dolls embody cherished cultural values of the Inuit communities. The exhibit is currently taking place and goes until April 28 of 2013.
RAM events calendar

Conversation Cafe on Kootenay Lake
EcoSociety is hosting a conversation cafe in Kaslo, British Columbia, on February 7th. The cafe will be hosting a panel to discuss the region’s most iconic resource, the Kootenay Lake. They’ll be discussing questions such as “how can individuals contribute to protecting Kootenay Lake’s resources?” EcoSociety staff will provide short introductions and conduct brief interviews with each of the guests. Most of the evening will be spent in community conversation about the needs and opportunities for Kootenay Lake.
The event will take place at the Bluebelle Bistro at 347 Front Street, Kaslo B.C.
Contact David Reid for more information.

Concerence on Environmental, Energy and Resources Law Field
The 2013 Annual National Environmental, Energy and Resources Law summit is taking place in Yellowknife on June 20 and 21 of this year.
The summit is designed to provide law practitioners of all stripes an update on the most pressing issues in the environmental, energy and resources law field. More and more, lawyers are advising clients and appearing before courts and tribunals on matters such as the environmental assessment of mining projects, the development of renewable energy generation projects, and the intersecting Aboriginal consultation process and accommodation issues. Substantive topics will address off-shore resource development, natural gas extraction, environmental assessment issues, renewable energy, streamlining regulatory processes, sustainable development, and corporate social responsibility.
You can find more information on the Canadian Bar Association Website

Updrafts and Uprisings

Updrafts and Uprisings

Northern Saw-Whet Owl photographed by Rick Leche

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Girl Gone Wild: Owls

This week, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips is up in a tree with Jamie Pratt, creator of the Girl Gone Wild documentary series. They’re investigating – hoo else? — Alberta’s owl species. Listen in to hear owl calls, the dark symbolism of putting an owl on your barn door, and the shocking truth about Harry Potter’s pet owl Hedwig.

More Info:

Idle No More

From round-dance flash mobs in front of the Prime Minister House, and West Edmonton Mall, road blockades, and rallies across the country, Idle No More has been called a movement, an awakening…..
It has been called the largest, most unified, and potentially most transformative Indigenous movement at least since the Oka resistance in 1990.

Terra Informa’s Chris Chang-Yen Phillips and Kathryn Lennon bring us some interviews from Idle No More in Edmonton, on December 21st, 2012.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Whether you live in the heart of the city, out in the country, or on the Arctic coast, birds bring a little sunshine into the winter months. Every February, bird watchers team up for one of North America’s largest bird counts, but this isn’t an event that’s limited to professionals. From seasoned experts to novices, Canadians are breaking out the binoculars to help scientists better understand where birds are found and how their distributions change with time. Dick Cannings is one of the organizers of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Back in February, Steve Andersen called Dick to ask him how it works.

The Slow Death of Lake Urmia

Today Terra Informa leaves the comfort of home for a look at some environmental issues from overseas. We begin by talking to members of the Azerbaijani community about the decline of Lake Urmia in Iran. The lake is home to more than 200 species of birds, and of critical importance to local people, but its water is quickly retreating. And if it disappears, the worst is yet to come. We talk to organizations that are working to save the lake about what’s happening, and what can be done to reverse the trend. In the second half of the show, we take a trip to the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania where we talk to an American researcher who is studying the region’s bats. She tells us about the area’s incredible biodiversity and the role of bats in the ecosystem. And as always, we start things off with a run down of the week’s environmental news headlines.

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Salt crystals growing on the shore of Lake Urmia in Iran. Photo by Ehsan Mahdiyan.

Iran’s Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia is one of the largest salt lakes in the world. Located in Iran, between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, it is a breeding ground for flamingos and one of the largest habitats of a salt-water shrimp. Lake Urmia is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It plays a crucial role in the economic, ecological and social health of the region. Currently, the lake is in danger of drying up. More than just an environmental problem, the deterioration of the lake could impact the 13 million inhabitants of the region. Terra Informa correspondent Kathryn Lennon talks to some members of Azerbaijanji communities in Edmonton and Vancouver to hear their concerns.

More on this story: Campaign to Save Lake Urmia, Lake Urmia appeal by the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)

The Biodiversity of Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains
Some of the most biodiverse places on the planet are the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. To get a sense of the value of these forests, Terra Informa made a visit to Tanzania, in East Africa. Here we found one scientist who spends her time studying the inner workings of the jungle. Carrie Seltzer is a PhD student from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Our correspondent followed Carrie on a night walk into the forest in search of bats and some wisdom on biodiversity. David Kaczan filed this report from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

News Headlines
On the west coast, public consultations on the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline have begun. In Kitimat, locals voiced strong opposition to the project. At the same time, the federal government was being accused of trying to push through approval of the project. The day before hearings began, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver wrote in an open letter that, environmental and other radical groups “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Both he and Prime Minister Harper raised concerns that foreign groups were funding opposition to the project.

More on this story: CBC News (1), CBC News (2), CTV News, Globe and Mail

On Saturday, over 100 people gathered in Halifax to protest against hydraulic fracking. The rally was part of a provincial day of action against the controversial oil and gas extraction technique. Speakers from Occupy Nova Scotia and a wide range of environmental groups were on hand, calling for tougher regulations on the petroleum industry. Some 250 km to the east, another group of people gathered at the Canso Causeway which links Cape Breton to the mainland. They were voicing their opposition to exploratory drilling that has been approved for Lake Ainslie. They worry that while fracking has not yet been authorized for the lake, it may only be a matter of time.

More on this story: Halifax Media Co-op, Chronicle Herald, Cape Breton Post, CBC News

A team of Canadian scientists say they’ve discovered the reason for sharp declines in two species of boreal ducks. Over the past 30 years, populations of scaups have dropped by 40% and scoters have fallen by 60%. The scientists found that global warming has resulted in spring arriving in the boreal forest 11 days earlier than it did in the 1970s. The ducks time their migrations precisely so that they reach their summer habitat as insects are emerging, but now they’re arriving too late. The loss of food means that the ducks are producing fewer young. Not all ducks are affected though. Some species, like the mallard, are able to adapt the timing of their migrations to the changing climate.

More on this story: CBC News, Scientific article in Global Change Biology,