Head’s Blog: Montreal Smog & COP 23

chimney-1705977_1280Returning to Montreal by car recently from a weekend out of town, I was disappointed to hear that our city was cloaked in an official smog warning. Many of us may be inclined to associate smog with summer heat and visible thick, orange haze. However, Montreal actually experiences more smog alerts during late fall and winter than we do during the summer. This is because of a combination of heavy cold air and light winds that trap pollution close to the ground.

The City of Montreal posts a daily Air Quality Index or AQI. It specifically measures levels of carbon and sulphur dioxide, ozone and fine particulate in the air. In recent years, air quality in Montreal has actually improved significantly, especially compared to emissions levels in the mid-1990’s. The two most recent factors leading to improvements occurred in 2014: the closure of a large oil refinery in the east end of Montreal and the shutdown of several coal-powered plants in Ontario and the US Midwest. Experts estimate that air quality in Ontario and the US states that border Canada are actually responsible for 60% of the pollutants in our air. So we should care about policies and practices outside of Quebec.

Currently, the biggest contributor to smog in Montreal is wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. I was surprised to learn that they represent approximately 40% of the problem when compared to vehicles, which represent just over 20% of local emissions. To address this, new laws have been passed and traditional fireplaces need to be registered and upgraded by October 1, 2018, with most people moving to units that cleanly burn propane or natural gas.

So, how about the international scene and global warming? The 2015 UN Climate Conference “COP21” received a lot of attention a couple of years ago with the signing of the Paris Accord. It was deemed a significant international achievement because of its objective to significantly reduce emissions globally. The USA, with its massive economy, signed that accord. Yet, the Trump administration supports the coal industry and does not acknowledge global warming as a real threat. Consequently, it has declared it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which has alarmed many.

On the positive front, over the past several years the world has actually diminished CO2 emissions levels that contribute to global warming. But 2017 has been a year where it appears that that trend has stalled and the world has actually slightly increased emissions.

The culprit has largely been China. It is a signatory of the Paris Agreement and is also the world’s leader in the development of renewable technologies. However, a drought there last summer diminished levels of rivers and the capacity of renewable hydro facilities to produce enough clean power to satisfy demand. So, the country was forced to turn to coal to meet power needs. India is another large country that has managed to limit the growth of emissions. Yet, forecasters wonder if that can be maintained long-term, given the growing middle class and greater demand for electricity. Given some unforeseen circumstances that have contributed to higher emissions in 2017, will this be a blip or a long-term trend? Nobody is certain about this.

Last week, environment ministers from around the world wrapped up another major UN Environment meeting in Bonn, Germany called COP23, which ended on a positive note. Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, explained that she is part of an alliance of nations determined to completely eliminate coal-powered electricity. Canada has set the year 2030 as the year we aim to achieve this, and we hope to bring several other countries on board.

Eliminating coal-powered electricity will partly be possible due to innovation and falling costs of renewable power. Also, despite US President Trump’s support of coal and denial of climate change science, a lot of important players in the US are actually openly stepping up to combat the President’s position. Mayors of many major cities, state governors and a host of businesses are committed to reducing emissions and the impact of climate change, regardless of what the federal government does.

So, we should all pay attention to the news on climate change. Read about COP23 — there are significant developments afoot with many people and nations striving to find ways to improve the situation. Let’s remember, it’s our collective future we’re talking about here; avoidance and inaction will not solve the problem. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Precious Water

faucet-2895592_1280In October, I had the privilege of being one of over a thousand student and adult delegates at the Round Square International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

A significant take-away from that experience relates to H2O or water, something that we have in abundance here in Canada, but an important resource that we all largely take for granted.

This is not the case in Southern Africa. Any visitor to Cape Town is immediately made aware that there is a water crisis that has affected the region because of a severe drought for the past five years. This is a place where baths are no longer permitted (plugs have been removed from all tubs in hotels) and showers are now limited to a maximum of 2 minutes.

The city of Cape Town is taking many steps to manage the crisis, yet officials are not certain that they will work. It has adopted a scenario called the new normal”, declaring the city a permanent drought region and mandating that every citizen change his/her relationship with water by simply consuming less. It has also unveiled a new Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan in an attempt to avert an even more severe scenario in the future.

As it stands, Cape Town currently only has about 25% of the water that the city requires, and significant changes and reduction levels are being imposed on individuals, families, and institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals.

The city currently uses 618 million litres of water per day, and unless consumption is soon reduced to no more than 500 million litres/day, then the city’s water source could run dry before the end of March, only four months from now.

The municipality is limiting water consumption to 350 litres/day per household in certain cases and strict enforcement measures are being introduced, including fines and other consequences. One option being considered is extreme water pressure reduction across the whole city and to start rationing water with localized temporary shutdowns across different sectors of the city. More recycling of “grey water” will also be mandated. If the city slips into the “disaster stage” or “extreme disaster” stage, the city tap system would be turned off and people will only receive limited amounts of water at designated collection points, primarily for drinking.

Exposure to all of this made me reflect on our relationship to water here in Montreal. As Canadians, we have plenty of this increasingly precious resource. Yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be preserving it more. Unfortunately, on a global scale, we are actually water gluttons. On average each Quebecer consumes about 400 litres of water per day. We are the second largest consumers of water per person in the world, and we consume twice as much as the average European. So, perhaps we should start a new relationship with water ourselves.

On our west coast, the city of Vancouver decided to focus on reducing water consumption over a decade ago and has experienced success (reduction of 20+%). Yet, it is Australia that leads the world in conservation practices. These examples reinforce that we can do better here.

This week, I asked all of our high school students to show greater affinity with Round Square schools in South Africa by trying a week of 2-minute showers. I hope this first step goes well and will lead to further conservation initiatives. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Rowing on the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia

Yarra RiverAfter school on October 26, I was really nervous because I was about to go rowing. The team needed a cox (the person who steers the boat, gives commands, and is usually small in stature), so I volunteered to do it. I decided to try it because rowing is THE sport to do, with training six times a week and so challenging that kids drop out every year. I thought it would be a great experience, plus I’d be navigating a boat through the famous Yarra River in the heart of Melbourne. I was also nervous because maybe I’d crash the boat!

At the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club, everyone got dressed in their skin-tight outfits, with their Carey School caps and flip-flops. They also put on sunscreen under their clothes even though it was cold and cloudy. I wore my gym clothes, flip-flops, my Montreal Expos hat, and borrowed my friend Quinn’s Carey spray-jacket.

We walked downstairs into this huge room with the boats. They were like kayaks, but thinner. The 12 grade 9 rowers got together, and Nathan, the adult coach, split them up into two boats, one with four rowers, and one with eight. I was in the boat with eight rowers. Nathan talked to us about motivation and what we want to work on. The boys then went in the boat room, lifted up the boat, and placed it in the Yarra River.

The river was cold and very polluted – the water was brown. The water was up to my ankles before I could get in. I didn’t have a lot of space, sitting in my mini-chair with my feet facing toward Ben, who was providing the commands to say. I had my headset on, which was plugged into the boat, and there are speakers next to each person. Each rower had one oar, the first on the right, the next left, and so on. I wasn’t as nervous, other than the fact that eight huge guys were facing me and I was the only one who could see where we’re going. I loved talking to the guys, and every now and then I said something to keep the boys motivated, such as, “Let’s go boys!”

I was pretty good at steering the boat, with the two strings, one on each side of me. Coach Nathan was following in a motorboat and telling the boys, through a loudspeaker, what type of row to do. There was one time when I accidentally brought us close to a wall under the bridge because a boat was coming on the other side, but we didn’t crash.

As we got further into the training, they starting rowing – all eight at the same time – as if it was a race. Passing by all these skyscrapers, restaurants, and people watching and pointing at us as we went by, I realized how amazing this was. I was an exchange student from Canada navigating eight rowers on the Yarra River through Melbourne!

All the kids at Carey said they hate rowing because it’s so hard, but I had so much fun. At some point, we turned around, which wasn’t difficult. That’s when we started passing the girls and the older boys. Also, when we were on the river, we saw three different helicopters. One landed right next to us and the powerful wind generated from its blades caused water to lift and spray on us!

On the way back, I steered us perfectly so that we could put our feet on the ground when getting out. They then lifted up the boat out of the water and cleaned it inside and out, before placing it in its spot in the boat house. We all went outside to get our post-practice talk from Nathan and then got changed.

Now, it’s 10:08 pm and here I am in bed about to fall asleep. I have to say that today was an exciting day! Good night! – Max Miller ‘20, Exchange Student at Carey Baptist Grammar School

Keep an Open Mind, Try New Things and Enjoy the Adventure

day-838784_960_720If there’s one thing we, as high school students, hear more than anything else, it’s the questions: So, where do you see yourself in a couple years? Or, What do you want to study when you graduate?

And if there’s one thing we feel more than anything, it’s overwhelming guilt when we are unable to come up with a solid answer to these questions.

You see, high school is the time to discover what you enjoy most. It’s the time for “personal adventure”.

Personal adventure can mean infinitely different things to different people. In fact, the words themselves only mean whatever you want them to.

Perhaps, for you, personal adventure could mean taking part in that annual March Break trip you’ve been hearing about for the past couple of years. Maybe it means standing up at Model UN or debating and speaking in front of a crowd. Or maybe it’s simply just raising your hand in class to make your ideas heard.

No matter what it means to you, high school offers you a unique chance to create your own little adventures. We won’t again be lucky enough to have so many opportunities placed in front of us while having so few responsibilities.

Because personal adventure is more than just enjoying the time we have here to the fullest. It’s more complicated than saying carpe diem. It presents the opportunity to discover not only what we actually want out of life, but why we want it and how we’ll get there.

There was a point in my high school career where I hadn’t realized the importance of these little adventures. In fact, I had planned my entire life out for the next two decades. That’s longer than any of us students have been alive.

In grade 2, I saw the movie Nim’s Island and decided that I wanted nothing more than to become a marine biologist. I was so sold on this idea that by the time I reached Middle School, I had a list of my top universities planned out. Then, grade 9 rolled around along with a year-long biology unit in science. I then realized how little I enjoyed the topic (sorry Ms. Commerford). So then, what was I supposed to do? These plans I had made to last a lifetime had suddenly fallen apart in a matter of months and I felt lost. Although we may feel confident in our own judgement, it’s impossible to know what we will enjoy before we have enjoyed it.

The thing I realized then is that excessive planning for your future takes an excessive amount of time; it leaves you with a one-track mind that is wholly closed off to new ideas and experiences.

The second I realized I no longer knew what I wanted to do was also the second I began to try new things. I signed up for every club, eager to see what I had been missing. I found a love for Model UN and politics, realized how much fun physics was and took every opportunity I was given to travel to new places.

When I was locked in to biology, I stopped myself from straying too far from it. Why waste my time doing things that won’t help my future career? And I’m not advocating for you to join a club to pad your resume. I’m asking you to not be defined by your future plans.

Because, in the end, that’s what high school is for. high school isn’t here for us to already know how our life is going to roll out for the next 20 or 30 years. High school is here for us to try new things, go on wild trips, meet new people and make life-changing memories.

So enjoy the time you have here. The future may seem infinitely brighter than the present but along the way there will be spots of darkness. And when you’re fighting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of those dark places, you must be able to look back and feel the warmth of the memories you forged to help you get through it, not the pressure of exhaustive plans that were born out of the illusion that they would save you.

To those who don’t know what you want to do in the future, you’re not alone. To those who do, I trust your judgement, and I know that you will find success and happiness in whatever you choose. – Emma Belhadfa ’18

A Moving Inaugural Event at the RSIC

2017_2018_RSIC2017_SA_0052017_2018_RSIC2017_SA_006On the first morning of the Round Square Conference, we headed to the Cape Town International Convention Centre to take part in the Opening Ceremonies. Our delegation, along with many others from around the world, was very excited for the inauguration of the conference.

Once everyone had been seated, a group of three musicians came on stage with some odd-looking instruments. Using only her actions and no words, the leader of the group instructed us to reach under our seat where we were all surprised to find a tube with a wooden stick. The audience then began copying the musicians’ rhythms and joined them in a couple of neat patterns. My favourite part was when we were instructed to each play a different beat depending on where we were sitting in the auditorium. Every section’s tube produced a different sound and we united with our separate rhythms to create a beautiful song. It was lots of fun and a great way to get us excited for the rest of the ceremony.

Another part of the ceremony that I really enjoyed was the presentation of the flags. One by one, every school was called and a student walked across the stage holding their flag. I thought this was very interesting since every school had something that was unique and different. Some of the uniforms were particular to the region they were from, while others had different emblems and flags that didn’t at all resemble the others. It was also a special moment when the name Lower Canada College was said out loud and our flag was proudly walked across the stage.

The rest of the ceremony was filled with different cultural performances by the host schools, award presentations and a couple speeches, but none was as memorable as His Majesty King Constantine’s speech. The current president and one of the earliest members of the organization, King Constantine attended the ceremony and we were fortunate enough to hear him speak. However, when he started speaking about Round Square, he began to choke up and shed a few tears. This was a truly touching moment for everyone in the audience and it was at this moment that I realized the full extent of Round Square’s influence and the power that it possesses to bring together people from all four corners of the world who share the same values.

Overall, I felt very lucky to have been in that auditorium for the Opening Ceremonies and I think that it was a phenomenal way to kick off the festivities. – Andrew Fata ’19