Head’s Blog: Montreal Smog & COP23

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.

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.

China 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

More is Less

MakingChoicesHow much is enough? How much of anything is enough? This is an interesting question that we all face every day in many different ways as we make many, many choices.

That said, we live in a society where it is generally considered that more of anything is better. In some ways, this has been a foundational element of our capitalist democracy – more is better. Is it really?

Well, a leading American psychologist by the name of Barry Schwartz has conducted significant research on exactly this. What he has found is that while society pushes for more and more choice, at a certain point, too much choice actually paralyzes us. Dr. Schwartz has surveyed thousands of people on this topic. In his recent book “Escape from Freedom” and an earlier book “The Paradox of Choice,” Dr. Schwartz concludes that we all need parameters and constraints to direct, enable and support us with a sense of order. So how much freedom is enough?

Through his research, Dr. Schwartz believes he can categorize most people into two main categories; “Maximizers” & “Satisficers.” Consider which category you fall into.

Maximizers want the best at all times and tend to suffer from stress because any given choice made may not be the best. Let’s make this concrete. Sally is shopping for a used sedan and has narrowed it down to three auto companies. However, the reality of shopping these days means that Sally has access to several auto dealerships around the city, many specialized used-car operations and hundreds of online points of sale where specific options on the specific car, mileage and price-point vary enormously. According to Dr. Schwartz, for Sally, the “Maximizer,” this situation is a bottomless pit of endless choices. Clearly, for her to be certain that she has truly found THE BEST deal is almost impossible. Like most “maximizers” who endlessly search for the very best deal, choice can paralyze her. So, Sally will be inclined to suffer and perhaps even become burdened and depressed from the process. Her quest for the perfect car weighs heavily on her, along with the many other choices she is making every day in other areas of her life. Unfortunately, Sally is rarely certain she has found the very best option out there.

The other group according to Schwartz, are the “Satisficers,” people who are generally content with good enough. They don’t want to settle for anything second-rate, but they are more inclined to shed stress around choice, whether it be deciding on a new car, a cell phone, a new garment, career direction, whatever requires thought and choice.

So, boiled down, what is Dr. Schwartz’ advice? Essentially, he suggests that we don’t let choice rule our lives and we should avoid being “Maximizers.”

So choose when to choose and make arbitrary rules to help guide you. For example, limit yourself to three stores or three websites when shopping – and when you’re done, be satisfied with good enough and simply move on. Do this more often and you will probably feel better because most people are quite content with limited options. Remember, more can be less and actually harm our emotional health. So recognize when you’re being negatively impacted by a quest for perfection and replace it with good enough. You’ll probably be happier. And yes, that matters. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U’76), Headmaster

 

 

 

 

Head’s Blog: Innovation Generation

DSC_0009I love Post-it notes! There are always a lot of them stuck on things around my office workspace and they help keep me organized and focused. Post-it Notes are so simple and the story of their creation is also a fantastic symbol of innovation and the impact of innovative thinking.

In 1968, while trying to develop a heavy-duty glue, a chemist at 3M accidentally created a very light adhesive called microspheres. As the development was unintentional, the microsphere adhesive was basically shelved. Several years later in 1974, a different person from 3M took that light adhesive and found a personal practical application for it. He was in a choir and marked important pages in his songbook with folded pieces paper that slipped out every time he held it up. So by using the light adhesive he found he could mark pages with small sheets of paper that didn’t fall out. Essentially, that was the birth and invention of what eventually became a very useful product.

Yet, it wasn’t until six years later that the Post-it Note was fully developed and marketed. In 1980, Post-it Notes went global as a product and spread immediately like a virus. Despite digital Post-it Notes today, the paper versions still remain very popular, with sales of more than $50 billion annually.

The Post-it Note is a classic innovation story. It was the product of active development, lots of iterations, unexpected results and a “eureka moment”.

I mention this because of what I saw last Thursday evening at our second annual LCC Design & Innovation Fair, an impressive event where Middle and Senior School students presented products and services they developed over recent months. The students were creative, courageous and passionate about developing an innovator’s mindset. Commendations to all involved!

I don’t think we’re ready to patent anything yet, but I’m certain that eventually that will happen. Until then, what’s most important is that more and more LCC students embrace an innovator’s mindset and familiarity with a cycle that includes comfort with brainstorming of ideas, endless problem-solving, refinement, marginal improvement and acceptance of incremental change as true achievement.

If you haven’t visited our LCC Fabrication Lab behind the LCC Store, take the time to do so. I urge all of our students to take advantage of this special makerspace and maybe, just maybe, they’ll discover the inventor hiding within!

Head’s Blog: Four Flags

IMG_0789If you walk by the front door of LCC’s main school building, you will note that we proudly fly four flags: Canada, Québec, LCC and Round Square. The final one requires some consideration. Although we are a member of many school associations, Round Square is more than a membership; it represents an ethos that underscores our approaches to education. Why is this significant?

Round Square is a global association of nearly 200 schools inspired by Kurt Hahn, an influential educator in Europe pre-WWII. He was a visionary who believed that it is concrete experiences beyond the classroom that have the most profound impact on student growth. Even in the 1930s, he was concerned about what he called “decays” in youth, especially regarding compassion, curiosity and the potential toxicity of entitlement. Hahn was adamant that the adolescent mind was too focused on the self and needed to be shaken and challenged by active learning experiences.

All Round Square schools dedicate time and attention to what have become key areas of focus, the RS IDEALS. This represents a commitment to Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service. These foundational elements exist in all Round Square schools, from Canada to India to Thailand and Argentina, but always interpreted through a local lens.

If one looks at the Round Square flag, the organization’s name is there, but it is off centre, quite intentionally. A key objective of the Round Square ethos is to provide experiences that challenge students’ norms. When grappling with new ideas or experiences, students do broaden and shift their perspectives, preparing them to be more competent and confident global citizens.

During the past decade, membership in Round Square has had a significant impact on LCC students and our school. Through thoughtful discussion and a wide array of concrete experiences (international exchanges, conferences, service, leadership training) students have grown and developed in ways that are profound and lasting.

So now we are ready to welcome the world. In late September of 2018, LCC will host the Round Square International Conference, inviting approximately 450 student and adult delegates from 65-70 schools from around the world. Under the thematic banner of “Bring Your Difference”, together we will investigate the meaning and importance of diversity in today’s world. For a full week, our extended school community will come together to act as hosts and we look forward to everyone’s contribution. Reflect on this next time you walk by our four flags. Perhaps the concrete experience will push us all a little off centre and we will surely be the better for it!