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

Where Art and the Environment Intersect

2015_16_JS_Butterfly_Garden_011With pollinators like bees and butterflies in dangerous decline and our reliance on them for almost 90 per cent of the world’s plants, a crisis is brewing and LCC students responded with fervor. Last spring, students from grades 3 to 11 literally rolled up their sleeves and got down in the dirt, creating a garden on the LCC grounds to bring back the butterflies.

The result was not only a garden with a variety of plants to attract pollinators. It was also a beautiful display of milkweed and towering sunflowers that were sure to draw the attention of the artist’s eye. And they did.

Sylvia Tracy’s grade 3 art class had already studied Van Gogh, so a newly planted garden with blooming sunflowers just steps away was serendipitous. “It was a great opportunity to observe the sunflowers and see how they look from up close,” says Ms. Tracy.

The students first did observation drawing, emphasizing the shapes that they saw in the leaves. They were asked to draw what they saw and not rely on any preconceived ideas of how they thought the flower appeared. They learned how to observe, focusing on the texture of the flower, its stem and petals.

In the following class, students turned the drawings into relief prints, recopied the flower onto Styrofoam printing plates and then printed them on different coloured paper. These vibrant creations now adorn the walls of the Junior School hallway. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take advantage of nature right here at our school, in the middle of the city,” says Ms. Tracy.

As for the butterfly garden, Jean-François Maurice, Social Science Teacher, is working toward having it recognized with an official certification from monarchwatch.org. “This one project has brought together students from Junior, Middle and Senior School,” he says. “It has served an environmental purpose as well as inspiration for our budding artists. What a success.”

Cleaning Up the Local Beach in Eckernförde, Germany

RS_Com_Service_GermanyWednesday was service day at the Round Square International Conference in Louisenlund. I was assigned to a larger group of ~60 delegates, all of whom would be participating in a cleanup of a local beach in the town of Eckernförde, just off the Baltic Sea. When we first arrived, I remarked to a friend that there really wasn’t much to clean: the beach looked spotless!

Boy, was I ever wrong.

We split into two groups and got our hands dirty, closely inspecting the sand for any trash in need of proper disposal. Amazingly, after a short half hour into our search, we had amassed several bucketfuls of various types of trash, including cigarettes, straws, wrappers and other unrecognizable pieces of plastic.

On Tuesday night, we were shown a clip about the staggering “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” It explained how the plastics in most consumer goods degrade extremely slowly in the ocean, though ultimately disintegrating into microplastics, or tiny pieces of plastic less than five millimetres in size. These plastics become extremely difficult to filter out from the seawater because they are so small, yet they still pose a deadly threat to animals and to other members of the aquatic and even terrestrial ecosystems.

We were stunned by just how much garbage we had collected during our short walk on the beach, especially after having been told that the particular beach we were on was being thoroughly cleaned weekly by the tourism office of the town. All the plastics we had found had essentially been washed ashore by the rolling waves of the Baltic Sea within the preceding few days, which is extremely concerning, especially seeing that we barely notice the issue of our polluted oceans on a day-to-day basis. –Adam Vandenbussche ’17

Impressive Iceland

IMG_1083Reporting LIVE from Germany: This is Abby writing on behalf of the entire LCC Round Square Conference Team and sharing with you our adventures encountered during our pre-conference trip to Iceland.

On October 5th, my group and I all met at the Montreal airport filled with excitement as well as 20 kilos of every single type of clothing we could fit into our bags (as Icelandic weather was a mystery to us!) Two plane rides later, a four-hour time difference and barely any sleep, we landed in Iceland and met the four other schools we were going to spend the next few days with. As we were all tired, we mostly spent our first day driving into Reykjavik, the capital of the country, and stopping to sightsee along the way. We explored Viking World where we learned about the history and culture of the country. We even got to go on a boat at the museum! 

The second day was jam-packed. We started off by visiting the Golden Circle, which is a huge waterfall! After having barely made it out alive due to the strong winds, we got back onto the bus and went to go see geysers. This is where I learned that Iceland is home to thousands of geysers that contain an abundance of sulfur. Steam would be spraying out of all these holes and, for the biggest one there, it would explode every 15 minutes. I was lucky enough to see the geyser’s water burst up into the air and even fall all over some of my friends on the trip that, without knowing, were in the “splash zone.” Finally, at night we went to the Blue Lagoon. Personally, this was my favourite part of the trip. We got to swim in an actual hot spring! Our group went very late at night, which made the experience even more memorable as we were entirely in the dark. We all got to spend two hours in the lagoon, which was warm and incredibly wavy. This was scary for me since we were told that it was not a good idea to get our hair wet in the water as it would become hard. I therefore had to bounce around and “ride the waves” to ensure that my 5’1 body would not dunk under the water. We all had a superb time! 

On our final day, we put on our raincoat and saw lots of Iceland’s best waterfalls. Some of them, due to the wind, would even stream upwards, which was quite funny to look at. During one particular waterfall visit, we got to make a wish in the country’s finest wishing well (legend has it that, if you watch your coin make it all the way to the bottom of the water, your wish will come true!) After this, we did our big adventure of the day: glacier hiking. We were given crampons for our feet and ice picks and got to hike all around the ice. This was a cool experience as not only was it fun but we also learned a lot about global warming. Iceland’s glaciers have been melting. Two weeks ago, they installed something that would measure how much ice is melting and the result was unthinkable. For example, one part of the hike was through a tunnel, which was one of the best parts. I was sad to hear that, at the current rate the ice is melting, the tunnel will probably be gone in the next two days… 

All in all, this was a great experience. Although the only thing we did not get to see were the Northern Lights, we all feel as though we had a fantastic time. As we say farewell to Iceland, we cannot wait to see what the actual conference has in store for us. Stay tuned!  –Abby Shine ’17