V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Environment
Science vs religion
Sun Media, May 2008

It's a match made in eco-heaven.

Science blushes in her starched, white lab coat while Religion stands tall in his flowing black robe. They exchange vows, pledging to have and to hold each other in sickness and in health. And then they're pronounced "Mr. and Mrs. Ecotheology."


Crimes of fashion

Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers, April, 2008

I caved.

After three months, two weeks and four days of not having made a retail purchase, something in me snapped. My palms started to sweat, the knees buckled and my eyesight became blurred with visions of jewelled ballet slippers dancing in my head.

Bittersweet chocolate

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers November, 2008.

SAN JOSE VILLAGE, Belize -- Eladio Pop drinks a tonic of cacao, sugar, black pepper and hot water about four times a day.

It's the food of gods, the cacao farmer says, as he takes a big gulp of the elixir from a metal canteen, filling every cavity of his mouth, rolling it around like a fine wine before swallowing and taking another swig.

It's also, apparently, a potent aphrodisiac. Pop is a virile man at the age of 49 with 15 children between the ages of nine months and 29 years.

Death by chocolate

Toronto Sun and Sun Media, November, 2008

PUNTA GORDA, Belize -- Craig Sams breaks off a piece of root ginger with the lip of an overturned metal canteen and proceeds to chew on it.

Ginger cures motion sickness, Sams tells the rest of the group, all of whom have turned a shade of pea-green after an hour-long ride on unpaved, crater-pocked dirt roads to a cacao farm in southern Belize.

Sams would know. The founder and president of Green & Black's organic chocolate has been called one of Britain's "greenest" men and a pioneer in the macrobiotic, natural foods movement long before HMH -- Her Madonna Highness -- made it in vogue among the Hollywood elite.

Something to chew on

Published in Sun Media publications April, 2008.
It's a Friday night at a downtown church and a collection of the city's well-heeled are breaking bread and sipping wine.
Beautiful people dressed in their Friday night best are communing over food tables laden with little bundles of gastronomic miracles, while a live band belts out old-world jazz hymns. 
It's a congregation of like-minded foodies, celebrating the spring thaw and the culinary possibilities it brings to steadfast believers of more earthly faiths. 
"The slow food movement is traditionally grown foods, foods that your great grandmother would recognize as food," said Paul DeCampo of Slow Food Toronto. 
"It's about reorienting our priorities and making food a priority in our lives."

The myth of water abundance in Canada

Published in The Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers, July, 2008.

Water is set to become this century's oil.
World leaders have been bellicose about the spectre of water wars and global shortages. The UN says one-third of the world's population live in water-stressed countries now and, by 2025, that's expected to rise to two-thirds.
Underground pipelines are being built to move, not oil, but water. Canadians, meanwhile, are the second largest water user per capita after the U.S.
But we can afford it, we're water-rich. Or are we? As we celebrate Canada Day this week, Sun Media takes a look at a national heritage Canadians jealously guard, but don't fully understand.

Bottled water comes at a hefty price

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media family,  July, 2007

GUELPH, Ont. — Don Balanoff Sr.’s 86 years of life have been punctuated by water wars.

When he was in his late teens, Balanoff fought the enemy on treacherous seas during World War II. Water was indeed everywhere but, as the saying goes, not a drop was there to drink or spare.

Officers were told to use their ration of water — one gallon a day — sparingly, he said.

Lessons were learned the hard way. After storing his ration in his locker, he would return to find it empty.

Oil and water don't mix

Published in The Toronto Sun and Sun Media, July, 2008.

What's happening in the foothills of Alberta is symptomatic of a larger scenarioplaying out in the energy-rich capital of Canada: Alberta is oil rich, but becoming increasingly water poor.

To produce one barrel of oil from the oilsands, requires between two and 4.5barrels of water.

Duelling demands are beginning to emerge, and it appears water is losing, and fast.


Plugging Canada's drain

Published in The Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, July, 2008.

In the middle of the Arizona desert, entrepreneurs are planning to build a gargantuan water park.

The specs are ambitious: Called Waveyard, the 45-hectare water park is expected to be completed by 2010 and will have the largest man-made, recirculating white water river in the world, a scuba lagoon, snorkelling, kayaking, and surf-sized, four-metre waves.

Meanwhile, the U.S. announced last year that 36 states face water shortages in the next four years.

It's this kind of immoderate squandering in the U.S. that makes them the largest per capita users of water in the world, water advocates say. And it's why Canada should close the door should the U.S. come knocking for our water, they add.

Still on the hook

Published in Sun Media, July, 2008.

This year marks the facility's 40th anniversary of scientists working quietly in northern Ontario, four hours east

of Winnipeg, manipulating lakes to mimic the impacts of human activity. They have government permission to

add phosphates, mercury and acid into the 58 lakes in the area -- as long as it doesn't pose a threat to

human health -- in an effort to solve some of the country's greatest aquatic ailments, like algae blooms, fish

kills and the effects of acid rain.

Ed Begley Jr. interview about eco-living

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, April, 2008

Ed Begley Jr. is rhyming off a list of Hollywood celebrities who are making a genuine effort to green their lives.

There's his friend Danny DeVito, as well as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ed Norton and Darryl Hannah, he says in an early morning phone interview from his L.A. home.

Then there's a pause and I hear his wife interjecting, shouting in the background.

"Tom Hanks drives an electric car, my wife says," Begley adds. "I helped get him that car."

Drive green, drive clean

Toronto Sun, Sun Media, November, 2007

I must tame my inner demon driver.

I have foolishly elected myself as a case study on how to become an eco-driver -- that is, how to drive more fuel-efficiently.

But that means exposing my road rage-rrific tendencies to a driving instructor who is monitoring my every rolling stop and my lead foot.

As I walk into the Toronto Young Drivers of Canada office, I am beset by flashbacks of my 16-year-old self: The girl who failed her first driving exam because her arms froze as she drove over a large(ish) tree branch that lay in the middle of the road, to the disbelief of her surly, unsympathetic tester.


Food shortage and climate change

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

The global food shortage that has sparked bloody riots around the world serves as another grim reminder of how international crises are intimately tied to the state of the planet.

Last year, this column devoted a page to Darfur that explained how the humanitarian crisis that has killed 200,000 people and displaced another 2.2 million has its roots not in a web of politics, but in an "ecological crisis" described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Similarly, extreme weather patterns linked to climate change, the rising price of oil and the frenzied production of ethanol are all being blamed for the "silent tsunami" that has the potential of becoming a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale.


Eco-beauty

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, November 2008

For years now, without fully understanding the consequences of my purchases, it seems I've been contributing to the slow extinction of orangutangs in Indonesia, and the clearcutting of the world's rainforests. How? By washing my hands of the situation -- literally.

One of the main ingredients in soap is palm oil, an ingredient often purchased from the commodity markets, says Shelley Simmons, a spokesman for The Body Shop. The ingredient can't be traced back to its origin, and oftentimes valuable rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia are burned down and left for dead.

Electronic Ink

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers February, 2009.

I find comfort in the esthetic of a bookcase fully lined with Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, cookbooks, chick lit and old English classics.

I keep my shelves stacked with at least a handful of unread novels, otherwise I feel as though I've run out of milk or bread -- the feeling of being short on something, the need to replenish.

While I loathe newsprint ink on my fingers, I love the crisp, brittle sound of newspaper pages being turned.

But the publishing industry is entering a new chapter, one that could go paperless and revolutionize the way we read.



Electronic Overload

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media July 20,2008

In the media world, I am a dinosaur.

I don't own a CrackBerry, I still use a "ghettoblaster" (how '80s, I know) and I indulge in my guilty pleasures -- following the Hollywood lives of the young and clueless -- on a 15 inch TV monitor.

But, according to a recent study, it's this abstinence from mounting a 40 inch flat screen TV on my wall that could help spare the planet an effect that's greater than the world's biggest coal-fired power plants.


Eco-word of the year

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, January, 2009

The word of the year for 2008 is hypermile.

To hypermile is to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to driving techniques.

It took a lot of back-and-forth between the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary before they finally come to a concensus, says Sarah Hilliard.

They were in a rut for a long time, she said, tossing around words that didn't fully inspire them.

Over the last two years, the dictionary has crowned environmental terms such as "carbon neutral" and "locavore" as words of the year. They wanted to get away from the environment, though, and validate a word that would encapsulate the world of 2008.

Weather vs climate

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers April, 2009.

This column is long overdue.

In uncharacteristic fashion, I'm launching an offensive against readers who, in smug condescension, like to point to one-off weather incidents which dump 25 cm of snow in their neighbourhood in April as proof the world is actually cooling.

Or those readers who use record-breaking statistics of cold winter snaps as ammunition that climate change is a hoax.

Consider it a service, nay a public service announcement, that I am performing in teaching everyone that there is a significant, nay, monumental difference between weather and climate.

Environmental heroes

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, February, 2009

Ken Saro-Wiwa predicted his own death.

With certain clarity, Saro-Wiwa foresaw that he would be killed by his own government and made to spill blood for speaking out against Shell Oil and its path of environmental destruction on the Niger Delta.

"This is it. They are going to arrest us all and execute us," he said after the Nigerian military moved in to Ogoniland in the fall of 1993, where violence was escalating. "All for Shell."

Two years later, in what is widely believed to be a government set-up, Saro-Wiwa was hanged and executed for the brutal deaths of four Ogoni leaders despite worldwide pleas for clemency.

Where's the beef?

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers February, 2009.

Mark Bittman pauses, cocks his head to one side and looks thoughtfully towards the back wall before answering my first question.

"Neurotically," he says decidedly, pleased with the one-word summation to a question it seems he hasn't been posed recently.

I've just asked the famous New York Times food columnist how he would describe the way the industrial world approaches food.

We're fools to fads and marketing ploys, he says, weak to the dictates of the Big Food industry. We're fuelling a carnivorous appetite for meat that's just not sustainable and will come at the expense of our planet, he adds.

A sea of plastic

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2008.

Ian Connacher has climbed to the summit of humanity's refuse. The way was lined with rotting body parts, dead animals and hypodermic needles all amid a mountain of plastic in India's poorest parts.

It was enough to break a man.

"There were moments in India when I thought I was going to die," said the internationally-acclaimed filmmaker in an interview from Amsterdam. "Later that night in the shower, I wept for what I saw."

Freecycling recyclables

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, August, 2008.

Jenny Rachel Harvey's student apartment is furnished almost entirely with big ticket items she got off the net for free.

Among her finds were a futon frame, dishes, a kitchen table, bookshelves and a working washer and dryer. "I would say I've saved at least five grand," she says proudly.

Harvey is a Montreal freecycler, part of a growing grassroots movement that began modestly in Tucson, Ariz., and has since spread virally to 80 countries in five years by a single man and a few dozen e-mails.

Gentle grapes

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2008.

At Southbrook Vineyards in Ontario, vines are gently roused from their morning slumber with a heady mineral shower.

A mist of ground quartz and water is sprayed into the air to "activate the energy forces in the atmosphere," eventually coming to rest on the vines.

Horns filled with sheep or cow manure are buried underground to compost and stimulate microbial activity. Harvesting and pruning, meanwhile, are dictated by celestial forces such as the lunar cycles and the equinox.

These are the principles of biodynamic winemaking, an almost century-old philosophy which preaches an ecological and pseudo-spiritual approach to viticulture that goes beyond organic.

Get lost. Really.

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, January, 2009.

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- She started getting snarky with me after my fifth wrong turn.

I hadn't noticed it before. She was pleasantly polite at the beginning, helping me negotiate the streets and thoroughfares of a foreign city.

But after having to correct me for the umpteenth time, there was an unmistakable tone of annoyance and exasperation every time my travelling companion was made to say "recalculating," because of my missed turn.

I half expected her to heave a heavy sigh after every "recalculating" I made her utter.

I was in Phoenix covering the American election and had come to rely heavily on a GPS (global positioning system) to navigate efficiently around the city.

Happy green year

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, January, 2008.

Once the holiday fanfare subsides and gluttonous feasting has satiated voracious appetites, Canadians engage in the perennial habit of pledging self-improvement. A new year brings with it vows of abstinence, whether it be no more smoking, no more carbs, or no more senseless purchases of stiletto heels that gather dust in the back of closets, the bloom of their bejewelled beauty fading because they're too painful to wear.

But I digress.

Reflecting on the weather

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers January, 2008.

The human imagination is both a remarkable and frightening thing.

Long before carbon dioxide and climate change dominated headlines, visionary scientists have been dreaming up ways to artificially manipulate the global environment through large-scale engineering feats of the most ambitious kind.

It's called geoengineering and explores futuristic ideas such as the positioning of space-based mirrors between the Earth and the sun to reflect the sun's rays and help cool the earth, not unlike a gargantuan pair of sunglasses for the planet.

Heating from the ground up

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2007.

Eric Lange used to run around his workplace turning down thermostats and telling his employees to "wear a damn sweater."

His utility bills were hitting his pocketbook hard and things were looking grim after he bought a 30-year-old, 70,000 square foot warehouse that turned out to be an energy-guzzling machine for his company, Lange Transportation, last year. He hadn't moved into the Mississauga, Ont., building yet and his utility bill was already at $3,500.

Urban Foragers

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers September, 2008.

We've hit garbage gold.

The boys descend on the boxes of trash with wild, hungry, eyes. An interview is cut short when the interviewee sees the spoils being pillaged before him.

Four pairs of hands dive into the piles of books, clothes and assorted goods left out on the curb for garbage pick-up. Items are tucked quickly into bags. Heads are bowed intently above the heap and lift only to laugh with friends about the wind-up sushi toy, the red, Asian-print thong, and the painting of the naked woman warrior straddling a tiger.

ZENN-style driving

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers October, 2008.

We're turning heads and drawing curious looks from passersby.

Some ogle us lasciviously, while others cast us looks of admiration. A few stop and chat us up, checking out our body and the junk in our trunk.

"It's pretty big," says one onlooker who leans into the rear for a better look.

Indeed, we're pretty electrifying.

Happy trails

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, May, 2007.

I have a confession to make.

Before I was able to turn my scribblings into a full-time career, I led a decidedly different lifestyle which could be construed by some as being at odds with my recent appointment as the messenger of Green Planet.

No, I didn't work for SUVs "R" Us, or laugh demonically on tar sands whilst smearing ducks in oil. But I did work for an industry which, of late, has been singled out for leaving a trail of noxious substances in the atmosphere and contributing to the warming of the Earth.

Hollywood Armageddon

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2008.

Forget for a moment that the recent remake of the sci-fi movie The Day the Earth Stood Still is cringingly bad.

Set aside the wooden, robotic performance of Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the alien being sent to warn Earth that otherworldly civilizations have been watching humans chart a course towards self-destruction -- and they don't like it.

Consider instead the message of the movie: That director Scott Derrickson decided to update the 1951 original -- which at the time was a commentary on the Cold War anxieties of nuclear warfare -- and shifted the focus on man's ecological sins.

Gender and climate change

While men in power suits stroke their ties and helm international climate change talks, women do battle on the front lines.

While men engage in verbal jousting about treaty language, women walk for miles in search of fresh water and fuel wood because of deforestation.

It's been estimated that everyday in South Africa, the country's women collectively walk the equivalent distance of going to the moon and back 16 times to fetch water for their families.

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2007.

I already have my two front teeth.

I wouldn't know where in my home I'd keep a partridge in a pear tree.

Depending on who you ask, I could very well get nada for Christmas since there have been times this year when I ain't been nothing but bad.

And as for gold, frankincense and myrrh, I'll pass on the latter two, but all gold donations can be made out to Attention: Vivian Song, that's Vivian with an "a."

'Tis the season to be merry, yes, but 'tis also the season when normally level-headed Canadians are roped into believing that the electronic, plastic, yodelling pickle in the store window would make a perfect Christmas gift. (And no, I will not tell you where to find this.)

Pond scum

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers July, 2008.

Pond scum.

It's a harsh spiteful slur I reserve for those who have wronged me injuriously: That stupid bird that pooped on my skirt recently, narrowly missing my head, the driver of the beige sedan who nearly ran me over on my bike last month.

But I may soon have to find another slanderous, acid barb because in the renewable energy world, the scum of ponds is being hailed as the latest, great answer to the global oil crisis and climate warming. Sadly, the epithet loses some of its venom when it's upheld as honourable goop.


Light up my life

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, June, 2008.

No more winter, no more boots,
No more winter's crap snowsuits.
It's my adult-version of a children's anthem telling winter to stick it where the sun don't shine.

And I'm thinking that must be a bad, sad, place.

Friday marked the official beginning of summer and sunshiny days. Every year we're reminded of the healing balm of the sun's rays after a dispiriting winter. We bask in the sun and let the light recharge our depleted batteries -- an energy source that's undervalued in a country of sun-worshipping idolaters.

Lipstick jungle

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, August, 2007.

With quiet glee, I slowly turn the tube until the gold-speckled, berry lipstick meets the light of day and the twinkle in my eye.

It's a jewel of an assignment that I, as a messenger of Green Planet, undertake with serious contemplation on behalf of all the women this Mother's Day investigating green cosmetics.

In ancient Egypt, raven-haired women lent their almond-shaped eyes an added mystery by lining their lids with kohl.

A rouge of red ochre gave cheeks a burnished glow, and eye-paint was created with the bright green mineral malachite.

Nature has for millennia inspired beauty-seekers with its prism of hues. But throughout time, a billion-dollar industry has pillaged nature of its virtues, giving nothing back.

Concrete solutions

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers, December, 2007

When visitors arrive at the Jubilee Church in Rome, they soak in the architectural marvel and take a deep breath -- a breath of fresh air being cleaned by the building that stands before them. The church is made of a smog-eating cement. It's like a dual-action cleansing formula: The church washes away your sins and also turns such air pollutants as nitrogen and sulphur oxides into harmless nitrates and sulphates -- or salt -- which is absorbed or washed away with rainwater.

Babypalooza

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers March, 2008.

I recently attended my first Babypalooza, an afternoon gathering of wobbly, chubby mini people.

The babies cooed and drooled, as did the childless aunties-by-affiliation who ran around the room snatching sleeping babies from their parents' arms in a frightening show of uncontrollable, barren wombs.

This scenario is shameful not only for being so cliche, but it's also appalling for contravening a basic tenet of eco-consciousness: Stop breeding.



Nature's crusader

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, May, 2007.

OTTAWA -- Poet scientist. The combination is so rare it's almost an oxymoron.

But that's what they call Jean Lemire in Quebec, a man with the fastidiousness of a scientist and the vision of an artist.

Tonight, Lemire's prolific career as a poetic cinematographer and storyteller on nature's behalf will be honoured at the Canadian Environmental Awards Gala.

"I'm only 45," chuckled the biologist recounting his reaction when he learned of the award. "But it's a great honour."


Going grey water

If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down.

And if it's grey let it stay and wash your water woes away.

Poet laureate I am not. But the latter ad lib to the popular cottage-dweller saying is to illustrate a fast-growing recycling system that uses grey water -- shower, sink and laundry water -- to flush toilets and conserve water.

According to Environment Canada, toilets consume one-third of a household's total water consumption.


Nature's foreplay

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, February, 2009.

They engage in animal sex, driven wild by the intoxicating smell of their partners.

Some try to seduce their lover with the promise of a beautiful home, while other males try to woo their lady friends with a flashy lightshow before dinner.

For the unfortunate few who fail to impress, some males become dinner.

To celebrate Valentine's Day weekend, Green Planet takes a look at some of the sweet, curious, funny and downright freakish courting rituals in the animal kingdom, notwithstanding the fanatical grooming, coy eye contact and mirroring of gestures that happen among human kind.


Obama takes on the world

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers January, 2009.

President Barack Obama has the weight of the world on his shoulders -- literally.

After taking the oath of office this week to become the most powerful man in the free world, Obama faces the Herculean task of turning the planet around from its current trajectory and saving the world.

At least that's what scientists and environmentalists are hoping for after eight years of inaction and complacency by the Bush administration.

Pesky pesticides

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers May, 2009.

When it comes to plants, I'm an embarrassing cliche.

Ambitious attempts to grow a window-sill herb garden and cherry tomato plant in my condo last year ended with me staring wistfully at skinny, weak blades pushing up through the soil and willing for them to live.

"You, my pretty one, will play the starring role in my marinara sauce," I would say cajolingly to the basil plant.

"And you will be the finale for every dish," I would murmur to the flat-leaf parsley.

They all died.

Rain rain go away

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers August, 2008.

It's rained on quite a few parades this summer.

This year has proven to be the soggiest summer on record for several parts of Ontario. Cities such as Toronto, Sarnia and Brockville have all broken rainfall records. Precipitation levels in Toronto reached a high as 193 mm fell in July.

In Quebec, freak thunderstorms descended violently on Montreal, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivieres in June, knocking out powerlines and downing trees. Wild winds clocking in at 110 km/h ripped off roofs and overturned seven trucks on the Champlain Bridge.

Last month alone, 64 major hailstorms, 13 tornadoes, four windstorms and one heavy rainfall event befell the province.

Meanwhile, a new study published this month in the journal Science warns that as the planet heats up, episodes of extreme storms and heavy rainfall will become more frequent than we're used to.

Mom's the model

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, May, 2008.

This is an ode to my mother.

A big-up to the big mamacita Song herself, known for her fashionably pink ways, her bubbly spirit and her bottomless pit of a stomach, so incompatible with the petite, flower of a woman who can still squeeze into a size six and be mistaken for my sister.

On Mother's Day, I find myself doing a wee bit of introspection and realize just how much my mother's influence has shaped my values and, in a roundabout way, brought me to Green Planet.


Raw deal for tuna

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers June, 2007.

Sushi chef Kim Hong-Min gently fillets a coral-coloured salmon with the menacingly

long, thin blade of a Japanese knife.

The flesh glistens, marbled with stripes of white fat that will soon top mounds of rice and melt gently in a

sushi lover‘s mouth.

On World Ocean Day, Canadians are being asked to consider their relationship with oceans, whether it

be water or fish consumption.

Fallout zone

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

YELLOWKNIFE -- James Pugsley stops mid-conversation, peers closer at the night sky, and yells to get out of the car. "Get out quickly," he shouts excitedly, having perceived something in the distance that, to the untrained eye, looks uneventful.

But sure enough, the sky is ablaze. Undulating waves of light flit playfully across the midnight sky. The way the light moves is ghostly, fluttering gently the way sheer chiffon moves in a light wind.

Moving targets a challenge

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

YELLOWKNIFE -- When Kevin Kennedy saw the unfamiliar four-legged animal saunter past his living room window, he went through a mental checklist of what it could have been.

"My mind went through all the possibilities," said the seven-year Yellowknife resident and city councillor.

The animal was a coyote, a normally south-dwelling animal that, up to a few years ago, was a stranger to these parts. But sightings of animals never seen in Yellowknife before have been on the rise, like white-tailed deer, cougars and magpies which are migrating further from their traditional habitats.

Experts warn that climate change could push Canada's tree line north by as much as 750 km in some areas, and bring with it new species while pushing old ones out.


The decline of the polar bear

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers October, 2007.

CHURCHILL, Man. -- The smell of spicy gumbo soup has just hit our visitor's nose. He rises from his prone position and his dark round eyes dart up and down, side to side, trying to suss out the unfamiliar scent.

The smell and clang of cutlery have roused the polar bear to his feet. He takes a few steps, reconsiders, and resumes the lazy position he's assumed for the past few hours: Head resting on paw, sleepy eyes closed.


Alien invasion

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

There are potentially hundreds of sleeper cells living among us.

They live discreetly, waiting patiently for conditions to be ripe before they strike and terrorize the very nature of Canadiana.

These sleeper cells hitchhike rides into the "virtually borderless" country via planes and ships, undetected by authorities until it's too late.

They are invasive species, described in the most dramatic of terms by Anthony Ricciardi, a professor of environmental science at McGill University, whose tone is laden with a sense of urgency.

Flight of the birds

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

When he learned the mechanics of spelling, Malkolm Boothroyd changed the spelling of his first name to try and "stand out."

Though the 15-year-old's legal name is spelled with a 'c' he dropped in a 'k' and parted with convention from that moment on.

"I'm usually the odd person out," he says in a phone interview from Arizona. "I've always been the odd person out since I was in Grade 2."

That's because by then the Yukon boy had discovered the passion that would later take him on a year-long odyssey and log him 16,000 km: Birding.


Mackenzie Valley pipeline

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

YELLOWKNIFE -- On one side of the room inside the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, a dozen oil bigwigs sit side by side, tapping away on their silver laptops.

Though dressed down in khakis, they are unmistakable southerners -- that is, from south of the Northwest Territories -- with glasses pushed down the bridges of their noses and hushed conversations whispered over tome-sized binders.

They are the proponents -- Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, Shell Canada and Exxon Mobil -- and they are being cross-examined by a young government lawyer on the environmental impact of drilling bore holes at river crossings in the Mackenzie Delta.



Polar bears on thin ice

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers February, 2008.

How deceptively gentle she appeared, as she gnawed lazily on the grass and gazed curiously at her fleet of human company.

She struck a queenly figure, even though all she did was poke her nose in the air, offended by the foreign smell of gumbo soup, and snoozed with her beautiful snowy face resting on her paw.

In yet another showdown between conservationists and the oil and gas industry, the polar bear is caught in the middle, much like the ubiquitous photograph of a lone polar bear stranded on a small ice floe in the middle of frigid Arctic waters, presumably with no land in sight.



Steaming off in Iceland

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers October, 2008.

I'm in hot water, with mud on my face.

Figuratively, such a combination would be a disgrace. But on this occasion, I'm literally sitting in a hot mineral stew at the Blue Lagoon, a famous Icelandic spa, smeared in a white silica mud mask.

In the distance, smokestacks of the Svartsengi power plant, the source of my spa treatment, blow plumes of steam into the cold October wind.

The water is a byproduct of the geothermal power plant. After pumping lava-heated groundwater from 2 km below the surface, steam is used to generate electricity and the hot water to heat local homes.

The carbon taxman cometh

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers January, 2008.

The Tories may have put the kibosh on the notion of a national carbon tax last week, but the provinces are still breathing life into the idea.

It's a pattern reminiscent of the goings-on in the U.S., where states such as California, frustrated at the lack of progress by the feds, carved out their own aggressive climate action plans that exceed nationally set mandates.

Upwind battle

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers March, 2008.

Earnest Marshall has been driven out of the home he's lived in for the past 30 years by his noisy, intrusive neighbour.

The new guy on the block moved into Marshall's rural neighbourhood outside Goderich, Ont., two years ago, scaring his ponies and purring incessantly through their bedroom window keeping the Marshalls from a good night's sleep.

Marshall suffered a stroke not long after the new neighbour moved in and, on the advice of his neurologists, has sold his home and is moving.

Zooming in on the planet

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers November, 2008.

Deep in the bowels of the earth exists a crystalline underworld oblivious to the goings-on above.

The Lechuguilla Cave in southeastern New Mexico is the deepest cave in the U.S., diving about 500 metres down and has been forming quietly on its own for thousands of years.

In the BBC project Planet Earth, filmmakers brought us rare footage of the aptly named Chandelier Ballroom, where gypsum crystals as long as six metres spike out from the walls in an ethereal display, a sight that producer Huw Cordey described as "other-worldly."

It took two years to negotiate permission to film in these restrictive caves, and the film crew was told it would likely be the last to do so.

But the footage is breathtaking and I, a little begrudgingly, admit that the written word has its limitations compared to the visual impact of film.

Nature's insurance bill

Published in the Toronto Sun, Sun Media October, 2007

When Mother Nature throws a meteorological fit, she bills the insurance industry for her therapy sessions.

And they aren't cheap.

In August 2005, she flew into a tempestuous rage, unleashing her fury on Toronto and areas west of the city, pummelling neighbourhoods with torrential downpours, tossing cars and ripping roofs off houses with a single, angry breath.

The one-day tantrum cost the Canadian property and casualty insurance industry close to half a billion dollars, becoming the single largest claims payment in Ontario history and the second largest in Canadian history, said Mark Yakabuski, incoming president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

The shrinking Arctic

The Arctic is not for the meek.

Its inhabitants are creatures of resilience that have managed to withstand the North's test of character: strength and survivor instinct.

But in an unforeseen twist, climate change is pushing their hardy spirit to the brink, throwing a jarring wrench into both man's and animals' way of life, the effects of which are being felt the world over. The annual average arctic temperature has increased at twice the rate as that of the rest of the world over the past few decades.

The Alps on the meltdown
Published August, 2007

There are few moments in life when you are reminded of your own mortality.

Tearful funerals, accidents that end in narrow escapes, and moments where one is perched precariously on a mountaintop with nothing but a steel rope between you and a dizzying drop to your untimely and tragic death.

That and an overactive imagination.

For the sake of my lovely tour guide Petra -- who has reminded me more than once that should I, a visiting journalist from Canada, die on her watch, her boss will kill her -- I muzzle my fears, stifle the beginnings of hyperventilation, and smile politely.


Websurfing costs

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers February, 2009.

As I sit at my desk writing this column, I'm suddenly keenly aware of the quiet hum coming from the back of my computer.

It's a noise few of us computer-hostages notice until we turn off our machines.

But propelling this hum is our collective web-surfing billions of times over-- an activity that according to a Harvard physicist contributes to a global carbon footprint that's greater than the whole of the aviation industry.


No tacky ties
Published in the Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers June, 2007

In his trademark deadpan expression, Bill Cosby, or rather Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show, walks around the house wearing a garish ensemble of ties, belts and hats that light up.

It's an old, dated '80s sitcom, yes, but perhaps one of the best examples to speak of the timeless affliction that strikes dads everywhere on Father's Day -- the tacky, leftover present that does everything but the Hokey Pokey.

And so, since Green Planet devoted a full page to environmentally friendly ladies' toiletries on Mother's Day, we are giving fathers their due turn today.

Environment inn style
Published in Sun Media, July 2007

Tucked discreetly at the base of slate-grey mountain peaks, hidden within a dense pine forest and eclipsed by an expanse of blue sky sits Aurum Lodge.

It's an unassuming property, chalet-like in appearance. But this nine-unit country inn was built with the fastidious vision of serious environmentalists, bent on making as minimal an impact as possible on its host land near Banff National Park.

It is also the only property in Canada to have earned a five out of five leaf rating with the Audubon Green Leaf Eco-Rating Program, a rigorous system that sets the bar high for environmental responsibility in the hotel industry.

Illnesses may flourish with rising temperatures
Published in Sun Media in June, 2007

This summer's going to be a doozy.

The ubiquitous senior climatologist David Phillips of Environment Canada gazed into his crystal ball earlier this month and forecast a warmer than average summer this year for Canadians, with the exception of the coastal areas.

Though welcome news for winter-weary, sun-loving Canadians, the prediction is being met with caution among health agencies for bringing with it a host of health impacts.



Endangered beauty
Published September, 2007

Robert Bateman's fate was sealed at the age of 12 when he became spellbound by a flight of fancy -- birds and a career out of painting them.

He doesn't condescend on this tender age of boyhood, but rather credits this year of discovery as the genesis of his career as a serious naturalist and wildlife artist.

Sixty-five years and hundreds of paintings later, at the age of 77, Bateman says his philosophy on art and nature hasn't changed since that fateful year when the boy Bateman recorded all the birds he could find in the vicinity of his Toronto home.

Young, urban and green
Published in Sun Media, February, 2007

CLIMATE CHANGE: PART 1 of 5: Young, urban and green

Chris Sukornyk is a recent convert.

Just three years ago, he drove the congested streets of Toronto in his SUV V8. Climate change was not foremost in his mind when he went grocery shopping, nor did he lose sleep over his daily energy consumption.

But after the birth of his two children, the 30-year-old father switched his family's gas guzzler for a Smart car and hybrid Prius because he wants them to "have a future."


Buying your way out
Published in Sun Media, February, 2007

Forgive us Mother Earth for we have sinned.

It's been five years and 758 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions since our last confession -- the amount of pollutants Canada has pumped into the atmosphere despite having ratified the Kyoto agreement in 2002.

How many Hail Mary's and carbon offsets must we commit to absolve ourselves of our sins?

Are we willing to pay?
Published in Sun Media, February 2007

Thirty's the new twenty, sixty is now middle age, and green is the new black.

Just ask the people at Diesel, an urban clothing company that calls the timing of their ad campaign launch, "Global Warming Ready," and the current environmental movement "serendipitous."

It's 11 a.m. on a bright weekday morning. It takes a few seconds for the eyes to adjust to the dimmed lighting inside a Toronto martini lounge, but soon the silhouettes of svelte, lean bodies come into focus. Half-clad, urban chic models pose at cheeky tableaus set up throughout the venue -- tropical plants grow at the base of the Eiffel Tower and exotic birds inhabit Venice's Piazza San Marco.

Swiping carbon credit
Published in Sun Media, February, 2007

The whole idea is "nonsense on stilts."

It's the best idea anyone has ever had on the environment.

"You lot live in cloud cuckoo land you really do."

The reactions range from "barking mad" to congratulatory applause on British Environment Secretary David Miliband's blog. On it, our British cousins were asked to weigh in on a bold proposal that would see every citizen in the U.K. hold a carbon credit card rationing their greenhouse gas emissions, much like an annual polluting allowance.


Have we no shame?

Published in Sun Media, February, 2007

Ouch.

It's a scathing indictment on our performance in the pitched battle against climate change.

The tone is full of dismay and scolds us into embarrassment, like a young child who gets a dressing down by a disappointed parent.

"If there is one nation that should be acutely aware of how damaging climate change could be it is Canada," reads a recent editorial in the magazine New Scientist.

"Its northern wilderness has been romanticized in literature, has inspired great art, and remains a treasured element in the national character.
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