Archive for the 'Environment' Category


Citizen groups demand Quebec shale gas moratorium, petition numbers rise

Citizen groups in Quebec are disturbed by the provincial government’s gung-ho approach to shale gas development.

“With shale gas the government refuses to say, ‘Maybe it’s not a good idea,’ and it’s distressing because there are a lot of citizens saying, ‘Stop it!’” said Kim Cornelissen, vice-president of the Quebec Association Against Atmospheric Pollution (AQLPA), speaking before a meeting of the Council of Canadians on October 5.

Cornelissen was making a presentation in the wake of public hearings on Quebec’s shale gas development that began in early October in Saint-Hyacinthe, southeast of Montreal.  Organized by the Commission of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE), the meetings have garnered attention not only for the heated discussion between citizens, government and industry representatives, but because hundreds of people have been attending.

“I’ll be honest, I’m very worried,” said Cornelissen, who has also attended the meetings.  She said the BAPE is supposed to be an independent commission, but that in the case of shale gas the commission is sidestepping important questions on risks and consequences in order to move forward quickly with development.

The commission’s mandate, conferred by Pierre Arcand, minister of sustainable development, environment and parks, starts with the assumption that shale gas is a resource the province wants to explore and exploit, and this is precisely the approach that Cornelissen’s organization and other citizen groups are criticizing.

“From what we’ve seen now the president [of the commission] is quite aggressive with the public and is asking the industry to answer the questions,” said Cornelissen.  “There’s a conflict of interest that is quite big there.”

The public’s main questions pertain to the potential for long-term chemical contamination of groundwater and drinking water, since the shale gas exploration and extraction processes involve sending a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals between 500 and 2000 metres underground to fracture the shale and release the natural gas.

Shale gas is characterized by multiple horizontal wells underground, whereas traditional natural gas extraction digs one well to tap into a large reservoir in one place.

Questions also remain with regard to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and the mass industrialization of rural landscapes.  Cornelissen said nearly 600 permits for exploration have already been granted for most of the territory across southern Quebec, including Montreal, Laval and all of the south shore.

And the way the hearings are being handled could cost the commission a great deal of credibility. “The BAPE is a good idea, in general, but if you pervert it in a way, then people could say, ‘Let’s get rid of the BAPE,’ and that would be a big mistake, so I hope that’s not what is intended,” said Cornelissen.

A moratorium, the central demand of citizens at the Saint-Hyacinthe hearings, has yet to be obtained, but Cornelissen said citizen groups have been learning a lot in the process.  She said that each time a stakeholder makes a move in the debate, citizens learn more about the issue, referring to a threat by the industry to sue the government over a moratorium that was quickly exposed as having no basis.

A moratorium in Quebec would follow a similar hold put on shale gas development in New York State.  Shale gas development has propagated widely across the U.S. in the past several years, with about 500,000 wells in place today in 34 states.  “Last year they were beginning to do films about it,” said Cornelissen.  “I think one of the best ways to reach people is through films and I think Gasland has done its job,” she said, referring to the documentary that chronicles the rise of shale gas in the United States and its consequences.

Though Quebec groups have learned much from the U.S. experience, Cornelissen said she is impressed at how informed people at the hearings have been and stresses that the moratorium request is not a knee-jerk reaction. “[It] is not for nothing,” said Cornelissen.  “We’re asking [the government] to stop.  Let’s see both sides of the issue.  If it’s good, great, we’ll do it.  If it’s not good we won’t.”

On October 5 the call for a moratorium received parliamentary support.  Québec Solidaire member of the national assembly Amir Khadir submitted a petition to the national assembly to enact a full moratorium on shale gas development.  The petition had early momentum and has now received over 18,000 signatures.  It remains open for signatures until December 6.

Cornelissen believes that the best thing concerned individuals can do is to sign the petition to support the moratorium.  “If everybody signs it – there are a lot municipalities asking for it, there are a lot of environmental and social groups asking for it – if everybody keeps on asking for it, they won’t have a choice but to do it.”

Sound: Listen to a shale gas report broadcast earlier this month on CKUT, 90.3 fm with reactions from the Council of Canadians and the New Brunswick Conservation Council.


Compost Montreal: Helping Montrealers feel good about themselves, five bucks at a time

“We’ve cut down to one a month, with the compost,” says Isabelle Moncion, proudly stating how many garbage bags she and her boyfriend are producing, thanks to Compost Montreal.  While many now take recycling for granted in Montreal, composting is still in its early stages.  More and more, however, people are taking responsibility for the waste they produce and this is precisely the market that entrepreneur Stephen McLeod and Compost Montreal have stepped in to serve.

“It’s quite a grey area as far as doing business goes.  It’s an environmental business and I don’t think there are a whole lot that are quite the same as we are,” says McLeod who started out in 2007 with a small-scale residential compost collection service powered by nothing more than a bicycle, a trailer, and a heavy duty garbage container.

McLeod had originally branched out as an entrepreneur in his previous field as a Montreal bike messenger, but quickly found that even an innovative approach was not enough to make it in the competitive bike messenger market.  He would need to try something else. “We composted when I was kid,” says McLeod. “It was just normal for me and certainly I always wanted to do something that was going to be, you know, helpful.”

Sitting in the meeting room of an apartment turned office space in Saint-Henri, conversation is briefly interrupted by the sound of a freight train rumbling by.  The goateed McLeod then turns in his chair to point out the areas on a Montreal map that his company has grown to serve, including Saint-Henri, the Plateau, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Rosemont, Outremont, Villeray, and Hochelaga.

Compost Montreal logo

Compost Montreal logo by Lucas Fehr (Lucworks), copyright Compost Montreal

“We just very recently celebrated our 1000th residential client,” says McLeod, which represents about 75 percent of the company’s business.  And that client base has been growing fast mainly by means of the company’s website and word-of-mouth.  “Within the second quarter of 2009 we were running about half the residential [clients] that we are now.”

At five dollars per week, this means Compost Montreal is taking in about $260,000 annually from the residential service.  The company also offers a slightly discounted $60 for a 13-week full season commitment. The remaining 25 percent of the business lies with commercial and institutional clients.  “We want to focus our efforts more on the diversification, developing the commercial, the institutional and then working with the cities as well to get more centralized plans of services up and running.”

McLeod didn’t really have a business strategy in the conventional sense when he started out.  “I sort of went pretty intuitively,” he says.  “A big advantage I had in being able to do that was that I didn’t really have any start up capital.”

“I think that’s a very valuable exercise, to start with nothing and see if you can actually generate something that’s going to allow you to arc and generate proper working capital,” says McLeod, “rather than starting with money from wherever and running the risk of messing up.”

Matthew Bruno, one of Compost Montreal’s eight employees is happy with the way the business is going. “I could not ask for a better job,” says Bruno. “Everyone here is easy going, enthusiastic, pretty knowledgeable and of course, super friendly.  The work is never the same and the company is still young so things are changing quickly and evolving nicely. We are all building this business together.”

At one garbage bag per month, customers like Isabelle Moncion must be feeling pretty good about themselves, and even though Compost Montreal isn’t selling it, that feeling may just be the most valuable product they offer.

Sound: Listen to Stephen McLeod tell us about his favourite part of the job and about just what happens after you put your compost bucket on the doorstep (hint: it starts with “s” and ends with “ustainability”), enjoy!

Thanks to Nick Ward for the interview sounds.


Close Saint-Laurent More Often, Montrealers say

As the late summer sun went down on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the crowds came out to enjoy the Mix’ Arts street festival, which had the bustling boulevard closed to cars and open to pedestrians from August 26-29 between Sherbrooke Street and Mont-Royal Avenue.  Full of music, food, art, drinks, and especially people, the four-day festival is the Société de développement du boulevard Saint-Laurent’s way of showcasing the street’s mix of shopping, restaurants, bars and culture.

“We need it, we need it more often, we have to enhance the business, you know,” said Bill Fernandes, owner of Papas Tapas and Martini Bar, echoing the sentiments of business owners up and down the Main.  “It should close all the time.  It should be a closed street.”

Daniel Ma, part owner of Dyad Electric Scooters and Bicycles, noted that the street festival is even more important for new businesses.  “Because we just opened, we need more people to know the products.  A lot of people pass by and ask and try, and so it’s good advertising”, said Ma.

crowds stroll along St-Laurent boulevard

Yes, that's St-Laurent boulevard

The Montreal Urban Ecology Centre advocates creating more public spaces like the street fest, spearheading projects like Green, Active and Healthy Neighbourhoods, aimed at increasing public spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.  The Centre’s website states, however, that, “In order to make this transition possible, adequate infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is a prerequisite”.

Montreal graffiti artist, Fluke, was on the street for the June version of the street festival displaying his spray-painting skill on a temporary wall set up for demonstrations. “We just came to show off a little bit of our skills and showcase what we do”, said Fluke.  He also said local artists have a long history with the street festival.  “It’s helped us a lot over the years because there’s a lot of downtown crowd that passes through here that we don’t necessarily have a chance to talk to and show our stuff to on a regular basis”.

Visitors were also enjoying the pedestrian space.  In town for the weekend, David Ryning of Edmonton, Alberta said, “This is fantastic, from a tourist’s point of view”.

Of course, not everyone in the area was walking on sunshine.  Colleen Steacy has lived in two apartments on the Main and says noise is the main problem. “The last place that I lived was better because my bedroom was at the back of the apartment,” said Steacy.  “At the new place that I’m living I’m bothered by noise constantly and it’s the reason I’m moving.”

She plans to stay in the area, however, and said she loves the shopping available during the street festival.  Even at the quietest of times Saint-Laurent is buzzing, but with cars removed from the equation the Main showed it has the potential to become an even more vibrant public space and showcase for Montreal’s best.

Watch and listen to a mash-up of the sounds and voices of the Mix’ Arts St-Laurent street festival:


Rogers Cup serves up an ace of a green plan

Even before spectators arrive at the gates of Uniprix Stadium for the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal this week, they may already have become part of Tennis Canada’s ambitious green plan for 2010.  That’s because ticket-holders ride free of charge on the Société de Transport de Montréal’s (STM) network, which many spectators take advantage of to get to the big event.  Maryse Lemay, head of Tennis Canada’s green plan, says the site is also equipped with a special event Bixi bike station and a bicycle parking area.

These are all parts of the tournament’s green plan aimed at cutting transportation emissions and encouraging public and active transport.  Last year, nearly half of  the tournament’s 200,077 spectators used public transit at least once to get to the site.  “This year, Tennis Canada has committed to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions related to the air travel of players, in partnership with the Women’s Tennis Association,” says Lemay, “so both organizations will share the cost of carbon offsets for the air travel emissions.”

The green plan’s main objective, however, is waste reduction. “We’ve done some more focused awareness-raising in terms of waste reduction to encourage people to use the recycling bins and the composting bins more frequently,” says Lemay.  Though recycling has become a common feature of major events in Montreal, the Rogers Cup is one of the first to include composting for public use to help divert more waste from landfill, which began at the tournament in 2009.

four people and a mascot

Green team members and the triple bins at the Rogers Cup

Food vendors have been cooperative in purchasing a variety of mainly compostable food containers. “They’ve replaced all kinds of items like take-out platters that were difficult to recycle with corn-based compostable containers,” says Frédérik Bélanger of RCI Environment, the tournament’s waste management service.  “You’ll also find all plates, containers, and utensils are compostable, the wine glasses are recyclable, compostable fry and poutine platters, which mean that food providers are creating almost no waste that will go to landfill.”

“Last year we sent 47% of our waste to landfill and we were able to divert 53%,” says Lemay.  “This year we are trying to raise that level to 60% diverted from landfill.”  In order to achieve the waste reduction goal, the number recycling and composting bins has been increased all over the site and more signs dot the grounds at entrances, in bathrooms, near eating areas and on many of the bins themselves.  However, signs are conspicuously absent at concession stands where visitors could look at them while waiting in line and before they eat.

The tournament does have a team of volunteers helping to raise the public’s awareness of environmental issues and what Tennis Canada is doing, especially in terms of waste reduction and properly sorting waste at the source.  “So [green team volunteers] walk around the site on the patios and near the concession stands and advise people where to put their empty beer cup, in the recycling, because it’s a number 5 plastic, for example.”

Several other measures have been taken to raise awareness including humourous ads on the giant stadium screens encouraging composting and recycling, and ‘did you know?’ tips in the daily program.

2010 is the final year of Tennis Canada’s three-year green plan and in the fall the not-for-profit organization will be releasing a complete report on all its green plan activities and results.

Sound: Check out the sounds of the Rogers Cup and Tennis Canada’s green plan

December 2019
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