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It’s a long shot, but these kids are suing the U.S. government over climate change





Hello, hello. This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week’s lineup:

  • Meet the kids taking the U.S. government to court over climate change
  • Don Pittis on the carbon tax bogeyman
  • Canada’s energy mix isn’t as scary as you may think
  • A tasty solution to food waste

Enviro kids to U.S. government: See you in court! (Maybe?)

Kelsey Juliana, far left, is one of 21 plaintiffs in Juliana et al. v. United States, a lawsuit that seeks to hold the U.S. government accountable for its environmental policies. (Our Children’s Trust/CBC)

It always seemed like a long shot, but a group of youngsters are on the cusp of facing off against the U.S. government in court over climate change.

Named after Kelsey Juliana, one of 21 youth plaintiffs in the case (and the one on the far left in the photo above),Juliana v. United States is an earnest attempt to hold the U.S. government accountable for its environmental policies. The plaintiffs are being represented by the non-profit Our Children’s Trust.

This unprecedented case is set to go to trial on Oct. 29 — if the U.S. government doesn’t manage to thwart it (again).

The case dates back to 2015, when a conservation group called Earth Guardians and the youth plaintiffs — including one Canadian — filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for their right to clean air, clean water and a healthy future.

The suit is led by 18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an Indigenous musician and youth director of Earth Guardians, who has called it “the trial of our lifetimes.”

After an almost four-year battle and attempts by the fossil fuel industry and the U.S. government to have the case thrown out,Juliana v. United States is supposed to begin in federal court in Oregon on Monday.

The prominence of this case is probably the reason the administrations of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have tried to stop it from moving ahead. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, saying litigation would put a large burden on the government.

In its response, Our Children’s Trust emphasized that Juliana v. United States is “not an environmental case, it’s a civil rights case.”

They argue that through its “affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change,” the government is depriving Americans of their “constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.”

What the plaintiffs are ultimately asking for is that the government take measures to mitigate climate change.

Observers have pointed out that the Supreme Court’s involvement is odd, since the case is being heard in a lower court. Ann Carlson, a professor of environmental law at the University of California Los Angeles, told Vox that it’s a sign the Supreme Court “is uncomfortable with the underlying legal theory of the Juliana case.”

Celeste Decaire

Who will pay the ultimate price in the carbon tax fight?

On Oct. 23, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his government’s new carbon tax. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

CBC business columnist Don Pittis weighs in on the political posturing over the federal carbon tax announced this week.

Whether a politician uses the term “carbon tax” or “carbon pricing” may become similar to the difference between “tarsands” and “oilsands.” Both describe the same thing, and while pedants will argue that one or the other is more correct, the term you use has really just become a marker of whether you are for it or against it.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t use the term carbon tax once to describe the federal backstop plan for those provinces that don’t have an existing carbon-pricing plan (namely Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan).

For environmentalists already convinced that climate change is a hazard,  Trudeau’s plan to offer rebates in advance of the consumer costs of carbon taxes will likely seem a step in the right direction. But environmentalists are not the ones Trudeau and his Liberal government are trying to convince.

Although he specifically denied it in the news conference, Trudeau gave every indication that his government will be fighting the next election over a carbon tax to battle climate change.

Already critics are describing his “climate action incentives” as old-fashioned pork barrel bribes to sway voters. But as I outlined in my latest online column, what you might call the “prebates” sound like they were conceived by a behavioural economist well versed in the idea that most people don’t want to wait for their reward.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a carbon tax opponent, warned of an upfront cost of $260 per family in carbon tax expenses. To people who are really worried about the state of the planet, $260 seems like chicken feed compared to the ultimate economic damage climate change will create.

Trudeau’s response? He upped the ante, promising $307 to Ontario families and similar amounts to people in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan in advance to cover those carbon tax expenses, with more to come in the future, as carbon pricing rises.

Whether that will be enough to convince the many people who seem to think that tax is a four-letter word — especially during elections — remains to be seen.

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks and months, What on Earth? will return to the issue of carbon pricing in order to clear up confusion over this contentious issue.

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

The Big Picture: Canada’s energy mix

Canada is often criticized for its lacklustre action on climate change, but a breakdown of the country’s electricity sources is somewhat reassuring — it shows a large reliance on low- to no-carbon sources (hydro, nuclear), decreasing use of carbon-rich sources (coal, oil and gas) and rising use of renewables (wind, solar).

No beef tenderloin left behind

This beef tenderloin is one of the dishes that the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto recently donated to a local food bank. (Chris Zielinski/MLSE)

Grilled chicken breast, wild mushroom gnocchi, beet and goat cheese salad — not bad for a soup kitchen, right? OK, so they’re leftovers, but they’re from the corporate and party suites at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, where buffet menus go for $55 to $95 a head during Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors games.

And these meals are not just feeding the hungry, but helping fight climate change. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that globally, food waste is responsible for about 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon emissions each year. So providing hot meals to the homeless could, in a small way, help keep future Earthlings cool.

The arena formerly known as the Air Canada Centre has been donating unsold hot dogs and other concession stand extras for 20 years, but until this month, it had been tossing many unserved portions of its finest fare in the green bin. Not anymore.

“If we could feed people the food, why would we turn it into compost?” said Chris Zielinski, culinary director for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns and runs the arena.

MLSE has partnered with the food bank Second Harvest, Hellmann’s Real Food Rescue and the non-profit Tablée des Chefs to donate its “premium” leftovers to the city’s hungriest residents. Jean-François Archambault, founder of La Tablée des Chefs, started a similar program at Montreal’s Bell Centre 12 years ago and retested it in Calgary before bringing it to Toronto.

The idea stemmed from Archambault’s time in the hotel industry and seeing food he spent hours preparing get thrown out: “That I could not stand.” So he started connecting chefs with local soup kitchens and created pathways for the food to find its way to the needy.

Archambault said that at first, many organizations refused to take part because they feared the risk of food poisoning and how it might affect their reputations. But more and more kitchens are jumping on board. Now, Archambault said, your reputation as a chef might take a hit if you’re seen letting food go to waste.

Emily Chung

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNulty


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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future





Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M






Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.


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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study






The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”


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