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How ship operators are charting a greener course

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Hello, friends. 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:

  • Online shopping doesn’t really click with the environment
  • Ancient and endangered forests, at a glance
  • Charting a greener course for ships
  • Let’s take a moment to appreciate nature’s beauty, shall we?

Online shopping is wasteful – but it doesn’t have to be

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images/CBC)

We are in that dark time of year that surrounds Black Friday. Hordes of shoppers will invade malls across the continent in search of “amazing!” deals — and those too timid or busy to physically join the fray will do it virtually, by shopping online.

In this piece, I laid out the environmental effects of online shopping.

Filling and checking out a virtual shopping cart can be greener than doing the real thing because you’re not getting in your car, driving to the mall and then circling for an hour looking for parking. But shopping online has the potential to be worse because of the packaging (bags within bags inside boxes within boxes) and the array of emissions-spewing modes of transport involved.

There are ways retailers could encourage online shoppers to make greener choices. A 2016 experiment found that roughly 90 per cent of customers were willing to pay extra to offset the carbon emissions from shipping when it was the default setting setting at the checkout. When it wasn’t the default option, 40 per cent still picked it.

Another experiment in the same study found about 20 per cent of customers were willing to pick no-rush shipping if they were offered either a $1 credit or carbon offsets as an incentive.

Customers can also take more personal responsibility. The simplest solution would be to simply buy less stuff. Barring that, here are some things to consider that might make your online shopping — not just on Black Friday, but all year long — a little greener.

Plan ahead and buy less. If you need an item on a regular basis, get a subscription. That way, the retailer can arrange for the most efficient delivery.

Don’t check out your online shopping cart until it’s as full as possible. One shipment obviously generates fewer emissions than five.

Avoid two-day, same-day or any expedited shipping, even if it’s free. These scenarios result in more air shipments, emptier trucks, less efficient routes and more emissions.

Have your stuff delivered somewhere safe. Delivery attempts that were unsuccessful because you weren’t home increase the number of truck trips. If you’re not around, can your parcel be delivered to a post office, store or other location?

Avoid unnecessary returns. When buying clothing, don’t order multiple sizes when you’re not sure which one fits. Don’t add items to your cart that you plan to return just to get free shipping. Returns don’t just go back the way they came, but often rack up emissions on a long, circuitous journey through global logistics systems.

Reuse and recycle the packaging.This is your chance to get creative!

Emily Chung


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We love your feedback, so keep it coming.

Write us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.


The Big Picture: Ancient and endangered forests

The preservation of our forests is key to containing global carbon emissions. But we also know that it requires vigilance.

For nearly two decades, the Canadian conservation group Canopy has been consulting with businesses to create, in its own words, “sustainable supply chains and foster innovative solutions to environmental challenges.” Canopy recently created ForestMapper, an interactive tool that allows you to see changes in tree cover as well as the animal species found in these parts. The map below highlights the oldest and most vulnerable forests around the world.

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • While Ontario recently pulled subsidies that encouraged people to buy electric cars, B.C. is redoubling its efforts. This week, the province announced a massive incentive plan that would ensure 10 per cent of all new vehicle sales would be zero-emission vehicles by 2025 — and 100 per cent by 2040.

  • But before we congratulate our fellow Canadians, it’s worth citing a recent study that calls out Canada, as well as Russia and China, for climate policies that could lead to global warming well beyond the two-degrees level.

  • They’re calling it a “sacred corridor of life.” This week, a coalition of South American Indigenous groups presented a plan to the UN Conference on Biodiversity for a 200 million-hectare protected area in the Amazon region. The group is describing the proposed area, which is roughly the size of Mexico, “the world’s last great sanctuary for biodiversity.”

  • If you follow U.S. politics, you may have seen mention of #GreenNewDeal. It’s an effort by rookie House members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to force congressional leadership to introduce a plan to move the country to a low-carbon future — and create millions of jobs in the process.

Making waves by making less pollution

(Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images)

Most of the talk about how to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector revolves around planes, trains and automobiles. Ships don’t figure in the conversation nearly as much.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t make an environmental mess — or that operators aren’t doing something about it.

Most ships use heavy fuel oil, a cheaper, more viscous form of petroleum than what you put in your car. The exhaust is immense. It is estimated that shipping accounts for two per cent of global carbon emissions.

Earlier this year, members of the UN International Maritime Organization, which oversees the shipping industry, agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050.

One green option gaining steam (pun intended) iswind power, involving rotor sails. The concept was actually developed in the 1920s, but at the time, coal was simply cheaper. Recently, however, the Finnish firm Norsepower has found a way to improve on the technology and installed it on ferries and — irony of ironies — an oil tanker. (This animation shows how it works.)

But shipping isn’t the only source of high-seas pollution. For all the romance associated with it, an ocean cruise is a pretty dirty undertaking. According to the German environmental group Nabu, a cruise ship emits as much carbon a day as one million cars.

Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten wants to do something about that. Earlier this week, the company announced it is planning to power its ships with liquified biogas — specifically, a fossil-free fuel derived from dead fish and other organic waste.

Next year, Hurtigruten will introduce its first battery-hybrid powered cruise ship, and by 2021, it plans to operate at least six of its 17 ships with a combination of biogas, liquified natural gas and large batteries.

But there’s still much work to do — it is estimated there are more than 300 cruise ships in operation worldwide.

Andre Mayer


Ah, nature

We wanted to end this week’s issue with a bit of eye candy. This shot of Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park in B.C. was taken by Evan Mitsui, staff photographer for CBC’s The National.

We see many stories about environmental degradation, but there are also positive developments. Earlier this month, the federal and provincial governments pledged a total of $14.6 million to expand protected lands in a part of the Kootenays known as theDarkwoods Conservation Area. It will increase the size of Darkwoods by about 14 per cent and provide greater protection for a number of species at risk, including grizzlies and peregrine falcons.

To see more of Evan’s work, visit his Instagram account.

(Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Stay in touch!

Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

Sign up here to get What on Earth? in your inbox every Thursday.

Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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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

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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

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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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