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‘It would be great to have clean air’: A Polish wish as crucial climate talks open

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The official video promoting the host of this year’s crucial international climate talks paints a glowing green picture.

Poland, it says, is a country whose climate is “consistently improving,” and that “promotes low emission means of transport.”

The video makes no mention of the tough negotiations starting in Katowice, a city in Poland’s prime coal-mining country, nor of the smog that often plagues the region. Instead, it says Poland is a place where “care for nature” and forest management have helped absorb climate-changing carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from the air.

The narrative leaves activists like Magdalena Kozlowska incredulous.

“It’s a very nice video of a place I would love to live in,” she said in an interview. “It’s good that the government realizes that that’s the place we should live in. So that’s the goal.

“But it’s still not the Poland we are now.”

Broken pledges

This week, Poland is in good company in greening up and papering over an evident lack of drastic action to fight climate change despite the dire warnings.

The global gathering aims to meet a December 2018 deadline set at the Paris climate talks to come up with guidelines to implement the 2015 deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Talks in Poland come just days after a UN report revealed that, three years after the Paris deal, several G20 countries —including Canada — are not on track to meet their promised targets for cutting greenhouse gas emission by 2030.

“In fact, global CO2 emissions increased in 2017 after three years of stagnation,” said the report. This warning comes as scientists say the Paris goals themselves are inadequate to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Krakow’s smog days aren’t as frequent as a few years ago, but the city continues to be rated among the most polluted in the world. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

And yet several of those countries, Canada included, insist they’re making progress. They say a global turnaround is coming — even as the U.S. announced it’s pulling out of the Paris deal, and Brazil gives up hosting the conference next year.

Claims of advancement are made even as a significant number of the nearly 200 countries represented here, like Poland, are still dependent on coal, including big economies like Germany, India, and China.

Poland’s coal industry is thriving, and the government has announced that a state-owned coal producer would be one of the sponsors of the climate talks, to the dismay of environmentalists.

In Poland, coal is used to heat individual homes and to generate about 80 per cent of the country’s power.

If Poland’s tight relationship with coal has international parallels, then perhaps the city of Krakow’s experience could prove inspirational for activists fighting to change it.

How one city battled smog

Krakow, a city of about 800,000 in southern Poland, has a smog problem, one that simply rages in winter.

The city’s air is some of the most polluted in Europe, sending many residents packing, some to as far away as Canada.

Krakow’s curse is its location in a windless valley and the once-rampant use of coal in and around it. Some have called it the Beijing of Europe, in reference to China’s smog-choked capital.

An electronic billboard keeps Krakow city residents informed about smog levels. Red signals a health alert, better to stay inside; yellow indicates there are some smog issues, but it’s still OK to go outdoors; and green means it’s safe to do outdoor activities like jogging. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

This pollution has led to a growth spurt at the Kochane daycare in Krakow — a virtual fortress against toxic air.

Daycare owner Teresa Tkaczyk-Szlachta calls hers Poland’s first anti-smog preschool, and parents have clamoured to enrol their kids. She and her husband invested in a custom-made filtration system to keep the premises virtually pollutant free. Outside, if her monitor indicates pollutants are high, either the kids wear masks on outings, or they stay indoors.

On bad smog days, nine-year-old Stefan Szlachta never heads outside without his anti-smog mask. His mother runs Krakow’s first anti-smog pre-school where emissions are constantly measured and monitored. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“It would be great to have clean air … I think that is [the] wish of every citizen in Krakow,” she said. 

Change is happening in Krakow that isn‘t always obvious in the day-to-day monitoring of air quality on mobile phone apps or the city-sponsored real-time street panels.

New stoves

The city of has approved a ban on using coal and it’s helping residents to phase out coal stoves by September 2019.

At least two more of those stoves will be struck off the list in the next few days.  

The tile-covered, tall rectangular stoves that have heated one of Poland’s oldest stained glass workshops and museums now sit idle. Temporary heaters warm the air until a hot-water based system kicks in.

“Each of us men had to do heating service once or twice a week, we’d go downstairs with these buckets, get some coal, get some wood to start the fire,” said Johan Christoph Model, an apprentice from Germany who also works at the museum as a guide.

“From this year on, we’ll have a new heating system.”

Johann Christoph Model, an apprentice and guide at Krakow’s famed stained glass museum and workshop, demonstrates how the coal stove used to heat the museum during the city’s long cold winter months. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

The ban is a game changer that is credited to Krakow Smog Alarm group, a circle of old friends who mounted a campaign six years ago demanding action from the city.

“We gained lots of support from the media and from people who also were fed up with air quality but nobody before us just shouted out this problem,” said Kozlowska, the activist and one of the group’s founders. Their work also led the city to create an alert system to inform citizens about air quality minute to minute.

The good news, said Kozlowska, is that only about 4,000 coal stoves remain in Krakow. The city’s air quality has improved slightly. “Just smelling [it] we feel it’s better,” she said.

The bad news is that smoggy days are still frequent. Last week, in one part of the city, the Airly monitoring app reported one pollutant 373 per cent higher than acceptable levels. “If possible, stay at home,” it advised.

‘We have to change something’

Some Krakow residents still can’t afford to permanently get off coal.

Elżbieta Brodzik, 78, would like to switch but said the municipality that owns the apartment where she lives should pay.

“I use that stove but it is very uncomfortable,” she said. “I am not able to carry the coal anymore.” She abandoned a second furnace in the apartment after she nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

‘It’s not just the region — it’s Poland,’ Kozlowska said about the issue of smog. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

In towns near Krakow, many are also still using coal or even garbage to heat homes, and the smog that regularly swallows whole streets keeps seeping into the city.

That has led Kozlowska‘s group to cast its gaze on the bigger picture.

“We started small,” said Kozlowska. “Then we realized it’s not just Krakow but it’s the region. Then we realized it’s not just the region — it’s Poland. Now, we are thinking ‘wait, it’s not just air pollution, it’s also climate change.'”

“It’s a problem [that] we started to really take seriously.”

The city of Krakow is also thinking big and it’s inspiring other cities in Poland to follow suit. Krakow is aiming to create more green space, and more traffic restrictions, said Pawel Scigalski, a city official responsible for air quality.

“People understand that we have to change something,” he said in an interview.

In the meantime, in the name of clean air, a steel company is recasting some of the old discarded metal stoves into bicycle racks. In a contest, some of them have been donated to a local school.

At the museum, the plan is to keep the old stoves exactly where they stand — as relics of history.

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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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