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Your meals are speeding up climate change, but there’s a way to eat sustainably

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Your supper last night may have generated as many greenhouse gas emissions as driving to the next town in your car. At best, it was probably the equivalent of a couple of kilometres.

The good news is that it’s quite easy to eat more sustainably. Science shows there are lots of ways to reduce your dietary carbon footprint without going vegan — or even giving up any foods you enjoy.

Bonus: They’ll probably save you money, too.

Food production is responsible for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. A recent blog post from the World Resources Institute, a global sustainability think-tank, warns that agriculture alone could raise the Earth’s average temperature more than 1.5 C above that in pre-industrial times if we don’t change our eating habits.

Many everyday foods generate a surprising quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a breakfast sandwich with bacon, sausage and egg that you picked up on the way to work would have generated the equivalent of about 1,441 grams of carbon dioxide, reports a recent study by University of Manchester researchers Namy Espinoza-Orias and Adisa Azapagic. That’s about the same as a Honda Civic sedan driving nine kilometres.

Food production is behind up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)

You see, a lot of energy went into making that sandwich, from feeding the pigs and harvesting the wheat to refrigerating the finished product until you can buy it.

It all adds up, little by little, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Azapagic, a professor of sustainable chemical engineering. “So that when you put a sandwich together, with all the ingredients, plus the packaging, plus the transport, plus the preparation of the sandwiches, of course, then you get a relatively high carbon footprint.”

Things get worse if your meal contains red meat — a seven-ounce steak is equivalent to driving 50 kilometres, based on calculations by the non-profit Environmental Working Group.

And it adds up. Using a 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey of more than 10,000 people, a recent University of Waterloo study looked at the “global warming potential” of different types of diets. It found that in a year, omnivores generate emissions equivalent to driving nearly 15,000 kilometres (that’s more than three times the distance between Vancouver and Montreal). That’s more than double the amount generated by vegetarians or vegans.

Eating more locally produced and organic foods — advice given by some environmental groups — won’t necessarily make a difference, studies show.

But here are five simple things that research shows can reduce your carbon footprint from food.

1. Waste less food

That’s right — you don’t even have to change what or how much you eat to make a difference. Just throw less away.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for about eight per cent of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions — almost as much as road transportation.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for about eight per cent of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions — almost as much as road transportation. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Not only are emissions generated from growing, processing and distributing food, but when it decomposes, food generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The recent University of Waterloo study found that avoidable household food waste was responsible for 9.5 to 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from food. Lead author Anastasia Veeramani, who conducted the study while she was a graduate student, said she was astonished by the amount of food waste.

She comes from Siberia, where food is relatively scarce, and said seeing how food waste affects the environment “was quite a revelation.”

Reducing food waste wouldn’t just help the environment. It could also save money.

The average Canadian household wastes about $1,100 worth of food (about 140 kilograms) per year, according to 2017 research by the National Zero Waste Council.

Veeramani, who now runs Nu Grocery, a zero waste grocery store in Ottawa, recommends being more aware of what you consume, only buying what you need and using up the leftovers. Careful meal planning can help, as can freezing food such as bread, sliced fruit or meat if you know you won’t be able to eat it before it spoils, recommends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2. Prepare your own meals at home

Not all sandwiches are made equal, and the ones you grab from the fridge at the corner store may be significantly increasing your emissions.

“If you make a sandwich at home, you will normally halve the carbon footprint of your sandwich,” said the University of Manchester’s Azapagic.

A prepared sandwich has about double the carbon footprint of a sandwich prepared at home. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

That’s largely because of increased food waste. Twenty per cent more food is thrown out in the preparation of a commercial sandwich, the study found. And then there’s the energy needed to refrigerate the ingredients and the finished sandwich, along with operating the sandwich assembly line.

If you don’t have time to prepare your own food all the time, Azapagic recommends going to the deli counter and buying a freshly prepared sandwich.

3. Eat less

Many Canadians eat more than they need to. In 2014, 20.2 per cent of Canadian adults were obese, and 40 per cent of men and 27.4 per cent of women were overweight, Statistics Canada reports.

Many people are eating more food than they need. ( Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/Canadian Press)

Veeramani found that omnivores, who made up 30 per cent of the population in her study, ate 20 per cent more calories on average than the amount considered “optimal” by Health Canada.

“Reducing overconsumption of calories” is the top recommendation in a 2016 report from the World Resources Institute on how to shift diets around the world for a “sustainable food future.”

Veeramani recommends that people make a conscious choice to eat the amount that they need, rather than the amount that they want.

“It’s better for health, it’s better for the environment.”

4. Eat less meat, dairy and eggs

Worried you’re not getting enough protein? Unless you’re vegan, you’re probably worrying unnecessarily.

Veeramani’s research found that people eating all other diets — including vegetarians — were consuming 150 per cent to 250 per cent of the recommended level of protein, and 60 to 80 per cent of it was dairy, eggs, fish and meat.

That’s been backed up by other studies. According to the World Resources Institute, the average person in more than 90 per cent of the world was eating more protein than they needed in 2009, and the proportion of animal-based protein in people’s diets has been growing dramatically.

Producing beef uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein, according to the World Resources Institute. (Enrique Marcarian/Reuters)

This is a problem, because animal-based proteins consume more resources and generate more greenhouse gases than beans, nuts and other plant-based proteins. Producing beef uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein, the World Resources Institute reports.

Veeramani said you can make a difference by eating smaller portions, fewer meat-based meals per day or week, or even switching from beef to other meats like pork or chicken.

“Any reduction will improve your carbon footprint,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be a full switch to a completely new diet.”

5. Avoid greenhouse-grown veggies

While meat and cheese might be bad for the environment, veggies aren’t totally off the hook, either.

The sandwich study found that whether or not you include tomatoes between your bread slices can have a big impact on emissions. That’s because most tomatoes grown in the UK, where the study was done, are grown in greenhouses that use lots of energy for heating and lighting.

Locally grown greenhouse tomatoes generally have a much higher carbon footprint than imported field tomatoes. (Dawn J. Sagert/The Sioux City Journal/Associated Press)

In that case, one kilogram of tomatoes generates 10 times its own weight in emissions, Azapagic said.

Canadian tomatoes are typically greenhouse-grown as well.

That’s one reason buying local isn’t necessarily better for the environment — imported field tomatoes have a much lower carbon footprint, even when transportation is included.

But tomatoes aren’t the only questionable vegetable. U.S. food writer Tamar Haspel recently argued that we should be rethinking how much lettuce we eat. That’s because it has almost no nutritional value, but requires lots of energy to be grown, shipped and refrigerated.

“I think maybe we should start thinking about it as a resource-intensive, and maybe a luxury food,” she told CBC Radio’s The Current.

Veeramani’s study also flagged greenhouse-grown lettuce as having a big carbon footprint, not just from the way it’s grown, but also because it spoils easily. Based on waste amounts in Canada, the study reports, well over half a kilogram of lettuce is thrown out for every kilogram we eat.

Veeramani said “there’s no universal solution” to lower your carbon footprint from food.

Her top recommendation? “Just being conscious of what you consume.”

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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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