Why I joined 400,000 people in demanding climate action

The People's Climate March

The People’s Climate March in New York City attracted nearly 400,000 participants.

Sarah Amelia Sackville McLauchlan is a guest blogger for our 80×50 Blog site. Sarah travelled with Toronto350.org to participate in the People’s Climate March in New York City where approximately 400,000 marchers made history with the largest ever demonstration for Climate Action.

From the moment I heard about the People’s Climate March, I knew I wanted to go.  This was going to be an historic moment in the movement for climate action, and I wanted to be part of it.

I also wanted to go so that I could represent my own concerns about the looming climate crisis, and my desire for us to do much more to address that crisis.  As a dis/abled woman (I’m blind) living on a fixed income, I have grave concerns about what climate change (or, as I’ve often heard it called these days, climate destabilization) will do to my future.  And make no mistake, although we talk often about what the future holds for our grandchildren, the crisis is upon us now.

Climate change is already affecting my generation, and I’m in my thirties.  What will our world be like when I reach my mother’s age?  I already have health issues because of increasingly hot and humid summers and volatile winters.  I depend on infrastructure (public transit, sewer systems) as well as health services that are strained by the impacts of global warming. If these are problems now, what is it going to be like if, or rather when, the consequences of what we’ve done to the planet become more extreme?  We now recognize that climate change will hit the poor, the very young, the elderly and the sick hardest. This is true not only in poor nations, but also here in Canada.

For these reasons, I joined the People’s Climate March thanks to Toronto350.org (our local network affiliate of 350.org) who organized the Toronto contingent.

The People’s Climate March was all the organizers had hoped it would be and much, much more. My group, from Toronto350, marched as part of the “holding those responsible accountable” block, which was towards the rear, and we probably got there around 10:00am. Already the streets were packed.  In fact, so many people showed up and the demonstration took up so many blocks, our group didn’t start moving until around 2:00pm.  Had we all started moving at the same time, we would have crushed each other.

Part of what made the march so incredible, apart from the sheer size of the turnout, was the diversity of the people and groups participating.  Families, elderly people, young people, and people from all over North America were there.  We ran into contingents from Ottawa, Halifax, and British Columbia.  We met local New Yorkers, people from up-state New York, and groups from Washington D.C. and California. There were anti-fracking activists, people fighting pipelines, coal mining and coal burning, people campaigning for clean energy, and, of course, people from communities directly affected by climate destablization such as Indigenous/First Nations communities, and survivors of Hurricane Sandy.  I really felt how interconnected we all are.

Many high-profile people showed up as well: Canada’s Elizabeth May, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, Sting, Neil Young, Leonardo DiCaprio, in addition to giants in the environmental movement such as  Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein. Even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marched.

Colourful banners, signs, posters, and stickers, were everywhere.  My favourites included the giant black carbon-bubble balloon, the giant Earth balloon, and the big green balloons that said “disrupt denial.”

Huge screens showed clips of solidarity marches around the world.  We saw the demonstrations in Paris, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

What an amazing day!  I hope that we’ll be able to keep up the momentum.  350.org, including our Toronto chapter along with other groups that organized the march, are already working on follow-up events and campaigns.  You can be sure that I’ll participate in those as well.

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Climate Week: Financing the climate revolution

bikes on roads

All climate-smart projects need financing.

More than 100 events are taking place September 22 to 28 in New York City for Climate Week. Despite the number of panel discussions, workshops and meetings, there isn’t much in the line-up that speaks to the role of the market place in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, which is kind of surprising given how much we throw around the term “economy.”

We’ve adopted a different approach at Toronto Atmospheric Fund where we explore opportunities to invest much of our endowment in low-carbon projects and also create financial products, not commercially available, to accelerate energy conservation in the building sector.

The fact is, climate solution projects won’t get done without financing. We focus on pushing energy efficiency in the built environment, and there is a lot of opportunity there. Marry the wealth of opportunities to implement energy efficiency projects with financing acumen, and you strike a rich vein of investment possibilities.

The business model makes sense within the existing economic system. Leveraging the market place by investing in energy conservation measures in big buildings is how we’ll realize the low-carbon economy.

TAF offers an Energy Savings Performance Agreement (ESPA), which can be used to finance energy-efficiency retrofits across a broad range of building types such as long-term care facilities, office properties, industrial and multi-unit residential buildings. The result is smaller utility bills (because you’re using less energy) and lower greenhouse gas emissions (because you’re using less energy). The project pays for itself: after TAF recovers its investment from the savings, the owner retains all future cost savings.

We financed a $740,000 energy-efficiency retrofit for Robert Cooke Co-operative Homes, located in Etobicoke. A new heating and cooling system was installed in addition to upgraded energy-efficient appliances – including stoves, fridges and low-flush toilets – and hallway lighting. Energy cost savings are projected to be $71,300 a year. Four months after the completion of the retrofit, savings exceeded that prediction by 15%. The project will also achieve a 27% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to a reduction of 166 tonnes of emissions annually.

Financing can even drive policy. We entered into a Green Condo Loan with Tridel, one of Canada’s leading high rise residential developers, in 2008. The loan paid for the incorporation of energy efficient measures during the construction of Tridel’s 29-storey condominium, resulting in a 41% reduction in energy consumption compared to its conventionally built sister building, and saving $125,000 a year in energy costs – 30% more than the annual loan payments. The tower became one of Toronto’s first LEED Silver condominiums and the drop in its energy use is equivalent to a 550-tonne reduction in yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

This led to the City of Toronto’s adoption of the Toronto Green Standard, which requires that energy efficiencies in new buildings be at least 15% better that the requirements set out in the Ontario Building Code.

Today, investors speculate that there are approximately $50 billion worth of energy efficiency opportunities in North America. This is an enormous, largely untapped, treasure trove in the market place. Energy-efficiency projects meet the triple bottom line: lower operating costs make good business sense for the property owner; green jobs are created as equipment must be produced, installed and monitored – moreover, as more retrofits are undertaken, demand for equipment grows; and greenhouse gas emissions go down.

There are no losers here. It’s win-win-win.

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Climate Week: The People’s Climate March

The People's Climate March

Marches for climate action took place around the world, but the biggest was in New York City.

Jason Lee is a guest blogger for our 80×50 Blog site. Jason traveled with Toronto350.org to participate in the People’s Climate March in New York City where approximately 400,000 marchers made history with the largest ever demonstration for Climate Action.

As a recent graduate in environmental engineering, the idea of reducing my carbon footprint was more an academic notion than one that meant a change in my lifestyle. But when I finally left my university bubble, I was keen on seeing how I could make a difference in the world.

I signed up to attend last Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York City. We travelled by bus from Toronto to Brooklyn, where we slept on the floor in a church basement, marched with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, then hopped on a bus back to Toronto.

The irony of some 300 Torontonians burning copious amounts of fossil fuels to protest against fossil fuel production was not lost on me, but the experience was worth it to be part of climate history and surround myself with thousands of like-minded people for a couple days. Furthermore, we did it for a good cause. I think everyone who was on that bus looks forward to the day when we won’t have to burn fossil fuels to fight climate change.

Even so, it’s worth reflecting on what this demonstration accomplished.

In terms of our direct goals of substantially lowering greenhouse gas emissions, we won’t be able to gauge our success until after the Climate Change Negotiations in Paris, 2015, to see how decision makers have reacted to our actions. Still, the march was an impressive display of solidarity for a common cause. And that’s important because I’m sure there are millions of people like me who, before the demonstration, sat at home thinking about how futile climate action was. I live in a world where people, friends, and family care more about the iPhone 6 than the future of our planet. So it gives hope to a lot of people that there are so many individuals out there who share the same point of view – that they are not alone.

During the march, we demanded that corporations and policy-makers change the way business is conducted. We blame big oil, mining and logging for all our environmental woes. At the same, consumer demand drives drilling for oil, digging up resources and destroying the rainforest. As long as the majority of people are willing to pay for oil and plastics, and continue to demand cheap products that require energy to produce, little is going to change. As long as we give companies positive reinforcement with our wallets to put profit and cheap goods ahead of the future of our planet, we can expect the status quo to continue.

That said, even small actions – such as mindful consumption – go a long way. We should support companies that have a good environmental track record, and we should refuse to buy from companies that are known to pollute the planet. The Global Footprint Network  is just one of many available websites to help you estimate your environmental impact so that you can identify areas where you most need to reduce that impact.

As far as I’m concerned Climate Week should last longer than just one week (a lifetime is more appropriate), but maybe this is what it takes to get the ball rolling. A week is an improvement over one hour (Earth Hour) or one day (Earth Day). Perhaps we could build on this time frame and institute a Green Month or Sustainable Year. Regardless, during this week I hope you think about how you fit into the global picture of climate action, and how you want to make your contribution.

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Climate Week: Solutions lie in the building sector

The City's Home Energy Loan Program, sponsored by TAF, helps homeowners improve their home energy efficiency.

The City’s Home Energy Loan Program, sponsored by TAF, helps homeowners improve their home energy efficiency.

This year marks the sixth anniversary of Climate Week, which got off to an extraordinary start with yesterday’s People’s Climate March. In New York City, where most of the climate action is taking place including the UN Climate Summit, more than 300,000 people took to the streets in support of climate action, and more than 100 events and high-profile meetings are taking place throughout the city every day this week.

Cities around the world are leading the charge to secure a safer climate future. Here, Toronto Atmospheric Fund takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing climate change. Our top priority is supporting energy conservation in the built environment.

In Toronto, the energy we use in our homes and buildings accounts for about 50% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is one of many reasons we’ve selected buildings as our primary focus area to reduce carbon pollution. Space and water heating are the main source of GHG emissions from buildings; many people would be surprised to learn that two-thirds of the energy we use in our homes and buildings comes from natural gas used for space and water heating.

The good news is that it’s possible to dramatically reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions in our homes and buildings, using proven technologies and approaches that pay for themselves by reducing utility bills.

Moreover, taking advantage of these opportunities creates green jobs and stimulates the local economy. Torontonians spend almost $5 billion annually on energy bills, creating a massive “energy drain” on our local economy. Every million dollars we avoid spending on energy can create 5-10 net “person years of employment”, both by employing people to retrofit buildings and by keeping more money in the local economy. If we could reduce Toronto’s energy drain by 20%, it could support up to 10,000 new jobs while reducing our annual GHG emissions by 2 million tonnes!

Here’s what TAF is doing to advance energy conservation in our homes and buildings:

  • TAF helped design and fund the City’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP), which was launched this year. The HELP program offers low-interest loans to eligible home owners to finance energy upgrades like insulation and high-efficiency furnaces. The loans are paid back through your property tax bill. If you decide to move before the loan is repaid, it is transferable to the new owner who will continue benefitting from the upgrades. A sister program called Hi-RIS is available for multi-family rental buildings
  • If you live in a high-rise condo, don’t worry. Our Power of Green guidebook for condominiums provides step-by-step advice for condo boards on how to improve energy efficiency. For condominiums that can’t afford energy upgrades, TAF created a specialized financing product called an Energy Savings Performance Agreement that lets condos and other buildings pay back the financing out of the energy cost savings. The best part is, if there’s no savings, then no payments.
  • With more than 100 high rise buildings under construction, it’s critical that new buildings be built as efficiently as possible. TAF helped the City create building standards that address everything from energy and water efficiency to bicycle parking and storm water management. Version 2.0 of the Toronto Green Standard took effect in January 2014, and requires all new development projects be designed to outperform the Province’s energy efficiency standards by 15%.
  • While there are established, proven technologies that can reduce energy use in buildings, there is still a lot to learn. TAF’s TowerWise Demonstration program is working with 10 Toronto buildings to implement energy-efficiency retrofits that will reduce GHG emissions by at least 25%. Working with utility, government, and academic partners, TAF is using these projects to demonstrate the performance of energy conservation technologies and the value of a holistic whole building approach.

With global GHG emissions continuing to increase at an accelerating pace, it’s easy to lose hope. But solutions to global warming exist, and many individuals, businesses, and even entire countries are successfully reducing their GHG emissions. Toronto’s emissions are now about 15% below 1990 levels, and if we redouble our efforts we will meet and possibly exceed the City’s commitment to reduce emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. All of this can be accomplished via smart investments that save money and support the local economy. What are we waiting for?


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My summer with TAF

People around a desk

Energy efficiency retrofits should improve indoor comfort.

Our summer intern, Nicole Langballe, wrote this guest blog about her time with us at TAF. Nicole is now a graduate student in the engineering program at University of Toronto.

I just concluded my six-week internship with Toronto Atmospheric Fund before heading back to school this month to start my Master’s in civil engineering. Over the summer, I was the Indoor Environmental Quality Research Intern meaning that I supported TAF’s work on energy-efficiency retrofits by researching the best ways to monitor the indoor environmental quality of buildings before and after a retrofit.

Let me give you a little background on what my job entailed. Retrofits aim to improve the energy consumption of a structure so that energy is used more efficiently throughout the year. At the same time, indoor environmental conditions should be either maintained or, as with energy efficiency, improved. By assessing environmental conditions – primarily indoor air quality and temperature consistency – before a retrofit is undertaken, we can figure out what aspects of a building would benefit from an upgrade. Repeating this exercise after a retrofit is completed lets us accurately evaluate how successful the retrofit was in terms of energy conservation and also enhanced interior environmental conditions.

I discovered that implementing monitoring strategies while people are living in the building we’re trying to assess has its challenges.  For example, our monitoring activity requires us to enter people’s homes. We realized that we need monitoring solutions that are unobtrusive and can be installed and disassembled quickly to ensure minimal disruption to residents.

Another challenge I encountered was that large-scale monitoring requires installing lots of sensors. High accuracy sensors are expensive, so we had to consider how to optimize our budget without sacrificing quality.

We noticed, too, that individuals and families use their homes differently, resulting in different interior conditions and energy consumption patterns.  For example, variation in cooking or bathing activities can alter how much energy is used as can suite temperature and relative humidity.  To be able to directly compare data from different suites, we had to consider how occupant behavior influences the data and how to control for this variation.

My six weeks at TAF went by quickly with many lessons learned. I found it truly rewarding to be part of a project that has the potential to improve individuals’ living conditions and the environment. If we were to implement energy-efficiency retrofits on a broad scale, we would see a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions along with great improvements in our air quality. So much opportunity exists in the green building industry. Implementing energy conservation measures in the built environment is a positive step towards a more sustainable city.

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