Sublime Banff awoke the literary me
A board member’s experience at this year’s Literary Journalism residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
Here is a sample of my usual journalistic style, made extra boring for the purpose of demonstration:
Jim Olver, director of customer services for the Banff Centre, took Jay Whetter on a canoe trip down the Bow River. Olver gave Whetter paddling tips for fast water, and pointed out a few geological features along the way.
This straight style may satisfy “just the facts, please” readers, whereas literary journalism, which takes more time to write and read, rewards the reader with scenes and sensations. Here is an example:
Jim Olver meets every last person enrolled at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. I say “every last person” because “most” doesn’t capture the scope of his welcoming. Nobody forgets meeting Jim. He’s a tall guy who wears an Indiana Jones hat and blue blazer, and greets you with a big smile and slight southern Ontario drawl.
Olver, the director of customer services, joined the Banff Centre 40 years ago. When Olver took me and the other attendees of the Literary Journalism program on an introductory tour of the campus, he had a lot to go through: restaurants, the pool and fitness room, climbing wall, artists’ studios, backstage at theatres, our base at Vinci Hall. He ran out of time to mention that he is an expert river canoer and a geologist.
I found out about Jim the canoer and Jim the geologist from one of our three mentors in the Literary Journalism program. I had this knowledge in my back pocket when Olver walked up to me a few days later to ask how things were going. I was under the morning sun in a Muskoka chair reading Michael Harris’s All We Want, listening to the cheeps of Columbian ground squirrels, and looking at a mountain. Multitasking—Banff style. I got up and said, “Hey, I hear you’re an expert canoer.” We talked, he slowly and me quickly, about canoeing, and it led to a surprise email at 5:30 a.m. the next morning with the subject: “Canoeing today?” Jim Olver, river canoeing specialist, invited me to canoe with him. I replied two hours later, hoping I wasn’t too late (I wasn’t), and we arranged to meet at his house at 11:30.
And…scene. I took up a lot of space there, and I didn’t even get to the parts about canoeing and geology. But with those two literary paragraphs, you know more about Jim and the origins of my canoe experience. As a friend described, “Literary Journalism sounds like novel writing,” which is appropriate. Many literary journalism articles evolve into non-fiction books.
The sublime beauty of the Rocky Mountains puts our wants in perspective, inspiring us to do good work for ourselves and for the Earth. Photo by Jay Whetter.
Literary Journalism was my reason to be at the Banff Centre. It wasn’t canoeing or geology. The residency program gives people an escape from their everyday lives to “explore new ideas in journalismand experimentation in writing,” as the website says. Applications require a three-page article pitch, a resume and a small portfolio of work. If selected, applicants have to arrive with a draft article researched and written so their time at Banff can focus on the intense crafting of a 3,000- to 5,000-word masterpiece.
I applied to the Literary Journalism program after seeing a notice on the SWCC website. Michael Harris, of All We Want and a mentor in the program, encouraged me to encourage you—Canadian science writers—to apply next year. “We’d love to get more science article pitches,” he said. The program is open to any topic, not just science. Mine was about Indigenous farming.
My two weeks at the Banff Centre in July were basically a crash-course in Masters-level literary style, as my mentor Carol Shaben said. Carol was ruthless in a loving way. I told her I hadn’t had an editor in over 20 years, and she made up for lost time.
She challenged me to describe people, how they talked and what they wore. She asked me to dig into the messages beyond the words. She wanted my writing to show what I saw, to express emotion, and to pulse with poetry. All the while she demanded a message in the work and a purpose to every word. Why should people care?, she often asked. As you might expect, the draft I arrived with on July 3 was completely transformed by July 16. On my last day in Banff, I told the centre’s Director of Literary Arts that “every word of my article had changed, except for a couple of ‘the’s’.” It was a good thing.
While in Banff, I also had time to get to know the other participants. We ate together, had campfires, hiked Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain, had a few drinks, and talked about all kinds of stuff. I also had time alone to sit in a red Muskoka chair and read.
In All We Want, Harris argues that unnecessary ad-driven consumption will not scratch our itch for fulfillment. Retail therapy just fills the world with stuff we don’t need and leaves us looking for the next fix. Harris lists three alternatives for true fulfillment: craft, care and the sublime. I got all three in my two weeks at Banff. I worked on my craft as a writer. I enjoyed the care of Carol, Michael and Charlotte Gill (chair of the program) and my seven new writer friends—five from Canada, two from New York City. As for sublime—extreme natural beauty that puts all other “wants” in perspective—I got that in spades at Banff, and it crescendoed in a red canoe on the Bow River with Jim Olver.
Jim dresses differently for canoeing. He wore maroon light-weight pants, a mint green long-sleeved shirt, canoeing shoes—waterproof, high tops with a lot of laces—and a Tilley hat. Then, for bling, he clipped two red hankies to his hat to protect his ears and neck from the sun. It was the Jim-Bow version of a fascinator. By contrast, I looked amateur, with Adidas shoes, jeans, raincoat and Winnipeg Jets cap.
I canoe a few times a year on lakes around Kenora, Ontario, but the fast flowing rain-swollen Bow of July 2022 is a different beast. We forward-ferried on an upstream angle, then Jim leaned into a turn and from there we let the current carry us. Jim steered us down the middle of the river while I took photos. I had my phone in a knotted baggie to keep it dry and each time I put it back, he suggested I take it out to capture another sublime moment. While I tied and untied baggie knots, Jim answered my questions about the Rockies.
Jim the geologist graduated from the University of Toronto in 1974 and worked for Cominco for the first part of his working life, traveling most of Canada looking for potential mining sites. Here are a few details I gathered from him:
The Rocky Mountains are made primarily of limestone and clastic sediments. Limestones accumulated at about two centimetres per thousand years; clastic sediments about two metres per thousand years.
The mountains were once the bed of the Pacific Ocean, and sediments seen from the Banff Centre campus date from up to 500 million years ago.
The Rocky Mountains began uplifting about 125 million years ago when two tectonic plates collided, pushing the sediments skyward. That is why the layers are now at angles.
Banff National Park, with its Rocky Mountain high, is a Canadian gem. So is the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. I encourage anyone with a good idea for a science article—or any article—to apply for the Literary Journalism residency. Sign up for the Centre’s newsletter for programming and application deadlines. Successful applicants get tuition, on-site accommodation, and on-site meals paid for. And most importantly, all that sublime beauty and expert mentorship do wonders for the writing skills.
Learn more about the Literary Journalism Residency, and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. For questions about the residency, contact Jay at email@example.com.
Author Bio: Jay Whetter is an agriculture journalist and editor of Canola Digest magazine. He is on the board of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, and a member of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation.
Social media: @kenorajay
Left: Lotus leaf, Right: Lotus leaf inspired water repellent material, Source: Biomimicry Institute
Mother nature knows it all
Copying nature, called biomimicry, can lead to more sustainable solutions
Dr. Neeraja Priyanka Annam
In the depths of the ocean lurks a creature with no shadow. Its power to creep upon its unsuspecting prey without casting a shadow during its night hunt is something every military force in the world desires.
No, I’m not talking about an alien. It's the bobtail squid.
Scientists are interested in hundreds of such creatures with unique abilities. Their goal is to replicate their behaviour or skills to develop new technology. This act of imitating other species and natural phenomena is called biomimicry. It is an approach to solving human-made problems by emulating nature.
But why copy nature?
Mother nature has had billions of years of practice in developing an energy-efficient and sustainable planet. As Janine Benyus wrote in her book: Biomimicry, Innovation inspired by nature, “Life creates conditions conducive to life.” Hundreds of creatures carry out their roles without disturbing the delicate ecosystem they are part of. What else can be a better source of inspiration than the nature around us?
Biomimicry aims to rekindle the human-nature connection. It recognizes nature as the master genius, and we show our reverence through emulation. It’s a design approach encompassing three elements: emulate, ethos, and reconnect.
There are three aspects of nature that can be emulated: forms, processes, and systems.
Natural forms have evolved to be the most efficient for their function. Take, for example, hummingbirds. They have long slender beaks to feed from flowers, compared to ducks, which have flat beaks suited to feed in the water. Different hummingbird species have also evolved to develop beaks of varying lengths, depending on the flower species they feed from.
By comparison, natural processes encompass the physical, biological and chemical aspects of life processes and are the most energy-efficient. In genomics, translation—the processing of information from a genome into a protein—was found to be 100,000 times more efficient than a computer.
Natural systems include neurological and ecological systems like the nutrient cycle. Also known as ecological recycling, it’s a circular system. Matter and energy from the physical environment are consumed by living organisms, to be recycled back into the environment to produce matter.
Emulation of form
One of the earliest examples of form biomimicry is the development of velcro.
In 1941, George de Mestral noticed burrs (dried ball-like things with hooks) from plants sticking onto him and his dog. This inspired him to invent velcro. This is an example of simple form emulation.
A more complex example is the aerodynamic design of the Japanese bullet train. Before the biomimetic approach, the train created a sound shock wave called tunnel boom upon entering tunnels. This was caused by the huge displacement of air by the train. The problem was solved after the nose of the train was streamlined mimicking the kingfisher bird. The kingfisher’s streamlined beak helps it dive into the water without making a splash when catching a fish.
Some other examples of form emulation are wind turbines inspired by the humpback whales, antimicrobial films mimicking sharkskin, and self-cleaning paint mimicking the lotus leaf.
An interesting example of process biomimicry is waste-shrinking toilets. These toilets use a special membrane that helps 95 per cent of the water from the waste evaporate quickly without using any energy source. It mimics a process called evapotranspiration, where water evaporates from a leaf’s surface.
Another fascinating example is the dynamic structures built by fire ants. To survive flooding, fire ants come together, linking their bodies to form a raft that keeps them afloat on the water. This dynamic structure has the exact amount of porosity and density that would prevent sinking. Scientists are studying this system to develop self-healing materials—smart materials such as metals or ceramics—that when damaged, can repair themselves.
Like ants, termites exist in huge colonies. Termite mounds are an example of one of the most elaborate ventilation systems. Their mound structure keeps them cool even in the hottest places on earth. They achieve this feat by creating air pockets in the mound to allow heat convection. This inspired engineers in Zimbabwe to build a shopping center using a similar principle. This idea has resulted in a building with 10 per cent less air conditioning energy usage.
In nature, everything is reused and all systems in the ecology are interconnected. The industrial town of Kalundborg, Denmark, has modeled itself on the principle of industrial symbiosis. It is a group of nine industries that reuse each other's waste, material, and energy, forming a closed loop. Over the past six decades, this approach has saved tonnes of material, water, and reduced waste generation.
Is biomimicry the perfect solution to the problems of modern-day civilization? Some think the ideology is too utopian to be practical. Pitching biomimicry to industries involves addressing corporate capitalism, which is an oxymoron. Nature is not profit-driven. Despite this, several applications of biomimicry have allowed us to exist in harmony with nature.
Fisch M. The Nature of Biomimicry: Toward a Novel Technological Culture. Science, Technology, & Human Values. 2017;42(5):795-821. doi:10.1177/0162243916689599
Patients as Research Partners
While researchers have the knowledge to develop studies or experiments, patients can contribute expertise through their lived experiences, adding value to science.
Bryn Robinson, PhD
Think back to when you were in school, sitting in a science class or lab. Do you remember how you were taught to find topics to explore and study further?
In science courses, we’re typically instructed to find ideas for research projects by observing the world around us. We’re told to read previous studies to see what has (or has not) been done. We’re taught to ask questions: Why did this happen? Can we find a solution for this problem?Perhaps other researchers missed a piece of the puzzle that you have the ability to now study. Maybe you have a different way of collecting the data to evaluate the hypothesis being tested.
But if your interest is in changing healthcare policy or practice, how do we know that we are asking the right questions? There is one missing piece of the research process that we didn’t discuss in the classroom, but it can provide us with rich information.
We can ask the patients what they think is important.
What is Patient-Oriented Research?
To improve healthcare and the research done within the system, you need to have patients, family members or caregivers affected by the system as part of your research team. Patient-oriented research is a buzzword that has gained considerable interest globally, although countries vary in their specific definition of what “patient-oriented” means. In Canada, the federal government defines it as “engaging patients, their caregivers, and families as partners in the research process.” Instead of having a patient join a research study as a participant—where they might fill out questionnaires, take a new medicine, or give samples of their blood for study—the patient is meaningfully collaborating with you.
In other words, rather than being a passive participant in the study, they’re an active team member.
What Does Patient Engagement Look Like in Practice?
Patient partners can provide oversight on a project, set priorities for which research question should first be studied, develop questions to ask in the study, or even conduct part of the research and write it up. For example, you can ask patient partners whether or not the data make sense, given their experience living with a disease.
For those interested in improving science communication, patient partners can provide great advice on where, when and how to communicate information. While study results are typically shared in journal articles or at conferences, you may find that patients also prefer infographics, blog posts, or video clips on social media. It also gives you the opportunity to influence what is shared about your work directly with the people it impacts—all while flexing some creative muscles and learning new communication skills, too.
The extent of what you ask patient partners to do really depends on the project and its resources. You can ask partners to join a larger committee to oversee your research, or you can ask for help on a specific project. Your only limit is you and your partner’s time and your willingness to invite new people into the research space.
To begin engaging patients in your research, the first step is bringing potential partners on board as early as you can, so they can help shape the study as soon as possible. Each province and territory has a Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) SUPPORT unit that provides researcher consultations, tools and templates for you to use to begin planning. For example, the BC SUPPORT Unit created a “menu” for research teams that provides considerations for the research process.
And if you’re a patient, family member or caregiver interested in getting involved in a research study, to help you start a conversation about patient engagement, the Saskatchewan SPOR SUPPORT Unit created an onboarding guide for patient-oriented research teams. It begins with a series of questions to ask as a starting point in building a meaningful collaboration.
Whose Priorities are Driving Research?
When we do research in healthcare, it can be passionate and immersive. We hear stories that impact us and potentially disrupt what we know and thought we knew about healthcare and society. But, even as immersed as we can all be in our work, we do go home at the end of the day to likely a different experience. Our reality changes for a while, until we put our researcher and clinician hats back on.
Because of that, it can never be the same as living with an illness 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
There is so much we can do to begin telling different stories in addition to the ones that we already can and do tell through our clinical and research work. It means having patients join us as partners in the development. It means conducting and sharing health research, so that we all benefit from research that is more aligned to patients’ priorities, as much as research already aligns with the priorities of other researchers and policy-makers.
It's the difference between research “on” versus research “with.”
 Canadian Institutes for Health. Strategy for patient-oriented research. 2022. CIHR: Ottawa.
 Canadian Institutes for Health. Patient engagement. 2022. CIHR: Ottawa.
 Bird M, Ouellette C, Whitmore C, et al. Preparing for patient partnership: A scoping review of patient partner engagement and evaluation in research. Health Expect. 2020;23(3):523-539. doi:10.1111/hex.13040
 Kent A. Evidence-informed practices and strategies for patient-oriented research (POR): A ‘menu’ for research teams. 2019. BC SUPPORT Unit: Vancouver.
 Saskatchewan SPOR SUPPORT Unit. Onboarding guide for patient-oriented teams. 2019. SCPOR: Saskatoon.
Bryn works in research engagement for a provincial health authority and has a PhD in experimental psychology. When not supporting clinicians, staff, and partners in their health research, she enjoys exploring and photographing the wilderness of New Brunswick.
Our 2022 Summer Reading List
The Book Awards Committee’s top picks for the season
By Amanda Leslie and Maazah Ali
The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator
Written by Timothy C. Winegard (Penguin Random House Canada, 2020)
For Canadians, the arrival of summer is synonymous with barbeques, hiking, and beaches.
But warmer temperatures also bring an influx of mosquitos. Most people are familiar with these seasonal pests, which are capable of drinking three times their own body weight in blood. Scientists estimate that mosquito-borne viruses, such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue, are responsible for more than one million deaths each year. This issue takes centre stage in Timothy C. Winegard’s wide-ranging exploration of the world’s deadliest predator. Stories about Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn, and George Washington prove that mosquitos have left their mark on mankind. A fascinating book, The Mosquito made the list of finalists for the RBC Taylor Prize in 2020, but make sure that you have a can of bug spray on hand before reading.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Written by Ed Yong (HarperCollins, 2018)
Ed Yong has a favourite bacterium: wolbachia. It’s a parasitic microbe that can block the dengue virus from replicating in insects, effectively stopping the spread of disease before it can be passed onto humans. More fascinating examples of microscopic organisms can be found in Yong’s book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, which earned high praise in the New York Times Book Review. This intriguing journey into the microcosmic world starts with Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of the microscope in the 17th Century, before clearing up present-day misconceptions about the relationship between people and germs. Neither benign nor malevolent, microbes work in a perfectly tuned symphony that the author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, brings to life through careful research and storytelling. This informative book will take readers into a whole new world of microscopic life.
Herding Hemingway’s Cats: Understanding How Our Genes Work
Written by Kat Arney (Bloomsbury USA, 2017)
The unusual title of Kat Arney’s book was inspired by the fact that many of Ernest Hemingway’s cats had an extra toe, but it’s her detailed account of the genetic mechanism behind this physical anomaly that launches the audience into an engaging exploration of how genes work. Drawing on interviews with leading experts, the author, who was shortlisted for a Medical Journalists’ Association (MJA) Award in 2016, dives into topics like RNAi and epigenetics using clear and easy-to-understand language, while weaving a narrative that will appeal to scientists and non-scientists alike. Herding Hemingway’s Cats is a skillfully crafted book that reveals the complex, messy, and fascinating story of the evolving field of genetics. There’s no doubt that it’ll leave readers with a greater appreciation for the role that genes play in our everyday lives.
Fighting for Space: Two pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight
By Amy Shira Teitel (Grand Central Publishing, 2021)
Recounting the lives of two trailblazing pilots, Jackie Cochran and Jerri Cobb, Amy Shira Teitel’s book sheds new light on women in the Space Race, giving voice to a perspective that has often been overlooked by science. Her extensive research and vivid scenes will take readers on a journey that is both heartbreaking and thrilling: from the cockpit of a Beech D17W to an Ecuadorian jail; a laboratory testing site in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a courtroom showdown in Washington, D.C. Notable figures like Amelia Earhart and Lydon B. Johnson make interesting appearances, but it’s Jackie and Jerri’s struggle to gain acceptance in a male-dominated field that drives the plot forward. Fighting for Space is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the historic contributions of women in STEM.
Keeping Hot Water Hot
How do they do it?
Have you ever stayed at a hotel and turned the shower on to find only cold water? Or perhaps you live in an complex and have experienced several leaks on your piping systems?
Potable hot and cold water is piped to all of the plumbing fixtures in a building to provide water for tasks like hand washing, cooking, showering, or laundry. When the plumbing fixtures are not in use, the hot water slowly cools down, becoming cold water. This means you have to run the water for several minutes for it to get hot again.
Not only is this time consuming, but it’s also a waste of water, often leading to higher utility bills and an increased impact on water scarcity. However, by installing a recirculation system, you can ensure the hot water is ready when you need it.
A potable hot water recirculation system includes a small pump and additional piping to provide continuous flow through the hot water system, even when no fixtures are in use. The system circulates the warm water back to the central plant to be reheated and redelivered to the plumbing fixtures on a continuous basis, preventing the water from getting cold. But even hot water recirculation systems are not free from problems.
There are two common issues that plague these systems, and both are related to flow. When the water flow is too low, or the recirculation pump is too small, the hot water at the plumbing fixtures furthest from the hot water plant may not circulate back to the central plant to be reheated. This means that water becomes cold until the fixture is used, wasting time and water.
Conversely, when the water flow is too high, or the recirculation pump is too large, there is potential for increased wear and premature failure of the hot water piping system. The potable water system is an open system - meaning that water comes in from the municipal service and flows out through fixture drains. It doesn’t recirculate the same water around and around like you would in a hydronic heating system, which circulates heated water in a closed loop to heat various spaces in a building without introducing new water to the system. Instead, in a potable water system, air bubbles are introduced into the system from the municipal service. These air bubbles, when traveling at a high velocity, start to erode the inside of copper pipes and create a phenomenon called ‘pitting’. Over time, this pitting will create pinhole leaks in the pipe and wreak havoc on your building finishes, such as drywall or lighting.
While these issues appear to oppose each other and present different symptoms, the solution to either issue is the same: system balancing. System balancing is the addition of flow control devices, commonly called balance valves, to limit the water in a system to a specific, predetermined flow rate. By installing balance valves throughout the potable hot water recirculation system, you can ensure that water flows equally at each fixture, and you have hot water when you need it, without the risk of premature piping wear.
If you think you need a recirculation system in your building or home, speak to a professional to review your specific system and determine the piping distribution and sizing, pump size and system flow rates.
COVID-19 fuels the growing opioid crisis in Canada
From opioid over-prescription to policies and supply restrictions, several factors lead to the opioid crisis to explode, while limited access to safe drugs contributes to the increase in recent opioid-related deaths.
Gordon Casey was a lawyer who helped build companies for the online gaming industries. But in 2016, he and his family packed up their belongings and moved to Vancouver.
Vancouver was a hotspot for social entrepreneurship and provided a unique space where healthcare issues and technology intersected, says Casey, CEO ofBrave Coop, a company founded to prevent overdose deaths. 2016 was the same year that British Columbia declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.
“When we got to Vancouver, the overdose crisis was very much in our faces. I started asking people from every sector about how I could improve the outcomes,” says Casey.
Between January 2016 to September 2021,26,690 Canadians died due to an overdose. According to the Apparent Opioid and Stimulants Toxicity Deaths by Public Health Agency of Canada, the hardest hit provinces were British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta. Young Canadians between 20 to 49 years old suffered the most from accidental overdoses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the opioid crisis. There was a95 per cent increase in opioid related deaths in the first year of the pandemic compared to the previous year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention sawsimilar overdose deathstrends in the United States as well.
The pandemic forced safe injection sites across Canada to be shut down. The drug supply was disrupted, which made it more difficult for users to access drugs safely.
“The COVID-19 public health messaging—to isolate yourself is hypothetical for opioid users because consumption alone is dangerous,” says Casey. Fatality statistics indicate that it is the opioid users that are the ones at the most risk with injection site shutdowns and isolation, explains Casey.
But, how did the opioid problem grow into a massive crisis in Canada to begin with?
Over-prescribing opioids, the mismanagement of policies, drug restrictions, and structural issues caused the problem to explode into a crisis, said Tara Gomes, a scientist at the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network ata keynote event in 2017.
From Opioid Problem to Crisis
The opioid crisis stemmed from overprescribing drugs and policies that restricted usage. Purdue Pharma created OxyContin and advertised it as a pill that helped ease the pain for patients—anything from backaches to cancer.
Some doctors said they increased opioid usage for Canadian patients as a pain treatment. Some patients became addicted to the drug and required higher doses each time, eventually leading to an overdose, explained Dr. Brittany Dennis, an internal medicine resident at McMaster University in her2020 Soapbox Science recording.
“Some clinicians get patients in and out quickly so that they can bill a lot of money. They do not offer the proper services that patients need,” she said.
To stop the spread of opioid addiction, Canada restricted drug use and dosage. People had to turn to other sources to find the drug supply. Trafficking of unregulated drugs fuelled the crisis and created a negative stigma for the person who uses drugs.
“[Canada] created a cohort of people with an opioid use disorder due to overprescribing and introducing policies that tried to promote more appropriate prescribing. [Canada is] now pushing [users] into the illicit market that is inherently less safe,” explained Gomes during the keynote.
Fighting the Opioid Crisis
As Canadians continue to prioritize the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 25 months, Casey stated that other public health crises have been swept under the rug and forgotten.
“It is a bit frustrating for me because [I] saw how amazingly the government and the people of the country can mobilize themselves to fight a public health crisis. While there has been an emergency for the opioid crisis for five years now and it has not changed,” says Casey.
To help fight against overdose during the pandemic, Brave Coop launched a codesigned app called BeSafe. The app connects the person who uses drugs with a community member allowing for safe consumption anywhere with one tap on a phone.
The person who uses drugs to create a plan for how they want to be taken care of when they become unresponsive. The plan is shared with a volunteer community member when the user becomes unresponsive or no longer active on the app.
“There is no point designing programs that work for the public healthcare system, Big Pharma, or community organizations. It needs to be designed for people who use drugs,” says Casey.
Mobilizing people to act quickly against a public health crisis requires unity. “[The opioid crisis] is a big societal issue. If we want to eliminate addiction, then we need advocacy, funding to go behind it, give people the drug to help with their addiction, counselling, and more,” said Dennis in her recording.
The Glasgow Climate Conference Part II: Dirty COP, COP-out.
Countries and lobbyists attempted to sway the outcome of the Glasgow Climate Conference (COP26), leading some to question the continued relevance of the COP process.
Last November’s COP26—a conference dedicated to reducing carbon emissions—actually spewed out 102,500 tonnes of greenhouse gasses, 60 per cent of them from air travel. The UK has a plan to offset those emissions, largely through the somewhat dubious medium of carbon offsets.
But aviation fuel isn’t the dirtiest aspect of COP26. There were 503 lobbyists and consultants representing over 100 fossil-fuel companies and fossil-fuel-connected trade associations. If lobbyists were a national delegation to COP26, they would have been the biggest delegation there, outnumbering Indigenous delegates by a factor of two.
What were all these lobbyists doing at COP26? A charitable interpretation of their presence would be that they want to have skin in the renewable energy game, framing themselves as “part of the solution” to climate change by pitching their role in generating renewable energy. A less charitable interpretation is that they are thinking about all the fossil fuel reserves that will become stranded assets should the world decide to take its Paris commitments seriously. This calculus was on display at a Russian-hosted energy transition forum, where representatives of both BP and the Russian oil and gas company Gazprom Neft pitched themselves as pivoting towards renewables, but not abandoning fossil fuels altogether. Sergey Vakulenko, head of strategy and innovations at Gazprom Neft, reinforced the point that his company would remain primarily devoted to oil and gas for at least a decade. He also warned forum participants about how much the clean energy transition would end up costing consumers
The technocratic self-interest of fossil-fuel lobbyists isn’t even the dirtiest aspect of COP26. That prize goes to a leaked trove of emails which showed oil, coal and beef-dependent countries striving to weaken recommendations from IPCC Working Group III’s climate mitigation report in advance of COP26. The 30,000 communications screened by Greenpeace’s “Unearthed” investigative journalism unit included injunctions to water down calls for immediate emissions cuts (Saudi Arabia and the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries, OPEC), denial of the need to close coal-fired power stations (Australia and India), and the attempted deletion of language about the importance of plant-based diets (Argentina and Brazil).
By seeking to interfere with the IPCC’s science-based recommendations, these countries have demonstrated just how far they are willing to go to delay meaningful climate action. Their overall strategy is “talk and drill,” as exemplified in Saudi Arabia’s and OPEC’s request to delete language on transforming energy systems: “The use of ‘transformation’ should be avoided as it has policy implications by requiring immediate policy actions.”
Of course, it was precisely the immediacy of policy actions that was at stake in COP26. It’s therefore hardly surprising that countries trying to dilute the IPPC’s mitigation language were also among those who successfully watered down the text of the Glasgow Climate Pact. The Glasgow Climate Pact is a compendium of COP 26 commitments, including promised actions to keep the Paris 1.5 target within reach, a commitment to reduce dependence on coal, and promises around climate financing for developing nations.
Which brings us to the issue of the continued relevance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) itself.
Negotiators at COP26 were supposed to produce a revolutionary agreement to “keep one-point five alive.” Instead, they delivered incrementalism, and while the goal of restricting global warming to 1.5 degrees or less is theoretically alive, any reasonable diagnosis would conclude that it’s in a vegetative state.
If the last year of extreme fire, heat, and flood taught us anything, it is that the time for incrementalism is long past. Since the 1.5-degree target was first broached at COP21 in Paris, the carbon budget available to meet that target has continued to shrink in tandem with growing greenhouse-gas emissions and atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Given that realpolitik, not science, is the ultimate determinant of COP negotiations, some have asked whether the whole process needed to be abandoned or seriously reformed. Since their inception, COPs have been fuelled by drama and acrimony, and all too often, the quest to find common ground masked an unseemly scrabble for comparative advantage. In this respect, for all that it delivered some real progress, COP26 turned out to be little different from the 25 other COP meetings that preceded it..
Green member of parliament Elizabeth May believes that the COPs can deliver real climate progress: “There is no other process,” she said in a recent webinar, “and a UN process is preferable to any other process I can imagine.”
To figure out the flaws in the COP process, May says she believes we need to look to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which succeeded in banning ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Unlike the Glasgow Climate Pact or the Paris Agreement, however, the Montreal Protocol had legal teeth. Trade sanctions could be invoked against countries who continued using or making CFCs. Since the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol, carbon reductions agreed to at COPs have been seen as voluntary and are therefore open to being ignored.
Getting those legal teeth into a climate agreement could be an uphill battle. Recent research led by Isak Stoddard and Kevin Anderson points to realpolitik, muscle-flexing by countries and fossil-fuel interests, voluntarism, academic enablers, and leadership failures as chronic impediments to climate progress over the 29 years of the UNFCCC. These factors constitute external pressures pushing against the adoption of strong climate targets at the COPs, but they are also embedded in the UNFCCC process itself.
At the end of COP26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged these contrary pressures: “They [the approved texts] take some important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions… We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode, or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.”
As COP26 recedes in the rearview mirror, the international community is kicking the carbon mitigation can down the road towards COP27 in Egypt. As a matter of urgency, negotiators and diplomats will have to find ways to close the Paris Agreement emissions gap during the intervening year. COP26 was supposed to deliver on this promise. Only time will tell if countries will “go into emergency mode” to deliver on those promises at COP27.
Andrew Park is professor of Forest Ecology at University of Winnipeg with wide-ranging research and teaching interests. Although much of his recent research has focused on adaptation of forests to climate change, he also has interests in environmental economics and sustainability, environmental philosophy, and more recently, the psychology of environmental and climate anxiety.
Member Profile: Jess Silver
Let’s flex for accessible fitness for all
Jess Silver’s fitness journey began at birth.
“Fitness has never been separated from who I am,” says the SWCC member, fitness professional, advocate and author.
Having been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and sustaining a brain injury at birth, her motor and physical abilities were impaired. Physical therapy and rehabilitation sessions were routine for her early in life. It wasn’t until she stepped into a gym about a decade ago, that she discovered her true physical capabilities.
“Fitness went from something I had to do as part of my life, to being something I absolutely fell in love with doing,” she says. Movement had a positive impact on both her physical and mental health.
After years of working alongside her trainer, Dan, who was able to gradually adapt exercises, today Silver can proudly complete 20 strict pull ups, a 135 pound seated row, and sandbag squats.
“Whenever I didn’t have the confidence or didn’t feel capable, Dan would always tell me, ‘we’re going to find a way to do it.’ He didn’t have a fear of working with me and that made me trust him more. He lit the fire under me,” Silver says, nearly tearing up.
Jess Silver holds a barbell in preparation for a snatch.
For the approximately two in 1,000 Canadians who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Silver’s physical achievements might seem completely unfathomable. But Silver says movement should be for everyone, and it all comes down to making adaptive fitness more available and known in the industry. This is in large part why she decided to spread awareness about cerebral palsy and the promotion of fitness and sport through Flex for Access.
The awareness initiative launched in 2015 as a social media campaign under the hashtag #FlexforAccess. Participants were encouraged to post online flexing their biceps, or engaging in some physical activity using the hashtag.
“It stemmed from an aha moment, or you could say a moment of frustration, around the limited awareness and understanding of cerebral palsy,” Silver says. “It’s a lot more than being a person in a chair.”
The first campaign garnered support worldwide from athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. In 2017, Silver decided to register Flex for Access as a non-profit organization. Since then, it has raised more than $20,000 towards facilitating accessible training sessions and implementing adaptive equipment in gyms.
“By allowing these individuals to be active, we give people the understanding that these people can go to the gym,” she says. In the future, Silver says she hopes to see more academic programs and coaches teaching and learning about adaptive fitness and how to develop programming for a-neurotypical clients. She is already engaging on this front, by working with kinesiology departments to educate on adaptive fitness methods.
For National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day on March 25, Flex for Access hosted a CB Power Hour–a campaign where participants were asked to wear green while completing a workout centered around pushing and pulling movements. In their post caption, they were to describe a personal experience of adversity and how it has shaped them.
Silver, who is no stranger to adversity, decided to tell her own story through a memoir she published in 2020. Titled Run: An Uncharted Direction, it details her journey through sports and fitness as key to her life and personal growth. It also takes readers through her childhood experiences, academic trials and her questions and contemplations about daily life.
A journey in itself, the memoir took Silver just over seven years on and off to write, but the feeling of it finally being published was indescribable.
“I had shivers and could not express what I was feeling,” says Silver, who holds a bachelor's in English Literature and a Master’s in Creative Writing. “Writing has always been a way for me to make sense of this complex life.”
She also studied Medical Writing and Editing at the University of Chicago, which opened her to the world of science communication–a solid bridging of her interests in health and fitness, and writing.
“It got me thinking about how we could change the way info is disseminated about different conditions,” she says. She began researching science communication opportunities in Canada, and ways to connect with like-minded professionals. In late 2021, she hopped onto the SWCC’s Digital Media Committee as a volunteer.
And now, as an adaptive fitness trainer herself, she’s helping others change their lives through movement the same way hers was.
To learn more about Flex for Access or for adaptive fitness consulting, visit flexforaccess.ca or email Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cristina Sanza is a Digital Journalism Instructor and Writing Coach in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. She also coordinates the Concordia Science Journalism Project team and the Projected Futures international science journalism graduate summer school. At the SWCC, she serves as a board director, the blog editor and digital media committee volunteer.
Social media: @cristina_sanza (Twitter)
SWCC member Jess Silver says physical activity should be accessible to everyone. Through #FlexforAccess, she spreads awareness about cerebral palsy and adaptive fitness. Learn more about her journey in #fitness and #scicomm on her LinkedIn.
Mosquitoes rise up with warmer temperatures
How climate change is creating an environment for mosquitoes to multiply in Canada
April 7 marks the annual World Health Day. The campaign’s 2022 slogan is “our planet, our health” emphasizing that combating climate change and protecting the planet is vital to our health.
Climate change has many impacts, both direct and indirect, on our health. One indirect impact is through a small insect that can either leave you with a small itchy bump or a life-threatening disease.
Many animals, insects and plant species are on the endangered species list as rising temperatures have resulted in habitat loss. But for mosquitoes, climate change is creating a productive environment for them to thrive. Climate change provides mosquitoes with a longer breeding season, shortens the life-cycle reproduction rate and increases the replication process of the pathogens they carry inside them.
Prolonged mosquito season
In the last two decades, mosquito-related diseases have increased by 10 per cent in Canada. The increased temperature and humidity are the main drivers that contribute to higher mosquito numbers. There has been a steady temperature increase in the past 70 years, leading to at least a 1.5 °C increase during all seasons. In Canada, mosquitoes are present starting in May until early September. Warmer temperatures could mean the potential for prolonged mosquito seasons is on the horizon.
Mosquito development changes
Temperature can influence mosquito physiology and life cycle. The life cycle of a mosquito begins as an egg, which hatches when exposed to water. While still in the wet environment, within two days, the egg becomes a larva, then the larva skin splits and the pupa develops. The pupa is an immature transition phase where it does not feed on blood but can move in the water. Only once it develops into an adult, the mosquito becomes an active flying insect that can feed on blood. Depending on the mosquito species and environmental conditions, the average life cycle of a mosquito from egg to adult can range between six to ten days.
The larvae and pupae stages are a critical time for survival. The typical temperature range for survival is from 16°C to 38°C. It has been documented that as temperature increases, the immature stages of development decrease and the adult stage comes quicker. For example, the Aedes aegypti speciestakes about 40 days to grow from egg to adult at 15°C, but only takes 7.2 days at 35°C.
As adults, some mosquito species fly better at certain temperatures, between 15 to 32°C, which helps them to find food and reproduce. Temperature directly influences when the mosquitoes have the first blood after growing out of the pupae stage. Mosquitoes living in a higher temperature environment have their first blood meal within 48 hours and will begin to lay eggs sooner.
Virus inside benefit
The insatiable itch and tingling sensation on an area of your skin is the least of your worries after being bitten by a mosquito. Some mosquito species are deadly and can spread life-threatening diseases including West Nile, Zika or Lyme disease. Mosquitoes can pick up vector-borne diseases when injecting the proboscis, or mouthpart that pierces the skin and sucks the blood of infected victims. The viruses that are contained within their bodies can replicate as the mosquitoes’ numbers increase.
Virus copies increase with temperature as well, and transmission of the viruses also increases with increased viral copies. Foreign mosquito diseases may emerge over time as climate change can lead to the geographic expansion of these viruses across the globe. The migration of humans, animals or changes to the physical environment due to climate change will expand the landscape of viruses.
Our Planet, Our Health
The reality is that humans live on the same planet that mosquitoes do. As the climate change crisis worsens, the mosquito population will steadily rise. They will continue to feed on humans and wildlife. With every bite, there is a chance of spreading some life-threatening diseases.
The change in the mosquito ecosystem is one example of how climate change is negatively impacting human health. Changes to the earth and its creatures will reveal how deeply human and ecological health are interconnected.
Rebecca is an interdisciplinary researcher and science communicator. She has a diverse research background ranging from pedagogy, medical education and cardiology.
Currently, she is a research assistant in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University. In her spare time, she enjoys writing blogs and creating digital content.
The Glasgow Climate Conference Part I: Good COP, bad COP
The 26th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP26) was billed as our last best hope to avoid dangerous climate change. In Part I of this two-part blog, we see how the actual outcome surprised few but disappointed just about everyone.
If last November’s COP26 meeting were a human being, it’d be an unreliable boyfriend. Unreliable boyfriends make big promises by the dozen. They’ll fix that hole in the back yard deck, they’ll pay their half of the rent on time, they’ll quit their addiction to unhealthy carbonated beverages. Years later, the deck’s unrepaired, the rent’s overdue, and the recycling bin is full of soda cans.
Unreliable boyfriends swear they’ll do better. “This time will be different,” he says, but in your heart, you know it won’t be. Similar behaviours were on display at COP26, the latest iteration of the United Nation’s annual “conferences of the parties,” whose goal is to reach international agreements on mitigating climate change . And while unreliable boyfriends make only one person miserable, the failure of successive COPs to produce climate-saving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions threatens future misery for humanity.
With so much at stake, then, where did COP26 go wrong, and were there any positive outcomes to the biggest COP ever?
To grasp the positive outcomes of COP26, we have to understand that it was not one negotiation, but many. The official negotiations were aimed at recalculating each country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) towards driving down carbon emissions and reaching consensus on future actions. Off to the side, however, negotiators engaged in a lot of horse trading over emissions targets for specific sectors. We saw sectoral agreements to end deforestation and land degradation by 2030, to reduce methane (CH4) emissions by 30 per cent below 2020 levels, and to accelerate transitions from coal to “clean power” and zero-emissions cars and vans.
Updated NDCs and sectoral initiatives move the world incrementally closer to the Paris Agreement target of restraining global warming to less than 2oC degrees (and preferably only 1.5oC) above pre-industrial levels. According to Climate Action Tracker (CAT), full implementation of NDCs and pledges from Glasgow could reduce 21st Century warming an additional 0.6oC above what countries agreed to in Paris (see Figure 1). An optimistic scenario in which countries followed through on “net-zero” pledges might gain a further 0.2–0.7oC to actually put 1.5oC within reach—however remotely.
Net-zero targets lie far in the future for most countries, and our 2030 pledges leave an emissions gap of around 17–20 GtCO2e between the world and the 1.5oC target. A Gigatonne is one billion metric tons, and GtCO2e stands for gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents. The “equivalents” refers to the fact that greenhouse gasses with different heat trapping potentials have been converted into a common basis relative to CO2.
This wide emissions gap might be closed further if China and the USA were to follow through on their COP26 promise to share technology and push for greater ambition around the 1.5-degree goal. The two great powers account for over 40 per cent of global emissions, and if their agreement can survive geo-political wrangling over other issues, its future impacts on emissions will be considerable. Green member of parliament Elizabeth May, a veteran of many COP meetings, said in a later webinar post-COP 26 that she believes the agreement will stick because “China cannot afford to lose the third pole,” namely the Himalayan glaciers that are the source of Asia’s great rivers, including the Yellow and the Yangtse.
Figure 1. The Climate Action Tracker Thermometer reports the range of possibilities for mitigating global warming. Image courtesy of Climate Analytics and the New Climate Institute.
Although the good COP raised some cautious hopes for future climate action, the runup to COP26 was burdened with levels of pre-conference hype that were almost guaranteed to deliver disappointment. When your meeting is billed as “the last best hope to fight climate change,” there’s really no place to go but down.
Consider that climate negotiators from 190-plus countries were tasked with two conflicting goals. First, civil society, scientists, and even their political masters expected them to reach an agreement that kept the 1.5-degree target alive. But those same negotiators were also tasked with representing their countries’ narrow economic and political interests. The almost inevitable result was the tepid Glasgow Climate Pact, whose language was filled with lukewarm injunctions inviting, requesting, and urging countries to fulfill commitments, submit plans, or “consider” increased ambitions.
As with agreements achieved at Paris and other COPs, negotiators haggled over every word of the pact. In typical COP fashion, the final agreement was crafted at the last minute, multilateral huddles around breakout tables in the negotiations hall. All this word haggling eventually delivered language that most countries could live with.
“Live with” is a far cry from “happy about,” and a final disappointment arrived after the language of the pact had already been agreed. Before the pact could be formally adopted, US representative John Kerry got together with coal-dependent China, India, and South Africa in one last huddle to change a key phrase of the agreement. Indian environment minister Bhupender Yadav took the floor to announce that “…phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” would become “…phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Mexican climate envoy Camila Isabel Zepeda Lizama expressed what many felt when she said, “We believe we have been sidelined in a non-transparent and non-inclusive process. At the stocktake, we already compromised to what we perceived was an agreement by parties, even if we were unhappy with the text. But now we learn that there are even further changes that we were not been made aware.”
There were other disappointments at COP26. A number of countries, including Australia, The Russian Federation, Brazil, and Indonesia failed to increase their NDCs in line with the Paris Agreement. Others, including Canada, promised marginally increased NDCs. And the Paris Agreement promise that developed countries would deliver USD100 billion in mitigation and adaptation financing to the developing world remains unfulfilled.
At the end of the day, though, it’s those two little words, “phase-down” that will be the enduring legacy of “bad-COP26.”
This is part one in a blog series on COP26. Stay tuned for part two on April 13, 2022.
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