Upcoming event – Metro Vancouver Sustainability Breakfast – The Opportunities for Urban Density November 25, 2008Posted by Raul in environment, sustainability, urbanization, Vancouver.
Tags: events, Metro Vancouver, urban density, zonification
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WHEN – Thursday November 27th, 7:30am to 9:00am
WHAT – Metro Vancouver Sustainability Breakfast “The Opportunities for Urban Density”
WHERE – BCIT Downtown Campus.
WHY – Because urban density is a key issue in the future of the Metro Vancouver regional development.
I would have linked to the Metro Vancouver website but guess what? It’s DOWN! Argh. See you there (despite the fact that it’s going to be the second time I have to be at an event at-7.30-in-the-morning). I am SO not a morning person.
Statistics Canada provides us a full RSS feed of statistical goodness! November 20, 2008Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, sustainability, wastewater, water, water policy.
Tags: quantitative methods, statistics
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Hat tips to Greg Andrews (TechVibes) and Darren Barefoot (Capulet) for pointing me out to Statistics Canada’s RSS data feeds. You’ll see – even though I’m a chemical engineer, during my Masters and PhD degrees, and in my post-graduate work I have done quite a lot of qualitative research.
My personality traits work to my advantage when using qualitative research methods. I am pretty good at interviewing people, analyzing textual data, coding using Strauss and Corbin’s axial coding methods, undertaking ethnography, etc. I am considered a specialist in institutional analysis because, well, I know how to study rules and routines. And the majority of these studies are undertaken by observing and interviewing.
The thing is, during the course of my PhD, I became REALLY quantitative. Since my advisor’s training was quantitative, he impressed it upon me. I’m quite grateful to him for doing that because thanks to his sage advice and training, I have examined wastewater governance and policy using quantitative methods (something that is rather atypical in this body of literature). And of course, there’s my love of game theory and econometric methods. WOWSA.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I drooled (just as Greg tweeted earlier this morning) when I saw StatsCan’s RSS feeds. Given the kind of research I do, economic, government, population and environmental indicators are the RSS feeds I grabbed. You can grab any others as you may see fit.
Unfortunately, and this is quite sad, I can’t get any quantitative data on water through those RSS feeds (or at least I haven’t been able to get any so far). I do know where to find some water-related statistics in Canada, but the state of the art in regards to accurate water stats in Canada is (as mentioned in Karen Bakker’s edited book) rather appalling.
If I manage to get my hands on some good data, you’ll see some pretty graphs here sometime soon.
Help save the Great Bear rainforest November 13, 2008Posted by Raul in environment, environmental NGOs, EPIC 08, public policy issues, Web 2.0.
Tags: environment, environmental NGOs, forest conservation
Many people have asked me throughout the years if I have ever considered a career in conservation. While my PhD degree is in environmental studies, and you could argue that my work in pollution control would pretty much amount to some form of conservation, I hadn’t been much of a fan. And since forestry isn’t really my area, for a while there I neglected discussing or researching anything that was forest conservation-related. Until I heard of Simon Jackson. I met Simon in person and did a really quick interview for HappyFrog when he was a keynote speaker at EPIC 2008. And then Darren informed me that they (Capulet) were helping Greenpeace, Forest Ethics and Sierra Club BC with their campaign to make the Provincial Government “Keep The Promise”
You might ask why did I bring Simon Jackson into the discussion. Well, here is the thing: the work that Simon has done to protect the Spirit Bear is pretty much in line with the work that the coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations (GP, FE and SCBC) are doing: conserving the forest helps conserve the spirit bear’s habitat.
In my research, I’ve written about how ENGOs use various types of strategies to galvanize public opinion (often, through mobilizations). This time, the work that these organizations are doing goes beyond protests and engages in a Web 2.0 kind of mobilizations: writing electronic letters to the Provincial Government.
You, too, can help this worthy cause by sending an email to the Provincial Government (the site is really well designed so all you really have to do is fill out the data form and voila! off you go).
As you can see, environmentalism is not dead, is well alive and kicking! Please contribute with this worthy cause. You can also participate in a photo contest (check links here) and follow their Twitter account (yeah, kinda cute that the Spirit Bear has a Twitter account, hehe – he better follow me back!). Furthermore, you can join the Facebook group (no thanks, I don’t do Facebook, but you can!). EDIT – And you can join the photo contest on Flickr!
In total Web 2.0 fashion, if you need more to be convinced, I invite you to watch this video:
Tags: Greening Halloween
Ok, so Halloween has come and gone, and you went out and had a blast. The little critters (and adults) had an opportunity to dress up and be The Joker, or Batman, or a mummy, or whatever. Now comes the part that most people forget about (or would prefer to): CLEANING UP.
Since Halloween is such a big celebration in Canada, the United States and many other anglo-saxon countries, numerous Jack O’Lanterns are carved (many as cute as the geeky WordPress one that is shown here – hat tips to Lorraine Murphy aka Raincoaster for linking to this one).
But people tend to forget that they have to dispose of the pumpkin once the Halloween celebrations are over. So, when you think about disposing of your pumpkin, remember that you can
– Compost it – Cut it in very small pieces and throw it in the composting bin.
– Dispose it in the organic section of your trash bin – Don’t forget to separate organics from inorganics!
Given how many households and businesses carve pumpkins, I would appreciate if you thought about the negative environmental consequences of inadequate disposal. Thank you.
Waste Reduction Week Canada – Oct 19-25th, 2008 October 21, 2008Posted by Raul in environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, Waste Reduction Week Canada.
Tags: Waste Reduction Week Canada
This week marks the Waste Reduction Week in Canada (from October 19th to the 25th). You may not recall last year’s civic strike (one of many policy and political mistakes) but in case you do, I am hoping this little visual reminder will help remind you of how awful the city looked.
As I mentioned a while ago, we live in a rather affluent (and wasteful) society. We buy coffee to go, and then proceed to dump the paper cup in the trash can. We buy disposable diapers and then proceed to wrap them in double plastic bags, because “eeewww it’s poop”. We drive three blocks to buy groceries. And the list goes on.
Waste Reduction Week Canada helps remind us of the many ways in which we can reduce our ecological footprint by minimizing waste. If you need a refresher, I wrote a short post on solid waste management that will give you some useful reading material.
The website of Waste Reduction Week Canada offers some really neat factoids (some of which you may or may not know). As a scholar of environmental studies who happens to have worked for many years in solid/liquid/hazardous waste management, I actually do know that landfill sites account for about 38% of Canada’s total methane emissions (according to Environment Canada).
If you need some suggestions on how to reduce the amount of waste you generate, feel free to drop me a comment, send me an email or send me a tweet.
Greening caffeine consumption? October 6, 2008Posted by Raul in coffee, environment, sustainability.
Tags: coffee, sustainability
Photo credit: Ianiv and Arieanna on Flickr
Recently, Arieanna wrote a post about implementing more ecologically-friendly measures in coffee shops. I actually was very happy that she touched on this topic, as I used to consume a lot of coffee (not anymore).
Although I had thought about some measures (e.g. using my refillable coffee mug, not accepting paper cups, not using those little bags of sugar), I hadn’t really paid all that much attention. But Arieanna’s post reminded me that it’s important to reflect on these issues. And one of the commenters on her blog pointed her out to Agro Cafe on Granville Island.
I haven’t had a chance to visit, but I might just drop by sometime soon, if for no other reason, because the commenter (Jeff) mentioned that Agro Cafe had already implemented lots of sustainability measures. I’m curious to see them, and I’ll write about them soon.
Banning bottled water in Vancouver and the Metro Vancouver pledge September 5, 2008Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought.
Tags: Metro Vancouver, public policy, regional issues, water, water policy
A large portion of my research agenda focuses on water, despite the fact that sometimes some relevant water issues go unnoticed (did you know that 2008 is the Year of Sanitation?). The good thing about studying water is that questions pop always on my mind and there’s always something new to look at.
Being an academic and a blogger, I look at issues through research-trained eyes, and the whole discussion on banning bottled water in Vancouver is one of those debates that attract me. I am hoping to do some research about it in the short term future.
I am particularly drawn to water issues as I’ve done research both in the environmental engineering field (building wastewater treatment plants) and in the environmental studies field (studying water governance and policy). I am trained to examine problems from the social sciences AND natural sciences/engineering lenses.
A few weeks back, Duane kindly invited me to guest post on his blog. We were doing Blogathon and my post examined very briefly the debate on water privatization, but I didn’t delve in depth.
The whole banning bottled water debate in Vancouver touches on two issues. One of them, the commodification and privatization of water. The other one is the potential health-associated risk of consuming water from the tap. Both of these issues would give me enough material to start a new blog. However, I’m going to just focus on one small sub-issue: bottling water for sale and redistribution (and the health effects associated).
We often (but not always) consume bottled water because we feel safer. Sometimes we consume bottled water simply because we don’t have access to tap water at the moment. There are different rationales. However, one associated (implicit) benefit is that we don’t need to worry about our safety and health if we consume bottled water. Is our tap water really all that bad?
When I worked as an environmental engineer, I would get stomach illnesses whenever I would be exposed to wastewater streams. But I have never gotten sick from consuming water from the tap (neither in Mexico nor in Canada). I know, the whole “revenge of Montezuma” joke is based on a perception that potable water in Mexico is really polluted and thus every foreign visitor will get stomach cramps or get ill when visiting if they consume water from the tap. But it has never happened to me (not even now that I’m visiting).
Metro Vancouver is undertaking a project to have people pledge to consume only tap water and reduce the number of plastic water bottles thrown into landfills. I have to say that I wholeheartedly support this initiative. From their website:
Why Metro Vancouver has a Tap Water Pledge
* Metro is committed to reducing bottled water use by 20% by 2010 to reduce the environmental impact of bottled water
* Millions of single-use plastic water bottles (one litre or smaller) ended up in our region’s landfills in 2007
* We want to provide a tangible way residents to support a sustainable practice – using refillable water containers instead of single-use plastic water bottles
The Tap Water Pledge page has information on health risks associated with water, fast facts, etc. that are aimed to help the public understand the rationale behind the project. Interestingly enough, I didn’t find data on the worldwide consumption of bottled water in comparison to Canada and/or Vancouver. I think this would be a broader perspective. From the IBWA statistics page, their 2007 stats report, I found out that Mexico is the second largest consumer of bottled water in the world, with 54.1 gallons per capita (but is this figure per year, per month? If one drinks one litre of water a day, how many gallons is that a year? I hate websites with poor statistics!)
Now, from a social media perspective, I have to say that while I think the page is a good resource, I would probably take a much more “public understanding of science” approach to it. I have to say that it would be fun to undertake this type of project, and it would merge Web 2.0 with sustainability research…. Hmm… good idea!
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: For some statistics on bottled water consumption, the International Bottled Water Association has some data. But I couldn’t find anything on Canada. Frustrating.
Adaptation and vulnerability to floods and climatic events in Mexico September 1, 2008Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, vulnerability and adaptation, wastewater, water, water policy.
Tags: climatic change, environment, floods, risk, vulnerability, water
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This post is worthy of much more in-depth content, but I just wanted to show that the municipality where my parents live is really unprepared for extreme rain. The photos and video shown below show the local river almost entirely flooded (and rather polluted, as you can see).
As you can see, cars are at serious risk of being taken by the river. The local authorities are rather unprepared for these extreme rain events. But the funny thing is, I wonder how prepared are the Metro Vancouver municipalities. I will be doing some research on this topic upon my return to Vancouver.
Car washing and sustainability August 19, 2008Posted by Raul in environment, sustainability, wastewater, water.
Tags: carwash, sustainability
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While covering EPIC 2008 as a FrogSquadder for HappyFrog (you can read all my content on HappyFrog here), I came across an eco-friendly carwash in North Vancouver, Easywash . Rebecca helped me set up an interview with Geoff Baker, the CEO of Easywash, around mid-July but unfortunately, I couldn’t interview him as I’ve been in Mexico (and under a lot of stress).
This weekend, I went to wash Mom’s car, and I used the same carwash she’s been using for years. I was reading some books on water while I was waiting for the car to be washed but I didn’t see a lot of environmentally-friendly features.
However, the funny thing is that I saw a sign that said “At this carwash, we don’t waste water, we recycle it”. But I couldn’t see where they recycled it, nor any type of water treatment. I didn’t ask, but I’ll be back to investigate.
In the meantime, I just thought I’d include a couple of photos and some video of the process (sorry if the music is too loud, but I was bored inside the car).
I also plan to interview Geoff Baker upon my return, once I get all my other interviews out of the way (I still haven’t interviewed Al Pasternak about Bokashi composting, and we’ve been trying to talk about this for months!).
Closing the cycle through recycling July 26, 2008Posted by Raul in Blogathon 2008, environment, sustainability.
Tags: Add new tag, Blogathon Vancouver 2008, sponsored post
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This post is sponsored by Fresh Start Recycling Ltd. – Thank you for your generous donation to the BC Cancer Agency!
I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much it irks me when people forget about pressing environmental problems such as solid waste. In case you didn’t know, the Vancouver Landfill is filling up (geez, I wonder why?).
People are SO intent on working on issues of climate change, that they forget that solid waste is a priority issue. It’s funny, though. If people implemented the 3 R concept (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), I am pretty sure it would be much easier to deal with the problem of solid waste.
However, the cycle is not closed completely by applying the 3R. That’s also why I enjoy the idea that Fresh Start offers – give the recycled stuff to charity. By giving back to the local community, Fresh Start atempts to close the gap between actual closed cycles and open cycles. I really enjoy this business model, and I am sure that they will be able to implement new fresh ideas (hence Fresh Start!) in the near future.
[EDITOR’S NOTE – And here is a link to Fresh Start’s blog!] Mosey over and check them out!
The Environmental Movement Needs You – Homer Simpson Has Already Joined – Guest post by Lotus Effect July 26, 2008Posted by Raul in academic life, Blogathon 2008, climate change, environment, environmental NGOs, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, friends, Green Drinks, guest post, public policy issues.
Tags: Blogathon Vancouver 2008
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This post was contributed by L.E. who blogs at The Lotus Effect.
I love the way Raul phrases his environmental passions: “Being a student of the Environment”. I’ve found myself amongst the dozens of people I know that have put their previous career paths aside and pursued environmentally-related position in hopes of making a difference (and I’ve abandoned any inclination to feel the least bit hesitant to say that making a difference bit 🙂 regardless of how trite it may be perceived by some).
So I’m confronted with it everyday – people wanting to do something, and we constantly hear.. “Just start anywhere.. it doesn’t’ matter where – the first step will introduce you to a plethora of options, and before you know it, you’ll come across something you’re really exited about.” Well, what if you don’t know where to take that first step? This is where this post comes in, I hope to offer some options of first steps that might lead you to your green passions. So here they go.
1) GREEN DRINKS The perfect combination – environmental geekery and sophisticated discussions with all kinds of people working in, or interested in the environment. I’ve only attended the Vancouver version twice, but it’s been a lot of fun – there is always a mix of veterans and solo flyers that show up without knowing a soul (but that is of course changed after the first beer). 🙂
2a) STORY OF STUFF This is a great little description of how the world currently works, some of the problems our actions are causing, and how to get involved in changing these patterns. The point with this one is.. simply reach out and learn more about how the world works, and how we can minimize our impact on the environment
2b) CRADLE TO CRADLE Similar to Option 2), this is a monumental piece of work that redefines the way we approach how we go about building stuff and creating the everyday objects we use. This novel concepts presented in cannot be called short of anything but a paradigm shift in the positive direction of what it means to be human. It’s simple, and beautiful…
If you’re interested in learning more without diving into the book, I’d recommend having a look at the TED talk featuring one of the authors (TED has numerous amazing talks on many other subjects including psychology, art, music, and technology. The one other talk that seems to be somewhat related would a brain scientist experiencing life a stroke in her left hemisphere, leaving her exposed to the raw experience of living life through her right – creative, loving, unified hemisphere – the experience’s lesson – if we use both of our brain real estate (Left AND right hemisphere), then we are much more in tune with others, and the environment around us – have a look).
3) TAKE A HIKE I’m not kidding. Go get outside. Listen to the silence of the air and the stillness of your thoughts. There are many accessible parks in the Metro Vancouver area. Some of my favorites include Lighthouse Park (which is easily accessible by public transit, but surprisingly beautiful and secluded), the Grouse Grind if you’re adventurous, Shannon Falls or Bridal Veil Falls (if you prefer a light walk in the woods), or the Chief if you’re fit and would like a bit of a challenge.
4) LEARN ABOUT WATER Why on earth am i writing about water? An excellent recent film “Flow: For the Love of Water” about water illustrates this resource’s incredible importance. For one second care to entertain the thought of considering how essential water is to our survival, health (as in, the lack of clean water leading to health and survival problems). Climate change is melting glaciers and snowpacks around the world meaning that rivers worldwide are or will be facing water shortages. In 1999, 26 percent of Canadian municipalities reported problems with water availability, including seemingly wet locals such as Vancouver and Victoria (Environment Canada 2001; Boyd 2003). To illustrate the importance of this issue a bit further: 440 of 669 major cities in China face moderate to severe water shortages, and data collected from NASA and the World Health Organization suggest that 4 billion people will face water shortages by 2050 (Lagod 2007).
5) FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE SIDE Learning more about the state of the world can be difficult at times, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about environmental issues is the absolute necessity to stay positive, and not let things get to you personally – I’ve just started a blog about this and highlighting the importance of something known as the Lotus Effect (the real definition). Using all the energy generated by anger of learning about humanity breaking environmental laws and transforming it into something positive – action on improving things or leading by example. And last, and most importantly, keeping a sense of humour about it all, and not taking things, and ourselves too seriously.
A great example would be a well-known (and very witty) standup comedian talking about energy and world politics in Robert Newman’s History of Oil (I love it). Another PERFECT example of this would be the words of wisdom by a writer on the Simpsons – Welcoming Homer, the Tree Hugger! I’d like to end on that note, if you don’t visit any other links, visit the last two – I’m particularly fond of always looking at the bright side of things. With Love, L.E.
Governing water, governing ourselves July 22, 2008Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, public policy issues, sustainability, urbanization, water, water policy.
Tags: common pool resource theory, environmental policy, public policy, water policy
Continuing on my research-related posts, I have previously talked about my research on wastewater governance, on environmental NGO mobilization, and now I’ll briefly talk about what I have studied on water supply governance.
I was going to leave this post all the way until Blogathon, but Arieanna’s recent post on “Canada, the water” reminded me of the relevance of understanding how water supplies and water management works (great post Arieanna by the way). Arieanna’s post calls attention to the fact that the bottled water being sold at Whole Foods was pretty much targeted towards tourist buyers.
What worries me a bit more is not so much the privatization and commodification of water, but the misconceptions of water availability on this planet. According to the 2nd. United Nations Word Water Report, between 25 and 40% of the world’s drinking water comes from ground sources (groundwater).
This fact should be scary to people, but I’m not sure that people who live in Canada and particularly British Columbia (since we are so well served by our watersheds and local reservoirs) realize the degree of water scarcity that pervades the world, even if there is a generalized perception that . Therefore, it’s not hard to think that many people have a reason to be rightfully annoyed by the increasing privatization of water supplies.
Given the investment and capital costs that need to be covered in order to provide groundwater for drinking purposes, I would imagine that people would be cognizant of water scarcity and avoid increasing demand on water reserves, both by conserving water and by recycling grey water. In one of my research projects, I have looked at the use of common pool resource (CPR) theory to try and understand the conflicts amongst two communities who share and access the same aquifer (in Mexico).
The nature of public accessibility of aquifers makes them an excellent laboratory to study the behavior of communities who have to share a common resource that can be depleted if inappropriately managed. The purpose of my post was (as subtly suggested in the header) to indicate that in order to appropriately manage or govern water, we need to first learn to govern ourselves and control our natural consumptive instinct, in order to avoid depletion of our water reserves. Will we be able to do that? And how can we increase the visibility of the challenges of governing water when we can clearly see that other issues (such as climate change) are so high up in the environmental agenda in Canada?
More resources and materials for reading:
– The World Water Assessment Project page – Provides lots of information and good statistics. The UNESCO International Hydrological Programme is currently putting together the 3rd World Water Report.
– CBC Series on Water – While I am VERY weary of pointing people out to media sources instead of academic sources, I kind of liked this series.
– The National Water Research Institute of Environment Canada – Basically focuses on freshwater, but a good resource nonetheless.
– The International Water Resources Association (IWRA).
Tags: environmental NGOs, public policy, research
Ever wonder what drives environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) to undertake campaigns to protect the oceans, protest forests’ clear-cutting and fight to have bis-phenol A banned from all plastic bottles? This is one of the questions that has driven another side research project I have conducted throughout the past decade.
I’ve always been puzzled as to why would numerous individuals of different backgrounds decide to come together and volunteer their time to engage in environmental activism. Putting pressure on government is an activity that has taken place for a long time, and with the recent increase in media exposure to problems such as climate change and pollution, we have witnessed a spiraling growth of ENGO mobilizations.
You may or may not know that one of the most famous environmental groups (Greenpeace International) was initially founded in 1971 here in Vancouver.
In 1971, motivated by their vision of a green and peaceful world, a small team of activists set sail from Vancouver, Canada, in an old fishing boat. These activists, the founders of Greenpeace, believed a few individuals could make a difference.
Their mission was to “bear witness” to US underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, a tiny island off the West Coast of Alaska, which is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions.[Greenpeace website]
My research on ENGOs has focused less on understanding the motivations behind environmental groups’ (a topic that, while interesting, provides in my opinion less insight on potential public policy options) and more on the strategies that ENGOs use to put pressure both on industrial polluters and on governments at different scales (local, regional, transnational).
Moreover, I have been interested in gathering empirical evidence of the formation of transnational coalitions of ENGOs and how these coalitions use their collective knowledge to engage in strategic behavior and put pressure on national governments. Interestingly enough, there are many cases where ENGOs have been successful in pressuring polluters and shaming governments.
However, one of the most interesting insights that I have found in my research is that, for an issue to really galvanize public opinion, it has to be notorious and affect the population in a deep way (that is, it must be scary enough to make people put words into action). As I mentioned in my previous post on the governance of wastewater, it irks me to know that other pressing problems, such as dwindling supplies of water and increasing wasteful behavior on the part of urban populations are being overlooked in favor of climate change.
While it appears as though environment (and climate change) are two of the issues that Canadians indicate as public policy priorities, I am still surprised that there are not more environmental group protests on issues of pollution, and still place so much emphasis on climatic change issues.
My hope is that, in the coming years, people will continue to mobilize and try to change how environmental policy is shaped and implemented, but hopefully by then, we’ll have a much more holistic view and not only one shaped by excessive press coverage of environmental issues that, while pressing, are not the only ones we need to look at.
Unappreciated beauty in North Vancouver June 16, 2008Posted by Raul in environment, Focus on Vancouver, North Shore, random thoughts, urbanization, Vancouver, water.
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It’s a fact: human beings take things for granted. Canadians and Vancouverites are not exempted from this. Why on Earth would people choose to voluntarily pollute their environment is beyond me. Do you want to guess what I found on this gorgeous park, right besides Lonsdale Quay (after having hung out with Arieanna for a bit at Waves on 1st. St. and Lonsdale)?
Yeah… I found THIS…
Does this upset me? YES. IT DOES. The mere reason why I traveled all the way from Mount Pleasant to the North Shore was to enjoy the scenic beauty (which I did), to have a chance to hang out with friends (which I did). However, I was not prepared to be taken aback by the lack of environmental awareness of what is touted as “the most environmentally-friendly city in Canada”. Well… somebody needs to remind its citizens about better environmental behavior.
And here is a gorgeous view that may give you a hint on why I travel to North Van for comfort.