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The painful process of writing academic book chapters/articles November 22, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought, writing.
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I love writing (as you can tell from my more than 1,260 blog posts so far) but sometimes, it is just hard to get started on the subject matter at hand. I remember that, when I presented a talk in 2001 in Berlin (Germany), I started writing the paper at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, using my then Compaq laptop (my brother and I bought matching laptops at the time, before they were acquired by HP).

It took me the whole afternoon, evening and I seem to recall that I was up until about 3 or 4 am that night. My brother had gone away for the weekend (at the time, we were living together) and I had the whole evening/weekend to focus on the paper. I got it done at around 11am on the Sunday. That conference paper became the cornerstone of much of my research agenda to this day.

Many people seem quite impressed that I can write as much on my blog as I do. To tell you the honest truth, I write on my blog as I think. That is, if you read any of my entries, you might as well be sitting right beside me listening to my unstopping chattering. I set that as the goal of my blog: it should read in the same way as my normal conversation.

Sometimes I crank anywhere between 1 and 6 posts in a day and writing all that content doesn’t really take me much effort in terms of how long it takes me to write or even research and do the links for a post. This is not because blogging is oh-so-easy, but because I am so familiar with my own writing and the general links I use as sources, etc. that my writing now flows with ease.

The only problem tonight is that the writing isn’t flowing as much, so what I decided to do was to create the EndNote style (I use EndNote for academic reference management) for this specific book chapter. I also created the general heading structure and laid out the overall argument I am giving in the chapter. Finally, I pulled text that I had already written in other academic papers, making sure that I noted that it wasn’t all original text. Then I added a substantial amount of original thoughts. Now all I have to do (which I plan to do all Saturday) is to print it out, edit the language so that it’s not a direct cut-and-paste, insert enough original content as to make the argument flow, and then send it for proofreading/editing with some of my colleagues.

This last bit is a piece of advice I am happy to pass along. Despite the fact that I am an academic (or I guess, precisely for that reason), I *always* make a point of asking for advice and input on anything academic I write. ALWAYS. And my journal article/book chapter acceptance rates are really good. I think that this comes as a result not only from writing good research, but also being humble enough to ask for advice from your peers. That’s the only way you can get better. So I always ask my friends to edit my stuff, even if they are not academics, because they are always able to provide a fresh perspective.

Musings from Raul’s very tired mind at 3:30am after having cranked out a really good first draft of an original contribution (book chapter).

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Statistics Canada provides us a full RSS feed of statistical goodness! November 20, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, sustainability, wastewater, water, water policy.
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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.

Net neutrality in Canada: The challenges ahead November 18, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, food for thought, geekifying myself, net neutrality, public policy issues, social media.
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While I have become much more involved with social media in the past year than I had ever before (I am in almost every Web 2.0 application except for Facebook), I hadn’t really thought a lot about the issues with net neutrality until the day when I live-blogged Michael Geist’s talk at Saint John’s College (UBC) as a guest blogger for my friend Rebecca Bollwitt (Miss604) in April of 2008.

Recently, I’ve become more aware that my role in Vancouver’s social media scene is much more than just being the Organizer of Vancouver Bloggers Meetup. It is also part of my role to raise awareness about issues that affect those of us who use the Internet on a regular basis. Moreover, we social media folks are also substantially affected by these challenges.

Steve Anderson (the co-founder of the SaveOurNet.ca Coalition and National Coordinator of Campaign for Democratic Media) and Kate Milberry (SFU doctoral candidate, a good friend and an expert in digital activism) both reminded me of the need to think about social media as an ecosystem. As an expert in environmental issues, I often use ecosystems as a metaphor to analyze phenomena. I have to say that I had thought of social media as an ecosystem, but hadn’t thought of Canadian legislation on net neutrality as one of the challenges. Steve’s article actually gave me good insight on this issue. He writes:

The Conservative federal government is NOT inclined to support an open Internet. To keep a level playing field on the Internet we’ll need a robust citizens movement to put pressure on politicians and policy makers and shape policy that protects equal access. The social web community can provide the foundation for this burgeoning movement – perhaps even serve as a catalyst. Consider this a call to action.[SaveOurNet.ca]

Having engaged in academic activism myself, researched and studied environmental mobilizations, and often preaching to the public to become more involved in public policy, I am always up for supporting activism that benefits our society. So, I would sincerely encourage you to get informed, get involved, and become part of the white cells of the social media biological system. You can help, and if you have a stake in the future of Canadian internet, you probably should.

The West End evictions and this week’s municipal elections November 10, 2008

Posted by Raul in Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, politics, public policy issues, random thoughts, Vancouver, West End.
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If you are a Vancouverite and able to vote (Canadian citizen, older than 18 yrs old), you probably DO know that Vancouver’s municipal election takes place on November 15th, 2008 (8am to 8pm). You can start doing advance voting at 5 locations in Vancouver (read more here).

There’s an issue that I find has not been discussed at length (or maybe it has but I haven’t read much about it in the past few weeks/months) – the issue of evictions in order to increase rent. While I do not live in the West End, I have MANY very close friends, both civilians and tech/social media/PR people who have their homes there.

It does worry me that evictions to renovate and then increase rents continue to happen. This issue is something that has been written about extensively (I’ve read lots of stories in many major newspapers) . The question I have is – does anybody know if the candidates for city mayor have expressed any formal position on the issue?

Why do I think this issue is relevant, when there are others (homelessness, transportation, etc.) that are also key? Well, simply because if the trend continues in the West End, the likelihood that these kinds of evictions will happen (I haven’t read many reports about occurrences of evictions to increase rent outside the West End) in other areas may increase. My main concern, of course, is my own neighbourhood (Mount Pleasant)!

What do you think of this issue?

Public policy lessons on homelessness for Vancouver’s next mayor November 2, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, Homeless Action Week, homelessness, public policy issues, random thoughts, social change, Vancouver.
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Vlastula on Flickr

Credit: Vlastula on Flickr

Both of the candidates with actually the best shot at actually becoming the next Mayor of Vancouver (Gregor Robertson and Peter Ladner) have participated in debates on (and broadly proclaimed that they’ll work to end) homelessness in Vancouver (you can read a good recap by Tris here). Well, gentlemen, I seriously do hope that whoever wins, will seriously seek some sound advice on public policy, particularly on the issue of homelessness.

I am not an expert in homelessness policy by any means. I am, however, a specialist in environmental studies and public policy, and particularly I’ve researched issues that are clearly the domain of various levels of government. In particular, water governance in Mexico faces many challenges precisely because of this problem – overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities. Homelessness has the same basic structural problem. It should be a shared responsibility, but no actual level of government takes real responsibility and is truly accountable for dealing with homelessness.

In Mexico, wastewater governance and water supply provision, for example, is fully a responsibility of the municipality. That responsibility is enshrined in the Mexican Constitution (Article 115). Unfortunately, municipalities don’t really have a standing in the Canadian political system. Canadian federalism recognizes the Federation and the provinces (and Territories). However, municipalities/cities are not recognized (see Canada’s Cities report) and therefore, the intergovernmental relationships amongst municipalities, the provincial governments and the Federal have become really complicated [EDIT – Found even better sources on the debate on whether municipalities should be granted constitutional status in the site of the Library of the Parliament of Canada and in the Canadian Encylopedia].

This is unfortunate, and it’s a big problem if you think about it, because – who bears the brunt of homeless as a societal issue that needs to be addressed? The municipality. However, how can a municipality address an issue that requires cooperation between provinces, the Federation and the municipality if there is no actual recognized Constitutional status of the city in Canada? (see the sources I’ve included above on the state of the debate in regards to the constitutional status of the municipality/city)

According to Vision Vancouver’s blog, Gregor suggests to “build relationships with all levels of government” as one of the key actions they’ll undertake if elected.

According to Peter Ladner’s blog, Peter suggests that he will tackle homelessness “through a partnership of federal, provincial, regional, municipal governments and non-profit agencies”.

Well, dear candidates in the November 15th municipal election, you will need to not only build relationships and partnerships, but actually establish sound, solid intergovernmental agreements that lead to the implementation at a local (municipal) level of the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Although, that being said, I think we need a sound National Homelessness Action Strategy.

Homelessness is definitely a regional/municipal public policy issue, but municipalities can’t solve the problem by themselves, without the support of the Federal government. For all candidates, I suggest you coordinate your strategy with the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (launched in December 2006).

Under the HPS, the federal government will offer the provinces and territories the opportunity to enter into bilateral partnerships, improve collaboration and develop linkages between the federal homelessness programs and provincial/territorial social services to help communities make strategic investments that will best serve their homeless populations.[HPS About Us]

I would also recommend investing in solid, evidence-based research on homelessness using a global, multi-country, multi-region comparative strategy. Surely, other countries have reduced homelessness. How did they do it? What did they do? What was needed?

I am sure someone must have done good research on the topic. I haven’t, but if I was a specialist in urban issues (specifically homelessness) rather than an environmental specialist, I probably would launch a research programme with applied outcomes (e.g. partner with the local communities to actually effect change).

I was able to find a good article on homelessness and health (co-authored by, amongst others, Dr. Jim Frankish, whose research I do respect a lot).

Homelessness and Health in Canada: Research Lessons and Priorities
C James Frankish; Stephen W Hwang; Darryl Quantz, Canadian Journal of Public Health; Mar/Apr 2005; 96.

[Link here]

Additional resources – Not a research paper, but Monte Paulsen’s post on The Tyee “Seven Solutions to Homelessness” is a great read.

One last word – whoever wins, please don’t just give us empty promises.

DO THINGS THAT WILL HAVE POSITIVE, LONG-LASTING POSITIVE EFFECTS!

Jack O’Lantern’s post-Halloween disposal – Greening your celebrations November 1, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, food for thought, Halloween, random thoughts, sustainability, Vancouver.
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Eric M. Martin

Credit: Eric M. Martin

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.

Wasting energy in the Richmond ice skating rink October 29, 2008

Posted by Raul in energy, food for thought, random thoughts, Richmond.
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As we were driving back from Richmond, Arieanna, Ianiv and I noticed that the Richmond ice skating facility had all the lights turned on. Surely, the building looks pretty (particularly at night) but I am pretty sure that’s a waste of energy. Despite the wonderful view, I would prefer if they turned off the lights. Just saying. The same could be said for BCIT’s Aerospace Facility (very pretty as well, but very wasteful!)

Waste Reduction Week Canada – Oct 19-25th, 2008 October 21, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, Waste Reduction Week Canada.
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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.

Rebelcan

Credit: Rebelcan

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.

Homelessness Action Week 2008 – October 12th to 19th, 2008 September 8, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, Homeless Action Week, homelessness, public policy issues, random thoughts, social change, social networking, Vancouver.
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Photo Credit: Matthew Good on Flickr

Last week, I mentioned that I was worried about the lack of interest in local/Canadian politics and the excessive focus on the US election on Canadian and Vancouverite blogs and on Twitter. Well, with the news of an upcoming Federal election (October 14th, 2008), I am very, VERY happy to see the interest of our bloggers, readers and Twitterers renewed on Canadian issues 🙂

During the same week, I tried to remind my readers that in order for us to really participate, and put the public back into public policy, we need to focus on local issues while maintaining a global perspective. One of those hyperlocal issues that I think we need to focus on is the lack of homes and shelter for homeless people. On a side note, I am not too sure that homelessness will be taken up as a Federal election issue, but who knows.

Even though homelessness is mostly considered a regional, municipal/provincial public policy issue, there is an actual Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (launched in December 2006). From their About Us page:

Under the HPS, the federal government will offer the provinces and territories the opportunity to enter into bilateral partnerships, improve collaboration and develop linkages between the federal homelessness programs and provincial/territorial social services to help communities make strategic investments that will best serve their homeless populations.[HPS About Us]

Homeless Action Week will take place EXACTLY during the 2008 Federal election week, which is kind of timely, if you ask me. Why? Well, because everything is interconnected. With the 2010 Olympics and the discussions around the gentrification of the Downtown East Side, there will be a need to re-examine the Federal strategy on homelessness. And I have the feeling that Homeless Action Week may be the catalyzer for this re-examination.

Is lack of homes (and affordable housing) an issue? Well, let’s examine the data provided by the Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness.

A 24-hour snapshot count conducted on March 11 th, 2008 indicates that 2,592 individuals were found to be homeless in the Metro Vancouver region. This number is an increase of 427 individuals over the 2005 count data, or an increase of 19% over the number of homeless individuals found in 2005, and a jump of 131% since 2002.[HAW Research Page]

So, the question again is … how can you help? In addition to all of those great suggestions provided on the RSCH page for Homeless Action Week, you can also
– Blog about it.
– Tweet about it.
– Talk about it with your friends, family, etc.
– Write about it (in print).
– Discuss it on national media.

And, two additional things you can do…

One, you could donate your time, clothing items or food to local food banks. Rebecca has for very long been a champion of Metro Vancouver’s food banks, most recently raising over $10,000 dollars for the United Gospel Mission (along with Duane and with the generous help of Matt Good, Matt’s fans and many other participants). Lack of food would most definitely be an issue that homeless people face.

Two, you can participate in the events for the 2008 Homeless Action Week. Last year, I highlighted some of the 2007 HAW events and had a chance to participate in a few. As I mentioned in that previous post, sustainability, social change and social responsibility start at home, and Vancouver is my home, so that’s where I am trying to effect change.

On that note, I would like to invite you to follow @vanpoverty on Twitter, as this is a project where I am partnering with the brilliant Joe Solomon (@engagejoe on Twitter) to use our combined blogging/social media powers to bring issues of poverty and homelessness in Vancouver to the forefront.

Banning bottled water in Vancouver and the Metro Vancouver pledge September 5, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought.
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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.

Ianiv and Arieanna

Photo credit: Ianiv and Arieanna

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

[Metro Vancouver: Take the Tap Water Pledge]

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.

Septiembre, Mes de la Patria September 2, 2008

Posted by Raul in food for thought, Mexico.
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I heard this slogan hundreds of times while I was growing up… “Septiembre, mes de la patria” (september, month of the homeland). TV and radio spots would highlight the fact that the Mexican Independence Day was coming up (September 16th). Everywhere you went, you’d see booths where flags and other Mexican memorabilia would be sold.

León centro 001

My parents live about 30 minutes away from Guanajuato, where the Mexican Independence’s biggest battle was fought. While the Independence was declared late at night on September 15th and in Dolores Hidalgo (about an hour by car from Guanajuato), most accounts focus on the battles taking place in the city of Guanajuato.

I grew up immersed in this patriotism, and was always excited because my birthday was so close to the Mexican Independence Day. Interestingly enough, I have felt for a long while now that this sense of nationalism has been fading. Mexican culture is rather complex and I can’t say that I’m an expert, but I’ve been feeling this sense of a massive exodus since a few years now.

Immigration, and transnational migration are topics that I’m interested in and that affect me, but they’re not at the core of what my research and writing interests are. However, given that I’ve spent a few weeks in Mexico now, I can speak to the sense I have that many, many Mexicans want to leave their country. And that’s a bit sad, in my view, as it seems like a sign of fading nationalism.

Another reason for this apparent fading nationalism is a sense of disempowerment and lack of trust in the Mexican government. I was reading some statistics from a poll by the nation-wide newspaper Reforma, whereby the rate of approval of President Calderon went down 2 points in the past year (reaching 62%) and the credibility of his messages went down from 54% in September 2007 to 44% in September 2008 (Periódico Reforma, p. 10, Encuesta Reforma: Séptima Evaluación del Presidente Felipe Calderón). I have been feeling a sense of desperation in Mexican society that may be leading to a massive exodus.

However, there are many people that are hopeful and that just keep going and working really hard IN Mexico. I was talking to a cleaning shoe man last night, and he said that while business had gone down, he was really happy that he was still finding work. He mentioned that he noticed how for many people, making enough money to put food on the table was more important than having their shoes cleaned. Yet, he still was hopeful and working hard at it.

Shoe cleaner in Mexico

There are many wonderful things about Mexico, and I’m very happy to be here now, and I’ll be happy to be back in Canada too. I can navigate both worlds and feel at home in both countries. And although I’ll be away from Mexico on Independence Day, I plan to celebrate in Vancouver. If I were in Mexico on July 1st, you can bet I’d be celebrating too! 🙂 And I am also sure I’ll find ways to help Mexican society from wherever I am.

Adaptation and vulnerability to floods and climatic events in Mexico September 1, 2008

Posted 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.
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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).

River overflow 2

River overflow 3

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.

The game of politics in Canada, the US and the local levels August 30, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, Vancouver.
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11 comments

I don’t follow US politics. At least, I don’t follow it seriously. This may be perceived kind of shooting myself in the foot and a serious blow to my credibility as a scholar. Not at all, and I’m going to prove you wrong. I am not the only non-US citizen who is NOT obsessed with the results of the US elections. I could scour Twitter and find those key tweets where people said “hey, can we please get over the whole Barack Obama/Michelle Obama/Hillary Clinton speech and move on to other topics?“.

I understand that there are many American ex-pats in Canada, particularly Vancouver. Many, MANY of them are my friends, and not only Twitter friends or blog-friends, but friends, FRIENDS. I can also understand that many Canadians or Canadian residents are interested in the outcome of the US elections because the US is such a key actor in Canadian life. One can’t ignore the US, simply speaking. That’s also the case in Mexico because the US has a strong influence on Mexican politics (both foreign policy and domestic politics).

You could easily build a case to entice me/convince me of why I should follow US politics. But the truth is, I’m rather disappointed by the lack of interest of exactly those who have been tweeting about US politics on LOCAL (and by local I mean, Vancouver politics). Want some proof? Use Summize (aka Search.Twitter.com) and find tweets about “Gregor Robertson” or “Peter Ladner”. 14 tweets on Gregor Robertson (two of mine, and full disclosure, I said I liked him). 8 tweets on Peter Ladner.

Now, do the same for any of the following keywords: Obama, HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton), National Democratic Convention (NDC). I just did a quick one for Obama and I couldn’t count the number of tweets (they were so many). I’m sure if I used another tool, I could find actual accurate stats on the emphasis that has been given to the US election.

As a scholar who has taught political science, I completely understand why this happens. As a resident of Canada, I can completely understand why this happens. As a resident of Vancouver and someone who has passionately embraced the city where I have lived in for more than a decade, I am dismayed. It looks as though the interest of Twitterers in local, municipal issues is minimal.

While I am absolutely not afraid of retaliation or criticism, I would seriously like to encourage people who live in Vancouver to think about, talk about and discuss the ideas of those people whose decisions will influence YOUR lives. YOUR local livelihood is at stake.

I am not at all asking my readers (particularly my Canadian readers, as I know that I’ve got quite a few from abroad) to stop thinking about or discuss US politics. It’s important. Heck, even I wrote about it (when I complained about the really sad fact that Obama and Clinton had to face-off, because they both would be breaking stigmas and old paradigms).

I just want people to take more of an interest in local politics. And no, it’s not because I’m now in the ballot of the Vancouver Election Contest. I had been ruminating this post since I started getting flooded with tweets about the US National Democratic Convention, the Hillary Rodham Clinton speech, the Barack / Michelle Obama speech, the Joseph Biden speech. Of course, I admire them. I have previously expressed my admiration for Obama and for Clinton. But it came to a point where I was just like “ok, this is a little bit too much“.

I do hope (and expect!) that my Twitter friends will do the same thing when the Vancouver mayoral election draws nearer and I expect (and want!) a barrage of tweets about the local elections. The best way to effect change is to get involved. And I want my Twitter and blogger friends to get involved in issues that will affect them the same or more than the outcome of the US elections.

Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty August 15, 2008

Posted by Raul in Blog Action Day, blogosphere, charities, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, Vancouver, Web 2.0.
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Poverty is one of the societal illnesses that occupies my mind on a regular basis. Not because I live a rather frugal life and I’m on a budget. I’m actually talking about REAL poverty.


Photo credit: DTES.people on Flickr.

While I realize that there are many measurements and definitions of poverty, I was kind of shocked to find out that the World Bank doesn’t have specific pages to analyze poverty in North America. Is the belief that poverty does not exist in North America (USA and Canada, as Mexico is included in their Latin America dataset) so prevalent that US and Canada don’t warrant their own country pages?

Anyone who knows me even a little bit and who has taken the time to read the more serious, less fluffy posts in my blog will know that I’m a big fan and promoter of social activism, particularly in issues of homelessness, poverty alleviation, sustainability and HIV prevention/treatment. This time, I’d like to draw your attention to Blog Action Day 2008’s theme – Poverty.

What is Blog Action Day?

Global issues like poverty are extremely complex. There is no simple, clear answer. By asking thousands of different people to give their viewpoints and opinions, Blog Action Day creates an extraordinary lens through which to view these issues. Each blogger brings their own perspective and ideas. Each blogger posts relating to their own blog topic. And each blogger engages their audience differently.[Blog Action Day site, About Page]

Last year, I participated in Blog Action Day 2007, as the topic was sustainability. This year, I am even more motivated to participate given that my readership has increased, I am much more socially connected (through Twitter and many other Web 2.0 methods) and therefore, my blog may be able to make more of a difference.

So, how can you get involved? You can check the Frequently Asked Questions section of their site. In my case, I will be doing 1/4 of a Blogathon (e.g. only 12 posts) but all of them will be focused on issues of poverty. You are more than welcome to guest post if you feel like it, or link to any of my posts should you want to, but more than anything, do something. Get involved.

I don’t think I should try to coerce people into promoting Blog Action Day or doing something about it, but I am passionate about poverty alleviation, so if you could spread the word, that would be super awesome. Even better… if you can engage in doing something to alleviate poverty, that would be even more awesome.

Thank you.

North Vancouver Lower Lonsdale

The Environmental Movement Needs You – Homer Simpson Has Already Joined – Guest post by Lotus Effect July 26, 2008

Posted 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.
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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).

2c) INCONVENIENT TRUTH If you haven’t seen it yet.. The only thing i gotta say about this one – i think any movie that helps someone win the Nobel Peace Prize might – just might be worth watching.

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.

Environmental groups mobilization and protests: More than meets the eye July 18, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, environment, environmental NGOs, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, water.
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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.

Pembleton on Flickr)

Global warming protest outside Washington Park (Photo: Pembleton/Flickr)

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.

Deer Lake Park

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.

The governance of wastewater and the culture of flushing July 16, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, urbanization, wastewater, water.
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One of the things that has struck me a lot throughout the past five years that I have studied water policy is the absolute disconnect that exists between our understanding of the different elements of the hydrological cycle and their interconnectedness. The social sciences literature has examined in great detail issues of water scarcity, but water quality and wastewater treatment are, for the most part, absent from the discussion.

The Joy of the Mundane

Photo credit: The Joy of the Mundane

I know that I have always chosen difficult and non-explored questions for my own research, and in this regard, I have created some sort of a niche because very few people study the governance of wastewater. Amongst those very few Canadian scholars who have done work in wastewater and that I know of are Dr. Arn Keeling (whose PhD dissertation was an environmental history of wastewater in Vancouver) and Dr. Jaimie Benidickson (whose book, “The Culture of Flushing“, is a great environmental and social history of flushing in Canada, the United States and Great Britain).

My own work hasn’t dealt with Canadian wastewater, but I do have a fairly solid understanding of the way things work here. I am sure you’ll find it appalling that the city of Victoria, the capital of the province of British Columbia, does NOT have a wastewater treatment plant. The effluent comes straight into the ocean (with some preliminary screening).

Burnaby Lake Park

A recent post by Matt Collinge about water quality in False Creek reminded me of how little do people in Vancouver AND in Canada think about wastewater. This is something that is prevalent at the larger scale. Professor Dickinson indicates that this is part of “the culture of flushing”, or what I often call, the OOSOOM phenomenon (out of sight, out of mind).

One of my personal pet peeves is that both scholars and non-academics in Canada are SO focused on climate change issues that sometimes they forget other environmental problems that have NOT been solved, including solid waste management (Vancouver’s landfill is about to be entirely full) and wastewater management (we are nowhere near some of the developing countries’ technologies for wastewater treatment, hard to believe as that may be).

My research focus in the area of water policy (I’ve done research in other areas) has examined primarily the role of institutions and the types of rules found in wastewater governance, and the role of watershed councils in strengthening sanitation policy. I found, after that presentation, and having had discussions with other scholars, that I will have to pursue two separate agendas in the future: one on wastewater governance itself and one on watershed councils, and I am very excited about this.

I am curious to know if my readers do think about water scarcity more than they think about what happens once they flush the toilet. Or does even water come into their minds, with so much focus on climate change issues? What do you think?

What is left unsaid often hurts July 14, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, food for thought, friends, personal life, random thoughts.
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While my blog is pretty personal, I rarely post about things that really eat me up. Primarily, because I think that those are very intimate details of my life that I don’t really feel like I should reveal. However, these past few months, I’ve had a nagging feeling that there was something I hadn’t discussed that kept bugging me, and I just spoke about it in the past couple of weeks.

I talked about this with Tanya as I was walking her back to her place. While reminiscing, I can clearly remember that I had already had some hints of having something bottled inside when my friend LCB and I had brunch at Sunshine Diner and we touched upon the subject. Then I mused about it with Rebecca. I even mentioned something about it with my friend CC who is doing her PhD there now. At some point, I had discussed this in detail with my PhD advisor. And this past Sunday, I discussed it with my good friend JT. Since the list of people with whom I’ve started to share how I have been feeling is growing so I figured this was the right time to put it out on the blogosphere, in an effort perhaps, to let go.

What did I leave unsaid, you ask? Well, for background purposes, the program where I did my PhD is very interdisciplinary and intermingled. Therefore, there’s LOTS of people doing a heck of a lot of different stuff, and it has historically had problems with issues of cliques and cohesiveness. I volunteered for my program, A LOT. I organized workshops, events, seminars. I offered my analytical skills and critical advice to my peers in an entirely self-less manner. I read theses, papers, drafts, critiqued them (constructively all the time) and engaged in scholarship.

However, I think it’s fair to admit that I was disappointed with (some of) my peers, and with their engagement with me (as a person and as a scholar). A number of them, I do consider good and close friends. But in general, I have been keeping bottled inside a feeling that I never got back from my scholarly community what I gave. It’s not that I was (explicitly) expecting something in return. But I do feel somewhat neglected. This may sound entirely self-absorbed and selfish, but I think that, if you are in a community (whichever community, be it scholars, bloggers, etc.), you can (somewhat) expect something in return. In my case, what went around (care and interest in everyone’s well-being) did not come around.

The blogging community has been IMMENSELY more welcoming to me than my graduate program. I have received LOTS and LOTS of help, advice, I’ve been embraced and nurtured by a community of people with whom I’ve become friends, and that’s something I am very happy and grateful for. I already had a great circle of off-campus friends, whom I adore, and who devote their time and friendship to me (in considering off-campus friends, I would include some of the friends I made throughout my graduate program and faculty at the university, simply because we are now closer friends and not only peers)

Instead of dwelling on the pain that my peers’ behavior inflicted on me, I prefer now to move forward and look at the broad array of possibilities that are in front of me. Grad school is now a chapter of my life that, in my mind, I have closed, and I am happy to move on. I just thought I had to say this, publicly, openly, and honestly.

Vancouver Young Professionals and Real Estate Tech Meetup recap July 7, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, Vancouver Young Professionals Meetup.
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Demonstrating that everyone can (and should) access technology, the Vancouver Real Estate Tech Meetup (combined this time with the Vancouver Young Professionals Meetup) gave me a really good overview of how real estate professionals are harnessing the power of Web 2.0. It was also very nice and refreshing to see young Vancouver professionals who attended the meetup as well.

Steve Jagger invited both Rebecca (who is liveblogging) and myself to attend this event. While I had decided that I wasn’t going to attend that many events, I figured this would be one that would be fitting, and besides, I was very productive (in regards to my own work) today, so I don’t mind at all attending. I am actually quite glad that Steve invited me because I had a chance to attend Scott Humphrey’s seminar (Scott is a Peak Performance Strategist w/ Tony Robbins), network, socialize AND learn more about myself.

Real Estate Meetup and Young Professionals Meetup

Steve Jagger and Scott Humphrey.

Real Estate Meetup

Some of the participants in the meeting

Some insights I gained from Scott’s talk.

Success without fulfillment is a failure. I completely agree with Scott. We should look at our lives and, if we’re not getting the results, we should ask WHY (instead of mulling over and trying to feel “pumped” about change, but not actually engaging in it).

The interactive workshop is targeted towards helping the participants learn more about themselves and how they can achieve peak performance through some strategic thinking.

Three types of fears:
– Fear of success
– Fear of failure
– Fear of unknown

Your beliefs and patterns are what determines your performance (and your future). I completely agree with Scott on this statement. What is holding you back?

R (Results)

What type of belief (B) do we need to achieve R (result)?

When people make excuses about why they don’t get the results they want – maybe they had the wrong beliefs.

What is really impossible in your life? Nothing, really. You need to get out and take action.

1) You have to change your focus.
2) Motion creates emotion.

Leaders DO take action!

Here is the facts – you need to get good results, to get outstanding results, you need outstanding results.

OVERALL SUMMARY

The meetup went really well, atendees were very friendly, Scott is a great speaker and the concepts he was putting forward apply to anyone who wants to grow. Some of his insights were very relevant to what I want to do moving forth. Scott was very motivating and his energy was outstanding.

The only very minor little glitch I saw in the Meetup was that the music volume in neighbouring floors/rooms was a tad too loud. I really enjoyed Scott’s talk and it would have been even stronger without the other room’s music. But the seminar itself (interactive workshop) was outstanding. Way to go, Steve! Good job in the organization of this meetup, and great decision bringing Scott to talk. And of course, thanks for inviting me to come, in the first place.

Steve commented that this could be a potential location for Third Tuesday and I agree, it would TOTALLY fit, the only problem I see is that we would probably have to ask the speaker to speak out, but that’s quite alright. They have WiFi here at Ceili’s. I’ll recommend it to Tanya, and I know Steve said he’d put a good word in for us. This seems like a good possibility.

To Tumblr or not to Tumblr? That is the question… July 3, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, food for thought, geekifying myself, random thoughts, Web 2.0.
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You know when you have these seemingly brilliant ideas and someone has already blogged about them? Yeah, that’s the feeling I have when writing about Tumblr. One of the most recent Web 2.0 (highly praised by my blogofriend Heather Watson), I heard about it for the first time at VIDFEST 2008, precisely from Heather (aka Hez). I then discovered that Jarrett also has a Tumblr. Then Dan mentioned he had a Tumblr too.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Ryan Nadel, who works in the journalism/film/media industry, at a lovely party hosted by Candice Faktor, of OurFaves.com. This small gathering of good friends proved a great laboratory to have actually good conversations, and Ryan and I engaged on a discussion of Tumblr. Ryan does have a Tumblr account, and (to my surprise I might admit) I have found at least two other friends of mine who do.

Remember – I am not in media, nor journalism, nor public relations, nor tech per-se. I am a specialist in environmental studies who loves blogging. So, for me to hear about Tumblr, it was a bit like “this is the new Twitter or the new Plurk“. It would seem to me as though Tumblr.com would be the place where I could synthesize all my online stuff (portfolio) and go from there. My friend Andy calls his Tumblr “his brain dump“.

My question is – is that the direction in which Web 2.0 is going? I am having a hard enough time with FriendFeed, BrightKite, and all that jazz. Not sure about how to feel about Tumblr. Any thoughts? Do I really want to get yet another Web 2.0 application? Particularly, can I hear some thoughts from those of you who actually have Tumblr.com accounts? Thanks.