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Peter Gorrie is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor who has covered environmental issues for more than 30 years, with a focus on climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy and the North.

Charged up

Electric vehicles are poised to eclipse their combustion engine counterparts in the decades ahead, but how quickly?

Electric vehicles (EVs) will consign gasoline-burning cars to the transportation scrapyard. That’s the firm consensus among industry experts. But agreement breaks down over when it will happen.

Some numbers suggest we’re hard on the accelerator toward a battery-powered future:

  • Seven years ago, only a handful of EVs roamed the world’s roads; today, it’s nearly 1.3 million.
  • Global EV sales soared 60 per cent last year from 2015.
  • The number of EV models available in North America has leapt from two to 30 since 2011. Europe and China are keeping pace.
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When the flood comes

Which Canadian cities are best prepared for the next big flood? A new report grades 15 cities across the country.

Canada’s cities must do more to prepare for the increased flooding expected as a result of climate change, says a new report, prepared in part because of concern over rising insurance costs for homeowners.

Some cities are doing better than others, but, “I am amazed at their overall lack of preparedness to limit the potential for flooding and to not suffer unduly when floods do occur,” says Blair Feltmate, a professor in the Faculty of the Environment at the University of Waterloo, who led the research study funded by The Co-operators Group Ltd. insurance company.

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Harper’s Gulf game

By Peter Gorrie
The Gulf of St. Lawrence may be an ecological treasure, but it also holds a wealth of natural gas and oil.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to Sept-Iles, Quebec, last fall to announce a key step toward opening yet another part of Canada to petroleum development. The federal and Quebec gov­ernments, he said, had agreed to table legislation launching the search for oil and natural gas in the province’s portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“Our government wants to ensure the responsible and sustainable devel­opment of these resources to benefit all of Canada, and especially Quebec,” Harper said. The agreement, intended to eventu­ally create a Canada-Quebec Offshore Pe­troleum Board, is “a major milestone” that “will usher in a new era of prosperity.”

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The potential of biogas

Renewable natural gas could replace 16 per cent of diesel fuel used by U.S. truck and bus fleets.

Manure, sewage and food wastes could fuel buses and trucks and eventually help to power electric vehicles.

At least that’s the promise of a fledgling renewable-energy industry which, buoyed by recent regulatory rulings, appears set for rapid growth in the United States and, hobbled by minimal government support, is taking tentative first steps in Canada.

The potential comes from the biogas that’s produced when farm manure, human sewage, food leftovers, agricultural crop residues or other organic wastes are broken down by bacteria in oxygen-free or anaerobic conditions, releasing a methane-rich gas. This happens in engineered landfills, as well as specialized facilities known as anaerobic digesters, which are found mainly on farms and at wastewater treatment plants.

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A natural advantage

Evidence is mounting that exposure to plants, animals and other humans boosts health outcomes and productivity.

No matter where you are in Toronto’s new Bridgepoint Hospital you can observe a park or garden through large windows.

Gardens cover the grounds and a roof of the hospital, which serves patients who need long-term rehabilitation or disease management. Inside, walls are painted in green or the blue of nearby Lake Ontario. Nature themes dominate artwork.

The design aims to connect patients to the surrounding community and park, says Celeste Alvaro, a specialist in experimental social psychology who heads a team researching green features and their impacts.

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