Naomi Buck is a Toronto-based freelance writer who lived for many years in Berlin. She has written for the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, Toronto Life, and Spiegel Online, and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award.

Tamara Vrooman is banking on change

Canada Infrastructure Bank’s new chair takes the long view on shaping the nation’s post-pandemic future

As a girl growing up in Victoria, B.C., Tamara Vrooman did not set her sights on landing one of the most senior jobs in Canadian banking. Pursuing her own interests, she played string bass in high school and studied history at the University of Victoria.

It was only while defending her master’s thesis on the B.C. government’s policy of forced sterilization of the “feeble-minded” in the early 20th century that she realized her fascination with the government’s role in shaping the lives of Canadians. She also realized that, rather than study the intersection of private and public interests, she would prefer “to go to where the decisions are made,” as she told The Globe and Mail in a 2009 interview.

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Green recovery can build solidarity, if done right

EU offers model for attaching green strings to recovery plans while driving a unity of purpose that Canada needs

The COVID-19 lockdown, while in many ways stultifying, stressful and depressing, also had some unexpected upsides. As human activity waned, nature came to the fore. City dwellers were suddenly aware of birdsong. On the epic dog walks that became the highlight of our days, random strangers would comment on how blue the sky was, how clear the air, how resplendent the ravine in spring.

Climate activists noted, with some combination of cynicism and optimism, how quickly the world managed to mobilize in the face of an immediate threat. And indeed, the radical change in human behaviour – the grounded planes, eliminated commutes, reduction in industrial production and power generation – had an impact. By early April, daily global CO2 emissions had dropped by 17% compared with mean levels in 2019.

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Concrete jungle

Mixing philanthropy and public spaces together

There is very little to love about Toronto's Gardiner Expressway. The six-lane highway that runs 18 kilometres along the shore of Lake Ontario, feeding some 300,000 vehicles into the downtown core every day, is a relic of car-centric postwar urban planning and a symbol of the kind of infrastructural rot that plagues municipalities across Canada.

But a couple of well-endowed Torontonians have decided to change that. Last fall, Judy and Wilmot Matthews announced they were donating $25 million to convert the space under the elevated portion of the Gardiner – currently littered with syringes and abandoned shopping carts – into a cutting-edge urban park. In so doing, the couple has shifted the conversation: for years, city council had bickered over whether to rebuild, bury or demolish the concrete beast; now it's going to be tamed and turned into an attraction.

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Bürger power

A nascent movement in Berlin wants to transform the municipal grid into a greener citizen-led co-op.

When I moved to Berlin as a graduate student in the fall of 1998, there was an unfamiliar smell and thickness to the city air. I soon realized why. Every few days, my East Berlin flatmates would traipse down to the cellar of our apartment building and return with a crate of charcoal to feed into the tiled stove that was our apartment's sole heat source.

Idealism also hung thickly in the air. When we weren't consuming culture, coffee or beer, we were at the demonstrations that are popular sport in Berlin, joining hundreds of thousands to protest against the far right or the Iraq war or to honour the life of Rosa Luxemburg.

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Meddling billionaires

Their intentions are good, but when the super rich decide to back a cause, ego can sometimes undermine the hard work of NGOs.

When she was 15 years old, Australian school girl Grace Forrest took a trip to Nepal, where she visited an orphanage for children who had been rescued from the slave trade. It was a sobering experience, even more so when she returned to the orphanage two years later to discover that those same children had vanished back into the murky underworld without a trace.

Forrest was appalled and decided that she “really wanted to do something,” as she would later tell the Sydney Morning Herald. And as the daughter of billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest, she was in a uniquely privileged position to do just that.

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Israel’s fountain of youth

An entrepreneurial shift among Israeli youth is helping to create a green oasis in a country worried about dependence on oil.

EILAT, ISRAEL – Sagi Giat and Michael Harel are sitting on poolside chaise longues, gushing about the low-friction motor they've just designed. At 18, one might expect them to be taking more of an interest in the bikini-clad, cocktail-sipping tourists basking in the winter sun next to them, or the windsurfers skimming across the Gulf of Aqaba in the distance. But no, it's all about magnetically suspended ball bearings.

Although they seem like old friends, Giat and Harel have in fact just met as fellow participants in an international youth competition that invites high school students to Israel's southernmost city to work on solutions to environmental problems. The Sustainergy competition, now in its third year, is part of a broader initiative to turn southern Israel into a hub of green technology.

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Organic beer is greener beer

Wine and beer drinkers have never had more variety when it comes to products boasting lower environmental impacts.

Sustainable, local, organic – when it comes to food and drink, these monikers sell. The explosion of farmers markets, local food movements and the organic retail sector in North America constitute an onward and upward trend.

Wine and beer are no exception. Both appeal to consumer appetites for local and authentic. In Canada, craft beer, made on a small scale and with natural local ingredients, is the fastest growing segment of the beer market and, as Canada's relatively young wine industry extends its regional reach, a small but growing number of wineries are challenging themselves to produce organically.

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Do those with more give less?

Research shows that those in society with wealth to spare are stingy givers compared to those most in need of charity.

As insane as it sounds, much of my last year has been spent trying to get a crosswalk installed in front of the local public school. Drop-off at the school is a tangle of school buses and cars and with no nearby intersection or crosswalk, kids on foot or bike make their way across the street at their own peril. My suggestion that we offer these children (mine among them) safe passage has fallen on remarkably deaf ears. The city's police, traffic planning department and local residents deem a crosswalk unnecessary, ugly and inconvenient. Efforts to rally support among other school parents uncovered what many of them consider the root of the problem: French immersion.

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Debating population

There may be too many people on the planet, but population control alone won't save a species afflicted with overconsumption.

Twenty years ago, I and a small group of undergrads from various American universities flew into Lagos on a muggy January evening. We were the wide-eyed and eager dregs of an international exchange program - Nigeria, then under military dictatorship and benighted by corruption was the program's least popular destination.

Having made our way through Lagos' dingy airport, we were transferred by van to a hostel. As night fell we drove through a seemingly never-ending street market, a sea of Nigerians selling every conceivable thing out of baskets balanced on their heads, carts and mobile stalls. It was my first taste of the so-called Third World. I had never seen humanity on that scale and it was overwhelming.

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