Saturday, February 28, 2009

More from the National Home Show: The Most Lovely Water Filter and Silky Organic Bed Sheets

This porcelain water dispenser from the Montreal based company Aquaovo is just the thing that I've been waiting and hoping for, a real eye-catcher that could help bring tap-water back into fashion in this country. It can be used simply as a water/lemonade/ice tea/anything-you-like dispenser for home or office use. You can see in the top photo there is even a little magnet that roles along the outside of the dispenser that shows the height of the water inside by following its mate, a little magnetic ball floating on the water inside the container.

If you're a real purist you can add the filtration component which they describe as imitating a natural filtration process only this one is very specifically designed to remove a variety of impurities and pollutants, both organic and chemical. For more details on the various components of the filter and how they all work flip to page 8 in this brochure from their website. They even recycle the used cartridges. You can sign up for their automatic filter replacement program where you send back the used cartridge in the stamped packaging that it arrived in and receive a rebate on the next cartridge you receive.

A piece like this at home or at the office gives water a place of honour and respect. It treats water as something precious. Maybe it'll inspire us to develop a healthier relationship with the water that comes out of our taps from our local watersheds.

Removable refrigeration and automatic filling devices that are designed to go with the whole system will be available soon.

[See the World Water Council: Water Crisis for more on water management and international crises
and Environment Canada: Water Use for more on water management issues in Canada]

The other exhibit that I thought I'd mention in this post is the one I found on Natura beds and bedding. These are the softest and silkiest cotton sheets I've ever felt. There are people that propose that there might be health benefits from using natural or organic bedding, and there may be, but the main benefits of buying and using organic bedding are the same as buying organic fabrics generally. They include supporting cotton or wool producers that don't use pesticides and herbicides that pollute ground water. They even come in an organic cotton bag, no plastic wrap.

And for baby! You can get organic latex crib mattresses and all natural bedding that hasn't been treated with toxic chemical dyes.

Natura is based in Cambridge, Ontario, but they sell through retailers throughout North America. If you want to have a look at their products you can find the closest dealer through their website.

My Favourite Exhibit at National Home Show: Office In A Can

I've heard of a lot of things coming in a can, but this work space at the National Home Show takes the prize for best canned item yet. BSq Landscape Design converted this reclaimed shipping container to be their "mobile, off-grid professional design office". Yes, it's equipped with solar panels. If you want to know more about what they can do with containers check out the Container Architecture page on their website.

The National Home Show is on until this Sunday February 29 so there's still time to have a peak. If you can't make it they will also be at Canada Blooms March 18-22 at the Toronto Convention Centre. While you're there you can pick out some organic perennials or whatever you like for the green roof on your container!
Reclaimed shipping container converted to mobile office by BSq Landscape Design
Computer rendering courtesy of BSq Landscape Design

If you want more on design with containers, last week Lloyd Alter, also from Toronto, wrote about the Green Container Housing Demo in Thailand on Treehugger.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Do We All Need To Take A Field Trip to Antarctica?

Antarctica: photo by Michael Reichmann
Trip to Antarctica January 2009, Photographer: Michael Reichmann

I've decided that now is the time to expand this blog. Here's why.

This past weekend in Cape Town South Africa the Huffington Post reported on a get-together of a couple dozen influential people taking a field trip to Antarctica. According to the article there were delays because of bad weather during which Lord Nicholas Stern, the eminent British economist, updated the group on just how bad the outlook is for the world economy and political stability if we don't immediately address the causes of climate change. Yes, it looks like we are putting CO2 into the atmosphere even faster since 2000 than we were in the 1990s according to a report by the Carnegie Institution for Science (February 14 article in the Huffington Post). Not only that but the same institution was reported by the CBC in January as saying some of the damage done is already irreversible for a few thousand years. As the travellers in South Africa waited, Lord Stern warned of millions of people being displaced and "extended world war" over increasingly limited resources. Frightening indeed, but Stern is still optimistic that we can avoid the worst of these if we act now.

A recent World Watch Institute report stated: "Global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2020 and decrease drastically until 2050..." and "More CO2 will have to be absorbed than emitted in the second half of this century."
(January 14, 2009 BBC article "World 'needs radical cuts' on CO2")

Part of me just had to laugh. Do they really think this is possible? For Westerners it's easy to come up with reasons not to try. It's going to cost a bit of money up front even if it does pay us back in the long run. People are happy with their lives right now and don't want to change.

But the way I see it, if it needs to be done, then we just have to do it.

My partner and I lead a relatively low carbon existence already, living downtown without a car and eating our share of organic and locally grown food, but we could certainly do more. So I'm expanding this blog to figure out what else we can do to improve things. Being an urbanite with a background in architecture I'm going to look at city living, good design, green design, art and communities. A few field trips to see what's going on in other places and what other people are doing would be fun too. As for going to Antarctica, here's a video clip from last night's Daily Planet of some Canadian students landing on this great continent for the first time and here's a link with information on an upcoming exhibit of photographs at the Luminous Landscape Gallery in Toronto in March.

Let me know what you think.

Referenced articles on what the biggest research organizations have been saying in the last 2 months:

"World 'needs radical cuts' on CO2" by Tanya Syed BBC News January 14, 2009

"Some climate damage irreversible: report" from the Associated Press CBC January 27, 2009

"Global Warming Increasing Faster Than Predicted" by Randolph E. Schmid Huffington Post February 14, 2009

"Lord Nicholas Stern Paints Dire Climate Change Scenario: Mass Migrations, Extended World War" by Charles J Hanley Huffington Post February 21, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Electric Vehicles at the Canadian International Autoshow in Toronto

So what does the Canadian International Autoshow have this year for someone who wants to go out and buy an all electric vehicle right now? Here I mostly restrict myself to products that are market ready and available for purchase in Canada. Some are market ready and we should be able to buy them but can't because provincial or territorial regulations don't allow them yet.

If you live anywhere other than New Brunswick or the Northwest Territories regulations allow you to drive one of these:

Electric Scooter by ElectroWheels
Electric Scooter by ElectroWheels**

I love this one! As soon as I have a shed to park it in I'm going to run out and buy one. Even though it looks like a scooter, it's classified as an electric bicycle (notice the pedals down at the side) which means everyone riding one has to wear a helmet regardless of age, but you don't need a licence or insurance. You just need to be over the age of 14. They have a regulated top speed of 32km/hr and this is plenty fast enough for the average person on a bicycle!* There are a few brands of electric bicycles, scooters, tricycles and limited speed motorcycles on the market and you should be able to easily find dealers in your local yellow pages. But if you're in Toronto and can still make it down to the Autoshow, ElectroWheels is offering a discount from regular in store retail prices if you buy at the show. ElectroWheels bikes/scooters are assembled in Canada from imported parts from China and they configure a variety of models. I'd say this qualifies as a made in Canada product considering the extent to which vehicle manufacture is almost never done in entirely one country anymore .**

If you live in Alberta in addition to being able to buy and ride electric bicycles and scooters you can also get one of these babies:

Vectrix 100% Electric, Zero Emissions Motorcycle
Vectrix 100% Electric, Zero Emissions Motorcycle

This Vectrix electric motorcycle has a top speed of 100km/hr and is currently only available in Calgary at All Season Motor Sports. It's classified as a motorcycle by Transport Canada so you can ride it anywhere you can ride a regular motorcycle. They are looking for more dealers to carry them so they could be available in other provinces soon. Here's the Transport Canada ecoTECHNOLOGY page on the Vectrix. For more on Vectrix check out autobloggreen.

If, on the other hand, you live in Quebec or British Columbia you could buy and drive an enclosed, all-season low speed electric vehicle for tooling around town like this:

ZENN Made in Canada neighbourhood electric vehicle
ZENN Made in Canada neighbourhood electric vehicle

The ZENN (as well as the NEMO, not featured at the show) is manufactured just outside Montreal in Quebec. These are Low Speed Electric Vehicles/Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles with a regulated top speed of 40km/hr.* On display in the GTA in Motion exhibit are the ZENN and Electrovaya vehicles, including the MAYA which is supposed to be launched this summer. For more on the MAYA see this article on For some inexplicable reason the GTA in Motion display is not with the Transport Canada ecoTECHNOLOGY display and National Resources Canada's most fuel efficient cars display in front window of the North Building, but instead as you come from the North Building into the South it's tucked away in behind the first escalators.

Of course if you absolutely must have a highway capable, all-purpose electric vehicle there is only one way to get it right now and that is to convert a regular or hybrid car. If you want to do it yourself one group to talk to would be the EV Society of Canada. The Electric Vehicle Society of Canada has a small booth beside the GTA in Motion display.

And no, even if you did have US$109,000 to spend on the base model of the Tesla, it is not currently available for purchase in Canada, only in the U.S. and Europe.

There are rumours around the show of manufacturers coming out with affordable ($40,000-$50,000) all-purpose electric vehicles. Even under the best of circumstances none would be available in less than 18 months to 2 years. And given the bureaucracy that could be involved in getting these vehicles approved for the Canadian market it could easily be longer. The vehicle that's furthest along is this one:

Mitsubishi iMiEV
Mitsubishi iMiEV

This car is scheduled to go into production and be on the Japanese market this year, but there has been no announcement about the timeline for launching it in North America.

If you want to see it this is the last weekend for the Autoshow in Toronto. It goes until 10pm tonight Saturday February 21 or tomorrow Sunday February 22 from 10:30am to 6pm.

Here are a few Toronto Star articles on with some of the highlights:

Alternative-power cars debuting in Toronto: Alternative fuel cars mix performance, efficiency

"The future of the car takes shape: GTA in Motion exhibit explains how electricity will play a vital role in the car of tomorrow"

*edit February 22: Added information on regulated vehicle speeds.
**edit February 22: Removed the "Made in Canada" description. Will follow up to see if this was just a misunderstanding with the sales representative at the show. A company spokesperson confirmed that they are assembled in Canada from parts manufactured in China but did not say where the designs originate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ontario in Fourth Place in Race to get Low Speed Electric Vehicles on Public Roads

O.k. so maybe this race is more like competitions where a bunch of excited kids line their frogs up around the outside of a circle and then whoop and holler and cheer them on excitedly while the frogs alternately do nothing, jump around in random directions and occasionally jump backwards. But then it is so thrilling when one of them finally jumps into the centre circle and a winner is declared!

If you're an LSV/NEV enthusiast like me and have been following the progress over the last year and a half that provincial governments across this country have been making in putting in place regulations to allow them on public roads then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. If not here is a somewhat rough snap shot of how the race is looking so far.

British Columbia started off by taking the lead being the first province to allow LSVs on public roads, but they are only allowed on roads with a max speed limit of 40km/hr. However municipalities can pass by-laws that allow them on roads up to 50km/hr. Oak Bay was the first to pass such a by-law and then Vancouver. Then the Manitoba Legislature passed its Kyoto bill that enables the government to make regulations allowing LSVs on public roads, but they're still working on the details. The specific regulations and when they would take effect have not been announced yet. Just days after Manitoba's announcement Quebec issued a press release that showed it leaping past the other two. It said they were beginning a 3 year pilot project and as of July 17, 2008 two makes of LSVs, the ZENN and the NEMO would be allowed on all public roads with a max speed limit of 50km/hr, though they included a clause that allows municipalities to opt out if they so desire. They also indicated that the pilot project was to fine tune the regulation of LSVs and they had no intention of taking them off the road after 3 years.

So now Ontario is finally showing some life and jumping into the fray, somewhat reluctantly it seems, and will allow the Zenn and other Low Speed Electric Vehicles/Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles on public roads. Tyler Hamilton passed along this news in his blog in early December. Check it out if you want more details.

The Ministry of Transportation indicates in their press release that they will introduce LSV regulations sometime this winter. I hope we'll hear something soon.

These regulations will most likely be based on recommendations made in the National Research Council report "Safe Integration of Electric Low Speed Vehicles on Ontario's Roads in Mixed Traffic". This is the report that Ontario commissioned earlier last year to give them a more thorough understanding of the technology and the history of these vehicles in the marketplace. The executive summary at the beginning of the report contains an impressively long list of the possible "risks" associated with allowing LSVs onto public roads. By their own admission many of these "risks" are hypothetical and not based on evidence from real world experience. From what I can see many are also based on questionable assumptions. I'll go through some of them in follow-up posts. If you want here's an old post on the safety debate.

Today, even though the government might slap a few paranoid restrictions on their use, I'm happy that Ontarians will finally be able to buy and drive neighbourhood electric vehicles! Yipee!