Toronto Star: China’s Generation Green

International Reporting for the Toronto Star: China’s Generation Green

This is a project I worked on for the Toronto Star with UBC’s International Reporting Project. Ten graduate students traveled around China finding members of the country’s young environmental movement.

My work is in the introduction and the “Food Scandals” story, with contributions to the “Safe Food” story as well.

CBC Radio – Eco-partners: Fighting together for the health of an inlet

This is a story on Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and Ben West of Forest Ethics Advocacy, which aired on CBC’s In the Field. The story can be found at 26:46 here. It was produced with Allison Griner and Yvonne Gall, and based on a multimedia story for UBC’s Reporting in Indigenous Communities course.

Globe and Mail: Get flu shot, young people urged, as H1N1 season approaches peak

This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on January 6, 2014

About 30 people have been admitted to intensive care units in B.C. so far this flu season, and the resurgence of the H1N1 virus has prompted health officials to warn young people to get immunized.

There has been one death attributed to the virus in this province, although laboratory results have not yet confirmed whether H1N1 was the cause.

Despite the notorious strain of the virus, doctors are not expecting this year’s flu season to be nearly as severe as the 2009 pandemic. That year, 8,678 Canadians were hospitalized with the virus, and 428 died. Now, many Canadians are immune to the virus, making another pandemic unlikely.

“The sky isn’t falling,” said Danuta Skowronski of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. “But there are certain people that we recognize may be at particular risk this season, and that includes young and middle-aged adults.”

Last year’s H3N2 strain of the influenza virus caused numerous outbreaks among the elderly in care homes over the course of one of the worst seasons in a decade. By contrast, the H1N1 strain is most dangerous for the young.

“Normally, flu affects the very young and the very old,” said Michelle Murte, a medical health officer at Fraser Health. “Many people over 65 have been exposed to H1N1 when they were younger, whereas younger people wouldn’t have been exposed to it.”

When the H1N1 virus does strike younger people, its symptoms appear to be more severe than those of the H3N2 virus.

“We don’t normally see that age group requiring the type of acute care and intensive care we’re seeing now,” Dr. Murte said.

The risk is the most severe among people 20 to 60 years old with risk factors like pregnancy, obesity, heart and lung conditions, or impaired immune systems.

Walter Hiebert, a 56 year-old man living with HIV since 1988, said he makes sure to get his flu shot every year. But he says that despite the encouragement of urban health authorities, who were among the best prepared for the 2009 pandemic, not all HIV-positive people get the shot.

“They’re doing so well on the [antiretroviral] drugs,” said Mr. Hiebert. “They’re pretty much in the same boat as everyone else” in terms of how vulnerable to the flu they think they are.

Saskatchewan has seen a run on flu shots after three confirmed deaths from H1N1 there. On Monday, Alberta’s chief medical officer acknowledged many pharmacies in that province ran short of flu vaccine. Last week, hundreds of Albertans lined up for shots after it was revealed there have been 965 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in their province. Almost all have been H1N1.

A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Health said there are no vaccine shortages here.

Still, Dr. Skowronski said that’s no reason for people to be casual about getting a shot.

“People shouldn’t delay immunizations for a number of reasons,” Dr. Skowronski said. “First of all, we can’t guarantee an endless supply. Secondly, you’re going to maximize your benefit if you get the vaccine before, rather than during or after, the peak.

“It’s not too late to get immunized, but we’re on the cusp. People shouldn’t delay too long.”

Canadian Geographic: How climate change fits into Calgary’s record flood

This post first appeared on Canadian Geographic’s Compass blog.

It’s nearly impossible to get a hold of someone in Calgary right now.

Since the historic flood last week, many Calgarians are staying home to clean up their homes and neighbourhoods. When Canadian Geographic reached David Keith, a professor of public policy and engineering at Harvard University, he was dragging a dumpster up the driveway of his Calgary home to start the cleanup following the flood. His own house was damaged, but “a lot of people have got it worse,” he says.

Keith is probably right: of the approximately 75,000 people displaced from their homes, with billions of dollars in damage, many Calgary residents will have worse jobs this week than tearing out drywall. And as the cleanup begins, some are starting to wonder why it only took eight years for the high-water mark set by 2005’s “flood of a century” to be overrun.

As with any extreme weather event, it is not possible to definitively blame climate change for the flood. What is possible, however, is to compare it to previous records — and all the data thus far say that this flood surpasses any event on record, including the flood of 1932. Even with dams all the way up the Bow River built since 1932 — obstructions that should have slowed the flow of water — the peak flow was still stronger than 80 years ago.

That increase in intensity is predicted in climate change models, which have been forecasting more rain, earlier spring melt and increased flood risk in Alberta for a decade. It will only get worse over the next century, according to reports from government agencies,insurance bureaus and non-governmental organizations.

“(Climate change) is pretty solid science, despite what most of my neighbours say,” Keith says.

Keith believes that for many people in oil-rich Calgary, climate change will remain off the table as an explanation.

“I would actually be surprised if it changed people’s opinions,” he says. “There’s a lot of evidence that people are profoundly motivated to avoid uncomfortable truths.”

As of Monday morning the Calgary Herald had run just one article and one reader’s letter mentioning climate change out of 84 articles published about the flood.

“The Calgary Herald has always ignored climate change,” says environmental journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, whose article Calgary’s Manhattan Moment about the flood and climate change ran in The Tyee on Monday.

“Because the coverage of climate change has been so poor, people were not expecting it,” Nikiforuk suggests. “I think now people are in the stage of asking, ‘What happened?’”

Monica Zurowski, managing editor at the Calgary Herald, says that the last few days have been too busy to step back and look at the potential causes of the disaster.

“I think it would be premature to comment on that. The last few days have been a city and province in crisis,” she says. “It’s very hard to get a look or handle on why it happened.”

Zurowski admits, however, that over the course of reporting for the newspaper’s three special editions dedicated to the flood, reporters have spoken with experts who have brought up climate change. That reporting will come later as the city returns to normal, Zurowski says.

The cleanup in Calgary, Canmore, High River and many other communities in Alberta is expected to go on for months. As the mud is shoveled out of basements across the province, it remains to be seen what conversations will come next.

Canadian Geographic: Where is the solar max?

This post first appeared on the Canadian Geographic blog

Photo by Objetpetitm via Flickr Creative Commons

This year’s solar maximum may be the minimum maximum of the century.

Every 11 years or so, there is a peak in solar activity, such as sun spots, flares and solar winds. For the past eight years, scientists have predicted 2013 to be the maximum of the current solar cycle, but the number of sunspots during these peaks can vary.

New evidence suggests this solar maximum could actually have two split peaks, both of which are less intense than average. In that case, a NASA scientist has predicted that the next peak will occur in about two years. But as Ljubomir Nikolic — a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada’s Geomagnetic Laboratory — explains, it is impossible to predict the sun’s behaviour.

“What actually happens depends on the sun, not on our prediction,” he says.

According to Nikolic, the frequency of sunspots is somewhat irrelevant anyway. It’s not the number of sunspots that matters, he says, but how big they are, where they are and their magnetic complexity that really counts.

“The frequency of the solar storms could be lower, but this does not mean that their potential impact on Earth is lower,” Nikolic says.

It’s “geoeffectiveness,” or how the sunspots affect our planet, that really matters for scientists like Nikolic. Sunspots are manifested on Earth in a few ways; the blasts of radiation they give off can interfere with satellites or even knock out power grids as they rush past our planet. But their bursts of energy are best known for their most welcome effect: the aurora borealis, or northern lights. In years of a solar maximum, the northern lights are usually at their most frequent and most spectacular, and sky-watchers flock to remote polar areas to enjoy the show.

But not all solar maximums are created equal; the number of sunspots recorded during solar maximums has varied tremendously. In the last century or so, the number has fluctuated between extremes of 64.2 in 1906 and 201.3 in 1958. The number of sunspots attached to any given date is actually the average monthly number of sunspots recorded — hence the decimals.

This year’s predicted maximum, according to a NASA report released on May 1st, is 66, or just slightly more than the 1906 maximum. It’s the 1906 number that NASA scientists have based the double-peak scenario on (solar cycles have sometimes mirrored previous patterns). In the new report, NASA has predicted that the current maximum will come this fall, and another weak maximum could occur in 2015.

As Nikolic stresses, however, solar cycles are not an easy thing to predict. And even if we have passed the peak, it isn’t necessarily bad news for aurora viewers.

“Solar flares can happen at any time in the solar cycle. In fact some of the most geoeffective solar storms have occurred after the solar maximum.”

Read more about the solar maximum in Canadian Geographic‘s Jan/Feb issue.