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  • 03 Aug 2017 6:22 PM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    ​Did you know that the BC Motor Vehicle Act here is 60 years old?  The way the roads are being used has changed, and so should the rules that govern them. Please take action today. Check out what our friends at the HUB are proposing, lets make our voices heard, and ask our government to take action. Let's be part of the solution and not the problem. 

    If you are interested in this topic and want to volunteer and meet like-minded people join us at our next SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday August 16 at 6:00PM, at 2305 West 7th Ave. Or email us at volunteer@spec.bc.ca to learn more about volunteering with SPEC.

    The SPEC Energy & Transportation Committee

  • 24 Feb 2017 11:04 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    The City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health combine to host discussion on catalyzing social connections

    In 2012, the Vancouver Foundation presented the results of a survey of metro Vancouver revealing that people in the region identified their greatest concern as a growing sense of isolation. You can read the entire study at: https://www.vancouverfoundation.ca//sites/default/files/documents/VanFdn-SurveyResults-Report.pdf

    Since that study, social isolation and ways to remedy it has been the subject of frequent discussions. In   December, 2016, the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver presented CONNECT: Catalyzing a Social Movement, a day-long event that offered a range of activities to engage and teach participants about making connections.  The conference was facilitated by The Leverage Lab, a project incubated by SPEC, and Richard Drake, Coordinator of the SPEC Elders Circle, co-hosted the workshop on inclusiveness.

    The conference brought together people from diverse backgrounds to share music, food, and workshop experiences.  Workshops were presented by academic, non-profit and government practitioners who  study, advocate and deliver services to vulnerable populations or who are responsible for  preparing for  events that threaten our normal systems of communication, transportation, medical support, food security, etc.  Participants explored our collective impact on energizing a movement around social connectedness in the Metro Vancouver region.

    Workshop topics included:

    • measuring social connection,

    • boosting social interactions through housing design,
    • enhancing community resilience through neighbourhood networks,
    • accelerating inclusion of hard-to-reach populations through specific outreach strategies,  
    • creating more engaged and connected communities through the arts and culture. 

    Besides the workshops, there were a number of ‘connecting experiences’ that quickly crossed the barriers of separateness and put participants in touch with each other.  I met several new people, some peripherally but with four new people I exchanged cards and put them immediately on a list to follow up with to build on our common interests.   

    This is a good news story at a time when we seem to be pulling apart and straining the seams of our social bonds.  Kudos to the local political and health authorities for addressing the barriers of isolation and separation.  These barriers make us vulnerable to messages of fear that lead to suspicion of differences and indifference to vulnerabilities.  We can bring civility, preparedness and resiliency into our relationships through housing and other programs that rebuild our sense of ‘The Commons.’  And we can revitalize bonds of trust, mutuality, and safety that are the heart of community and allow us to respond effectively and compassionately to crises.

    The City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health are seeking ongoing feedback and connection with citizens about this issue and these concerns.  SPEC, an urban environmental organization recognizes the profound link between social and environmental sustainability and supports all elements of this outreach to citizens.  If you’re someone who feels drawn to start a neighbourhood conversation or learn information and/or skills that support these connections, download the city’s VanConnect APP at http://vancouver.ca/vanconnect.aspx  Or you can call or email SPEC.  We are partnered with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House in an ongoing outreach to our urban community to make and sustain the connections of social harmony, resiliency and environmental integrity. 

    — Carole, SPEC President

    Society Promoting Environmental Conservation – now in our 48th year.

    www.spec.bc.ca or info@spec.bc.ca  



  • 07 Oct 2016 3:55 PM | Karla Olson

    Article from Vancouver-Point Grey Community Office Fall 2016 Newsletter, David Eby, MLA

    We had a quick chat with Oliver Lane, Exec Director of SPEC on the role of this great organization in the community.

    Q. What’s the best thing about working with SPEC?
    A. The people. It is a pleasure to work with staff and volunteers that bring such a diversity of knowledge, interests and culture and that share values and a passion for sustainability. SPEC is like a container for great people and great ideas to flourish. And we do our best to support that.   

    Q. SPEC has been housed in many places in Vancouver. Can you tell us about your new location in Kitsilano?
    A. In November 2014 we moved into our new office in the Kits Neighbourhood House building on 7th and Vine, in the heart of Kitsilano. It is such a wonderful location and Kits House is such a great partner. The Westside Community Food Market is an example of the type of partnership we have. We've also jointly hosted on-site workshops through the Urban Farmer Field School, and our new SPEC Elders Circle is being kindly supported by Kits House.

    Q. What’s it like collaborating with UBC students?
    A. SPEC gets involved with UBC students in a variety of ways. I want to say that we also connect with SFU students but I guess because of our location on the westside and our connections we end up having a more frequent link to UBC. Collaborating with UBC students allows us to strengthen the Academia-Community link. It also brings new ideas and fresh energy to SPEC. And although students are always quite busy, we really welcome the time and passion they share. And as a UBC graduate myself, I love the opportunity to get students connected with grassroots projects happening outside campus.

    Q. How have the markets been going and what should we watch for next?
    A. The market this year has been great! It was a wetter summer than last year but we are having roughly the same number of sales and visitors. The market is a great pace to support urban agriculture, local farmers, and very importantly, provide a community space for people to meet and access local and healthy food. We also have a coupon program that makes the market food more accessible to lower income community members. This seasons' last summer market is on September 15. But the good news is that we will host a smaller scale Fall Market, followed by Kits House's Autumn Fair on October 22, that will include a food market, and lastly the NEW Kits House - SPEC Winter Market on December 3, also featuring some of our summer market vendors.

    Q. What’s your favourite vegetable?
    A. It changes. Right now I have the following top three: Arugula, Sweet potato and Leek (my partner makes such a delicious leek quiche!). 

    If you have questions about SPEC or want to learn about volunteer opportunities, please visit their website http://www.spec.bc.ca/

  • 01 Sep 2016 6:26 PM | Karla Olson

    Why did you become a farmer?

    “I left my office job to look for more fulfilling work in the environmental sector and through volunteering discovered that organic farming satisfied the environmentalist in me as well as giving me a sense of satisfaction that comes with hard, physical work, and seeing concrete results of your efforts.”

    What are the main challenges you face as a farmer?

    “Balancing work-life in the summer – there are endless tasks (and weeds) but not making time for myself only results in burn out. Another challenge is financial stability.”

    Aside from fresh local food, what other values do you provide to your community through farming that people might not know about, for example, a place for pollinators, supporting biodiversity?

    “My farm is one of two small mixed organic farms in my area of Richmond surrounded by blueberries and cranberries creating an ideal environment for pollinators and birds improving biodiversity.

    Through my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, I introduce people to eating in season, new vegetables and varieties of familiar veggies, and an appreciation for good food.”

    How can people in the community support urban agriculture, food security and healthy ecosystems? What is your call to action?

    “Talk to your farmer! Ask about practices, connect with them, Certifications are not everything, and you can learn a lot about what grows well, when. Plus a lot of us love to talk about what we do, this is a labour of love.”

  • 01 Sep 2016 6:20 PM | Karla Olson

    Why did you become a farmer?

    “I used to work in a government office doing IT and found myself looking out the window all the time longing to be in the fresh air and sunshine. I started volunteering with the permaculture Vancouver meet-up group and loved the experience of gardening and growing food in the community so I decided to get into it commercially.”

    What are the main challenges you face as a farmer?

    “Having stable and affordable access to land is a challenge. We are on a short term lease so reluctant to invest in infrastructure and permanent/long term plantings of perennials (fruit trees, nuts, berries…)”

    Aside from fresh local food, what other values do you provide to your community through farming that people might not know about, for example, a place for pollinators, supporting biodiversity?

    “We keep beehives and chickens at our farm and have flower gardens and hedge rows. We try to make habitat for bats, dragon flies, butterflies and other critters, birds and pollinators.”

    How can people in the community support urban agriculture, food security and healthy ecosystems? What is your call to action?

    Try growing something! Herbs and tomatoes are what I started out with on my apartment balcony. Community gardens are great places to meet other gardeners and see what grows here. Come visit our farm – we have volunteer days and are happy to connect with people.”

  • 07 Jun 2016 12:27 PM | Karla Olson

    It has been a fruitful, and veggieful, year at the school gardens!

    Thanks to the School Gardens Program, we have seen that the best way to get kids excited about eating vegetables is to have them grow them! This year, with the support of our generous donors, 12 schools across Vancouver were able to take part. Students, from kindergarten to grade 12, got into the garden to plant and eat vegetables throughout the year. Students also learned about composting, soils, nutrition, and how to build a healthier food system. Our program is in high demand with schools, parents, and teachers, as it provides hands on learning which helps give children a sense of ownership and empowerment in their own development. To see some wonderful pictures of the program in action, you can check out our blog and Instagram page.

    During the week of June 13, schools will host harvest parties to celebrate the bounty in their own gardens. These parties are a wonderful experience for the students, as they not only get to see for themselves the benefits of learning about growing food, but they can also develop a new appreciation for healthy eating. One great example is of a third grade student who went from never having tried turnips, to planting and harvesting them, eating them raw, and then declaring that turnips are her favourite vegetable!

    One special high-light happened this year when the parents and teachers at John Norquay Elementary School came up with a plan to prepare for the drought-prone season. They purchased 24 Ollas. These are unglazed bottle-shaped clay pots that are buried in the ground with the neck exposed above the soil surface, 
    which are filled with water. This irrigation technology is an ancient method, thought to have originated in Northern Africa. As the soil dries up, the water from the clay pot oozes out into the soil surrounding it. This allows for the garden to stay hydrated longer and is a great water conservation idea. If this system helps maintain a healthier, less resource-dependant garden at this school, SPEC hopes it can bring this technology to all of its other partnering schools in future years.

    This year, we are also excited to have Paris Cheng on-board as our summer intern. Paris has been a volunteer with SPEC for the past year, helping maintain the Cambie Square Demonstration Gardens. With the help of volunteers, Paris will help maintain the school gardens throughout the summer while students are away.

    Nikoo, School Gardens Program Coordinator

  • 02 Jun 2016 2:17 PM | Karla Olson

    The SPEC Elders Circle is a new initiative within SPEC that’s rooted in the belief that elders and society have much to gain by elders embracing their wisdom role and offering insight and knowledge to younger generations drawn from life experience and accumulated learning. 

    When I was about 55, (I’m now 75) I began to notice that the major topic of conversation with retired friends was travel. I was uneasy about the carbon intensity of air travel. But I was in denial and shy to raise embarrassing questions, so I quietly brooded on my own questions. We all agreed that we’re living in a great place and raved about how good it was to get home. So why were we traveling so much? Were we too narrowly focused on the next adventure and not on the legacy we’re leaving behind? Were we modeling an ennobling role as elders or the more dubious freedom of no longer having a meaningful role? 

    Travel, while enjoyable, didn’t resonate with the deeper dimension that I was pondering as I pushed past the retirement age.  As a kid, I was taught to respect my elders and the words “elder” and “wisdom” have always communicated something about older age that was attractive to me. To be a senior is not necessarily to be wise. On the other hand, it’s the tradition of every culture that elders carry knowledge of a life lived, that they have passed through the fires of individuation and self-preoccupation to a greater perspective on what really matters, that they have gathered, sifted, and have something of substance to share. 

    The great psychologist, CG Jung describes the 2nd half of life as the period when we make significant and discriminating insights about meaning, spirituality, and wisdom.  While it’s not true for everyone, the elder years are those in which we’re most likely to harvest the fruits of wisdom. David Suzuki calls it the most important time in his life and a time to speak from the heart. 

    I was 65 when I began to use the phrase, “reclaiming elder wisdom.” I started a blog by that name with the strong intention of sharing my view that this is a dignified role which we should neither squander nor surrender to the notion it’s no longer needed. I never wrote that first blog entry and never carried on that conversation. It took the interest of a younger woman to draw out of me this wish for a dialogue around our elder legacy and to help me secure a grant to start an Elders Circle in SPEC. It is becoming a reality and our first meeting with interested elders will happen on June 23. 

    — Carole, SPEC President

  • 13 May 2016 1:04 PM | Karla Olson

    As an intern at SPEC, I´ve received so much information about everything environmental. And there is something important I would like to share with you. Monsters are real.

    For this year’s 2016 Earth Day Celebration, four of us (SPEC volunteers Carol, Hisayo, and Shona) took part in two events. The first one was at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. 

    All over the world such events make us more aware of what is going on this planet of ours. How does the Earth feel today? Good? Bad? Does it have a stuffy nose and watery eyes, or is it healthy as a nut?, as we say in Swedish. 

    Lunch was a good example of how a whole school can reduce their waste. Participants got more than one reminder before the event to bring our own plate, utensils and a cup. They provided the food, but we would provide no waste. And people did that. The food was vegan and gluten-free, so I was happy, as I could enjoy it as well. 

    A few minutes past twelve, suddenly the lunch room was overwhelmed by the noise of students flooding in through the doors, and then the event started. 

    One thing I noticed was that the students too had their own jars and forks with them. Most of them had thermoses instead of plastic bottles or paper cups. I was really happy to see that. 

    At one display table, students made their own signs promoting more bicycle usage, as well as an experiment. It was two see-through water bottles. Both had water in them with a sign that said: Do you taste the difference? One was bought bottled water and the other was tap water—the water you get directly from your faucet. I loved the student’s creativity and cleverness. 

    By the way, do you know how big the state of Texas is? Now imagine it twice the size, made of plastic waste, and put it in the ocean. Remember, I told you that monsters are real. 

    In one study, it found that the average family uses around 500 plastic bags a year. To show just how much plastic that is, SPEC volunteers took 500 plastic bags and made a monster out of it. Hisayo had the great honour to representing trash that day. 

    The second event was at Laura Secord Elementary School where we talked trash. Lit-t-erally.

    As the students gathered closer to the board and the projector screen lit up, all eyes focused on the topic of waste — the waste we produce at home, in school, at work, and when we go out. That waste has to end up somewhere, right? This was the topic of the workshop. What happens to our waste?

    Here is one story that I would like to share with you. In 1986, there was a ship named Khian Sea that left Philadelphia with toxic ash because the city didn't want it, and neither did New Jersey. Or any other city for that matter. So Khian Sea started to sail to different countries and places to dump the ash somewhere, and no one wanted it. Greenpeace writes in their report back in June 2010 this: "Two years, three names, four continents, and 11 countries later, the troublesome cargo was still on board. Then, somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Singapore and Sri Lanka all the ash disappeared. When questioned about this, the crew had no comment except that it was all gone." 

    And it wasn't the only one. In the report, you can also read about other ships from the Italian hub, the Mediterranean area and Africa. 

    Before I depart back to Sweden, I'd like to share this thought with you. During my intern-ship, I’ve learned that not everyone needs to be in love with the Earth, but it is important to remember that we all enjoy living here. Right? 

    —SPEC Intern Jamie

  • 04 Apr 2016 2:19 PM | Karla Olson

    In the beautiful Botanical Garden at UBC, SPEC co-hosted a Water Day Event on March 22, in which everyone had the opportunity to hear more about water conservation.

    The evening started with Steve Litke from the Fraser Basin Council. He gave an interesting overview of the new BC Water Act. He talked about the progress made and the challenges that remain. He also shared some ideas on how we could govern our water resources more effectively and provide fair access to the multiple water users in the region.  

    The City of Vancouver had two speakers present, Jennifer Bailey and Shelley Heinricks. They said that one of the most important things for us to remember is where our tap water comes from. If you look to the North Shore, you can see the beautiful, gorgeous mountains here in Vancouver… ever think that these mountains are life-givers?

    Metro Vancouver has three watersheds that provide our drinking water. Watersheds can be described as a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water such as river or lake. Here we have three, from west to east, they are Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam.

    What are you most willing to do? In the event room, there was a suggestion box, where you could choose from six different ways you could save water. From taking four-minute showers, to not flushing the toilet on yellow (“let it mellow”), and installing low flush toilets. Which would you choose?

    Conserving water is important for businesses too. Two speakers from well-known hotels, Paul Hemmings from Delta Suites, and Joe Weiss, from Hyatt also spoke.

    In less than ten years, Hyatt has decreased its water usage by more than 55%. In 2006 each guest used the huge amount of 700 liters of water, approximately per night. Last year, the amount was at 264 liters of water, per guest, per night. That means we can all do our part in water conservation—including visitors.

    My father did it when I was a kid. He would come and knock on the bathroom door after ten minutes, and tell me that time was up. “You take a shower, but you don´t live there” was the motto in our family.

    During the break, we all had something to eat from the buffet table that was filled with goodies. Gratefully, my friend Lisa and I, dug in. We went outside to stand in the patio whilst eating as the sun started to go down for the day. There, we talked to one of the guest at the Water Day Event.

    Let´s call him Bob. Bob was not up for taking four-minute showers. He liked it too much. And he was very clear that not until everyone started to pay for their water usage, he would not give up his right to stay an extra minute, or ten, in the morning shower.

    I felt compelled to talk about what we could do and not what we wouldn´t do. Like my father did with my siblings and me.

    Water Metering. Our family had a meter in our row house when I was a kid. Every month we paid a water fee. It was based on the average usage for a family of our size. But at the end of the year, the-water-company-people would come to our house to see how much we actually used. Because we all used less water than average amount, every year my family got money back. Some of our neighbours—with fewer family members—had to pay more, since their usage was much higher. After the Water Celebration event, I called my mum. I told her that today I am so grateful for her and my dad teaching me how to conserve water. Sometimes it was about saving water, sometimes about saving money, but in the end we did both.  

    At the end of her speech, with a laugh, Dr. Jiaying Zhao looked to the two speakers from the City of Vancouver and said, “If taps are clear [transparent] people would use less water.” And that´s kind of what a Droppler device is about, a new way to save water (see link). The device actually listens to water sounds in the environment, and offers visual feedback of water use in real time, in order to reduce water consumption, according to UBC´s page about Droppler. This is what Dr. Zhao is currently working on.

    Oliver Lane, our SPEC ED, and Dr. Tara Moreau, from the UBC Botanical Garden and a SPEC director, talked about how they engage businesses and their employees in conversations on local sustainability.  They talked about taking action and responsibility. They showed props they use to discuss the roles of our forests in protecting our water systems. It is really interesting— and you can take part yourself by registering for SPEC’s Sustainable Communities Field School. Make sure to take your colleagues and employees with you.

    As the evening was about to end, one of the things Dr. Tara Moreau said, stayed with me. “Leave the sprinklers on for an hour – how many tubs could you fill?” If you want to know the answer, City of Kirkland (Washington State) has a great site you can look at.

    Water conservation, in my opinion, isn't about not wanting you to take a hot shower, or not wanting you to make sure that the dishes are clean. It´s about making you aware of the water you use, and if you don´t need it, turn off the tap.

    Like Bob said: “I could turn the tap off more, and not have the water running, while brushing my teeth.” How about instead of “could” let’s just do it.

    —SPEC Intern Jamie

  • 04 Apr 2016 1:55 PM | Karla Olson

    Profile of Gary Gallon

    “Who’s the guy with the afro?” This iconic picture of SPEC’s early days often draws that question. His name is Gary Gallon. For us, his name stands for leadership and passion, and he’s remembered as a lively, intelligent, energetic, and dedicated young man with a huge capacity to motivate and lead. His sense of direction shaped several SPEC campaigns and had a long-lasting effect on public policy, particularly in the energy portfolio. 

    His daughter, Kalifi Ferretti- Gallon, says his environmental sensibility was self-taught and that his time at SPEC set the direction for the rest of his life as an environmental giant in Canada, which ended too soon. He died of cancer, still in the prime of his work, at 59, three weeks after receiving the Canadian Geographic Lifetime Achievement Award, one of many recognizing his leadership in the Canadian environmental movement.

    Kalifi came into our office a few weeks ago and introduced herself as Gary’s daughter. She is firmly treading in the footsteps of her parents. Her mother, Janine Ferretti, is an influential environmentalist with the Inter-American Development Bank, with oversight of the effect of the Bank’s activities on social and environmental degradation. Kalifi is studying at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC, researching global deforestation rates and mitigation opportunities. She dropped into our office, as part of an intentional journey to reconnect with her father’s past. 

    Like a lot of kids, she was not always interested in her parents work, but she grew up surrounded by their values and a multitude of leaders in the Environmental movement. Since his death, she has done a number of things that reflect his influence and their strong family bond in regards to her career. 

    Gary grew up in Bakersfield, CA, where his father was the Sheriff’s deputy and where environmentalism was not a topic of dinner table discussions.  He dodged the Vietnam draft and moved to Vancouver where he worked as a janitor, a part-time pool hustler, and, for a couple of years, as a stockbroker by day and a SPEC volunteer by night. He became SPEC ED in 1972 and fairly quickly set a course of integrating environmental values and sustainable development. It became his life’s work. 

    Along the way, Gary protested pesticide use, helped start Energy Probe, opposed unnecessary hydro dam construction, etc. He joined the Greenpeace crew protesting nuclear testing off Alaska in 1971. He and Bob Hunter, a founding Greenpeace member, were lifelong friends and deeply bonded in the development of Greenpeace—Gary “loaned” Greenpeace office space and administrative assistance in the SPEC building. The men are fondly remembered by colleagues as sharing beer and conspiring together at Bimini’s on 4th Ave into the evening. 

    Bob continued on a more radical activist path and Gary pursued the intersection of economy/environment/and development. He received Canada’s “Environmentalist of the Year” award in 1977 for his opposition to oil tanker traffic along the BC coast and a campaign to save the Fraser Estuary.

    In the mid-70s, Gary left SPEC to become executive director of the new United Nations International Environment Liaison Centre based in Nairobi, Kenya. The post included oversight of the new UN Environmental Program (UNEP) that continues to this day. Kalifi is named after a beach in Kenya where her parents met. Gary and Janine moved to Toronto to start a family in the early-80s. 

    During this era, Gary is credited with starting the first Blue Box Program and was a founder of Probe International, a close relative of Energy Probe and a highly respected Canadian NGO created to address issues of financial and environmental accountability by Canadian government and corporations working in other countries. Also in the ’80s Gary became chief policy adviser to Jim Bradley, generally considered Ontario’s most effective Environment Minister, with a team that extended Ontario’s blue box recycling program and strengthened enforcement and penalties for polluters. Following on the great campaign of the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain, he got the government of Ontario to introduce regulations on acid rain while working with Jim Bradley who pushed those regulations through the government. 

    There are many other elements to the story of Gary’s achievements. Here is a link to an excellent article written by a friend of Gary’s shortly before his death. 

    Gary was one of the key figures in the first decade of SPEC’s life and was instrumental in setting the stage for the next four decades of SPEC’s work.  Kalifi says that he and Bob Hunter spoke frequently about their SPEC/Greenpeace days, and Gary credited SPEC as starting him down the path that became his legacy—as one of the foremost environmentalists in Canada.

    On behalf of SPEC volunteers and staff, thank you, Gary.

    —  Carole, SPEC President

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