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Environmentalist in Residence

Environmentalist in Residence at the London Public Library

The London Public Library would like to thank Dr. Andrea Boyer and the City of London for April's successful online Environmentalist in Residence series, as well as our guests Tom Cull, Paul Gross, Brendon Samuels, Daniela Klicper, Emily Williamson and Brandon Williamson.

Please visit the Library's YouTube channel to see Andrea's ESA videos, and we'll post the rest of the month's program recordings later in May.
The Hueston Family Foundation, a registered Canadian charity focusing on animal welfare and environmental issues, is pleased to support London Public Library's Environmentalist in Residence initiative and environmental events with the Library in April.
The program is offered in partnership with City of London.
Andrea carrying a small bird

Dr. Andrea Boyer holds a PhD in Biology with a specialization in Environmental & Sustainability and is an Assistant Professor and researcher at Western University and Fanshawe College. She has contributed her expertise for five years with the Environmental and Ecological Planning Advisory Committee that provides technical advice to the City of London on environmentally significant projects. She volunteers with BirdSafe UWO and Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup events.

Do you have a question for Andrea?

Do you have a question about environmental issues or steps you can take to sustainability? Starting April 1st, share your question with our Environmentalist in Residence, Dr. Andrea Boyer, using the form below. We'll share information from Andrea and City of London experts every week, to answer your questions, here on our website during the month of April. We'll do our best to address as many questions as possible!

Thank you for all of your questions throughout the month of April. Please see the responses to your questions below.

Take a look through some of the questions that have already been answered. Click on the question text to reveal the answer.

Great question! I find the Weather Network often has some great clips to share about current environmental topics. Light pollution from cities is definitely a factor that contributes to affecting the migratory route of certain species. The reason for this is because many birds migrate at night and use celestial cues (i.e., the moon and stars) to guide their migration. Bright lights can distract birds and lead them off course. Encouraging residents in upper floors of buildings in city cores to close their blinds or turn off their lights during peak migration times would be a great first step to the light pollution issue. When we have enough people committed to changing behaviour, that’s when we start to see effective results! Our next positive step forward (which you would have seen in the Green Standards for Light Pollution & Bird-Friendly Development document) is to encourage businesses in city cores to also follow suit. I am happy to see you’ve come across the Green Standards guideline document – I was a primary contributor working on it! A big portion of light pollution comes from high-rise buildings where businesses keep lights on at all times for security reasons. Switching to motion sensor lighting, or simply turning lights off during peak migration months, is a great alternative.

If you are referring to grocery self-scanners, I am not personally familiar with the pollution costs associated with them. Like with any new manufacturing product, if they are not used in the long term, then we are presented with the issue of unnecessary waste. You mentioned some good points in your question: manufacturing, transport, constant energy use for functioning, and disposal concerns which is often described as a life-cycle analysis (or cradle to grave analysis). We often don’t think about these environmental costs which are associated with every new piece of equipment. Just like any product, choosing materials that are manufactured close to home (i.e., reducing the CO2 emissions required to get the product from point A to point B), ensuring that the materials used will withstand time as to not require continuous part replacement (i.e., not always going with the "cheapest" option), and when the time comes for disposal, the ability to use materials that can be recycled or refurbished rather than entering the landfill. It all comes down to how popular these machines will become and how well they are made. This is a topic that I haven’t seen any research associated with, but I will continue to look into it in the future.

How unfortunate that the robin collided with your kitchen window, but the positive here is that you’re looking for a solution so it doesn’t happen again. I am providing a link below to our April 6th webinar where we focused almost exclusively on how to prevent birds from window collisions. Treating your window with bird-friendly decals is one of the best suggestions to deter window collisions. The most important points that we highlighted from the webinar was that the window markers need to be on the exterior of the window and they must be placed in a 2" x 2" grid so that birds are able to tell that the glass is a solid surface. There are products on the market that are effective if used properly – one suggestion is to use Feather Friendly Bird Collision Deterrent Marker-Pattern Tape (sold at Feather Friends and Wild Birds Unlimited in London). You can also use markers designed for glass, as long as you are marking the exterior of the window and following the 2" x 2" pattern. The commonly used hawk silhouette decals which are placed on the inside of windows have been proven to be not effective. Check out our online webinar for more suggestions. Thanks for your question – I’m happy to hear your kitchen window will no longer be a threat to birds!

(Part 1). This is an interesting point that you bring up and not one that most people think about. There have been limited studies which have shown that emissions from dryer vents can be potentially harmful. This type of exhaust is unregulated and unmonitored which can make it very difficult to regulate the chemicals used. Many laundry products are known to emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) through dryer vents. Most of the VOCs emitted into the atmosphere come from household products (things like paint, dry-cleaning chemicals, pesticides, even printers!), but certain tree species do naturally emit VOCs as well. The problem with VOCs is when they enter the atmosphere, they can react with other pollutants (mainly nitrogen oxides) and produce photochemical smog, which is what gives cities that reddish/brown coloured haze when it gets hot. All cities have some form of photochemical smog, but it is worst in cities with sunny, warm, dry climates and lots of cars. Currently, our biggest problem is with nitrogen oxide emissions, which is what makes these VOCs so damaging. Nitrogen oxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels. I certainly agree with you that creating cleaner laundry products should be a priority, our main culprit here is reducing those nitrogen oxides coming from burning fuels and industrial power plants.

(Part 2). My response to this is similar to my previous comment. Obviously, burning of any kind will contribute to pollutants in the atmosphere. Campfires are emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, but at very minute levels compared to fossil fuels and industry. The other concern with campfires is that we need to regulate and educate people on the types of wood that are being burned. Only burning untreated wood is the safest way to go. When we burn wood that has been pressure treated, stained, or painted, the chemicals that were once on that wood is being emitted into the atmosphere. Although the best answer would be to eliminate unnecessary fires altogether, research does show that this is not a major cause for concern. Thanks for your questions!

The decision to develop the area outside of Meadowlily ESA is certainly upsetting to many environmental advocates. It can be unsettling to see the decisions going forward about new development of lands previously in agricultural use within our City. However, this decision is within the legal framework of planning applications as this site had previously been identified for “Urban Reserve Community Growth.” As a member of the Environmental & Ecological Planning Advisory Committee for the City of London, we often see requests for developing lands near ESA’s and other sensitive areas. Developers and city staff are following the bylaws and planning process. In this case near Meadowlily ESA, the policies generally allowed for development; it is the specific details of the development that requires approval. The site had been designated for this type of development for several years, and is only “near” Meadowlily Woods ESA, not “in” it. I know this is a frustrating response because the wildlife in this area do not know the difference between the ESA boundaries vs. other land. The process of land use planning has specific opportunities for public input and it would appear the neighbouring landowners and citizens are taking this opportunity to provide their concerns and comments to City Council who has the ultimate decision to make. I hope you join us at our upcoming event about ESAs in London on April 28 at 7pm. City staff will be presenting and available for further questions afterward.

Answer with support from City of London Staff:

For an older home, especially a century home, the biggest opportunities will be improving insulation and draft-proofing before considering anything else, if this hasn’t been done already. The big areas for improvement are usually found in the basement, if uninsulated, and in the attic. Exterior walls are trickier to insulate in old houses, unless you’re redoing your interior, at which time you can replacing the plaster with insulation and new drywall.

Enbridge has their home renovation rebate program, which will soon have matching funding from the federal government. This program involves a home energy audit that clearly outlines what measures make sense for your home.

Replacing your gas furnace with an air-sourced heat pump will be tricky with an older house, even if you have added insulation. On really cold days (say below -5°C), the heat pump will struggle to keep your home warm. However, one option to consider is to have the air-sourced heat pump replace your existing central air conditioning unit (they are very similar equipment, in that an air conditioner is a heat pump that only works in one direction – pumping heat out of your house) and use the heat pump for milder winter days, keeping the gas furnace on hand for those days when it gets really cold.

For water heating, there are two things you could look at:

  • Drain water heat recovery, if your basement is currently unfinished and you drain pipe is easy to access. This will recover some of the heat from warm water running down the drain and pre-heat the water going to your hot water tank
  • Tankless water heater - these units will only heat water when it is needed, as opposed to keeping a tank full of hot water hot all day.

The energy audit that comes with the Enbridge program will really help though – it’s worth the time to have this done to have specific plans suited for your house.

Past Environmentalists

gabor standing in front of a house

Gabor Sass

Gabor is a recognized scientist, consultant, university instructor, writer and community builder who has lived in London with his wife for 19 years. He has worked as an environmental consultant for clients in industry, non-governmental organizations and different levels of government and as an advisor on environmental and planning advisory committees for the City of London. Gabor's community building includes leading initiatives like the Food Forests in Wood Street Park and West Lion's Park and the Pollinator Pathways Project, neighbourhood projects that have introduced residents to urban agricultural practices and current environmental concerns. Gabor and his family work at implementing sustainable practices into their lifestyle wherever they can.