Once there were parking lots, now it’s a peaceful oasis

I think I've used this subject line before, but it's evergreen, right???

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

We were having dinner with some new architect friends a few years ago when the conversation turned to the decreasing permeability of the city. (Yes, this is the kind of dinner party I throw). 

“Wow, you’re really into ground surface permeability,” remarked my new friend, after I had vented about the lack of vents for the water that needs to be absorbed by city soil. Now, every time I read an article or see a report about how our city is failing to hold developers to waterlogged account I hear her voice saying, ‘wow, you’re really into ground surface permeability.’ It’s not the catchiest of catch phrases, but I’ll take it.

Think of it this way: All the cement and pavement is creating a thick sheet of saran wrap over the ground, and exacerbating the city’s inability to absorb water and filter toxins. That’s bad. And once you notice it, you can’t seem to un-notice it. Especially given the increasing incidence of damaging storms. Without permeable surfaces, cities can’t absorb all the water that’s coming our way with climate-induced extreme weather. And if your city is anything like Toronto, the permeability has decreased greatly with urbanization. Writes Monica Iqbal of U of T:

How did impervious surfaces contribute to each of these floods? The GTA’s population has grown 700% since 1931, and more than 75% of the GTA has undergone urban development (Rincón et al., 2018). More urbanization implies more impervious surfaces and greater runoff rates (Rincón et al., 2018). 

In Toronto, when our sewers can’t handle the deluge of rainfall, the city is forced to do a ‘bypass.’ Bypass is a euphemism for dumping our sewage into Lake Ontario. Which is not just disgustingly grody but deeply unfair, as it renders the lake unswimmable for days thereafter, sometimes emitting a bonus stench. With increasingly hot summer days, people who don’t own pools or cottages or homes with air conditioning actually NEED the lake. And until just a few weeks ago, there was no charge for parking lot owners to mitigate water on their properties. It was basically a license to flood.

(any excuse to post this video)

Depave Paradise 

But there’s a solution: Depaving! Writes Lynn Freehill-Maye in a great piece in Yes! Magazine

The official depave movement began with a single Portland lot in 2007. A man named Arif Khan moved into a house whose backyard was completely paved over, but Khan wanted a garden. He and some friends discussed how to go about it, then hit on the idea of just taking it out by hand themselves. 

I love this. I want to feel more earth beneath my feet. Obviously, in a city, for accessibility and practicality reasons, we’re not going to disappear all our pavement...but...why not try? This is the solarpunk aesthetic in action, as per Wakanda. And Montreal, where I’ve been living for the past few weeks, fills every cranny with wildflowers and parkettes. I’m green with envy. Why can’t we have nice things, Toronto?

If you like makeovers and transformations, it’s hard not to love the beautiful work of the depave movement. The before-and-afters show places transformed from squatly inhospitable to beautifully inviting, courtesy Depave org and others.


No need to depave if you behave

Of course, the opposite of depaving is behaving in the first place. That means preserving green spaces instead of cementing their death. In Ontario, groups have been activating against an onslaught of efforts to pave over important wetlands, Class A farmland, and waterways. It never ends. In Montreal, my wonderful cousin Deborah has been working to bring attention to efforts to build a factory (read this great piece, by MVP pal, reporter Allison Hanes!) on one of the city’s best loved pieces of wetland and bird sanctuary. As I’ve droned before, once wetlands are gone, you can’t get them back. It’s all so obviously vile as to be almost laughable. Which is why it’s great that depaving requires a crowbar or a jackhammer. What better way to release some anger?

Cheap and cheerful

The beauty of depaving is it’s an inexpensive solution that reaps huge economic and social benefit. People are starting to see this. In Toronto my friend Jode’s back alley has one of the first permeable paving strips, a tiny line of greenery shooting through the pavement called a laneway puncture. (Jode is also the genius behind mammoth efforts to green up our city by turning it into a national park, a butterfly highway, and more!) The possibilities for green alleys are endless. As usual, Montreal does it better with its ruelles vertes.

“The exciting thing about green infrastructure is obviously this storm-water management piece, but if we are literally ripping up concrete and putting in trees, or shrubs, or even parks, that is going to have a multiplicity of benefits. Besides the positive impact on people’s health, green infrastructure also has the capacity to lift up communities economically through well-paying, quality local jobs,” says Johanna Bozuwa, author of a Democracy Collaborative report on green infrastructure. Win win win (win win win). And look how effective it is:

If Come on Eileen is an earworm, ground surface permeability is an earthworm. Once it’s in your brain, you see the hard, impenetrable surfaces of the city everywhere. There are so many daunting problems coming at us at vicious speed. This seems like an easy one to start cracking away at. 

This week:

Have you sledged through any impervious surfaces lately, literal or metaphorical? How did it go? Please let me know.

Reading and action:

Learn more about the Technoparc bird sanctuary here. If you live in Montreal, write a letter or call your politicians!

Depave Paradise: A movement started by ReepGreen Canada. You can reach out to start a project.

Last week:

What puts the pep in your step? I illustrated a few lovely reader submissions. Send me yours, too!:

Writes Marilee so beautifully, “Nature crews on, totally affected by our choices, but crews on regardless. I love walking in it. The vista as I saw yesterday...7pm golden sun falling on wetlands side by side with gorgeous Wisconsin rolling hills planted with three-foot high corn took my breath away and for one tiny moment made me feel as if everything was okay.”

From Iris and Emily, this funny (but real) one:

More things:

Thanks so much for reading. If you know someone who might like MVP, please share.

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Hope you are happy and healthy. Have a lovely weekend,

Pep Sketches

comics to stay positive and take action

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

What is the opposite of that frisson of panic that washes over you when you see a horrible story about famine in Madagascar? I think it would be that little spike of pleasure you get when you think of something unabashedly delightful and positive. Cute puppies, sure, but other things, too. The climate negatives are unceasing and visceral. They literally make my heart skip a few beats. And not in a cool, syncopated kind of way. Which is why I’ve been making this little illustrated list for a few months now, in the hopes of putting together a mini-book that might give people the pep they need to stem their mean greens in order to get out and do do do. A thing you could peek at when you need a jolt of let’s do this. After last week’s hot and heavy edition, I thought it might be nice to excerpt a few of these pep sketches this week.

Pep Sketch #52:

I think this ^^^ is a trope of mine. I found a very similar drawing I did a few years ago.


What gives you hope/comfort/energy? (can be climate-y or not so climate-y!) Send me your thoughts if you want me to draw them!


So many beautiful responses from all parts of the world. Thank you!

J and M and my dad caught my Leonard Cohen reference. Thank you!

L wrote about trying to teach her small Vermont town about the increasing frequency of tropical nights. They sound beautiful but can wreak havoc on places that are not prepared for them. Inspiring to hear about people doing the work in their towns and cities.

C writes: I resonated with a lot of this! The heat hasn't been intense here in MN - but it's more of the existential dread, doom-scrolling, reading stories and seeing images of what's happening around the world and in places I love so much. And the general sense that our US government, which actually has a rare opportunity to act on this by stopping pipelines and passing major climate legislation, is completely effing it up. 

L writes: I told a friend yesterday that I have a weird duality of emotional states these days - optimism as vaccination rise and case counts drop, matched by dread about the climate emergency. We know that we can make society-wide change in response to a deadly pandemic. As Sarah Miller wrote, what will it take for similar massive action to protect ourselves from the climate crisis?

L writes: Well we're having a very rainy July. I've lived in Perth for 10 years and I can't remember a period of consecutive days of rain like this. And I can relate to what you said about loving/fearing it. It's battered down, my neighbour's roof leaked, we lost power yesterday. I'm glad for the rain for my plants and the plants in general and wish I had a water tank. I'm scared that the wild weather will become more frequent and power cuts will be more common and do I need to have an emergency gas stove? (And then - gas, arghh?!)


And a couple really interesting reads:

Hope you are happy and healthy. Have a lovely weekend wherever you are!


Heat: A Comic

Hot and bothered and insulted by my children

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

This week

How does the heat make you feel? I know this is kind of hemispherist, friends who live in places where it’s not hot right now … but let me know!

More Heat

Run to read this fantastic piece by Sarah Miller: All the right words on climate have already been said.

Pre-fire dread. Learned this term from a great conversation between Dr. Kim Nicholas and Dr. Britt Wray.

B.C. records hundreds of deaths due to heat wave as fire forces evacuation of town.

Not that any of this is new:

Plus, listen to this:

Yes! Yes! Y’all!

I am lucky to be a contributor to the wonderful publication Yes! Magazine, and I’m grateful for their support of this newsletter. They republish MVP on their website. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a beautiful copy of the magazine itself, what are you waiting for???

People Dancing

A jingle dance performed as the City of Toronto razed the tent encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto.

I hope you’re staying cool wherever you are.
Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, please tell your dentist to subscribe!


Default in our Stars, Globes, Times, etc...

Emergence through emergency

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

Media drama is the very best kind, isn’t it? The absolutely excellent organization Covering Climate Now recently asked a bunch of publications to sign a pledge to call the climate crisis a climate emergency. Many balked. Writes CCN: 

More than 30 newsrooms have now signed the statement (an updated list is here), but some major outlets told us privately they won’t sign.  The phrase “climate emergency” sounded like activism, they said; endorsing it might make them look biased.  Instead, they added, they would let their climate coverage speak for itself.

But CCN points out that the whole point is that the coverage doesn’t speak for itself. We are in an emergency! Would you know that from today’s news? CCN goes on:

We’re not obsessed with whether a news outlet does or doesn’t use the term “climate emergency”; what matters is whether the outlet’s overall coverage treats climate change like an emergency.

And yet, the parameters of the language convey the gravity of the sitch. The Guardian realized this in 2019 and adjusted its stylebook to use climate breakdown or emergency. Two years later the world is catching up, and what once seemed ahead of the climate curve now reads like baseline accuracy. Which is why it’s so important to default to the right language. 

One of my fave climate writers suggested that refusing to sign this pledge was no biggie, because (a) reporters don’t need to wear their emergencies on their sleeves, and (b) the outlets mostly refused because they were in lefty company. (Signatories include The Guardian and Al Jazeera). 

Let’s unpack this. Shifting their terminology is something publications do all the time to reflect new learnings and new realities (hello b to the B in Black!). Acknowledging the truth of a planet on fire isn’t wearing an XR badge on your sleeve — it’s ree-al-it-y. And cutting mainstream publications slack because they don’t want to be in gauche company is weak sauce: Who are they afraid of? It’s naive to think that outlets aren’t accountable to their readers and funders, but would this tiny shift in nomenclature cause said stakeholders to rise up? I just don’t think so. Unless perhaps you’re Fox News and ol’ Rupert is holding you out the window of a very tall skyscraper.

Default to accuracy

Defaults simplify our lives. And if climate change is the default, anything beyond those words will seem over-the-top. But anything less than an accurate definition of what is happening (breakdown, crisis, emergency) undermines the severity of our situation. If we make climate crisis the default, then we diffuse its activistyness. Exactly the opposite effect of what is intended by the editorial grandees who refuse to commit to these new words.

Which is not to say there aren’t reasons you wouldn’t use the words climate emergency. If, say, you’re communicating to more conservative audiences, you would want to speak in terms that don’t alienate before you’ve finished your first sentence. But meeting people where they are in a persuasive context is very different from covering the crisis in the news. However diminished we may feel the media’s power is, we still very much take our cues from the language they use. And the prominence they give the stories of the day. I see you New York Times with your excellent above the fold climate coverage yesterday:

As Wolfgang Blau says, “calling for reducing emissions during a climate emergency is no more ‘activism’ than telling people to wear a mask during a pandemic.” (h/t Akshat Rathi!). Blau also makes this excellent point:

Just as this is the decade for everyone and their mother to step up to the reality of climate, we need our media to shift their coverage, language, tools, and priorities. Some certainly are, but they’re being eclipsed by the breadth of the climate emergency. I get that outlets move slowly when it comes to these shifts, careful to maintain a perceived objectivity, but the objective truth is that things are much worse than they present them, and that is, objectively, a collective moral failing.

Normalize emergency

If we normalize an emergency then what’s the point? What does it mean if a country declares a climate emergency and then goes back to eating its lunch? Well, it means that facts are on the books. A wonderful colleague who has worked in dozens of war-torn countries put it this way: Apocalypse on Monday, then the market on Tuesday, and then back to apocalypse on Wednesday. Life goes on. It’s a realistic way of neutralizing the fear we have of allowing the language of emergency to scare the bejeebus out of us. But the sooner we lean into the reality of it, the better equipped we’ll be to fight, to mitigate, to adapt. The trajectory can be changed, but it requires veracity and courage on the part of our media. See you at the market on Tuesday.

This week:

What language do you use in your life? At work I say climate crisis, among friends I say climate kerfuffle, and to myself I say climate cacacacacatastrophe. LMK!

Last week:

So many lovely words on how to (or not to) embody climate.

Writes T: Do the work, speak up, act differently, regardless of the Echo from others. Until one day someone realizes that he/ she is not alone. We are more than we think. 

Writes K: My husband is less concerned about climate action and as a result, I keep many feelings to myself. He doesn't want to feel guilty for consuming stuff and generating waste, and he makes a good point that corporations have shifted the responsibility and guilt onto us consumers for the damage they've done. Instead of preaching, I try to lead by example. He now remembers to use the guppy bag when washing his synthetic clothes. He likes picking up trash from random places. He even enjoys my vegan cooking. 

Love this, just do and people will start doing too!

People Dancing:

Submission from my dad. Thanks, dad!

Thank you for reading! If you’re new here, I’m Sarah Lazarovic. I work on communicating the importance of good climate policy by day, and this newsletter and my dance moves by night.

If you like MVP you can support it by telling all your friends and frogs about it. Hit the 💚 below to let me know when the newsletter is on the right track. And let me know when it’s not! I’m always open to new ideas!

Share Minimum Viable Planet

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Have a beautiful weekend,

The Planetary Penumbra

Or, let your sphere hear you!

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

Hello! Penumbra is a neat word, isn’t it? It sounds like Harry Potter spellery, a tiny incantation that Hermione would utter to make writing implements appear. Pen...umbra! Beyond its original, shadowy definition, the academics Andrew Gelman and Yotam Margalit propose a fresh meaning for this excellent word:

The political influence of a group is typically explained in terms of its size, geographic concentration, or the wealth and power of the group’s members. This article introduces another dimension, the penumbra, defined as the set of individuals in the population who are personally familiar with someone in that group. Distinct from the concept of an individual’s social network, penumbra refers to the circle of close contacts and acquaintances of a given social group. 

In other words, while an interest group may represent a small share of a population, the number of people who know someone in that group varies greatly.  They explain

To get a sense of this, consider three groups from our survey: the penumbra of gay people, the penumbra of Muslims, and the penumbra of women who have had an abortion in the past five years. These three groups are roughly the same size (3.6 percent, 2.4 percent, and 2.0 percent of the U.S. adult population, respectively) but differ widely in the size of their respective penumbras: according to our survey, 74 percent of American adults know at least one gay person, 30 percent know a Muslim, and only 10 percent say they know a woman who has had an abortion the past five years. 

What does this mean for climate? Well, I suspect the climate concerned penumbra would be more akin to the women who have had abortions penumbra than the gay penumbra. Why? We! just! don’t! talk! about! climate! Or at least not the way we vocally and visually display our reverence for Celine Dion or Ramadan.

I’ve written ad nauseum about the Dinner Party Planet Pooper (D triple P!). At a certain point, this individual (me! perhaps you?), gaining little purchase and lots of averted eyes, stops talking about climate in their wider circle and instead confines their climate convos to the realm of hospitable ears. They take action quietly (writing letters, donating to environmental causes) because the feedback they’ve gotten from the wider world is: stop talking about it, you are harshing my mellow. These climate concerned folks walk about the world with little more than a tiny button on their backpack to betray them. And the climate penumbra is the weaker for it.

This theory is new and the authors admit there’s much more to explore, namely what mere knowledge of a group does to attitudes:

It is also possible that the largest effect of entering a penumbra is to increase the salience of certain issues rather than to directly change attitudes. In this case, groups’ resonance in society may increase when its penumbra grows, without public opinion shifting in favor of group-related policies.

Fine! But I’ll take salience over unsalience any day! And this seems a clever way of going a step beyond “talk climate.” It’s more like, embody climate, identify as climate. Let it be a defining characteristic so that people in your sphere can recognize that these people exist among them. We know that familiarity breeds affinity, or at the very least dulls fear. Keeping our climate concern under wraps undermines the social efficacy we can have just by gently sharing who we are with our community. It makes me want to paint myself blue and green and shout climate from the rooftops. Or at the very least, wear a larger button.

This week:

Do people in your social sphere know of your climate concern, or is it something you keep on the DL? Tell me, pls!

Last week:

Read the useful news not the terrifying news. Adjacent to that, savour good news! I’m loving this newsletter by climate scientist Kimberly Nicholas. She writes, of last week’s ground-shifting happenings :

Celebrate the wins! But here I wanted to focus on celebrating the far-too-rare, fleeting, but still magical feeling of actually WINNING a climate victory that a small group has worked at for years, against seemingly impossible odds. 

It’s so easy to quickly assimilate wins and dwell on losses or criticisms. Let’s...not!

People dancing:

Thank you for reading! If you’re new here, I’m Sarah Lazarovic. I work on communicating the importance of good climate policy and carbon pricing by day, and this newsletter and my dance moves by night.

If you like MVP you can support it by telling all your friends and frogs about it. Hit the 💚 below to let me know when the newsletter is on the right track. And let me know when it’s not! I’m always open to new ideas! You can share and subscribe here:

Share Minimum Viable Planet

Make sure to drag this email into your primary folder so it doesn’t end up in landfill.

Have a beautiful weekend,

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