Perched on an island in the St. Lawrence River between two sides of Montreal, the Biosphere that Buckminster Fuller designed for the World Fair, Expo 67, and in 1991 was up-cycled as a museum focused on the environment says and does a lot about one hot topic.
The Biosphere Environmental Museum lives and breaths the ideas from its exhibits—with its easy access via public transit, gardens, green roof and living wall.
Exhibits are focused on understanding earth—and man’s impact on the planet. A gallery gets hands on with microscopes and activities that place visitors into scientists shoes as they collect things to understand what makes them work. It’s a clever way to engage young audiences in biology with displays of small and large organisms in sample jars. The museum also does a good job explaining the physics of earth systems: How to tell weather apart from climate. Panels, videos and inter actives explain how fronts, air currents, clouds and systems like the greenhouse effect normally work.
The next level has a climate change exhibit that explores how scientists know when earth’s systems are being disrupted. Engaging video panels with white lab coated field scientists address “Can Man Alter The Climate?” A biologist explains how water temperature affects breeding of bugs which affects bird and fish populations. A climatologist shows an ice core sample and explains how it provides a record of atmospheric concentrations of carbon for millions of years as baseline for our general warming trend today.
The climate change exhibit includes a statement that “Governments are now seeking to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for rising global temperatures. And public and private initiatives aimed at mitigating the repercussions of human-induced climate change are multiplying.”
While Canada has been criticized for expanding its fossil fuel use and drilling for oil in the Alberta Tar Sands, municipalities like Montreal are trying to counter act the country’s large carbon footprint through major investments in public transit, biking, green space and even municipal composting and electric vehicle charging stations. The Biosphere is an example of a building serving as a tool for educating a large population on how to live out principles of environmental sustainability. Not only does the building face the very real prospects of rising sea levels damaging it, it addresses climate resiliency through its visible green infrastructure—green roofs and a living wall are made visible in public spaces and explained in text panels.
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A word about bike infrastructure in Montreal, a city that has a climate that features cold and hot temperature ranges, like Cleveland. Montreal was one of the first cities to build (curb) protected bike lanes—a couple of decades ago. Since then, the city has continued to expand protected and painted bike lanes and a system of parks with bike paths in a concerted effort to create a functional bike network. The result is stunning. Speaking to a native who bike commutes, he said there are times where bike traffic is so voluminous that “bike jams” can occur during rush hour. The city also supported one of the first bike share systems, Bixi, which is still going strong and now competes with Uber which launched its dockless, eBike system, Jump, while we were there (it made front page news).