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This weed buster is the G.O.A.T.

In this week’s issue of our environment newsletter, we look at places using goats to mow invasive weeds, compare Canadians’ thoughts on climate policies to the rest of the world and check out a climate update to a popular board game.

Also: Canadians vs. the world on climate policies.

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This week:

  • Are goats the G.O.A.T. for mowing invasive weeds?
  • Global poll: Most support quick switch to renewables, Canadians less so
  • New Catan board game tackles climate change

Are goats the G.O.A.T. for mowing invasive weeds?

Goat eating plants in tall grass

A trailer slowly backs into a grassy meadow, just outside of downtown Toronto. The back door opens and 40 hungry goats jump out — immediately starting to rip leaves off of bushes.

All you can hear is chewing, the occasional bleat and sound of hooves in the grass and on tree trunks.

They’re rapidly eating everything in sight, and thankfully, that’s exactly what they were brought there to do.

Currently exploring new tools to manage invasive plants, the City of Toronto is deploying a herd of goats to Don Valley Brick Works Park for two days of prescribed grazing — an eco-friendly alternative to mowing or herbicides.

It’s a method that’s already been used to manage invasive plants in Calgary and Fort Erie, Ont., parks, on school campuses and near railway tracks, pipeline corridors, hydro pump stations and ski hills. They have also been used as a wildfire mitigation tool to eat the buildup of fuels, and studies have even explored “rent-a-goat” programs.

Toronto’s pilot takes place in a park that spans 11.5 hectares and includes wetlands, meadows and four kilometres of trails. It’s a collaboration with Ontario-based company, Goats in the City.

“It’s our latest weapon to protect the meadows,” said Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who welcomed them into the park. “They’re called eco-herds because they’re quiet, non-polluting and a very natural way to manage the whole area.”

Chow was particularly excited about a two-year-old goat named Munchkin, who is the company’s conservation ambassador. She has even been cast in a music video.

Goats stand at the edge of a trailer ready to hop out.

Without meadow management, there is the risk that invasive species out-compete native ones.

These particular goats can eat through an acre in just two or three days. They’re from the Kiko breed, meaning they’re naturally bigger, faster and can reach higher than other kinds of goats.

The hope is that they’ll eat woody species like buckthorn and Manitoba Maple, as well as invasive plants like dog strangling vine, vetch and Canada thistle. The Kiko goats seem to be particularly fond of the thistle, unbothered by its thorns.

“Goats don’t need to be trained to eat, they love to graze,” said Cheryl Post, a natural environment specialist for the City of Toronto. “They don’t pick and choose between native and invasive species, they’ll pick what they like to eat — they do preferentially choose weeds over grass, so they’ll eat those first.”

With their four-compartment stomachs, goats will also completely digest what they eat. This means that they won’t spread invasive seeds and will actually help fertilize the soil. Another benefit of using goats is that they move around ground-nesting birds and turtles — furthering habitat biodiversity.

Post said goats aren’t cheaper than other methods of controlling invasive weeds, but are cost-effective for what the city wants to do.

A man, a woman and a herd of goats

The owner of Goats in the City, eco-shepherd Ian Matthews, has been around goats ever since he was a kid. He never expected it to become his full-time job, but is glad to be working toward a cause he feels deeply connected to and that helps balance ecosystems.

“As long as the goats are here, I am here,” he told Metro Morning. He will even be sleeping on site to monitor them. “I’m pretty much camping out to make sure everything’s great, so they feel very much at home.”

The goats have access to shelter and water, and are essentially living as they would normally.

“The challenges are obviously more to do with the logistics of having goats in the city,” Post said.

She added that there will also be 24-hour surveillance and double fencing to keep them safe — a seven-foot steel fence to protect them from people, coyotes and off-leash dogs, and then a smaller one that they’ve been accustomed to since birth.

If all goes well with this pilot project, Post shared that the goats will likely come for rotational grazing — different parts of the meadow on a yearly basis. “And then who knows what it would be a few years after that,” she said. “There’s lots of meadows in the city that could be maintained.”

— Bridget Stringer-Holden

Check out our podcast and radio show.  In our newest episode: Drought is on the rise in Canada. And science is looking to the sky for solutions. Join producer Molly Segal as she takes you on a journey to explore the history, ethics and future of cloud seeding in Canada.

What On Earth drops new podcast episodes every Wednesday and Saturday. You can find them on your favourite podcast app, or on demand at CBC Listen. The radio show airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Reader feedback

In response to Vivian Luk’s story about plastic-free parties, Kara Dennis wrote: “I like the idea of bringing your own plate or mug to reduce waste and agree that it can be inconvenient or messy. Incentivising good behaviour for bringing your own plate or mug by providing a reward does not quite hit the mark and perpetuates consumerism…. Solving the problem of messy plates by providing a wash basin of some kind and communicating this beforehand may help. We need to focus on changing the culture of how we do things, not providing more stuff as rewards within the same systems.”

Have you signed up for Ontario’s Peak Perks program, which provides financial incentives in exchange for allowing your utility to adjust your thermostat to help balance the grid during heat waves? We’d love to hear your experience. We’d also love to hear your thoughts about what you’ve read in this week’s issue and your suggestions for future stories.

Write us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

Have a compelling personal story about climate change you want to share with CBC News? Pitch a First Person column here.

The Big Picture: Global support for a quick switch to renewables

Some blue and grey bar graphs

Four out of five Canadians want to see stronger national commitments to addressing climate change, according to the world’s largest public opinion survey on climate change, carried out by the United Nations. Compared to the rest of the world, Canadians are finding fault with the way the country and its largest businesses approach climate change, but they aren’t as supportive of a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

The Peoples’ Climate Vote questioned 75,000 people from 77 countries about their experience with climate change and how they want world leaders to respond.

Women in some countries especially want to see stronger climate commitments compared to men, with 14 percentage points separating the two groups in Canada.

Most people (71 per cent) want to see a quick switch to clean energy, including those living in the top fossil fuel producing countries: China (80 per cent), Saudi Arabia (75 per cent), Canada (64 per cent) and the United States (54 per cent).

With COP29, the next global climate summit, less than five months away, leaders now have a good sense of the concern people have for the planet, their health and livelihoods — and who should foot the bill. The meeting will aim to deliver an agreement on climate finance, and the poll shows 79 per cent of people want rich countries to provide more help to poorer countries in the face of climate change.

– Hannah Hoag


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

a bar with green and blue stripes

The new Catan tackles climate change. But will it be fun enough to stick?

Image of a board game box with a cityscape and a large sun in the background

Players of the popular board game Catan may think they have enough to worry about when trying to rapidly develop their settlements and cities in order to achieve victory over their friends and family.

But now, along with not being able to get enough wheat, players of Catan: New Energieshave to worry about a very real-world problem: environmental destruction.

“It feels to us as if how we fuel our homes, cars, how we make electricity, it’s something which we all need to be aware of,” Benjamin Teuber, who developed the new game with his late father, Klaus Teuber, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

“Of course, there is a story in the game, and it’s about which energy do you want to use in the end. But you’re free to choose.”

The game is similar to that of the original Catan. Players must develop their towns and cities by collecting resources and building quickly to earn victory points.

In the new game, there’s a catch. Players can choose to build with fossil fuels, which is easier but comes with risks. Or they can choose to build with clean energy, which takes more resources, but won’t harm their production of resources down the road.

Board game tiles from the game Catan.

Teuber says they worked with scientists to back up the science within the game.

“The game is, of course, simplified. That has to be the case for games. They always break down reality into a manageable system because reality is hyper-complex,” said Teuber.

“It’s such an important, relevant topic. But we also felt very strongly that a game must be fun.”

Teuber says he and his father considered incorporating fossil fuels and renewable energies into Catan about a decade ago, and even tackled the benefits and drawbacks of discovering oil in the scenario expansion, Oil Springs. But the pair dusted off the idea and incorporated it more fully into the game during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Catan: New Energies isn’t the first game to tackle climate change. In the board game Daybreak, released in 2023, players control world powers and work to reduce global emissions to a net-zero.

And it’s not just climate change — board games have tackled other social issues, too. In 2019, Hasbro released a game called Ms. Monopoly, which operated under the tagline, “The first game where women make more than men.”

Steven Edmonds, co-owner of The Bard and Bear board game cafe in Hamilton, Ont., says people like to know game companies are willing to tackle social issues.

But, he says, that doesn’t make them big hits.

“There’s definitely been people who are like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to design this game and it’s going to talk about these issues, and this type of stuff.’ But very few of them have been super successful,” said Edmonds.

He says that while there aren’t many games tackling climate change, themes around enjoying nature, like in games such as Parks and Wingspan, are popular and have done well in recent years.

Edmonds says while a game’s theme can be what gets people to pull a game off the shelf, at the end of the day, it’s a game’s mechanics and enjoyableness that keep people coming back to play.

“Nine times out of 10, the reason people will pick up a game is because it’s fun. That’s the point of the game is to be fun, right?” said Edmonds.

Philip Drost


Stay in touch!

Thanks for reading. Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

Editors: Emily Chung and Hannah Hoag | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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