Posts Tagged ‘environment’

The Nuclear Fusion Family

July 18, 2008

Recently, a Korean nuclear fusion research facility succeeded in creating plasma from hydrogen.  In fact, they were the second to produce plasma.  A Chinese facility also did it, in 2006.  This is a big step on the road to developing nuclear fusion as a viable source of clean, safe energy in the future.  It’s expected that there will be nuclear fusion reactors producing electricity by the 2040s.

Unlike nuclear fission, fusion does not result in radioactive waste.  It also doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.  That means it will be an integral part of a sustainable energy future.  Korea and China are partners in the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project, an international initiative to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source.  The list of ITER partners includes almost every industrialized country, except Canada.  Besides Korea and China, there is the EU, the US, Japan, India, and Russia.  Why Canada has not decided to pursue this is beyond me.

The government touts our new identity as an energy superpower, so why aren’t they investing in the energy source of the future?  The day will come when nuclear fusion and other sources replace harmful oil and gas powered plants, so why not be a major player in the new fusion industry that will emerge?  That would help maintain that energy superpower status.

The government also talks of significantly reducing greenhouse gases by the middle of the century.  Why not invest in a technology that will help make it happen?  By not being a part of this, it looks like they aren’t interested in expediting the development of a clean energy alternative because they rely on oil revenue.

Could it be that the cost is prohibitive?  No.  The KSTAR facility in Korea cost about $307 million.  Surely an energy superpower like Canada, which is doing quite well relative to other industrialized countries these days due to strong fundamentals and high commodity prices, can afford to develop a technology that will change the world for the better and secure its position as an energy superpower for probably the entire century.  Think of how much oil and gas revenue will come in over the next thirty-five to forty years until electricity from fusion becomes reality.  The costs pale by comparison.

We shouldn’t stop at fusion, either.  With energy and commodity prices as high as they are, we are in a luxurious position.  We should be investing in science and national projects that will challenge Canadian industry to develop the technologies and industries of the future, and raise our profile in the world.  The more successes we have, the more top scientists and success-oriented people we will attract, which will result in more successes.  This kind of success spiral will result in ongoing, sustainable economic growth as new technologies find applications in the consumer marketplace as well as in industry.  Think NASA.  The economic benefits from its Apollo program were enormous.

This is our opportunity.  Let’s take it.

The Ethics of Food vs. Fuel: Just Politics as Usual?

May 30, 2008

A couple days ago, the federal government decided to require all gasoline to contain 5% ethanol.  This more or less parallels existing policies in the U.S. and in European countries.  But is following in their footsteps the right, or even best, thing to do?  Is it the ‘Made in Canada’ environmental policy Stephen Harper promised, for that matter?

The announcement went largely unnoticed because the media and opposition were more interested in reporting and following up on the fallout of the Bernier affair (double entendre entendree).  It was given only a passing mention on the news with no examination of the logistics or implications.  This is despite the fact that the same media had been reporting on the growing global food crisis for the previous few weeks.  Those reports revealed that one of the causes of the crisis was the shift of much agricultural production away from food to fuel.  Food, particularly corn, that was being produced for food is now being used to produce ethanol.  This has resulted not only in a huge spike in food commodity prices, but also in food being taken off the ground in front of the hungriest people in the world (let’s face it – they don’t have a table to take it off of).

To add insult to injury, the economics and environmental benefits of ethanol production for fuel don’t even make sense.  It actually requires more than a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of ethanol.  So, instead of burning 5% more gasoline in your car and adding that much more carbon emissions to the atmosphere, an ethanol refinery will spew out even more emissions to produce the cleaner burning replacement fuel.

So, who benefits from this policy?  Well, farmers do, to begin with.  They benefit from high commodity prices that make farming more profitable than usual.  These are good times for Canadian farmers, relatively speaking.  Our unsubsidized farmers are not only able to make a decent living, they are also investing in new productivity enhancing equipment and machinery that will allow them to continue to survive and compete on an unlevel playing field against subsidized farmers elsewhere.

The government also benefits.  The optics of doing something tangible about global warming boosts their credentials in the eyes of voters.  All those happy, prospering farmers are voters, too.  Let’s not forget that this is a minority government that could, in theory, fall at any time.  In practice, of course, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to any time soon.  Whether you voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last time or not, you have to give him credit for keeping a minority government alive for three years when, statistically, they last only eighteen months.  In fact, this one will probably see out a full term, unless opposition leader Stephen Dion does something out of character.  The accomplishment is even more impressive when you recall how self-defeating and fractious the newly re-merged Conservative party was a few years ago.  When the day comes that he is no longer Prime Minister, a struggling company might do worse than to hire Harper as their CEO.

Regardless of when the next election comes, a lot of farmers and ‘armchair environmentalists’ will probably remember this decision.  That increases the government’s chances of winning a majority.  The decision to require ethanol content in gasoline may prove to be not so much about a sustainable environment, as a sustainable government.

Move Over Chicago, There’s a New Windy City

January 15, 2008

Another wind storm tore through the city yesterday and into the night.  They seem to be happening more often than usual.  I don’t recall the weather being as windy as it has been lately, in general, let alone the kinds of storms we’ve experienced over the past year or two.

It was about a year ago that the wind devastated Stanley Park, blowing down thousands of trees and causing a landslide that closed the seawall.  Then, in September, just after the seawall finally reopened, there was another one that closed it again.  I wonder what the damage is this time…

Downtown, Georgia Street was actually closed at rush hour because a window pane was flapping around in the wind on an office tower.  A couple sheets of plywood were blown off a highrise under constructon and landed on cars below – one of them occupied.  People trying to get home to the north shore had serious problems, since Georgia Street leads to the causeway through Stanley Park that leads to Lions Gate Bridge.

My own inconvenience was limited to the incessant flapping of the plastic sheet that was tied down over my bicycle where it’s locked to the railing on the deck outside my window.  This was my ingenious design to allow me to store the bike outside the apartment this winter, rather than inside like last winter.  A great space saver.  I guess a couple of the strings broke.  I try to help the environment with pedal power and what does it give me in return?  It’s a good thing the whole thing didn’t break free or who knows where it could have gone or what kind of damage might have resulted.  Can you imagine a big sheet of plastic landing on your windshield while you’re driving? 

Something like that happened to me once years ago in London – on my MOTORCYCLE.  But it wasn’t even clear plastic.  There I was just riding along and, suddenly, THWAP!  Where is everything?  Where did this plastic bag come from?  Fortunately I managed to pull it off before anything else happened.

Oh, there was another noise that I heard last night.  I heard something falling on the deck.  That’s not unusual – things fall off the balcony above me every once in a while.  I went outside this morning to see what it was.  This one was a little unusual.  It was a table leg.  I wonder where the rest of it ended up…

Sometimes a Business Transaction Is More Than a Business Transaction

January 14, 2008

For a while now, I’ve felt that the greatest threat to Canadian sovereignty could be summed up in two words:  shareholder value.  Late last week, Richmond, BC based MDA announced it would sell its space division to an American company.  The media made a bit of a fuss about what a blow to national pride this would be, as the Canadarm, the robotic arm used on the space shuttles and the international space station, is one of the space division’s assets.  But there is an even greater loss, or even threat, involved with this transaction.

The media, for some reason, didn’t talk a lot about the fact that the division’s other assets include RadarSat2, and the implications of its falling into foreign hands.  The sale could actually result in a threat to arctic sovereignty and national security.

RadarSat2 is a remote sensing satellite that was put into orbit fairly recently.  Its capabilities and duties include monitoring arctic waters for vessels – as small as cars – to protect and reinforce Canada’s sovereignty.  Aside from the usual reasons for not allowing an asset used for defence purposes from falling into foreign hands, the problem with the sale is that the Americans refuse to recognize Canadian sovereignty and rights over waters that clearly fall within the limits set out by the UN Convention on the Laws Of the Sea (UNCLOS).  So, ownership of the satellite that enables us to monitor our own waters will transfer to the people who want to take them away from us.

The northwest passage has become an important issue lately because global warming is melting arctic ice at a surprisingly fast pace.  The passage is now being seen as a viable navigation route for the near future.  There are also believed to be valuable resources beneath the seabed.  If UNCLOS definitions are recognized, Canada has economic rights over them and can impose environmental standards.  If they are not, anyone can take them and not have to worry about environmental practices.

Contact your MP, any relevant cabinet ministers, and the PM. Tell them that RadarSat2 must not be allowed to be sold to foreign interests.  Even if the MDA deal goes ahead, provisions will have to be made to keep RadarSat2 in Canadian hands.

It’s our melting ice, damn it!  If the Americans – or anyone else – want it, they’ll have to take it from our cold, dead, wet hands.