Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

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.

Always Have a Plan B in Your Pocket

April 5, 2008

There’s been speculation in the media that the U.S. may not just be in a recession, but that this could prove to be a depression.  There are probably more Bear Stearns banks out there that are teetering on the brink and the full depth of the credit crisis is still not known.  Great – a full blown depression – and I thought the recession that started the 1990s, which was bad enough for me, was supposed to be the longest one since the great depression.  According to theories of economic cycles, the next really big one wasn’t due until about 2050, the same time global warming should have melted the polar icecaps and glaciers, and become pretty much irreversible.  Now THERE’s a party to stick around for.  Well, it may be that this will be the real big one.  Am I worried?  No.  I have a Plan B in my pocket.

A little while ago, my new passport arrived.  I now have another option.  I can now take my English teaching qualifications and experience anywhere in the world.  There’s over one and a half billion Asians who all seem to want or need to learn English.  No matter how bad things get here, I can always go to Asia and find a job waiting for me.  A job that pays well, by local standards, and usually carries a certain level of respect with it.  Best of all, I’d be taxed at Asian rates.  Asian tax systems seem to have been designed by the same people who design their electronics.  Smaller is better.

One of the places I could go to is Taiwan.  A Taiwanese woman told me once of a place on the east coast where the aboriginal women, who were there before the arrival of the Chinese, are particularly beautiful.  She went on to tell me about the working conditions, pay, etc., but she had me at the beautiful women.

Another thing I hadn’t realized about Taiwan until I recently looked at a map is that it is on the Tropic of Cancer.  Hmmm… live on a tropical island with low taxes surrounded by beautiful women…  No winter.  Sounds good, but I wonder if my lily white skin could take that sun.

‘Tropic of Cancer’ is a novel by Henry Miller.  It’s a first person account of his life, observations, sexual exploits, opinions, and any thoughts that may have run through his head, no matter how dark.  It was controversial at the time.  Aside from the prejudices of his time, it’s still a good book and I liked it.  Much of it takes place in Paris, where he’d gone to write.  I could write in Taiwan.  I could spend more time on my writing because I wouldn’t speak Chinese well.  I’d have nothing to do but sit in the brilliant sun writing brilliant words while the beautiful women frolicked around me.  Well, after I’d put in my Asian hours at work, of course.

As I mentioned elsewhere, someone in Taiwan has been reading me in Chinese.  They were reading one of my posts about Vancouver real estate.  This was just after I’d seen a news story about the election in Taiwan.  Apparently, people were so sick of corruption that they elected a new government that would be a little friendlier to China and is even willing to discuss the possibility of re-unification.  I guess not everyone is on board with that, though.  It looks like someone may be considering buying in Vancouver, just in case.

It wouldn’t be the first time, of course.  People from Hong Kong moved to Vancouver in droves in the run up to its return to China.  Many of them returned when it was apparent Hong Kong would continue to prosper.  Many Taiwanese came here in the past, when China started rattling sabres and staging naval exercises near its “rogue province”.  This election could spark another wave.  Just in time to offset the doubts Vancouverites are starting to have about the real estate market and the way the business works.

As enticing and romantic as going abroad sounds, I’m in no rush yet.  Besides, I’ve lived overseas before.  But, it’s good to know you always have a Plan B in your pocket.

Vancouver’s Other Dirty Little Secret

March 7, 2008

I’ve been looking for another revenue stream to supplement my self employment.  There just isn’t enough coming in yet, so I need a daytime job.  I’ve been trying to focus on established companies and the ones whose websites and job ads state that they are one of the fifty best companies to work for in Canada or BC.  Money, benefits, work conditions.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of luck with these organizations.  I don’t know what they’re looking for, but it doesn’t seem to be me.  My resume usually provokes a phone call and an interview.  But when I send it to one of these companies, nothing.  This is despite the fact that I easily meet the criteria.  You’d think large, established companies, some with international operations, would most value something like international sales experience involving talking to senior executives of multinationals.  Nope.  I guess it’s not useful here because, for all its apparent world class reputation and its multicultural population, Vancouver is rather parochial.  It is a branch office market, not a head office location.  Talking to the CEO isn’t something that people relate to or need.

There are some employers who would value it, though.  They could use someone who isn’t afraid to talk to a high net worth individual and ask for the money.  They aren’t well known companies and they’re not on the list of the fifty best companies to work for in Canada, BC, or anywhere.  They are Vancouver’s other dirty little secret, along with the downtown east side.

When most people think of Vancouver, they think of a beautiful city by the ocean set against a backdrop of mountains.  As they say in the real estate world – location, location, location.  No wonder I can’t afford real estate.  I’m not likely to either, unless I can find a legitimate way to make some decent money.  I say legitimate because what most people don’t know is that beautiful Vancouver is a centre for fraud.

Many of the telesales jobs here are actually fraud related, one way or another.  They sell lottery tickets, vacations, medications, or investments.  They focus on high net worth individuals or pensioners, usually in the U.S.  That’s not unusual.  Telesales fraud is usually done across borders to get around the law, no matter where in the world it happens.

These operations aren’t too difficult to spot, once you get a look at them.  I went to an interview years ago and checked out a company.  The only piece of office equipment in the phone room, other than the very basic phones, was a paper shredder at one end of the room.  There were no computers.  The staff had printed lists of leads in front of them on their cheap, table style desks.  The whole thing had an air of impermanence.

Recently, I saw an ad that seemed too good to be true.  Sixteen dollars an hour plus commission.  There was no company name, but there was a number to call.  I did some high tech sleuthing and searched the number on the web.  A number of articles came up.  One headline link was about a stock worth $0.001.  When I clicked on it, I found the page no longer existed.  Hmmm…

Another headline took me to a company website.  The phone number matched.  Apparently, they have an incredible new technology that will drastically reduce carbon emissions from cars.  Well, it is incredible that no one has heard of it yet, considering the fact that greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are in the news daily.  You’d think the news networks would be tripping over each other to do a story on it.  The section that explains how it all works was a pretty slick presentation accompanied by techno music (coz it’s the technology, get it?) that made no sense to me.

The most striking thing about this company, though, was it’s name.  Their product was an environmental solution for automobiles, but the name had no indication of environmental or automotive industry affiliation.  It included the word ‘capital’, however.  They’re in the capital raising business.

Remember that headline about shares worth $0.001?  They’re stock pumpers, something Vancouver has gained a bad reputation for.  Sixteen bucks an hour plus commission is pretty good, by local standards, but I don’t want to participate in fraud to make a living.

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.