Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Flogging of Corn Cob Bob

I love this guy... Only Stephen Harper and his Conservative cabinet would take policy advice from a 7 foot cob of corn. Or so it would appear from a recent meeting on renewable fuels in Regina.

For the past week or so, Canadians hopeful that the federal government would take a strong stance against global climate change were treated to a series of messages that were ambiguous at best.

The good news is that after a leaked memo from the international climate conference in Germany indicated that Canada would oppose extensions to the Kyoto accord, it now looks like the Conservative government is willing to follow through with negotiations for phase two of the treaty.

Unfortunately, their 'Made in Canada' plan to meet CO2 reduction targets appears to involve naming Corn Cob Bob as the new Environment Minister and embracing ethanol fuel as our climate saviour.

In seriousness though, should this picture not frighten us all? Climate change is being shown time and time again to be the single greatest threat facing human survival, yet throughout the world, leaders and governments refuse to take action while actively promoting policies that will only make the situation worse.

Although the burning of corn based ethanol has the advantage of producing less CO2 than gasoline, there is a catch. The production of corn, as with all cereal grains, requires massive inputs of fossil fuels via the mechanized farming process and chemical fertilizers. In effect, we are subsidizing our agricultural yield with oil. The net result for ethanol is that it takes more fossil fuel energy to grow a single corn cob than we receive from it in ethanol fuel energy. That is true regardless of whether the cob is your garden variety 10 incher or your industry sponsored 7 footer.

The reason is simple, as anyone who has completed a grade 9 science can tell you. It is called the Law of Conservation of Energy, which stated plainly is "energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change forms". Back on the farm, this means that a good deal of the fossil fuel energy used in corn agriculture goes into things other than those little yellow kernels. Much of it is lost in the standard mechanical inefficiencies of farm equipment. A lot of the rest is eaten up through the plant's natural metabolic process and in growing parts (like leaves and stalks) other than the cob. So to manufacture a given energy unit of ethanol, you need to expend some amount greater than one energy unit during the growth and production process.

For Canada to meet its Kyoto obligations we are going to need to do a lot more than increase corn production. The Federal Government is going to need to successfully negotiate binding commitments for CO2 control from the oil and gas industry, sharply increase fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, and engage the nation in a meaningful energy conservation strategy. Otherwise, come next election, Mr. Harper is going to be calling up Corn Cob Bob for more than a PR stunt. He will be looking for a couch to crash on and a lead for a new job.

Hope for A.D.D. - Canada to limit PBDEs

E-I-E-I-O! Canada appears to be set to join European regulators and the United States in eliminating or drastically restricting PBDEs, a chemical toxin that may be linked to soaring rates of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders in children.

globeandmail.com : Ottawa plans to snuff out flame retardants

Friday, May 26, 2006

Climate Change? Blame the Immigrants

Last week I was confronted by an associate who asserted that any environmental group that was truly addressing the state of the planet should be taking firm stance against immigration, citing a dubious posting from a little known Canadian non-profit group called Immigration Watch Canada.

There is an ongoing trend of fearmongering and finger pointing occuring in North America that seeks to blame immigrants and immigration for a host of society's ills. Whether that means using it as a scape goat for environmental degredation or for a lack of jobs and low wages in the United States, the arguments have little to do with the reality of issue at hand and serve only to further to the agendas of their neo conservative proponents. In the United Statest this has meant the militarization of the Mexican border, while in Canada its meant a concerted push towards a neo-conservative political landscape and a distraction from the real environmental issues facing the country.

If it could be definitively shown that a reduction in immigration would have an impact on the most pressing environmental problems facing the country then framing immigration as an enviromental concern would have merit. However, in the globalized market national resources are being exploited to sell to a world market. The impact of world demand on our local ecosystems far outweighs the slight additional demand respresented by the relatively small number of immigrants allowed into Canada each year.

The immigration argument represents a white washing of our national environmental responsibilities. Canadian's want to live in a sustainable society; however, Canadian industry is currently responsible for some of the greatest projects of environmental destruction in the world.

Alberta's oil sands development threatens 23% of Alberta's land mass with the most destructive and ineffecient means of oil production in the world with wildlife, boreal forest and the Athabasca River all being threatened by future oil sands development. Unsustainable forestry practices continue to threaten both British Columbian old growth and rare species such as the northern spotted owl (with a national population of 23 birds) and the kemode bear. Wild salmon populations on the west coast continue to be threatened with seal lice and disease from the salmon farming industry as well as from poor management and regulation of the industry as a whole. All of these problems are fundamentally being driven by international, not domestic, demand for Canada's resources.

Canadians want to continue to live in a country of economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. To do this we all need to take responsibility for our environment by building industries that are truly sustainable and accountable to environmental principles, not by blaming immigration and other fictional scape goats as an excuse for our own environmental failures. By putting in place strong guidelines for industry, fair trade laws that protect Canada's right and ability to govern its own resources, and by taking into account the real impact of our industries on our natural environment, Canada will continue to lead the world in both environmental stewardship and economic prosperity. By blaming immigrations for our own environmental shortcomings, we'll only feed a culture of fear and ignorance while the natural world continues to pay the price.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fusing Discord - Environmentalists Oppose Fusion Power

A huge part of the problem with environmentalists and the environmental movement is their complete skill in coming across as a group of uninspired whiners. Take today's story from the ENS reporting on the agreement of 7 countries to pursue commercially viable fusion power.

Ignoring the benefits of creating an abundant and clean source of energy, not only for our own backward culture but for all of the backward developing cultures in the world, Friends of the Earth Europe has stated that the partnership between the EU, US, China, India, Russia, South Korea and Japan to demonstrate the potential of nuclear fusion as an energy source is a wasting resources on a technology that may never be commercially viable. Instead, they call for greater use of wind, solar and biomass technologies and stepping up conservation efforts.

There's little to dispute that currently available green technologies should be further utilized, but to date there has been no comprehensive case demonstrating that they can be exploited to fulfill our current energy demands, let alone the increasing world demands of developing nations like
China and India.

The only nation to make a firm commitment to breaking dependency on fossil fuel energy is Sweden , who is planning to wean itself off of oil in favor of biomass and other renewables in the next 15 years. But even if successful,
Sweden's total will still rely on the significant nuclear and large hydro-electric projects already in use - two technologies environmentalists equally deride.

Conservation is consistently brought in as the panacea for a looming world energy crisis, but any amounts that can be conserved in the current energy mix developed countries cannot hope to offset the rising demand posed by
China alone, let alone India and other growing economies.

A viable fusion technology would be incalculably beneficial to the planet and world stability while filling an future supply gap that we currently have no solution for. Additionally, any member of western society should realize that the reason we are afforded the lifestyle we have is due to the abundant energy provided by oil and the growth it has enabled. Extending the same opportunity to developing nations in the form of a cleaner energy source would be one of our greatest achievements.


Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the Earth is rapidly entering into a crisis situation - one that will ultimately define our very survival.

Even with these challenges we can succeed. Most people believe in the need for sustainable lives and in the value of living as an integral part of the Earth and its systems. This post is a running commentary for those searching for a voice supporting alternatives to rapant degredation and embracing a new vision that we can all share in: One where the cycles of pollution, destruction and extinction are cast aside in favour of a world where all life flourishes.