Northern Gateway Pipeline Approved (Boo!)

“A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.”
—Plato

At long last, the Canadian government made its decision known last week on the Northern Gateway pipeline. Surprise, surprise: it’s approved, once 209 conditions are met. Assuming that happens—because let’s face it, Enbridge will do whatever it takes to make it happen—the $7-billion, 1,172-kilometre pipeline will bring products from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat, British Columbia (B.C.) to then be shipped overseas.

And it’s not a trivial amount: about 500,000 barrels a day of the diluted bitumen (or dilbit) derived from the tar sands will arrive at Kitimat, ultimately to be shipped mostly to Asia. Prime Minister Harper wants Canada on the map as a global petroleum superpower, and Northern Gateway (and Keystone XL) are the means by which he plans to achieve his goal.

Obviously some people are happy about this approval. Many living in Alberta are for sure. (Why shouldn’t we help Canada’s richest province become even richer?) And many will argue that pipelines are safer than rail. But in this case it’s not actually the pipeline that has people upset so much as it is the shipping once the pipeline ends. The narrow channels pose significant risk to the cargo ships trying to negotiate them. If any of the molasses-like dilbit spills, it runs the risk of harming some of the most beautiful wilderness in Canada. Continue reading

"It Won't Affect Me, or Anyone I Know. (And There's Nothing I Can Do About it Anyway.)"

“We should not give up and we should not allow the problem to defeat us.”
—A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

I have many interests and one of them is astronomy. (In my book Comprehending the Climate Crisis, I make this abundantly clear.) So in addition to keeping up on the current status of global warming and climate change, I still read a lot about astronomy and cosmology purely out of interest.

In a book I just finished reading, I was reminded of our sun’s future. As a rather mediocre star, it is now about 4.5 billion years old, and close to the middle of its life cycle. Somewhere around its ten billionth birthday, it will have used up all of its hydrogen for nuclear fusion. It will start to expand, becoming something known as a red giant, eventually growing large enough that Earth’s orbit will lie within it. Everything on our planet will be destroyed by the time this happens.

Pretty sobering thoughts. But people who know this fact aren’t generally too upset about it. Astronomers and astrophysicists—or the general public who know about this—don’t typically pull out their hair, gnash their teeth, or suffer tremendous angst over this. And why not? Mostly because it’s too far in the future to worry about. They say things like “It won’t affect me, or anyone I know. And there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.”

I think this sentiment also explains why so many people are comfortable to ignore the issues of global warming and climate change these days. I see them also saying things like “It won’t affect me, or anyone I know. And there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.” But you and I both know that unlike the fate of our sun, this sentiment doesn’t apply here. Continue reading

Free Market is Awesome—Until it Hurts My Profits

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”
John Maynard Keynes

Many people are surprised to find out that I’m a conservative. Most people who fight against global warming and climate change tend to be a little farther left on the political spectrum than I am. But although I believe in the principles of a free market economy, I also believe in what science tells me about the use of fossil fuels and the harm their emissions cause our planet. In situations like these, I think solutions include regulation (sorry ultra-right friends), but I also think capitalism can play a part in the solution.

To wit: I believe it will be much easier for people to switch to renewable sources of energy when they’re cheaper than fossil fuels. And I also have no doubt that will happen soon enough. Parity has already been achieved in some parts of the world, and given the rising costs of fossil fuels, it’s only a matter of time before renewable energy will be universally cheaper. Now that mountaintop removal, offshore drilling/tar sands development and fracking are becoming the main sources of coal, oil and natural gas, costs will continue to climb for fossil fuels. Meanwhile, development of technologies such as solar panels tend to follow Moore’s law: just like cell phones and computers, they get cheaper even though they get better with time. Continue reading

Global Warming: A New Way to Cook

It’s interesting to see what you can do on a particularly hot day. This chef demonstrates one possibility in Paraguay (Asunción is considered one of the hottest capital cities on the planet). What does he do exactly? He cooks a meal using nothing but the asphalt.

This demonstration by the World Wildlife Fund gives perspective on what our planet may be experiencing in years to come as temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius become increasingly more common. It certainly brought attention to the issue in Paraguay. (Now if only we could bring more attention to it here in Canada.)