Saturday, February 27, 2010

Can You Reverse Climate Change By Having a Tea Party?

Just as climate change deniers had begun to breathe easy, convincing themselves that, based on repeating the word "climategate" a few million times, global warming no longer exists, a few minor irritants have begun to cloud the crystal clear, cool air of Denierland.

First the obvious, like, Winter Olympics are supposed to occur in snow, eh? You may say, "yeah but Vancouver is always warm in winter..." But what some people may not know is that it has been balmy throughout Canada. Today in Montreal: +5 C with sun, clouds and rain. In fact, there are usually a few stretches of -20 and we have barely had anything of the sort this year. On one of the first days of the Olympics, you cold barely find a below freezing high in any city in Canada. Bizarre.

As if to confirm our curiosity, the UAH Globally Averaged Temperatures recently came out and, guess what? It was worldwide the warmest January on record.

You see that blue dot on the very right? I don't know how anyone can look at this graph and think that they can have a tea party or post pictures of every snowflake that falls in Texas and it will make global warming go away.

As if this all isn't enough, we also get the news that an iceberg the size of Luxembourg has been chipped off of Antarctica. Amazingly, the iceberg that struck this ice "tongue" to remove it from the ice cap was itself some 97 km long and has been around since it calved off the ice cap in 1987. Obviously it takes these things a while to melt. According to one source, there is enough fresh water in an iceberg this size to supply water for the population of the world to have non-stop tea parties for about a year.

This iceberg may not have a direct connection to global warming. And, then again, it may.

Friday, February 26, 2010

When You Know You're Behind in EVs: Canada 300; China 500,000

Just another day in blogland, right. Feb 23 - nothing too remarkable going on... ho-hum, oh! look at this: Toronto wants at least 300 electric cars by 2012. Wow! a veritable industrial revolution!

Directly from Auto-blog-green:

"Now, the Greater Toronto Area is getting its act together with the EV300 program that intends to get at least 300 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and pure electric vehicles (EVs) into public and private fleets by 2012. The City of Toronto, Toronto Hydro and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation already have plug-in vehicles in their fleets. Gerry Pietschmann, director of fleet services for the City of Toronto, said that EV300 will allow fleets to:

pool their purchasing power and share information about what works and what doesn't when it comes to electric vehicles. It also helps us to identify what needs to be done to better support the use of electric vehicles, whether it is making charging points more available or teaching drivers how best to operate this new breed of vehicles."
 So I'm thinking, yeah, OK, that's not bad... not great maybe but...

Then someone sends me this link:

And it continues with the following info on Green Car Advisor:

"China is launching a nationwide program to install electric vehicle charging stations as its auto industry begins developing plug-in vehicles with the stated goal of producing 500,000 plug-in hybrids and battery-electric cars by the end of 2011."

It's not apples and apples, I know. Apparently the U.S. is actually hoping to produce something like half that number of EVs and hybrids in total.

But EV300?? For real?  Is that a number that Toronto's largest city should be targeting to have in public and private fleets for 2012? When China is targeting production of 500,000. It seems to me like you couldn't be less ambitious if you tried. Yet who knows? It is possible that other Canadian cities have even less challenging objectives.

In Jan. '09 with quite a bit of fanfare, Better Place announced a partnership with the government of Ontario with the intent of setting up a network of charging stations. Nothing seems to have changed or happened since the initial press release, judging by the Better Place website. Canada needs more real EV initiative fast.

To my way of thinking, we will never catch up if we allow China to get so far out in front.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Story of Stuff and The Story of Cap and Trade - Double Feature

I hadn't seen this until a couple of days ago - so probably lots of others in the same boat.

What's new since this first came out in '07?

1. the big financial meltdown
2. Barack Obama
3. A LOT of stuff!

Reading on the Story of Stuff blog, I see the film has been translated into a few languages, the book is coming out in March and there is already a new "Story of" video.

It is called the story of Cap and Trade

That's some more interesting stuff...

Here's a rationale for reining in Google Street View

No doubt, everyone loves to scope around on Google Street View. Every now and then you can escape to Mexico City or Miami Beach and walk up any street you want. It is cool. But a lot of people wonder whether Street View provides more information than is supposed to be at one's fingertips.

So why not control Google more carefully? Either regulate it so that certain rules would apply, or, at least, charge Google for the right to use the streets for making its photos.

Right or wrong? Most municipalities control every conceivable type of commerce or other activity that occurs on their streets.

The only activity that is not normally controlled is deliveries. And, even then, you need to be sure to follow all the many, many rules. If you want to be a street busker, you often have to follow rules and/or get a permit. If you want to operate a taxi cab or sell hot dogs on the streets or sidewalks, you will have another set of regulations and permits to contend with. If you want to put up scaffolding on a sidewalk or have a parade down main street, again, you have to follow the rules.

So tell me, please: how is it that the google-mobiles ply the streets with impunity, operating their business to their heart's content, while anyone else who wants to do anything at all on a street needs to jump through hoops?

Municipalities could make themselves a lot of extra money by implementing a fee to use streets for any mass photography project. Instead, most places that don't like Street View seem to go to some variation of the "invasion of privacy" approach.

One that doesn't, Windsor, is among the latest places to raise objections - in this case the complaint is that the photos were taken during a public works strike and the city comes out looking bad, with piles of garbage and whatnot all over the place. Meanwhile, Germany has threatened to sue Google over violation of privacy concerns. Apparently there is an offer in the works that would allow people in Germany to remove their residence from the site. Time will tell...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloom Energy to reveal the Bloom Box on Wednesday

Here's another reason why it is the ultimate folly to burn natural gas "to make oil".

It is something called a "Bloom Box", invented by rocket scientist and visionary, K.R. Sridhar.

What it is is a compact unit, fully scalable, that can power anything from a home to a neighbourhood to a building complex and can use a variety of fuels, such as natural gas or even bio-waste. The maker, Bloom Energy, is revealing its product to the public this Wednesday, but offered a sneak peak on 60 Minutes last night.

This project has some big-time backing. The same guy, John Doerr, of  Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who was involved in financing Netscape, Amazon and Google (and also such belly flops as the Segway), has driven financial backing into place behind Bloom Energy to the tune of something like $400 mil.

This is not one of those pipe dreams that may or may not ever see the light of day. Google, the first major buyer of the units, has been using them for a year and a half. eBay is powering 15% of one of its major campuses with five big Bloom Boxes. In the case of eBay, CEO John Donahoe points out that the Bloom Boxes are providing more power than acres of solar panels on eBay corporate roofs. Not only that, the eBay units are fueled by landfill bio-waste, making the whole equation carbon-neutral. The eBay unit has saved $100,000 in power costs over nine months.

Obviously an innovation such as this has repercussions throughout commerce and industry.

A couple of key facts: It seems that the Bloom Box only uses the equivalent of half of the natural gas to produce the same amount of electricity as a conventional natural gas power plant. Another advantage of locating the units on site is that something like half of the power ever generated is lost in transmission.

K.R. Sridhar sees his units installed across the world in the next 5 to 10 years. Let's hope he's right...

And let's hope we haven't burned all our natural gas making oil by that time, which is what Canada is doing in the Alberta Tar Sands.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

They said it couldn't be done = Olympic Bil-Duh-Bare Pavilion

In the big rush to find things to criticize at the Vancouver Olympics, not much has been overlooked.

Certainly the Canada Pavilion has taken a couple of pot shots, even though the feds did their best to hide this embarrassment as carefully as possible (it only opened after the games had begun...).

It has been called everything from "rinky-dink" to a "temporary tent" to "an ugly pre-fab dud". And for good reason. It is, to be sure, temporary, and looks like nothing more than a chintzy shed with large graphics plastered all over it.

The eyesore cost $10 million and we had to get it slapped up by some Chicago outfit. Those economic impacts are really spreading far and wide...

The facility was originally heralded by organizers with plenty of gusto... "In a downtown celebration site in Vancouver the federal government will erect a Canada Pavilion during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of State (Sport), announced last weekend.
The $10 million, world-class pavilion will showcase Canadian athletes and culture to the world. Amid the excitement of hosting an Olympic Games, the Canada Pavilion will be a major focal point for Canadian fans and for visitors around the world to learn about the amazing innovations and heritage in Canada."

However reality has been less than impressive and less than world-class. Some pundits are going so far as to suggest that the federal government doesn't have a clue what they're doing, which wouldn't surprise me in the least.

For my take, I find that our Canadian pavilion building expertise reminds me a lot of the Build-A-Bear Workshop. That most fantastical wonderland, in power centres and malls across Canada and the U.S, where your kids can watch a sad-looking toy get the stuffing knocked into it right in front of their eyes and then take it home with them, all for about $43.50. How can you tell I was not any more impressed with Build-A-Bear Workshop than I am with the Bil-Duh-Bare Pavilion?

The waste of it all is rather astounding. But, rather than just be a critic, I wanted to offer something constructive, so here's what I would suggest next time....

Give the $10 million to Habitat for Humanity or their Canadian equivalent. Tell them they have to put up something good and take it apart after it's over and they get to keep all the leftover cash and everything they can salvage. End result: Canada Pavilion rocks and what probably something like 50 underprivileged families get houses built...


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Northern Pole of Inaccesibility Slams the Door on Human World Domination

The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility is no longer accessible, if it ever was. But, it is one, if not the one, natural challenge that is left to conquer.

Is nature turning the tide on humankind? Have we reached our Waterloo? Our Stalingrad?

By all appearances, yes. The erstwhile overland trek across the dark ice to the heart of the Arctic, at the farthest Arctic point from land, is apparently soon to become a side trip to Waterworld or, more aptly, Slushworld.

Extreme adventurer Jim McNeill, a.k.a. the Ice Warrior, first attempted to conquer the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility in 2003 and was turned back by an attack of flesh-eating disease. A second attempt, in 2006, was stymied by equipment failures and disintegrating ice.

Now, a planned 2010 attempt has been abandoned just days ahead of departure, due to the "worst conditions" for Arctic winter ice in decades.

McNeill said, "The risks of early failure, of cold injury and of needing to be rescued are too high to justify setting out. I believe to venture out in the current conditions would be foolhardy and not achieve any of the scientific and adventurous aims we have and could possibly endanger lives unnecessarily.”

The map of the route illustrates how satellite tracking has revealed a multitude of fissures still in the ice, as well as large masses of ice still in motion, rendering the crossing extremely dangerous, if not impossible.

The Ice Warrior website optimistically states that the attempt has been "postponed", as opposed to cancelled. However, we do wonder what the likelihood of this expedition ever being completed is.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, which charts Arctic sea ice extent, has shown the ice extent in the Arctic at or near its all time low throughout the entire winter, from October onwards. Last summer's low ice mark was the third lowest in recorded history.

The likelihood seems strong that the possibility of trekking to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility will soon be gone, because the ice will never be good enough again.

What does that mean in the greater scheme of things? It certainly may signal the beginning of the end of human conquests of the natural world. Although Ice Warrior calls the Pole of Inaccessibility the last frontier, I wouldn't be so sure about that. What about the journey to the center of a live volcano? or to the worlds that exist only on microscope slides?

Whatever the case, to my knowledge, this may be the first time that the door has been slammed so rudely, with such finality, on human ambitions.

To read more into it than that may be a mistake. Is it going to mark a true Waterloo - a turning of the tide? Will it be the end of adventurers? Of adventure? Of course this event alone is not something that will change the course of world history. But the way things are going - the way individuals are marginalized in the interest of the greater good of large institutions; the way freedoms are glossed over in the interest of dubious security measures; the way public opinion is manipulated and information is fabricated... it becomes easier to imagine a world where human ambition is crudely harnessed to little more than its own demise.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What is the cost to clean recycling - how much time, energy and water is used?

Here is a question that we do not readily find an answer for on the net:

What is the cost to clean recycling - how much time, energy and water is used?

Obviously these questions have been analyzed to death by the recycling business, at least from the perspective of what is sorted, cleaned and recycled under their roofs. To a lesser extent, municipalities also review all sorts of benchmarks

But what about the portion of the job that is handled domestically? Neither the recycling industry, nor municipalities, are overly concerned with the amount of time, energy and resources that go into cleaning recycling in the home.

I haven't been able to find any information on this on the internet.

It brings up another question: Is it better to clean containers being recycled thoroughly, superficially or not at all?

I have often noticed that some people put  their recycling out super clean, super neat and sorted to the nth degree. Now, our area has gone to the large "unsorted" recycling bins. So, sorting is obviously more efficiently handled at the processing plant.

What about cleaning the containers with food waste in them?

If left to dry out, does this waste present a huge problem? Or is the water, energy and time we expend in the home to clean one container a complete waste? Or worse?

Of course the recycler can be marginally more profitable if all the containers coming in are pre-cleaned. But at what cost?

What do people use? 500 ml of cold water to clean each tin, or a gallon of hot water? Has this been researched?

So, say there are approximately 13 million households in Canada. Say each household turns on the tap an average of twice per day - once hot, once cold - to rinse out recycle items. And let's say each time the tap is turned on the average usage is one liter. OK, that would be 13 million liters each of cold and hot water per day. It has been calculated that it takes approximately 150 kj to heat a liter of water by 25C. So, if these numbers are anywhere near correct, then each day 26 million liters of water are used in homes to rinse out recycling - and 1.95, or you might as well say 2 billion, kilojoules of energy are used to heat the water. Because I'm just guessing about everything, I'm not going to bother figuring out how to relate 2 billion kjs to anything. But you may be curious enough to put a value amount on 26 million liters. Here's one view on it... Halifax charges $2 for a cubic meter (m3 = 1000 liters) of water at a bulk fill station. So 26 million liters would go for $52,000.

What does this all mean? I don't know but, any way you look at it, there is a cost factor to in home recycling preparation.

I would like to follow up on this in the future.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Enjoy the Games - Or Fight for Your Cause - This is What We Are

I loved the Olympic opening ceremony last night from Vancouver and loved what Michael Ignatieff said about sport in an article in the New York Times Magazine last weekend:  "what lifts it above just a branding exercise for nations, is that it is ultimately about human beings battling with their limitations and finding their own unique and mysterious way to win". I would go even further than that.

The Olympics are the ultimate manifestation and combination of two of humanity's oldest and most natural civilizing traits... these are:

* to come together in gatherings


* to compete against oneself and others ~ or to strive to excel

You take these two things away - we are walking on four legs end of story.

And, the whole argument that a dollar spent on anything connected with the Olympics should have been spent on a humanitarian cause is pretty weak also...

I know the residual economic impacts of the games are somewhat hard to pin down, and often overstated without good reason. But I think it is as likely that the benefits are understated simply due to the fact that it is not well understood how to assess the value and benefits of such an event.


All that being said, the idea that everyone should be a cheerleader and anyone with a negative word to say should clam up for two weeks is IMHO a far worse idea than it would be to cancel the games altogether and build some humongous homeless centre with 800 satellite channels and a free MRI machine.

The games, with their successful sheen, privileged posing and youthful virtuosity provide the perfect backdrop against which to discuss some of the great problems we have in this country and on this planet.

So get out the pom-poms if ya want. Sit around and smother everything with raclette cheese to your heart's content and watch these wonderful games! (We're celebrating Chinese New Year tonight so the menu will be something more along those lines...)

But if someone wants to point out injustices and inequities and the problems that we have still failed to correct in this world even though we can light up a gigantic bear and have it walk through BC Place...

I say bring it on - bitch and complain loud and clear for all the world to hear - now more than ever.

There - I may have just alienated every single person who might read this (not that I hadn't already at some point - :^O) That's just how I feel.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rising Seas - After the Deluge... New painting by Tatiana Iliina "The Tempest"

Russian artist
"The Tempest," by Tatiana Iliina, 24" x 36" acrylic on canvas

"...Boats. Work you, then.

Ant. Hang, cur! hang, you whoreson, insolent noise-maker. We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.

Gon. I’ll warrant him for drowning; though the ship were no stronger than a nutshell, and as leaky as an unstanched 45 wench.

Boats. Lay her a-hold, a-hold! set her two courses off to sea again; lay her off.

Enter Mariners wet

Mariners. All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!..."

-Wm. Shakespeare, The Tempest