Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pesqelqlelten - Many Salmon Moon - The Spirit of the Shuswap Shines Again

In the Secwepemc (Shuswap) language, the word for "September" (or September/October) is Pesqelqlelten or "Many Salmon Moon".

This year, for the first time in over a decade, the Many Salmon Moon has returned to our land in all its glory.

From Oct. 2 through Oct. 24, as many as half a million visitors to British Columbia's Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park will witness one of the true wonders of the world - the Adam's River sockeye salmon run.

Since before the pyramids were built in Egypt, most likely shortly after the retreat of the last ice age, the Secwepemc people have been intimately and spiritually tied to these breathtaking events that repeat themselves in British Columbia's spectacular rivers every four years. Words and images describing the salmons' conquest of some of the world's mightiest rivers, in order to return to the exact place of their birth to mate, and then die, became well known symbols of fertility and perseverance. 

Then, sometime in the '90s, things in the oceans began to go seriously awry. The Atlantic codfish, staple of Newfoundland and economic engine of the Maritimes, began to dwindle and finally falter to the point where the cod fishery is now almost insignificant. Over these same years, a similar plight was befalling the salmon in the Pacific Ocean. A nightmare scenario for Canada's fisheries. The last big sockeye run, in 2006, was a shadow of its usual self. Not much better was expected for this year. However things have turned around. This year, well over 25 million salmon found their way back to the mouths of the Fraser River and as many as eight million salmon are expected in Adam's River this year.

We have been granted at least one more "Many Salmon Moon".

One could probably never overstate the importance of the salmon in Secwepemc culture. It might best be described by this short piece found in the Aug. 2010 edition of the Secwepemc News:

Submitted by By Hayley Bowe-Dennis

For a brief period every four years on
every major river, the sockeye make their
distribution cycle guided by Creator’s law.
They struggle, fight all the way for life and
love. They don’t just come for us, but for
bears, wolves, every walk of life without
salmon our life would be over.
When our rivers were our highways
trade was unequalled anywhere in the world
than here because of the salmon. People
gathered from everywhere for salmon.
We have survived up to this day because
of the salmon. Creator saw fit to take pity
on the humans and found a way to share
food and wealth amongst everyone equally.
The people gathered to catch, cut, dry, and
smoke salmon, for winter supply, trade,
barter, salmon oil, eggs. Salmon gave our
people health, wealth and happiness.
The Creator saw fit to distribute salmon
equally amongst all people on every major
river every four years, making cause for
travel to the river to trade, barter and/or
meet people. There was more than enough
for everyone so people would not fight, but
talk about the most important things like
love and life.
We can learn from the Creator’s Laws.
They are written on the land and in the water
and all life forms, these are our guides
for living. At this time we thank the Salmon
for sharing their life so we can live. Living
and loving in Secwepmculucw.

As far as knowledge has progressed, there is still much to learn just by observing the world around us. And, if our country has become, in some small way, "a blessing to the world", as (among others) Donald Sutherland has said, I think it can also be said that the "Many Salmon Moon" and the sharing culture that is the "Spirit of the Shuswap" is a blessing for all Canadians.

Adam's River is reached via the Trans Canada Highway. turn off about 40 km west of Salmon Arm or 60 km east of Kamloops.

For more information, please see the Adam's River Salmon Society or Salute the Sockeye.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rare Earth Metals - Strategic Discovery is a Wake Up Call

The incident last week where China threatened to, and perhaps did, cut off exports of rare earth metals to Japan has implications far beyond the obvious. The implications are fairly obvious too.

This is a story about the world's new stand-alone superpower flexing its muscle. China flexing hard in response to a relative triviality. And doing so with impunity.

The "Discovery" of Rare Earth Metals

For many, the discovery here is, "gee whiz, what a great opportunity rare earth metals look like - where can I get some?"

The vast forest of this issue, beyond the few trees in front of our eyes, is the action taken by China. Their willingness to wield a strategic commodity monopoly as a hammer in a relatively minor situation is a revelation.

It shows what a disadvantage western countries put themselves in, when our business decisions are based almost entirely on the amount of short-term cash generated for the individuals controlling the decisions. Whereas China makes business decisions based almost entirely on what what gives it the greatest long-term strategic advantage.

Over the past few years, we have watched control of aluminum, nickel and other strategic commodities fall out of Canadians' hands. For what?? So a couple of directors and a handful of shareholders could cash in their chips? It is beyond me how anyone could possibly decide that the sale of Inco or Alcan was of net benefit to Canada, which is supposed to be the determining factor in foreign investment review. In any rational analysis, when consumption is expanding exponentially, you would have to be nuts to give up control over a metal resource you already control.

To take that one step farther - you would have to be pretty much brain dead to give up control of a cornerstone resource that you already control in agriculture. We are on the brink of making that mistake now with potash. Canada controls potash. But Saskatchewan-based Potash Corp. is currently the subject of a hostile takeover attempt by Australian multinational BHP group.

Potash was successful yesterday in temporarily blocking the $40 billion offer,

alleging that BHP had provided ''false and misleading statements'' in relation to its $US130-a-share offer and its intentions regarding its potash business. 

Although $130 is more than Potash Corp was trading for at the time of the original BHP offer in August, today's price on the NYSE is $145. In the summer of '08, Potash Corp was trading at over $230.

This scenario still has a long way to play out. Whether or not BHP's offer ever sees the light of day, an offer from China (or elsewhere?) could also be forthcoming. Either way, any purchase would have to pass foreign investment review. Which, if Potash Corp. were in China, would never happen. Will we allow it to happen in Canada?

Potash is not only a key strategic resource. It is also a commodity that is essential for the agricultural industry in Canada, especially in Saskatchewan, the same province that produces the potash. So, it would be a monumental error to allow this resource to be controlled elsewhere, by some foreign power that could conceivably wield it against us at the drop of a hat, as China did with rare earths against Japan last week.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

CFL Lights Fail??? Pros and Cons of CFL Lights

These CFL lights are becoming ubiquitous and will be pretty much everywhere by 2012 when most most incandescent bulbs will be banned in the U.S. and Canada.  Yeah. And, even though Europe is banning the incandescent bulbs as of just a couple of days ago, it's beginning to look like we may be jumping the gun on this.

Good news first. Manufacturers have overcome some of the major issues that consumers had with earlier versions of the energy saving bulbs. Typically, these issues were mostly cosmetic in nature.

Among the bigger problems: people did not like the "light" that the bulbs created... and they weren't readily available for purposes such as outdoor porch lights and they couldn't be used in dimmer switches. These problems have been tackled gamely and the "workarounds" are now everywhere on hardware store and supermarket shelves.

OK, so here are the "PROS" of the CFL lights:

1. They last much longer (perhaps 3-7 times longer) than incandescent under perfect conditions
2. They consume less (by some 80%) electricity than incandescent, also under perfect conditions

If there are any other "PROS" I am not aware of them.

OK, so here are the "CONS"

1. Lights switched on only for a few minutes may be even less efficient than incandescent
2. People have reported headaches from sitting "too near" lamps equipped with CFL bulbs
3. There have been reports of skin irritation resulting in itching, rashes and worse, likely caused by electromagnetic radiation emitted by CFL bulbs
4. CFL bulbs take substantially more energy to manufacture - as much as 10-20 times more
5. Cool-burning CFL bulbs produce minimal heat - therefore homeowners (especially in cooler climates) need to increase their residential heating to make up for the heat that would have been produced by incandescent bulbs
6. Workers in the factories where these bulbs are produced in China are suffering from insane levels of mercury poisoning
7. CFL bulbs contain toxic mercury fumes that escape when the bulbs break (recommendations: "open the windows for 15 minutes and keep children away"; "Clean Up Mercury Spill With 'Nanoselenium' Cloth" *LOL*)
8. Need it be added, these bulbs break A LOT - adding also to their cost and manufacturing cost
9. Use in ceiling fans can cause the bulbs to fail due to the vibration
10. CFL bulbs are extremely expensive - compounded by their frequent breaking and failing
11. Long term dangers of prolonged exposure to the cancer-causing short-wave UV light that escapes from the flourescent bulbs
12. The need to equip a hazardous waste disposal infrastructure to safely dispose of these bulbs containing mercury and other toxins
13. Since residential lighting represents only +/- .8% of power consumption in Canada, our spending on CFL lighting would probably be more effective elsewhere, such as on heat-pump residential water heating, which has a lot more potential to bear fruit or, obviously, geothermal heating
14. Most of the electricity used to manufacture CFLs in China comes from high-polluting, coal-fired generators
15. And some people still don't like the light!

Several of the points above came from an article on Greenmuze called the Dark Side of CFLs.

That latter article has interesting comments, some of which support these points, and some which try to deny them.

Apparently, New Zealand has reversed its ban, presumably for many of the above reasons. Although I couldn't readily find a concise link, there are mentions of it here and there. Also, there are reports that GE is coming out soon with a much more efficient incandescent bulb. Not to mention, that super-cheap, super-efficient LED lighting has been rumoured to be just around the corner. No time to go into that in detail here.

In conclusion, there seems to be enough "CONS" as to raise reasonable doubt whether an all-out ban on incandescent lighting is a smart move at this time. In fact, it doesn't make much sense at all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Decide the Potash Question

Here's a cool little intuitive exercise I came up with - good for making tough decisions easy:

All it is, is we take a short list of recent news headlines, write them one after the other, and then derive the obvious conclusion. OK here goes...

* NFU Warns New Trade Agreement with EU Could Crush Canadian Farmers
* Commodity speculators push cocoa to 33-year high 
* Hedge funds accused of gambling with lives of the poorest as food prices soar
* UN warned of major new food crisis at emergency meeting in Rome
* 500 Citizens blockade prison farm cattle trucks
* One quarter of US grain crops fed to cars - not people, new figures show
* UN to hold crisis talks on food prices as riots hit Mozambique
* Feeding the corporate coffers: why hybrid rice continues to fail Asia’s small farmers
* World Bank report decries global land grab while encouraging it


***added later... a most telling factoid regarding apparent threats from China to cut off rare earth supplies to Japan over a territorial waters/islands dispute. Scary ...the joys of overconglomeration

Friday, September 24, 2010

Can the B.C. Liberals Please Change Their Name?

The unpopularity of the B.C. Liberals is over the top. Many are saying the party could be toast and Premier Gordon Campbell's popularity is at an epic low.

In fact, the provincial Liberals in Ontario, N.B. and Quebec are none too popular either, but at least these Liberals do have some sort of "liberal" aspect to their philosophies, unlike B.C.'s Campbell Liberals. The N.B Liberal government may get its pink slip soon, with the election coming up there in a couple of days. The "crime" of the N.B Liberals, the attempted sale of N.B Power to Hydro Quebec. Quebec's Liberals are mired in corruption charges and Ontario's and B.C.'s are suffering from HST hangovers. The difference between them that B.C.'s Libs promised NOT to implement the HST.

So, the B.C. Liberals are taking unpopularity to a new level - and recall campaigns against Liberals are getting serious attention.

The trouble with these Liberals is that they are less "liberal" than Stephen Harper in many ways. Not such a big deal. They really should have another name but who cares? There's more to it than that.

Not many British Columbians are going to confuse their provincial Liberals with Iggy's federal Liberals. Unfortunately, a good number of Canadians from other provinces aren't really up to speed on the nuances of B.C. politics. As a result, the B.C. Libs' unpopularity is definitely rubbing off on Iggy in certain circles in the ROC. I have seen people on message boards cursing Iggy and Campbell's Liberals in the same paragraph, sentence or discussion, as if they were some kind of political cousins. It may not be significant - but it is unfair.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Opening Day is Coming, Are You Ready?" "Drop Ducks Like Rain"

The heading above was spotted today on a banner ad from Black Cloud Ammo on the Ducks Unlimited (.org) website.

I appreciate that DU does some good work. But I really have to wonder if "Drop Ducks Like Rain" is an appropriate slogan to have appear on a supposed "conservation" organization's website.

An appropriate topic, after yesterday's House of Commons vote lost by the Conservatives, who wanted to abolish the long gun registry. I wouldn't want to read too much into an advertising slogan but I don't think it is a huge stretch to consider that "Drop Ducks Like Rain" tells us something about the mindset of the people who are perhaps most fanatical about abolishing the registry in Canada.

Is it just me or does DU have the feeling of a political organization rather than a conservation organization?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The tar sands only produces 4 er... 5 er... 6% of Canada's total GHG (for now!)

Shell's New Jackpine Mine Adds 100,000 bbl per day capacity

You've seen and heard the feverishly cut and pasted line before... Canada only produces 2% of the world's GHG emissions and the tar sands only 5% of Canada's total...

This is also the platitude that Alberta spends millions advertising and spreading around the world, and what its PR folks tell people like Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and visiting U.S. senators.

Not to suggest that this situation would be acceptable if it were true however... this specific point demands further scrutiny here and now.

For starters, the figures being tossed around by tar sands apologists are probably from  2006, 2007 or 2008 at the latest. Since the tar sands are in a state of expansion, it could probably be presumed that the 5% is already more like 6 or 7%, although economic events since 2008 may have had a slight dampering effect on production increases..

As of this week, with Shell's new Jackpine Mine coming onstream, you can add another 100,000 barrels a day of capacity, so that daily-quoted 5% figure is now looking even rougher around the edges. And don't forget, the tar sands are expected to account for approximately 12% of Canada's GHG by 2020.

Not to mention that this figure only represents the GHGs produced in extracting and upgrading the bitumen. It doesn't count the final combustion by the consumer, wherever they may live. Nor does it include the rarely-mentioned discharges that will need to be incurred in most or all carbon capture and sequestration schemes that have been envisioned.

In case anyone's wondering, I do not advocate shut down of the tar sands. I advocate a net zero-GHG tar sands extraction and upgrading process. Getting there should be fun, interesting and profitable, and should provide Canada and Alberta with a wealth of proprietary technologies.

Low Tide on Grand Pré

Low Tide on Grand Pré had been called “the most nearly perfect single poem to come out of Canada” (by 20th century critic Desmond Pacey). It has been speculated that the poem refers to the death of a loved one, an illicit and clandestine romance or even the death of the author's mother. My own sense of it is that the poem is about karma or about things finishing how they should.

THE sun goes down, and over all
These barren reaches by the tide
Such unelusive glories fall,
I almost dream they yet will bide
Until the coming of the tide.
And yet I know that not for us,
By any ecstasy of dream,
He lingers to keep luminous
A little while the grievous stream,
Which frets, uncomforted of dream--
A grievous stream, that to and fro
Athrough the fields of Acadie
Goes wandering, as if to know
Why one beloved face should be
So long from home and Acadie.
Was it a year or lives ago
We took the grasses in our hands,
And caught the summer flying low
Over the waving meadow lands,
And held it there between our hands?
And while the river at our feet--
A drowsy inland meadow stream--
At set of sun the after-heat
Made running-gold, and in the gleam
We freed our birch upon the stream.
There down along the elms at dusk
We lifted dripping blade to drift,
Through twilight scented fine like musk,
Where night and gloom awhile uplift,
Nor sunder soul and soul adrift.
And that we took into our hands
Spirit of life or subtler thing--
Breathed on us there, and loosed the bands
Of death, and taught us, whispering,
The secret of some wonder-thing.
Then all your face grew light, and seemed
To hold the shadow of the sun;
The evening faltered, and I deemed
That time was ripe, and years had done
Their wheeling underneath the sun.
So all desire and all regret,
And fear and memory, were naught;
One to remember or forget
The keen delight our hands had caught;
Morrow and yesterday were naught.
The night has fallen, and the tide . . .
Now and again comes drifting home,
Across these aching barrens wide,
A sigh like driven wind or foam:
In grief the flood is bursting home.
Bliss Carman, 1886

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Threatened Wetlands of the World: Tonle Sap Lake, River and Wetlands of Cambodia

The Tonle Sap wetlands are one of the world's true and little known treasures. This Cambodian lake grows several times its normal size during the rainy season, when water from the Mekong River, which Tonle Sap normally drains into, backs up and floods the entire basin.

In recent times, hover, the Tonle Sap has been threatened by drainage projects, intensive agriculture, damming on the Mekong and other rivers, drought and other problems.

The Tonle Sap wetlands and lake is both a UN Biosphere Reserve, and also a Ramsar Protected Wetland. Even in the dry season, Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. It is a last refuge for a dozen or more globally  threatened species. It is also a repository for numerous cultural treasures, including floating villages and villages built on stilts and provides fisheries and agricultural production to feed millions of people.

Even though few in North America have ever heard of Tonle Sap, it is easy to appreciate how critical the health of this wetland and water system is to the people of Cambodia, Southeast Asia and the entire world. As a part of her "Wetlands of the World" collection, Co2 Art partner Tatiana Iliina has created an abstract painting to recognize the beauty and importance of Tonle Sap.

Hopefully, her work will also serve to spread the word about this and other wetlands of the world.

Other wetlands that Tatiana has painted in the past have included the Vembenad Wetlands in India, Chesapeake Bay, in the U.S., the Tantromar Marshes in New Brunswick, Uste Luga in Russia and several others.

  Although all the other wetlands paintings have all been sold, Tatiana intends to build up enough wetland paintings for an exhibition that could be available to be shown in various venues. For now, Tonle Sap is available for purchase.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Arctic Indian Summer: Sea Ice Melt Restarts

A week after the annual sea ice minimum extent defined by the National Snow and Ice Data Center was attained, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic dropped even lower yesterday.

The NSIDC definition includes the portion of ocean covered by 15% or more sea ice. Based on the minimum reached September 10, this year's ice cover in the Arctic was already the third smallest in recorded history.

I'm wondering if it is possible that the extended period of unusually extreme 30C+ temperatures in Russia and across much of Siberia would have an impact on the Arctic ice or weather this fall. Looks like this could be a possibility.

Effect of Warm Rivers in Russia?

There are many major rivers flowing from Russia into the Arctic. These include the Northern Dvina, Pechora, Ob, Lena, Kolyma and dozens of other rivers. Given the extended hot spell through most of August in Russia, to me it would be reasonable that the water flowing into the Arctic would be significantly warmer this year.

Given the early we spring we had this year in Canada, and also a pretty warm summer, it would be reasonable to assume that our north-flowing rivers are also much warmer than usual.

I've got no idea what the effect of all these warm rivers flowing north will be. Maybe it's insignificant in proportion to the amount of water in the Arctic Ocean. But, let's just see how long this Arctic Indian summer lasts. The four years with the least Arctic ice extent in recorded history are this year and the previous three years.

Turning Japanese Instant Climate Change Solution: Japan Energy Efficiency Double U.S.

The World Energy Congress recently concluded in Montreal might have been a sleepwalk for the people deciding how to spin information to the public. (i.e. the last and second last press releases they issued contained identical text under a different heading - and the error has been in place for over a day with apparently no one noticing)

That doesn't take away from the fact there was extensive information exchanged during the congress. One example: in a presentation entitled Global Energy Mix in 2030: Cost-effective Solutions to the Global Energy Challenges, by Peter Leupp, head of ABB Power Systems division, one revealing slide alone

 offers a near-complete solution to the planet's energy and climate change woes.  That is, as the chart below shows, Japan uses half the energy as the U.S. to produce an equivalent amount of GDP. Clear evidence that fossil fuel consumption can be drastically reduced, even in an advanced economy scenario.

This may not be news, per se, but it is a bit of information that could be glossed over. And there is no getting around the basic fact of it. It deserves to be put out there for a little more attention. Here we are spending trillions to re-engineer civilization's infrastructure, when all we really need to do is change some habits. Yes, it could be said that Japan has smaller distances to transport goods and fewer temperature extremes than the U.S. or Canada. The fact remains, we could hurdle huge expanses of energy efficiency simply by behaving a little more Japanese. Following is the slide and text that went with it...

A closer look at Japan can give us some clues as to how the barriers can be overcome. Japan and US are the two largest mature economies, yet the US uses twice as much primary energy to generate the same output.

The reasons include:
Japan has maintained its commitment to energy efficiency since the first oil shock in the 1970s
Eg, Japan’s steel industry has invested ca. $45 billion in developing energy-saving technologies between 1972 and 2006. JFE Steel, Japan’s second-largest steel producer, estimates that global adoption of the energy efficiency measures it uses in steel production would cut global steel industry emissions by 300 million tons per year.
Mandatory targets
Japan’s energy-intensive industrial facilities are required to reduce their energy intensity by 1% per year
Japanese government subsidizes purchases of energy-efficient home appliances, homes and vehicles.
Japan’s “Top Runner” program sets efficiency standards for products sold in Japan. The most efficient product on the market becomes the new benchmark and others have to get within a certain margin of energy consumption within a fixed time. Involvement of those subject to regulation in setting the targets is key to success.
Price of energy
Eg, electricity consumption for Japanese households is ca. 2x more expensive than in the US, while electricity consumption per $1 of GDP is half the US level
Storage of electricity
Most of world installed base of sodium sulfur batteries is in Japan. They are used to store off-peak power to help meet peak demand.
Peer pressure
Strong moral incentive to achieve maximum efficiency. Saving resources deeply rooted in national conscience.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Deformed Fish Highlight Calls for Study of Oil Sands Impact on Athabasca River, Lake

A broad-based group of scientists, residents, first nations leaders, doctors and area politicians sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday insisting that the federal government commission an independent study on the impact of decades of growing oil sands industry on the Athabasca River and its watershed.

Perhaps unnoticed by many, this latest call by a united front of groups comes just a day after the conclusion of the World Energy Congress in Montreal, and two days prior to the beginning of the World Water Congress, also being held in Montreal.

It's hard to imagine any more appropriate timing to call for more rigorous environmental practices in the oil sands. Although, I wonder if the significance of these three events that are so closely related has been lost on many, if not most players, who are no doubt highly focused on their particular specialties.

 Further news on these events in the near future.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Flow Slow" On-River Conference Sept. 18 on Delaware River in Upstate N.Y.

A "On-River Conference" nicknamed Flow Slow, to be held this weekend in Upstate New York, will be a "celebration of pure water" involving artists of many disciplines, and will also seek to educate people in the consequences of hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling that has been proposed for the area.

The Flow Slow conference events will kick off at 9 a.m. on Saturday the 18th, with a continental breakfast put on by Callicoon Fine Arts in the town of Callicoon. It will continue with lunch, art, music and other events and meals in different locations on the Delaware River and in other towns. This sounds like a phenomenal concept - I hope they pull it off smoothly!

 The conference will feature art, music and conversations taking place both onshore and on a diverse flotilla of canoes, kayaks, rafts and other watercraft which will travel throughout the day down a portion of the threatened Delaware River. Along the route the conference will pass through Damascus and Milanville PA and other towns, and finish up in Narrowsville, N.Y.

All events are free and also include public events and activities in the communities enroute. See the linked info for full details.

The event is being produced in association with SkyDog Projects, ISSUE Project Room, Mildred's Lane, Callicoon Fine Arts, Electronic Music Foundation, Ant Hill Farm, and The Queens Museum. Among the participants expected are: musicians Bruce Tovsky, Suzanne Thorpe and Carrie Dashow; visual artist creating site specific installations, Heather Dewey Hagbourg; and water based artworks by Natalie Jerimijenko, Uke Jackson, Kevin Vertrees and others.

The Delaware River,  the watershed for 17 million Americans, was recently named the most endangered river in the U.S.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wind Lens Developed in Japan Could Increase Energy Production By 2-3 Times

Floating wind farms like this one spotted on the CNN Go Asia site, unveiled earlier this year at the Yokohama Renewable Energy International Exhibition in Yokohama, Japan could as much as triple the electricity produced by offshore wind turbines. These 112-ft-wide turbines work by focusing the wind energy to a central point.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

University of New Mexico Offers Degree Program in Art & Ecology

For the second year now the University of New Mexico will be offering a degree program in Art & Ecology. The program is offered in the Department of Art and Art History at the university, which is located in Alberquerque.

The university considers the program a signature discipline and says it can prepare students for careers as fine artists, educators, public artists, land use interpreters or activists.

The UNM site says the program builds "from the successful D.H. Lawrence Summer Arts Projects, Southwest Geographic Arts and Land Arts of the American West courses",  and "provides a full curriculum based on the environments and communities of the southwest. Courses are designed to further students' understanding of representation, land use, ecology, and classic Land Art in the Southwest."

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Alternative Energy Source Unveiled at World Energy Congress in Montreal

Welcome to the Power of Art. Worldwide media and thousands of congress goers were energized yesterday by a new alternative energy that, in some ways, at least, seems to make a lot more sense than much of what the conventioneers have gathered in Montreal to yak about.

What happened was that energy, in the form of international headlines, was generated yesterday by an innovative "few cell", that is, a few demonstrators choreographed by a Montreal artist. The dozen or so participants performed a "Black Tide Beach Party" around the fountain at Place Jean-Paul Riopelle, near the Palais des Congress, setting the tone for several hundred demonstrators present.

Broken down to its naked essence, the energy crisis we find ourselves in could be described as a quest to accelerate the demise of the planet.

We race to devise more ways of burning more carbon so we can put more cars on the road in more countries so that more people can drive to whatever jobs and buy and burn more and dirtier oil.

Rather than jump into this insane race to hell on Earth, one Montreal artist, Colin St-Cyr Duhamel, succeeded in putting on a remarkable demonstration of a little-used, though well-proven, energy source, the power of art.

Whereas industry the world over has expended millions of tons of fossil fuels in the efforts to influence opinions and buying habits of consumers, St-Cyr Duhamel managed to consume just a small quantity of carbon-based fuel in the form of crude molasses.

The image at left is a self-portrait by St-Cyr Duhamel from 2006, entitled "Emporte, sans savoir quoi", showing the artist in a fantastically revealing Avatar-esque setting.

I haven't been in touch with the artist or anything but certainly hope he continues to pursue his vision faithfully, with the same clarity.

The power of art is something I have written about in the past on this and other blogs. I believe this to be one of the most viable untapped power sources available to human civilization. Something which has unlimited potential that has had so little attention can only be a huge opportunity

Sunday, September 12, 2010

W-T-F(rack) Is Up With the Gas Company?

If the gas industry after 50+ years of practice can't distribute gas without blowing up houses and leaving a trail of corpses behind it, I don't think I want them fracking with the bedrock under the St. Lawerence River, thanks anyways.  

'Round these parts, a call to 9-1-1 mentioning a smell of natural gas will probably reward you with a battalion of fire trucks rolling down your street.

Not so, apparently, in San Bruno, CA, where a huge explosion and fires Thursday evening leveled  40 some-odd homes and rendered more than 300 at least temporarily unlivable. Four people were killed and scores injured.

This, despite the fact that numerous complaints of natural gas odors were received in the preceding days. It is not yet clear why the gas company, PG&E, failed to take action that would have prevented the disaster.

According to an industry rating system, There are at least 100 sections of pipeline across the U.S. that have received the same high risk assessment as this line had. Current efforts to identify a specific reason for the explosion have come up empty, Most likely a lengthy investigation is in the cards.

Recently, other natural gas explosions have occurred in LA, Texas (multiple), Edmonton, Chamberlin, Ont., Vankleek Hill, ON, Toronto, (Bloor Street - Enbridge Gas - 7 fatalities), Pennsylvania (2 fatalities), West Virginia... and innumerable other locations.

In the overview, one has to wonder what is going on with this industry. It seems as if the natural gas industry at large is unable to manage its most basic operations safely. The West Virginia incident above is notable as it occurred in the course of a "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing) operation.

The highly controversial fracking technique of accessing trapped natural gas reserves was developed by Haliburton and involves shooting pressurized mixtures of sand, water and chemicals down deep wells to break up rock structures.

Fracking is presently in use in parts of B.C., Alta, Sask. and N.B., is being proposed to open up huge natural gas reserves in Quebec and is raising serious questions.

Now the San Clara explosion, which so vividly exposes the industry's apparent incompetence in managing its supposedly tried and true fundamentals, is provoking intensified scrutiny not only of gas distribution in general but also of the fracking technique in particular.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Simple List of Green Gardening and Landscaping Techniques Includes a Manual Lawnmower

I've been puttering around this subject on the drawing board since the spring and have never quite gotten it down to a neat, clean post. Finally it seems like the best idea might be to just throw some sustainable practices out there and then I'll add to them via comments or later posts.

There are numerous guides and top tens out there. Several of them, I found, didn't really take the bull by the horns. Many of these lists are designed to sell various products, etc. Still, they are definitely worth looking at.

One is the Top 10 Sustainable Garden Methods someone put together on Squidoo. Some of these guides are quick and practical. Others are quite general and theoretical, such as the extensive site, Sustainable Landscaping, by Dr. Marietta Loehrlein, Professor of Horticulture, Western Illinois University. Dr. Loehrlein was spending an hour a week on her riding mower when she started the project!

Anyway, as much as I check these lists and "tips", I keep seeing that most of them don't even mention the concept of using a manual lawnmower, so it's hard to take them seriously. Better to start another list!

Co2 Art's Best Practices and Solutions for Sustainable Landscaping and Green Gardening

1. Leave or return your landscape as wild as possible
2. Reduce areas of lawn
3. Use manual lawnmower
4. Use manual trimmers, etc.
5. If hiring landscaping contractors, insist on green practices
6. Conserve water by using rainwater, redirecting run-off
7. Compost
8. Use Native Plants
9. Mulch
10. Exploit shade and windbreak benefits when planting trees
11.Recycle and use sustainable materials

Additions to the original list:

12. Snow shovelling - manually!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Own the Agenda - Don't Be Owned

Maybe it's time to back off acknowledging FN North with such gusto...

Today I checked out the Prog Blog FB site for the first time.

Right at the top, there is a post by Ira Everett that addresses a concern that I've been thinking about myself recently, especially with respect to Faux News North. It also refers back to an article on Huffington Post by Randy Shaw, entitled, "Progressive Media Bolstering Republican/Fox News Agenda".

The whole crux of the argument is that by responding en masse to every ridiculous item that appears on FN, the progressive media is, to a large degree, achieving the opposite of what it hopes for.

I believe there is a lot to this. There is only a limited amount of space on the information playing field.

By endlessly commenting on the issues that are thrown out there from extremist agenda planners, progressive media are falling into the trap of legitimizing these issues. Not only that, they are lending credence to the commentators who are driving these bogus narratives.

Sounds like good advice would be to lay off commenting or even acknowledging FN North. We do not need to make these sold-out empty mouthpieces household names.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Canadian Universities Plummet in World Rankings - Are Conservative Policies Coming Home to Roost?

The Canadian news stories about the QS World University Rankings that came out today were mostly concerned with the top Canadian university, McGill, and a very brief overview of the ratings and results.

A slightly deeper look reveals some pretty disturbing trends. Yes, perennial high performer McGill had dropped, but only one spot, to 19th. U of T tread water at 29th. The worst of it was the fate of the other Canadian schools:

UBC: down 4 to 44th
U of A: down 19 spots to 79th
Queens: down 24 to 132nd
U de M: down 29 to 136th
Waterloo: down 32 to 145th
McMaster: down 19 to 162nd
Western: down 13 to 164th
U of C: down down 16 to 165th

and Simon Fraser was knocked out of the top 200 altogether

Is it too much of a coincidence to swallow that not one single Canadian university managed to raise its ranking?

We are left to wonder and surmise, what might be the reasons for these poor showings.

A few fairly reasonable possible explanations:

1. Changes in methodology for some reason affecting Canadian rankings (although the accompanying write-up claims methodology to be relatively unchanged)
2. Rapid ascent of Chinese and other developing world schools newer to rankings
3. Heavy lobbying by European and other non-English language schools to be given more consideration, (U.S. and U.K. schools still hold 50 of the top 100 spots)

and suddenly another possibility occurred to me:

4. Meddling of the Harper government in research. Some examples of this, in the words of Canadian scientists: "The Harper government's suppression and misrepresentation of research does a great disservice to Canadians in terms of our personal health and safety."


"Scientists of all disciplines have been faced with examples where the government has chosen ideology over scientific process. Science is meant to inform policy; it should not be muzzled by ideology," says Dr. Andrew Weaver, Professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.

The whole census debate dovetails right into this discussion, as does the Harper government's continuing cuts in many areas of research.

If that doesn't convince you, go ahead and google * Harper research interference *... there is plenty of it.

Enough to poison the air in our universities in a matter of a few years? Let's hope not. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Please Pass the Franken-Spuds - BASF Growing Illegal Potatoes in Sweden

The European Commission has issued a summons to German chemical giant BASF for growing unapproved, genetically modified potatoes in the open field in Sweden.

According to an article in The Local, an English language Swedish news site, the flowers of the illegal variety, "Amadea" were found and have now been removed.

"The wrong potato was sent to Sweden," the spokesperson said, triggering the summons to "explain" why "flowers" of Amadea, a GM crop currently being prepared by BASF, but which is not yet authorised, were found in the field.

Official are also gathering information about the variety "Amflora", which is approved, but only for uses such as glue or paper making, not human consumption.

This case echoes the similar situations in which illegal, unauthorized GM corn from Monsanto has been reported growing in Ireland, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.