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Energy Development & Society

14 Sep

Energy Development has shaped society. The notion that energy development shapes society can easily be attested to growing up in a place like Alberta. Even as I write this for my Global Energy Development and Society class, I can’t help but think to the buildings around my campus. The Petro-Canada building houses the Nexen Theater, and subsequently, the very room in which I attend my weekly classes after work. It’s no surprise to find that my school, NAIT, is a polytechnic institution which receives heavy funding from the oil and gas industry.

Evidence of the industry’s affect on the city is easy to see if you know what to look for. Refineries and upgraders populate the eastern edges of the city and up into the industrial heartland, mobile crane booms soar up over the flat stretches of land between the city and the international airport, assembling industrial ‘mod’s’ that piece together like Lego when they arrive on site at their destination. Even beyond the oil sands of Alberta, Edmonton serves as the gateway to the north, with bustling airports and logistics’ companies sending people and equipment up to the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon. These three territories alone make up 39% of the total area of Canada, a land mass larger than that of India (Natural Resources Canada, 2005). Yet despite its small population, the region houses a resource rich environment, from oil and iron to gold and diamonds, it’s an industry that dominates the workforce of the local population.

When posed with the question; ‘should society shape energy development?’, instead of energy development shaping society, it seems like the clear answer should be yes. Our society should have energy development that not only compliments and provides for the needs of people, but ideally does so as cleanly and efficiently as possible. This can be deemed as minor adaptations and improvements to existing technologies, or fundamental shifts in the way we currently harness energy.

Fundamental shifts cause problems in that if they are not universally accepted by all parties involved; the balance of the movement is lost, providing unfair advantages and opportunities for some, and detrimental setbacks for others. This can best be identified with the Kyoto Protocol, which has essentially failed since its inception in 1997, leaving many nations and environmental groups looking towards post-Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol was revolutionary at the time of its inception, you had a series of industrialized nations agreeing to reduce emissions and set environmental standards. It seemed as though this initiative would change the way the global community looked at development and the environment. However the treaty itself was never actually globally accepted and “mandates were not imposed on developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa” (Austen, 2011). As a result, nations like the United States would not ratify the treaty, as they foresaw unfair economic restrictions on their economy compared to other heavy polluting nations such as China, which disregarded the treaty for similar reasons.

Since those initial talks in 1997, China has since overcome the United States as the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, and now produces more carbon dioxide than the United States and India combined (U.S Department of Energy, 2012). Canada too, since initially supporting the protocol has since left the treaty this past December (Austen, 2011).

The complications of energy development and our society are reflected across all levels of economic development.  These same issues resonate in the economies of national scale as well. Strict environmental restrictions may be supported by the majority of Canadians, but would surely face pushback from provinces such as Alberta in which “energy development is the key driver of the economy” (Government of Alberta, 2009). So crucial to the Alberta economy is oil and gas, that a University of Calgary study suggested that the size of the economy “without the impact of oil and gas, would be less than half its current size” (Government of Alberta, 2009). Suddenly I reflect to my current employment, the facilities I use at NAIT, and where Alberta would be without the resources everyone seems to love to hate, but would find difficult to live without.

Even if we know the answer to whether society should shape energy development, is it actually possible; ‘can society shape energy development?’.  A recent report by Shell Canada indicated that after Alberta enacted stricter air and water pollution limits this year, their projected expansion plans including the Jackpine mine,  would infact “exceed some of those limits” (The Globe and Mail, 2012). It’s clear that the Alberta government is trying to shape the way energy is developed in the province, but the effectiveness, and the implications have yet to be seen. Simon Dyer, policy director at the Pembina Institute has indicated that regulators “will need to start turning down projects to stay under the limits” (The Globe and Mail, 2012). Where will that leave Albertans, and Canadians as a whole? This is a country which relies on the resource industry for “20 percent of the economy” (The Canadian Press, 2012).  What sacrifices will have to be made? Will the rest of the global community be willing to make the same sacrifices? What is the timeline for such changes in energy development? These are all questions which we must ask.

Finding the balance between our energy needs and our society is a difficult task, but nonetheless I believe that real change is possible. While we may have developed a society reliant on certain types of energy, it is possible to diversify. I believe that change must occur, but at an acceptable pace so as not to devastate the livelihoods of so many. Finally, I believe that real change in energy development will come from those same economies, companies, and organizations that are already involved in the current energy field. For just as Alberta hosts an energy based economy; it is also a place of ingenuity and innovation. Next to those refineries is the largest and one of the most advanced waste handling facilities in North America, which boasts a one of a kind “waste to biofuels facility” (Farquharson, 2011). A preserved river valley boasts the largest urban parkland on the continent, and institutions such as NAIT and the University of Alberta are leaders in energy technological advancement.  Logical, and efficient solutions are already being brought to the table, and this is an indication that society is choosing to shape energy development.

References

Natural Resources Canada. (2005, February 1). Land and freshwater area, by province and territory. In Statistics Canada. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/phys01-eng.htm

Farquharson, V. (2011, November 12). Why Toronto should be more like Edmonton. In National Post. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/12/why-toronto-should-be-more-like-edmonton/

Government of Alberta. (2009, September). Energy Economics. In Energy Alberta. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.energy.alberta.ca/Org/pdfs/Energy_Economic.pdf

The Globe and Mail. (2012, September 11). Shell warns about Alberta’s emission rules. In Industry News. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/shell-warns-about-albertas-emission-rules/article4537725/

The Canadian Press. (2012, September 4). Natural Resources Drive 20 percent of Economy. In CBC News. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/09/04/pol-cp-natural-resources-economy.html

U.S Department of Energy. (2012). World carbon dioxide emissions by region. In U.S Energy

              Information Administration. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from

              http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/tablebrowser/#release=IEO2011&subject=0-IEO2011&table=10-

              IEO2011®ion=0-0&cases=Reference-0504a_1630

Austen, I. (2011, December 12). Canada Announces Exit from Kyoto Climate Treaty. In The New York Times. Retrieved September 12, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/science/earth/canada-leaving-kyoto-protocol-on-climate-change.html

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Anonymous: Twisting Reality

12 Feb

Fact or fiction, people love to let their minds wander in the possibility of an alternate twist to mainstream acceptance. This was the driving concept behind ‘The Davinci code’ books and films, and carries on through in the film ‘Anonymous’.

With convincing performances and a lesser known cast, which many times allows the audience to focus more on the story and less on the actor; the story of the Shakespeare we never actually knew takes an interesting twist. While the movie may irritate some lit fans, it is a well put together political thriller that may invoke some questions in your mind. Did history happen the way we were told? How has politics influenced our society? Maybe the most widely accepted and perceived factual events didnt even happen at all? Allow your mind to escape the accepted, and dwell into the realm of alternate possibilities, watch ‘Anonymous’.

The Hurt Locker: Ethical Decisions and the Lesser of Two Evils

28 Feb

Decisions

Every single day we have to make thousands of decisions. Some are as simple as what time to get out of bed, what to eat for breakfast, or what clothes we are going to wear. However not all decisions are easy, in our personal lives and work lives we sometimes have to make difficult or complicated decisions. This sets the basis for the factors that affect decisions and how we handle them.

What makes a difficult decision? Difficulty is often gauged by the severity of the outcome. We would deme the decision to pick fruit loops or cheerios less difficult to make than say, which school to put our kids in. So what makes your breakfast choice less difficult? Well when you analyze the outcomes of choosing one cereal over the other, the result will be that you’ll be less hungry than when you started, and the worst case scenario being that you would of rather had fruit loops that day. Compare that to choosing which school your kids go to, the outcome becomes much more complicated. For example, it is possible that the school which your children attend will have no effect on their future. But there is also the possibility that the choice of school will greatly alter their lives. With no means to tell for sure, one can only investigate each outcome as best as possible, and finally make that difficult decision.

This leads us to another couple of factors affecting our decision making process. The more difficult a decision is the more time to make that decision is required. However, as many of us know, this is not always an option. Furthermore stressful situations can be caused either internally by the decision itself, but also externally by the conditions in which we make decisions. Stress can induce an altered state of mind in which every person reacts differently. Often individuals who can make effective decisions under stressful conditions and in short amounts of time are highly regarded.

The Hurt Locker

Perhaps one of the best examples of stressful decision making is in a combat situation. While many business decisions can be stressful, it’s hard to match the outcomes of life and death many soldiers face every day in active duty. The recent film ‘The Hurt Locker’ released in 2008 portrays the particularly stressful life of Sergeant First Class William James, Sergeant JT Sanborn, and Specialist Owen Eldridge, a military bomb squad in Iraq. For the 3 man team portrayed in the film, there are multiple levels of danger associated with their duty. The decision to join the army, being deployed for active duty in Iraq, and being on the bomb squad, and having to constantly deal with IED’s in a combat situation. For it is one thing to diffuse a bomb in a secure location, but more complicated to diffuse a bomb while the streets around you are far from safe. The combination of all the factors surrounding an army bomb squad means that determining the best decision can be substantially more complicated than choosing what to eat for breakfast.

Suicide Bomber: What is more evil?

The film is loaded with difficult scenes, and questionable wartime tactics, from injured insurgents, hostage situations, to bomb laden Iraqi bodies.

One particular scene in the movie deals with a particularly difficult ethical decision. Suicide bombers usually strike without any warning, but in this scene, the troops are faced with a different kind of bomber. The man is strapped with explosives, but he has changed his mind, regretting his decision and begging for help. The scene is reflective of the opening scene of the movie in which one member lost his life due to a bad decision. Troops clear the area, as James, Sanborn, and Eldridge are called to the scene. The amount of explosives on the man forces the troops to isolate him, keeping a safe zone around him. As the man cries for help, James is strapped with the bomb suit and goes to analyze the situation. Sanborn and James attempt to free the man of his explosive vest, but it is tightly secured with a series of locks and metal strapping, and a timer ticking down to detonation. It quickly becomes clear that they will not be able to free the man in time, as Sanborn tries to drag James away. James struggles to the last seconds to try and free the man, but ultimately has to make the difficult decision to leave him. The scene closes with a massive explosion.

Although difficult, it seems a necessary decision to leave the man for the safety of everyone else involved. And for most people that exact decision seems like the only logical choice. Ultimately that decision is one of the biggest ethical questions individuals, soldiers, organizations, or governments have to face, and is more commonly known as the lesser of two evils. It’s that very concept that many people would struggle with, and ultimately, even people who don’t believe in the concept of a lesser of two evils will react in the same manner.

Lesser of Two Evils in Life

Not every variation of the Lesser of Two Evils concept is life and death. The concept only implies that in some strained situations, the benefit of many must occur at the expense of a few. In that view, democracy itself can be thought of in this way, for democracy is the benefit of the majority, at the expense of the minority. Every decision has a compromise, there is always sacrifice. More often than not, these types of decisions are surrounded with time constraints and stress. It is easy to judge a decision from a calm environment with ample time to explore the outcomes, but not easy to make that decision when the time calls for it. This is something we must always remember. As stressful conditions intensify, and time is short, we may not have the opportunity to investigate all possible outcomes, but a diligent attempt is required.

Finding Balance

It is imperative that we strive towards that balance in life. While not all our decisions will be the best ones, we should work towards educating ourselves and exploring the options as best as possible. By doing this we can ensure that we are better equipped to handle situations as they arise. Just as we must not let the restrictions of voluntary blindness to issues around the world affect us, so too can this concept be reflected in a global scale. By limiting exposure and education, prime conditions for unethical decision making can develop. Often so, these bad decisions can even be done without harmful intention, but as the world changes, the ignorance excuse is losing credibility. The regimes of the Soviet Union, East Germany, and more recently North Korea all have worked to blind their citizens of the freedom of knowledge. Without knowledge it is difficult for individuals to make informed decisions, the lines between right and wrong can quickly become blurred.

The importance of establishing a sound knowledge base is the foundation for good ethical values. As DesJardins outlines “acts and choices that aim to promote human well-being are acts and choices based on ethical values” (DesJardins, 2009). While many of us may not face the same conditions that an army bomb squad will, we will however face difficult situations nonetheless. Nobody wants to be faced with making difficult decisions, but it is inevitable in life. As Sergeant Sanborn says riding back in the Humvee after that particular final scene, “you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, its life or death, you roll the dice, and you deal with it” (Bigelow, 2008). We do not have the luxury of choosing which situations we are faced with, but we do have to deal with them. With a strong understanding of our surroundings and values we can enable ourselves to make the difficult decisions to the best of our ability.

-J.Magnan

References

Bigelow, K. (Director). Mackie, A. (Actor). (2008). The Hurt Locker [Motion picture]. Voltage Pictures.

DesJardens, J. (2009). An introduction to business ethics (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.