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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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Uncontacted Tribes: First Video

6 Feb

You may remember the images that appeared a couple years ago of one of the last uncontacted tribes. Deep in the Amazon of Brazil, photos were taken from an airplane of the tribe recently discovered. Their brightly painted bodies amidst the jungle appeared in news sources around the world. Now the first video has been released of that very same tribe. On February 4, 2011, the amazing video was released.

More can be read about them here: http://www.uncontactedtribes.org

Uncontacted or lost tribes are not entirely new. There are different variations of such tribes in remote areas around the globe. Currently, Brazil leads the world with as many as 67 uncontacted tribes according to a 2007 report.

Remote islands in the Andaman Sea host at least 2 tribes known as the Sentinelese. They have apparently violently avoided contact attempts by the Indian government, and have since been left alone. Recent helicopter surveys suggest their population at 250, and they are believed to have lived there for 60000 years.

The last uncontacted aboriginal people in Australia, Mexico, and the United States are believed to have made contact in the 20th century, as late as 1984 in Australia. While such tribes are believed to exist in New Guinea, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, Suriname, Paraguay, Guyana, French Guiana, and Venezuela as well.

It is clear that watching this video, and seeing these images stirs a unique fascination among us. Maybe its the idea that a people can live without ever seeing or witnessing the civilized world for so long. In the heavily developed world, its hard to imagine that this is even possible. Or maybe it’s because we think we have explored everything, we know everything, there is no new discoveries left in the world. Stories like this tempt our minds to question what we know.

Home

7 Oct

I just finished watching a documentary called ‘Home’. It’s a film about our home, not the roof over your head but the planet you live in, earth. I sat in my dark living room learning about our planets extraordinary beginnings, and its progression through its own life. Then came humans, you and I, and as the music and images build tension, you start to lose faith in the role of mankind. The film paints a gloomy picture of the effects of humans on the planet, and it builds up to a climax where you think the film couldn’t get any more depressing. But luckily there is a turning point in this film, as the good things that mankind has done, and can do are outlined, leaving you with a spark of hope in a dreary mind.

Here is some of the good and the bad, according to the film:

Over 50% of the grain traded around the world is used as livestock feed or biofuels.

13 million hectares of forest disappear every year.

100L of water produces 1kg of potatoes, 4000L produces 1kg of rice, 13000L produced 1kg of beef.

Since 1950, fishing catches have increased from 18 million to 100 million metric tonnes per year.

The average global temperature in the last 15 years is the highest on record.

1 in 10 rivers in the world no longer reach their delta’s for months at a time due to heavy irrigation.

95% of soybeans produced in Brazil are used to feed livestock and poultry in Europe and Asia.

3/4 of the varieties of crop developed through mankind’s history have been wiped out.

Antarctica has immense natural resources which no country can use for themselves.

2% of the worlds territorial waters are protected, not much, but thats 2 times more than 10 years ago.

13% of the continents of the world are covered in natural parks.

South Korea restored 65% of its depleted forests through reforestation.

The U.S, China, India, Germany and Spain are the biggest investors in renewable energy.

Although the dialogue and text may be a little rough around the edges, the imagery is stunning, and the message is important and clear. We must change.

Are Schools Destroying Creativity?

6 Nov

Creativity

A friend of mine brought a video to my attention today. This is a video from a past TED conference in 2006 in which Sir Ken Robinson brings forth some compelling ideas and criticism about the worldwide education system on a whole. Now for some background, TED describes itself on its website as a nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading, and they have been putting on conferences around the world since 1984.

In this segment, Sir Ken Robinson, a former professor himself analyzes the education system, and questions the hierarchy of what is valued in our education systems. An interesting quote from Picaso sets the stage of thought; Picaso said “Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up”. Robinson figures that we have “educated people out of their creative cappacities”. In that we have trained our children through out their lives to be afraid of being wrong, and we have formed companies and governments based on this type of thinking. He makes sure to point out that being wrong isnt necessarily creativity, but that we must be prepared to be wrong in order to come up with new ideas.

This is a fascinating analogy, has our society laid out the format for being right and wrong? Have we grown out of our capability for being wrong? I think this is possible, we as human beings are not two the same, we are all different, we have different ideas and ways of thinking. So why is it that we all must follow the same education format, focusing only on the neck up and ultimately rewarding only those who think with just a particular side of their brains? Maybe we are placing too much emphasis on mathematics and science, whilst shunning the arts.

According to Robinsons comments, the education system as we know it has only come into place since the industrial revolution. For that is when we needed to educate people to help run this new world that we as humans were creating. Going along with that theory, one could agree that mass education has only really been happening even in the developed world for the last 30 or 40 years. Many of us still have grandparents growing up in the 20th century with limited education, for a variety of reasons. Most people would also agree that the 20th century saw some of the most profound technological advances in all of human existense, our quality of life changed the most during this century, from cars, airplanes, microwaves, electricity, space flight, and so on. Now in the last 30 years what have we accomplished? We developed the internet, an obvious advancement, but what else, our cars are slightly more efficient, the planes are faster, but have we really developed life altering technology that we saw in the first two thirds of the 20th century? Maybe there is a correlation between our recent widespread education system and the possible slowing down of human advancement. Is Ted right? Have we been educating our generations out of creativity?

I do ponder the idea of a possible education inflation problem, when everyone has a degree, then undergrad studies will be useless, the jobs will goto those kids with masters or PHD’s. But is it all worth it? Do we really need to be going to school for 20 years of our lives? Maybe the education system is training everybody to simply be average. Through our education system, is society moulding individuals into simply another gear that keeps the societal machine running smoothly? Maybe our system of education is crushing innovation, entrepreneurism and creativity, the very foundation of our advancement up to this point in time. Is it coincidense that the majority of innovators and millionaires in the world are either college dropouts or didnt attend post secondary studies at all? Were they sheilded from the creative killing forces of our education system?

What I do know, is that there is more to learning than school. Understanding the world we live in goes far beyond what any professor can tell you, or what you read in any textbook. I went through college with a particular quote by Mark Twain written across my binder, that quote read “I never let school interfere with my education”. Maybe Mark was right.

Maybe we need to rethink the concept of education and its intended purpose in society…

Watch the video here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

Visit the TED website here: www.ted.com

Eat more Popcorn, It’s Good for You!

18 Aug

istockphoto_2709999_popcorn_series

Maybe I’m the only one, but I have a strange habit. When my friends and I are watching a movie, we sometimes get a bowl of popcorn going, everyone loves to snack on something when your watching a good movie right? But as the plot thickens, and my peers become absorbed by the story, I have an ulterior motive. I clutch that bowl of popcorn and single handidly eat the rest until I am meticulously picking out the half popped kernels and devouring them. The only evidence is a handful of unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bowl rolling around as a distant reminder of the grandeur that  bowl used to be. I then ease the bowl back onto the coffee table, hoping nobody noticed.

I used to feel bad about gorging myself on the deliciousness of popcorn. But today that all changes. According to a study released today by Professor Joe Vinson and his team at University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, popcorn can be better for you than you think.

Polyphenols are healthy antioxidant’s, and until recenlty have only been attributed to plants and have mainly been associated with the skin and seeds of fruits and vegetables. But this new research suggests that whole grains contain a substancial amount of polyphenols, among 30 brands of supermarket cereal, all contained polyphenols. And popcorn contains the highest amount (2.6%) of polyphenols of any snack foods. Polyphenols also have anti-inflammatory properties and scientists also belive they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other ailments.

“Early researchers thought the fiber was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains — the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease,” says Vinson. “But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important. Breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers and salty snacks constitute over 66 percent of whole grain intake in the U.S. diet,” he continues.

You can read the Forbes Article here, and the WebMD article here.

Cereals containing cinnamon and cocoa had much higher levels of antioxidants as well. Turns out all those nights where I polished off the popcorn bowl, I was actually doing my body good. So with that said, I no longer have to feel guilty about my late night bowl of cinnamon toasted life cereal, or eating the rest of the bowl of popcorn.

So get that Orville Redenbacher poppin’ sit down, put in a movie and start munching, and put your mind at ease, your doing your body good!

Nasa Earth Observatory Releases Eclipse Photos

23 Jul

On July 22, 2009, if you found yourself in India, China, Taiwan, or floating in the pacific, you might have been greeted with the longest solar eclipse of the century.

 These images show the earth at 8:30am Taiwan time, and one hour later when the moon completely over overlaps the suns disc in totality. The shadow of the moon you can see here centered over Taiwan at 9:30am.

People from all over the world came out to witness this eclipse as it made itself visable throughout asia. With a total of 6 minutes of full eclipse made over the pacific ocean.

You can read the CNN article here. Or visit the Earth Observatory story here.