Earth Hour: Lightcrime

lightcrime I thought I was done with Earth Hour-related posts, but then I came across this article at the National Post while reading Larry’s blog. You really need to give it a read, but here’s a bit of a teaser:

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four invoked the nightmare of “thoughtcrime,” by which dictators sought to erase even the possibility of challenge to their rule. His Thought Police were based very much on the techniques actually used by the Soviets. They sought by surveillance and other methods to root out any trace of “unorthodoxy.”

On Saturday night, the awful possibility of “lightcrime” appeared on the deliberately dimmed horizon. Who among those who knew about Earth Hour did not feel an internal compulsion to turn down the lights for fear of public disapprobation, even if they believed that the whole thing was either a pointless or subversive stunt?

Author Peter Foster explains the metaphor further, and finishes by sharing this incredibly sad comment from a 12-year-old in Toronto:

“Earth Hour is important to me because my kids and grandkids will be living on this Earth,” declared Morgan Baskin, aged 12, at an event at Holy Trinity Church in downtown Toronto. “I don’t want my kids to be around for the end of the Earth.”

Like Peter says, this is child abuse. Instead of being taught to learn about the environment, to read and to think, children are being taught that unless you turn your lights off for an hour along with everyone else, the world is going to end.

Read: Lightcrime

One hour is just 0.01% of a year

earth hour From Wikipedia:

Earth Hour is an international event that asks households and businesses to turn off their lights and non-essential electrical appliances for one hour on the evening of 29 March at 8 pm local time until 9 pm to promote electricity conservation and thus lower carbon emissions.

I’ve written about this already, and I don’t think there’s much else to be said. If you’re participating in Earth Hour, that’s great, I’m glad you have an interest in making the world a better place to live.

But next time you feel the need to be green, pick an activity that will actually make a difference. Replace your lights with energy efficient ones. Turn the thermostat down in the winter. Buy a fuel efficient car, or better yet, switch to transit. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

You don’t lose weight by going on a diet for an hour, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll make the Earth more green by turning the lights out for an hour.

That's How Refineries Roll

Gas prices here in Edmonton are about $1.05 right now, and they were $1.18 in Vancouver on the weekend. Most people generally expect the prices to keep going up, perhaps quite dramatically in the near future. What would you do if you were an extremely profitable oil company faced with that reality?

Petro-Canada Refinery

If you guessed “burn excess gas and pollute the environment”, you’d be right!

That bright orange spot is from the flames atop one of the “flares” as they are called (I think) at a refinery near Edmonton. I believe most refineries will tell you that burning off excess gas is a common practice, though the flames I saw tonight were unusually large. They were burning at 6:30 PM when I drove by heading north, and they were still going at around 9:45 PM when I took these.

These photos are from the Petro-Canada refinery on the southeast side of the city. According to the company’s website, the site processes 135,000 barrels of crude oil per day (switching this year to 135,000 barrels of oil sands feedstock per day).

Petro-Canada Refinery Petro-Canada Refinery Petro-Canada Refinery Petro-Canada Refinery Petro-Canada Refinery

Make elections greener – Internet voting!

Today is election day here in Edmonton. Today is also Blog Action Day. Better together? Let’s find out! It should be pretty clear that election day means we’re voting for our city mayor, councillors, and school board trustees, but what is Blog Action Day all about? From the website:

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind – the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

This is my entry for Blog Action Day, and as you may have guessed by now, I am going to talk about the election in relation to the environment. I just heard on the news that the turnout for this election is expected to be an abysmal 20%. Are people really not interested, or is it just too difficult to vote? Maybe a bit of both, but the process can certainly be made simpler. Not to mention more environmentally friendly or green.

There are two major problems with the way we vote now:

  1. So much paper is wasted. There are forms to organize the volunteers. There are forms to register you. The ballot you fill out. The second ballot you fill out because you screwed up on the first one. The documents with results. You get the idea. Voting today is really not an environmentally friendly thing to do. And don’t forget the campaigns either – thousands and thousands of flyers, posters, signs, etc.
  2. It’s too difficult. I worked from 9 to 5 today, and it took me until 6 PM to get back to the area of the city I live in to vote. So I didn’t have much time at all considering the polls close at 8 PM. Not only that, but once you get to the voting station you have to deal with three dinosaurs before you even get a ballot. Seriously, why do three individuals have to look at my drivers license in order to let me vote? Isn’t one person good enough? I’m not kidding about the dinosaurs part either. I was easily the youngest person in the room by about 35 years. It’s great that they are helping out, but they move slowly, have to squint at the fine print on the drivers license, and worst of all they look at me like they’ve never seen someone under 40 going to vote (and of course they must comment on that too). Just let me get in and get out!

It doesn’t have to be this way! We could make elections more environmentally friendly and efficient by getting rid of the archaic system we use now and adopting Internet voting. There are of course examples of successes with Internet voting and concern over potential problems that may arise. I won’t get into any of that here, but you can read the very complete Wikipedia entry if you’re interested. I simply look at it this way:

  • Is the Internet good enough for Revenue Canada and the banks? Yes.
  • Would voting over the Internet have a positive impact on the environment? Yes.
  • Would voting over the Internet be faster and easier for voters than the current process? Yes.

Good enough for me. I think it’s time we moved one of our society’s most important institutions into the 21st century. I think it’s time we started voting over the Internet!

It's all green to me

I wonder how long it will be until we all have green overload – I am guessing it’ll be sooner rather than later. These days, you’re simply not hip and with it unless you’re proclaiming how environmentally friendly you are. That goes for individuals, companies, and all other organizations too. Trying to cure cancer? Great – so long as you go about it in a “green” sort of way. Okay maybe it’s not quite that bad, but it’s getting darn close.

Did you know Discovery is launching an entire TV channel dedicated to the green movement? Apparently the New York Times had the story back in April, but I just came across it tonight while reading about Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest project:

DiCaprio is set to executive produce “Eco-Town,” a 13-part reality series which will follow state and local officials in their quest to build an ecologically – and economically – sustainable town in Kansas, aptly named Greenburg.

Yep, even famous movie stars need to add a shade of green to their images. No one is safe from the big bad green machine!

A television channel is one thing, but a niche blog is quite another. If the recently launched earth2tech blog doesn’t scream “go green or go home” nothing does:

Earth2Tech is a publication devoted to intersection between the tech industry, their eco-moves and the next generation of tech innovation that will combat climate change.

When will it end?

Al Gore is the new Bono

Post ImageWhat do you call people such as Bono (Paul Hewson) and Al Gore? They are stars, activists, and political figures, that’s for sure. It almost seems as though we need a new word to describe them though, because they transcend so many labels. There are many others who might fall into this category of people I have in my head (such as Bill Gates perhaps), but Bono and Gore are the two that come to mind first. You might say “activist” is a good enough word, but I don’t think so. More on that in a moment.

When I say Gore is the new Bono, I mean that in a good way. Al Gore seems to have taken the template used by Bono and adapted it for his own purposes. It goes something like this:

  1. Become famous.
  2. Find something you’re passionate about.
  3. Use your fame (and perhaps wealth) to support your passion.

Obviously Bono wasn’t the first person to do this, and Gore won’t be the last. I just point them out because of timing – I’m too young to really recognize the pattern in anyone before Bono, and thanks to the Internet and other present-day methods of global communication, the efforts of Bono and Gore are more visible than ever before.

I should also point out that Bono and Gore are different from people like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and others. All are activists, sure, but the latter group are famous because of their activism, whereas Gore and Bono became famous first for something else and then turned to becoming activists.

Bono has been a special guest at all sorts of events that you wouldn’t expect a rockstar to be at. Gore is doing the same at events you wouldn’t expect a former Vice-President to attend. Bono helped organize Live8 back in 2005, and Gore is doing the same for Live Earth this year.

Bono was named by Time as a Person of the Year back in 2005, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. Gore has been nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and who knows, maybe he’ll grace the cover of Time come December.

Bono’s passion is for humanitarian issues, Gore’s passion is for environmental issues. Makes me wonder who will come next and what it is that person will have a passion for.

Trying to grok carbon offsets

Post ImageThere’s been a lot of talk about carbon offsets in the news lately, and a whole crop of companies have sprung up to cater to the environmentally-conscious westerner. One such company, Zerofootprint, is Canadian was profiled today at TechCrunch:

Their chief goal, says the company, is to raise awareness among individuals and groups that everything we consume has some impact on the environment. The company is fighting global warming in two ways: encourage carbon reduction, and sell offsets for the remainder.

You can pretty much ignore the first goal. It sounds great, but there’s absolutely no way to measure whether or not they have encouraged reduction. Zerofootprint could fire off a few press releases a month that suggest they having a positive impact, but there’s no way to know. That makes them primarily a vendor of carbon offsets.

The anti-TechCrunch, uncov, also wrote about the company today:

These hosers have even set up their own market for these offsets, outside of the official exchanges. So okay, Zerofootprint is the one selling you these carbon offsets, and they’re also the ones validating that the offset in carbon actually takes place. This doesn’t sit right.

No, it doesn’t sit right.

In fact, the whole concept of carbon offsetting just doesn’t sit right with me. Environmentalist and writer George Monbiot explains the problems with carbon offsets very well in his article titled Selling Indulgences. He compares purchasing carbon offsets to the 15th and 16th century practice of selling absolutions:

Just as in the 15th and 16th centuries you could sleep with your sister and kill and lie without fear of eternal damnation, today you can live exactly as you please as long as you give your ducats to one of the companies selling indulgences. It is pernicious and destructive nonsense.

I have absolutely no doubt that humankind will figure out a way to survive global warming. I’m also fairly certain that carbon offsetting is not the solution. In fact, I think purchasing carbon offsets could actually make things worse because doing so enables us to ignore the root causes. We need to do more than just make ourselves feel better.

Read: Monbiot.com

Should GM really produce the Chevy Volt?

Post ImageBack in November I saw the documentary Who killed the electric car? and I remember being less than impressed, as my comments at the time confirm:

The movie could have been better. It felt like an extended commercial, and the people involved seemed like fanatical environmentalists. Oh, and when they realized they couldn’t answer the question properly, they just blamed everyone.

Essentially the filmmakers didn’t present a very strong case for why, exactly, electric cars should rule the roads. They seemed ticked at GM more than anything. According to a post over at Engadget today, GM is dabbling in electric cars once again, this time with the Chevy Volt:

Those of you as taken with GM’s Chevy Volt concept vehicle as we are may want to take a minute to reconsider any impending car purchases, as the car is now officially headed into production — in two different versions no less. According to Autoblog, that could put the car on track for a roll out in 2010, although GM isn’t quite ready to get that specific.

Apparently there will be a plug-in gasoline model, and a fuel cell model (though the latter will be too expensive for mass production). The plug-in model should deliver a gasoline savings of 500 gallons per year on average.

Do we really want plug-in automobiles though? Sure they result in some gasoline (and emissions) savings from the cars themselves, but what about on balance? Over 70% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from fossil fuels. With that in mind, plugging a car in is a lot like filling it with gas. The environment doesn’t really benefit. It might have more of an impact in Canada, where just 28% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, but most of the Volts will be sold in the US.

Another thing to consider is the return on investment. GM claims they are willing to lose money on the Volt initially, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Besides, losing money on something doesn’t mean it’s cheap – just look at the PlayStation 3. Consumers will ask this question: will the price premium of the Volt be recouped in gasoline savings before the car is discarded? In most cases, I bet the answer will be no.

The last thing I’ll mention here is technology. New car technologies will not rule the industry for decades like the combustion engine has. What happens if someone perfects the fuel cell a few years after the Volt is produced? So long Chevy Volt, that’s what. This is another big reason that cars like the Volt need to be inexpensive. Otherwise, justifying their purchase is difficult at best.

I’m not sure plug-in cars like the Chevy Volt are a good thing at all. In the best case scenario, consumers love them, GM sells a lot of them, they last for more than ten years, and they really do have a positive impact on the environment. I think that’s really unlikely though. The more probable scenario is that only GM wins by charging a premium for the Volt. Consumers pay more to get a car with a short lifespan, and little to no positive effect on the environment.

Read: Engadget

Celebrate Earth Day at Starbucks

Post ImageEarth Day is coming up this weekend, and that means it’s about time for companies to capitalize on the environment being so prevalent in our social conscience. Sharon told me about this last week (not sure how she knew), but I just found the press release from Starbucks:

On Sunday, April 22, customers who bring in their own reusable tumbler will receive a complimentary cup of Café Estima Fair Trade coffee.

And as always, if you bring a reusable mug in to get your coffee, you’ll save ten cents. The press release highlights other “green” efforts from Starbucks, including their Post-Consumer Fibre Cup, Ethos Water, Grounds for Your Garden program, and more.

I think they should have launched new sleeves with Earth trivia on them! You know, like the “Akeelah and the Bee” sleeves they came out with last April. Speaking of trivia, my Dad is posting Earth trivia on Tuesdays, so feel free to go show him how smart you are.

Here’s a random thought for the day: maybe we should rename “Earth Day” to “Gore Day”! After all, when you think Al Gore doesn’t the word environment come to mind? Maybe it’s just me.

Read: Newswire.ca

Did you shutdown today?

Post ImageI sure as heck didn’t. Like Engadget asked back in February, “how about we all decide to hold our breath for 24 hours, too?” In case you hadn’t heard, today was International Shutdown Day. Yup, they wanted us to not use computers for a day. Fat chance! Engadget explains:

It seems that a pair of men named Dennis Bystrov and Michael Taylor — bitter victims of the bubble, we suspect — want to perform a social experiment wherein people all over the world boycott computers for an entire day; willing participants are encouraged to click a pledge of sorts on the International Shutdown Day website promising to forgo any and all PC usage on March 24th.

Heh, like that was gonna happen. This is the funny part though:

Still, we’ve no qualms with operating in a much greener fashion, but considering that the protesters’ website is actually up and running on a power-sucking machine as we speak, it makes you wonder who the real hypocrites are, no?

So much for dedication to their cause!

Read: Engadget