London’s Olympic Shame

As most of the world would know by now, the XLVIII Olympic Games are being hosted in London, England in July 2012.  Indeed, the Games begin in only 100 days.  While I normally enjoy watching coverage of many events, I will be watching with a more sceptical eye this year.  Indeed, if I could be there in person, I would certainly want to participate in some protests.

This comes rather suddenly to me as I learned today that Dow Chemical Company (Dow Chemical) has been selected as a major sponsor of the games, touted to be the most sustainable games to date.  Indeed, BP has been selected as the Games’ sustainability sponsor.  Each of these seems not a little outrageous to me, given the disaster at the Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) plant at Bhopal, India and BP’s drilling disaster Gulf of Mexico at the Deepwater Horizon platform.

The metal for the 2012 Olympic medals is being provided by Rio Tinto, a giant British mining company.  I was previously unaware of this company and the issues surrounding it, but a quick Google search reveals a flurry of activity ranging from air pollution to human rights abuse to gold and uranium mining, and much more.

In response to these sponsorships, and the dark shadow they cast on the “sustainable” Games, three groups have joined forces to create Greenwash Gold 2012.  The London Mining Network, the Bhopal Medical Appeal, and the UK Tar Sands Network are all deeply concerned about the message sent by the London 2012 Games regarding the green or “sustainable” nature of Dow, BP, and Rio Tinto.  So what’s the big deal?  I will provide brief summaries below, but you can check out Greenwash Gold 2012 for more information and to cast your vote for the Greenwash Gold Medal.  They also have produced short animations depicting (an interpretation of) the atrocities committed by each company.

Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical Taints the 2012 Olympics in London

With its sponsorship, Dow Chemical taints the 2012 Olympics in London. Click the image to go and read the article at The Ecologist, and sign the petition to stop their Olympic partnership.

In 1984, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) operated a pesticide manufacturing facility in Bhopal, India, producing a chemical called carbaryl (Sevin™).  Production of carbaryl pesticide involved the intermediary chemical methyl isocyanate (MIC).  A significant factor in locating the facility in India was that regulation in the United States were deemed “too restrictive.”

An extremely toxic chemical, MIC (CH3NCO) is slightly soluble in, but reacts strongly with, water.  Indeed, with excess water, MIC has a half-life of approximately nine minutes, and releases approximately 1.36 kJ of heat energy per gram of MIC (that’s a lot).(1)  When this heat is not moved quickly away, the MIC can quickly come to a boil.  And when the storage vessel is in poor repair, it can explode.  This is essentially what happened at Bhopal.  Thousands were killed, and they were the lucky ones.  Tens- to hundreds-of-thousands of survivors suffer from painful physical conditions, including various cancers, skin conditions, respiratory problems, and  more.(2)

Despite claims to the contrary, UCC did little to help the victims of the disaster.  In 2001, Dow Chemical merged with UCC, but refused to accept any responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.  This in spite of the fact that, while UCC remains a “separate business to Dow”, Dow “owns 100% of its shares, elects its board, and UCC’s current CEO is even a senior Dow official.”(3)

And now Dow is happily trying to “green its image” by participating as a major sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Can you say Greenwash?

BP

After the events of April – October 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, I think I would be hard-pressed to find someone unaware of at least one of BP’s environmental atrocities.  It is laughable indeed to have them as the Sustainability Sponsor of the Games.

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the largest environmental disaster in United States history.  In order to deal with the financial burden this caused, BP liquidated much of its Canadian holdings.  However, it is still very active in the controversial development of the Alberta Oil Sands.  BP and other resource companies don’t seem to understand that, while there is a lot of oil tied up in those deposits, we need it to last.  And we need time to develop technologies and methods of understanding and remediating these developments.

Adding insult to injury, BP is actively exploring for economical oil reserves in the Arctic.  While spills are equally destructive no matter their location, the Gulf of Mexico is far more accessible to those working to clean it up.  A spill in the Arctic would likely be a disaster beyond our comprehension.  Imagine polar bears wandering around, coated black from sticky oil, licking and consuming this oil in an effort to stay clean.  No doubt any attempt to clean up an Arctic spill will be hampered both by simple geography (climate conditions, terrain, etc) and by wildlife.

So of course they would take the opportunity to sponsor the Olympics as a “sustainability” sponsor in an effort to clean up their severely tarnished name.  Don’t let them get away with it!

Rio Tinto

For Rio Tinto I am going to have to defer to the massive knowledge of the Internet.  You can start by reading at Greenwash Gold 2012.

A Great Loss to the World

The world is still reeling from the loss of one Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, when tonight we learned of the loss of another innovative visionary: Dennis Ritchie, co-inventor of the C programming language on which much of modern computing is based, like it or not.  Mr Ritchie also played a significant role in the original development of UNIX.

So within one week, we have lost two greatly creative thinkers.  Perhaps one could say that the apple has lost its seeds or kernels.

RIP Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie.  You will both be missed, and remembered.

Another Great Blog!

I just have to write to let all of you know, in case you  don’t already, about MNN: the Mother Nature Network.  I personally just discovered the site today thanks to the writing of Chris Turner (@theturner on Twitter).  He provides a skillful skewering of a recent Globe and Mail article on the danger and horror of taking small children along for a bike ride.  Take note: this guy knows his shit!

Marketing of Electric Vehicles

Okay, I admit it.  Electric vehicles present an enticing field, and are worth every penny of research and development funding.  There is, however, at least one thing that really bothers me, specifically the marketing of these vehicles.  I am willing to accept that advertisers are in the business of deception, intentionally pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes (I don’t have to like it, though).  When I see a commercial that effectively encourages people to push their heads in the sand, though, I have a big problem.

While there have been a couple of ad campaigns over the past couple years that have prompted me to think in this way, the most recent one takes “ridiculous” to a new level.  Actually it’s rather clever, and if it wasn’t for the reveal as a car ad I would be rather impressed.  This particular ad shows people using every-day electronic and electrical tools and devices, but has them all powered by gasoline (read: fossil fuels).  That’s right.  Gas-powered alarm clocks, toasters, cell phones, dental drills.  Then we see a gentleman fuelling his hybrid vehicle, while a fully-electric vehicle quietly drives off.  (I’m not as interested by the brands here as I am in the implications, but the hybrid shown is a Chevy Volt, and the electric car is a Nissan LEAF.  Chevrolet is understandably unimpressed by this spot.)

The spot (you can watch it here) seems to imply that, by owning and driving a 100% electric vehicle, you are not participating in the carbon economy, at least as far as your vehicle is concerned.  Of course, this could not be further from the truth.  Every aspect of the vehicles existence and life-span is touched by the dusty, oily finger of carbon.  Design, development, manufacture (collectively: production); transport and delivery; fuel; maintenance and repair; and disposal.  This will be the case until we have an economy and infrastructure that is not based on fossil fuels.  Of course, people don’t like to be reminded of these matters.  Especially the people with the power.

How do you fuel an electric car?

A simple schematic of a coal-fired power plant. (GEOS 24705, University of Chicago)

It seems to me that people have in their heads that electricity is free and readily available, created by some magical creature.  While it is often readily available, it is by no means free.  Nor is it necessarily “clean.”  Therefore, people don’t really think of electric power as a fuel.

So how do we get this electric fuel?  In North America, electricity is generated primarily by burning coal.  Coal is carbon, and produces a fair amount of energy on burning.  Of course, coal contains other ingredients such as sulphur and nitrogen, so burning one kilogram of coal yields around 700 kcal (2.9 MJ) rather than the 12,000 kcal (50.2 MJ) of pure carbon.  The nitrogen is often released as gas or as NO2, while sulphur transforms to SO2 (an acid rain gas).

Yes, there is electricity generated at hydro dams (more in BC and Central Canada than in Alberta) and nuclear reactors (Central Canada), but all of those facilities and infrastructure was built using coal and fossil fuels.  The same goes for solar power, but that is a whole other story.  The point is that the majority of electricity available in North America is generated by coal combustion.

Disingenuous…

As I said before, my main problem with this particular ad is the implication that electric vehicles are at least partly removed from the carbon economy.  This sort of disingenuous messaging is dangerous.  People already tend to take electric power for granted.  I am guilty of this as well.  However, this particular message has the effect of perpetuating this habit.  Indeed, it is possible that electric vehicles in general could have that effect, since the energy source is far removed from the fuelling point.  Of course, it seems the auto industry relies on disingenuous advertising, and on people conveniently “forgetting” certain important facts, to sell its wares.

Wicked Weather Woes

I’m leaving on a road trip soon, and the planned route takes us along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.  Apparently, at around 6,600 feet, you really cannot count on the season to get through: as of July 8, 2011, part of the road is closed for ploughing!  It seems crews are working currently at the Logan Pass visitor centre.  Pictures of recent work can be seen at the Glacier National Park Flickr page, but here’s a small taste from the last couple days….

Logan Pass Visitor Centre as of July 7, 2011

The visitor centre at Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road. July 7, 2011.


Update: I have seen in the past hour or so that the entire GTTSR is to open on July 13, 2011.  This is the second latest opening since the road was dedicated.  The latest was the dedication day way back in 1933 or so.

Canada Day 2011

Tomorrow is Canada Day!  Parks Canada is celebrating by offering free admission to all National Parks!  If you can, and you live in Alberta, go and check out Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park (I’ve never been there, but want to go some day), or Waterton National Park.  There will be a variety of Canada Day activities/festivities scheduled in the towns of Banff and Jasper, and I would imagine also in Waterton and Lake Louise.  If you’re not in Alberta, go and check out whatever park is closest to you.  There are so many beautiful parks and places in this vast Nation!  There is little reason (aside from fuel cost…) not to take advantage of these wonderful spaces for free for one day.

Just be aware that it is likely to be very busy on the roads and on the trails.  With all the people on the trails, it is less likely that wildlife – especially bears – would come anywhere close.  That said, they are hungry for berries and other goodies, and so are (as always) unpredictable.

If you see wildlife on the side of the roads, the best thing to do is to admire it/them as you pass by.  If you must get some photos, please pull completely off the road!  Staying in your car is always the best, but if you must get out, stay next to your vehicle.  It is not recommended to approach wildlife under any circumstances, even to get that “one awesome shot”!

Under absolutely no circumstance should you feed the wildlife.  This horrible practice can result in death for whatever animal falls victim.

Elsewhere…

The cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, and Lethbridge all have a variety of festivities planned.  I believe that there are also activities planned in the Crowsnest Pass, and probably many other towns across the province.

Travelling…

Okay, so it turns out I will be driving down to Las Vegas rather than going to Thunder in the Valley.  This is quite alright with me!  On the way down to Vegas, we will be traversing the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana, and camping at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Then, after exploring the amazing geology at the Craters of the Moon, we shall continue on to Vegas.  After playing a bit in Vegas (yay blackjack!), the plan is to take a day-trip out to the Grand Canyon for even more wondrous geology.  And photographs.

Now, I’ve never been to Craters of the Moon or the Grand Canyon, though I’ve read a lot and seen many pictures.  I am very interested in the geology of each, as well as the roadside geology along the way.  To that end I have ordered the Roadside Geology of Montana and the Roadside Geology of Idaho.  I hope they arrive in time.  But I’m wondering if you, the gentle reader, have any suggestions of specific hikes or trails to take at any location.  I believe we are going to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where most of the trails are listed as “steep” or “very steep” on the park website.  This is not a problem for me, so long as we are prepared.  I just wonder if anyone out there has any other suggestions than what is on the park website.

Oh but I wish I could spend a week or so just in the Grand Canyon….  But oh the photos I will take!

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