Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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!

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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.

Rising Gas Prices Anger Consumers

Living in the heart of oil country, people are often baffled when prices go up at the gas pumps, and I count myself in that demographic.  However, with all the complaining people do, they seem to believe it is up to Big Oil to fix the “problem” (after all, they’re just after more money right, so why not gouge the consumer?) rather than taking personal action.  No, I’m not talking about protesting, fire-bombing X Co’s corporate headquarters, or some (other) form of domestic terrorism.  Rather I am talking about behaviour modification.  I know this is a difficult concept, so I will repeat it: behaviour modification.

WTF!?

I know, I know.  Behaviour modification can be difficult (though it doesn’t need to be), and besides, that “other guy” is a lot worse – why should you change when he won’t?  Well first off, your pocket-book will thank you.  The steam/smoke emitted from your debit/credit card could be greatly reduced.  Of course, this all depends on what you drive (assuming you drive at all), how often, and how far on average.  If you don’t drive at all then you’re already laughing (please drop me a note and let me know some limited details about yourself, why and how long you have been car-less, and how you’re getting by).  If you do currently drive, you should know that there are options.  I will discuss some of them below.

Drive Less

This is perhaps the most obvious option to many people.  Not everyone is able to do this, such as those who drive for a living (taxi drivers, couriers, law enforcement, etc), but if you can it is an easy way to start cutting your ties with the corner gas station.

Now, I can already hear some of you complaining “If I can’t drive, I’ll just be stuck at home all the time.”  I call bullshit on that, one of the laziest excuses out there.  There are a variety of options available, not least of which the appendages attached to your hips (unless you don’t have legs, in which case you probably have a wheel chair and use your arms or some other method to get around).  Benefits of walking include general fitness, socializing with neighbours, reducing local crime rates, and much more.

Of course, it may not be feasible to walk to work, in which case there are other options.

Public Transit

Seen by some as a blessing and by others as a curse, public transit (PT) is certainly a viable option.  Some cite germs or “wierdos” as reasons not to use PT, and others may cite cost.  However, those citing cost as a factor usually do not drive or have never driven.  Fact is, using PT can save you a significant amount over buying fuel for your car/truck.  It is also possible to meet some… interesting… people (both good and bad, I admit).  Finally, you may get some extra reading, work, surfing, or whatever in while riding the train or bus.  Or… you can try to get some sleep.  Just don’t sleep past your stop (I’ve done that before and it was horrible).

Cycling

This is another option that can promote personal health and fitness.  Cycling is very easy, a lot of fun, and generally an excellent mode of transport.  Granted the initial investment in equipment can be expensive, but compared to driving, it pays itself off in spades in a relatively short time.

Indeed, because of accessibility and speed, cycling is one of the best and most effective ways to explore an area.  While many pathways in Calgary don’t really go anywhere (that is, there are no specified destinations), they do often pass through beautiful areas.  Riding to work is an effective way to stay fit – some even continue through the winter months!  If you’re not comfortable riding in winter conditions, I would advise riding in spring/summer and using PT through the winter.

Relocate

For some people, it may be feasible to move to a location closer to where you work.  If this is the case, you should be able to easily walk or cycle to work.  If you’re careful about your new location you should even be able to walk/ride to the local grocer!  What a great way to save money, get exercise, perhaps even have a bit of quality family time.

Be Creative & Innovative

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways to reduce your reliance on your car/truck.  While moving is rarely a fun or even enjoyable experience, relocation can have some wonderful outcomes.  Moving in to a transit-oriented development (TOD) can have the benefit of living near the workplace, the grocer, and many other services.  The same can be said of many other walkable communities such as Calgary’s Kensington or Inglewood.

Yet another option is car sharing.  More and more communities have car sharing programs available for residents.  With car sharing programs you are still paying for fuel, but only what you put into the vehicle.  And you only use the vehicle when you really need it.

Downsize

Now, of course, there will always be people who are unwilling or unable to get rid of their vehicle(s).  One way to get around this, then, is to downsize.  Just buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle.  If combined with the application of one or more methods discussed above, this can have a significant impact on your personal chequebook and lifestyle.  In reality, it is only such behaviour changes that reduce fuel consumption, which in turn can help lower prices at the pumps.

In a way, this operates as a carbon tax of sorts, encouraging people to buy smaller cars requiring less fuel.  But if you really hate the idea of a carbon tax, it’s probably best not to think in those terms.

An Evening Without Vandana Shiva

I was saddened today to learn that Dr Vandana Shiva was unable to travel to Calgary for her public presentation for the Calgary Peace Prize 2011.  However, even after learning of this bad news, I decided to go to the event anyway, as an impressive lineup of speakers had been retained on very short notice.  While I was disappointed that Dr Shiva was not there, I was thoroughly impressed with the speeches and presentations delivered by the panel.

Unsurprisingly, the primary focus of the panel members’ speeches was on food democracy, food security, and sustainability.  Some speakers even spoke at length about urban agriculture, which is something I’ve become very interested in of late (you may have noticed this if you’ve seen my blog recently).

Seeing as a focus of the evening was on sustainability, though, I was somewhat surprised that only the final speaker of the evening (a gentleman whose name I cannot recall, but who delivered a very long but excellent speech) who alluded to (but did not explicitly state) the definition of sustainability that came out of the Bruntland Commission in 1987:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs. (Our Common Future, 1987)

This is a key concept that has been emphasized time and again in courses for Sait Polytechnic’s Environmental Technology (EVT) program.  In conjunction with this definition is the premise that, in order to be sustainable, one must balance the environmental, social, and economic domains.  This is most often thought of in terms of government implementation, and is represented by the simple Venn diagram:It does not take a genius to see that fulfilling the demand of sustainability can be a tall order in any political climate.  With her campaign for food security, food democracy, and sustainability, Dr Shiva is making great strides.  She has already made great progress in India, and her voice is getting louder in the West.  I just hope that the reason the good doctor was unable to speak to us tonight was because of a visa SNAFU and not politically motivated.  One can never be too sure these days.

Nenshi on Calgary’s Past and Future

Volunteers from Naheed Nenshi’s mayoral campaign have arranged for him to speak on January 16, 2011, at 12:00 noon, at the Unitarian Church of Calgary (on the corner of 16 Avenue and 1 Street NW).

Mayor Nenshi will talk about Calgary’s past, about what Calgary could become, and will answer questions from the audience.  The event is open to the public.

Calgary is still a very young city and this gives us a huge opportunity to shape the city we want.  The core question facing this city is: “Can we make this a great city or will it remain essentially a commercial centre, like Fort McMurray South?  You come here to Calgary to make your buck, and when you’ve made your buck or retire, you take off somewhere where you’d really prefer to live.  Do we have to stay in that sort of mode or can we do something better?”

Mr. Nenshi’s vision for Calgary would turn the boomtown’s malleability into its greatest strength.  He sees Calgary as the first among Canada’s urban equals – a young city, in both historic and demographic terms, populated disproportionately by well-educated recent arrivals.  The lack of set ideas about the city should become a wellspring of opportunity for reinvention.

The mayor doesn’t see a boom-and-bust oil industry centre, but a fully realized city, diverse, urban and transit-based.  He has argued against sprawl and insists that he will make all Calgary’s neighbourhoods safer, greener and more engaging.  He speaks about the need to “reduce [the] number of people living in poverty and ensure opportunity for all.”

Mr. Nenshi grew up in Calgary. He  ascended through the gifted program at a downtown high school, student-union presidency at the University of Calgary, a lucrative consulting position in New York, a scholarship in public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and then returned home to be close to his family. In 2002, when he was only 30, Mr. Nenshi was named chairman of the Epcor Centre For the Performing Arts. He was a tenured professor at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business and is an accomplished author.

Good for You, Calgary!

Well, no matter how this pie is cut, Calgary has a new mayor.  No incumbent running freed up the top seat on Council for some potentially fresh blood.  We have also seen some very good voter turnout numbers at the polling stations, indicating that voters became very engaged and interested in the race.

As I write this, Shaw TV is reporting Naheed Nenshi: 92,166; Ric McIver: 75,505; and Barb Higgins: 62,398.  With more than 16,000 votes separating first and second place, it is not likely that anyone can catch up.  That said, anything can happen.  At this point, though, many sources are forecasting Naheed Nenshi as the next mayor.

I personally couldn’t be more thrilled.  Even as a volunteer on the Naheed’s campaign team, I never expected that Naheed would lead by so much.  Obviously this is an example indicating that having bags of money cannot buy you into office.  Naheed’s budget was modest compared to that of Ric McIver.

I really cannot wait to see what will happen once the ball gets rolling and many of the Ideas start getting implemented.  It has been very nice to see a Harvard-trained business professor move up in the polls from a meager 3% just a few weeks ago to mayor of Calgary.  Working the social networks, I think, has proved a valuable strategy, but he also successfully connected with the youth and ethnic demographics.

This is a very positive step for Calgary, and I’m very happy to see that the citizens recognized the need for it.  Good for you, Calgary!

Green Light for Elizabeth May

Members of the federal Green Party have confirmed their support for leader Elizabeth May this weekend.  According to May, the top priority of the Party is to have its leader elected in the next election.  To me this is not unreasonable: why should a party’s leader not be a Member of Parliament?  At least, if the party is legitimate – I can understand the leader of the Rhino Party or the Marijuana Party not being an MP.  As an MP, May would have a stronger voice and greater opportunity to hold the government to account on environmental issues.  That’s the theory, anyway.  One never knows with the psychotic nature of the current Conservative government.  Who knows that the Liberals wouldn’t exhibit similar behaviour if they manage to form a government after future elections?  And we all know that Iggy is just visiting….