Category Archives: environment

Carbon Capture

Regarding Carbon Capture from Coal (and other places)

The following was my complete response to Bob Williams Bnet article about carbon capture as it relates to coal.

Click here to view Bob’s article.

 

Its painful to watch and listen to these hot issues play themselves out.  What someone is really looking for is something that doesn’t and never will exist…which is a way to keep using more and more energy, to make more and more stuff and keep everything as usual without anyone ever really having to face up to the reality of it all.

 

Carbon capture (cc) while possible is a red herring. The promotion of the idea appeases the public by giving them what I coin as “environmental hope”. Whether anyone believes cc is viable or not it is irrelevant because it serves to divert attention from other environmental problems that have real solutions that could be easily handled with technologies and other strategies right now. Our governments are not really interested in solving the real problems by promoting practical and viable ideas  because these would continue to reduce demand on energy and materials. While this is truly what is needed in terms of the environment, it doesn’t fit into the equation of greed and the illusion of wealth, which is really the real agenda. 

 

Carbon and coal are “inseparable” therefore, if carbon capture is adopted as a viable means of greening energy production it becomes a new layer of energy consuming technology in and of itself.  Everyone pays for it and it becomes entrenched in power production to maintain the environmental quality standards.  I understand its not cheap and since lots of money is flowing into into R and D for it, we’ll see lots of players lining up at the trough. I do hope something good and viable and feasible comes out of it. It would be great if coal could be made cleaner, if coal is something we need to use on such a large scale.  But with carbon capture technology we will use even more coal to get the same electrical power generation.  This equates to even more coal extraction projects, open pit mines, etc.

 

 

 

 

Here is a quote taken from a government of Canada publication  regarding the problem I have just stated indicating innefficiencies that increase fuel use by up to 40%:

 

“All technologies as applied to energy generation effectively reduce efficiency, increasing the amount of CO2 created (and therefore necessary to capture) per unit of energy produced. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that the increase in energy required to capture the CO2 is between 10% and 40% depending on the technology; the natural gas combined cycle requires the least and pulverized coal requires the most.(4) Capturing CO2 is the most energy-intensive phase (and therefore the largest contributor to CO2 releases and costs of energy production) in a complete carbon capture and storage mechanism.”

(Tim Williams, Science and Technology Division
10 March 2006)

 

Furthermore, it could increase the cost of energy by  over 90%. Again this is taken from another research paper prepared for the Government of Canada:

 

 

“Overall, it is estimated that capturing, transporting and storing the CO2 from a new gas- or coal-fired power plant would increase the cost of electricity generated by that plant by between 37% and 91%.  This translates into a CO2 mitigation cost of US$30-91/tonne, making CCS a comparatively high-cost method for mitigating carbon emissions, at least for the time being.  The IPCC report warns that because there is “relatively little commercial experience with configuring all of these components into fully integrated CCS systems at the kinds of scales which would likely characterize their future deployment,” these cost estimates are highly uncertain.

(Frédéric Beauregard-Tellier,Economics Division,13 March 2006)

 

 

 

 

 

Canada is very interested in carbon capture for use in Alberta Tar sands.  I’m not sure how dirty the enery from the tar sands are compared to coal but I know its giving Canada a bad reputation on the global energy market. Once again though, while a nice thought, carbon capture merely adds to the already expensive process of getting fuel from this resource. I don’t have the exact figures at hand but the current cost to produce a litre of fuel from tar sand is roughly insane give or take a few idiots.  I can’t imagine proposing anything that would add to the cost…that would be crazy!

 

Even if all the carbon was captured, the millions of hectares of nature consumed by stripping the earth will never be returned in our lifetime. The air will still contain other contaminants that escape the process and contribute to health problems.  Finally and unfortunately, I think the effort is being promoted for the wrong reasons while mascarading for the right ones, therefore it is designed to deliver a facade of benefits while changing very little for the better.

 

People will likely label me pessimistic but revisit what I have said in 5 years from now and you will see what I mean without me having to write a text book about it. 

 

Link to reading from the Alternative Power Blog: Carbon capture and storage “being oversold as a panacea”

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Food Security and Canadian Schools

I’ve always thought of Canada as a world leader.  Our innovation sets us apart from many other nations, especially when you consider our low population.  Historically, zippers and national health care and in more modern times the Canada Arm on the space shuttle.  In terms of humanitarian effort we do pretty well; our legacy of peacekeeping for instance, and foreign aid to countries in need.  I’m sure we are a leader in education in some respect and in helping to feed a hungry planet; but the challenge that lies ahead for our planet will require us to blend innovation on both of those fronts.  For various reasons (lets not get into all of them here), crops have failed and are failing in many crop growing regions of the world,  a few multinational corporations are producing and controlling larger and larger proportions of the worlds food supply and the human population of the earth is increasing.  If recent food prices and forecasts for astronomical food prices aren’t putting some fear into you then you should give yourself a pinch.  I don’t want to dwell on the images of a future where we have failed to act, my time and yours is better spent on taking action and getting others to take action.  My answer is to grow food. 

Growing food for yourself (and others) reduces some of the demand on the worlds food supply.  Schools can take a lead role in this by reviving a spirit of self sufficiency in their school community and setting up a program to grow food. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just some; enough to “feel” significant for the students. Enough for students to feel like they can make the world a better, healthier place.  Enough to spark students’ imaginations, to plant the seeds of innovation that they, and we, may need to realize a healthy and secure supply of food for our planet’s population.  

Administrators and teachers are always looking for ways to make students recognize the consequences of their actions and to take responsibility for them…well…growing food is a great place to start! I don’t want to sound too much like a teacher, but think of the cross curricular learning potential!  Science…too much to cover here; Social Studies…study a country or culture and try growing a representative food; Art…sketch it, paint it;  Language Arts…journal it, record it, read about it, talk about it!  The possibilities are almost endless.  And then there is the impact of…Growing a living thing.  Just saying it or reading those words carries weight…do it and you are forever changed.  You become nurturer, parent, aware.  Your plant responds to you and the world around you.  You make an investment in, and become connected to life; your labour; your plant, your food. Suddenly you are connected to the plants and foods of the planet.  If you are an educator, then you know I am right about this.  There are published examples of the impact of gardens and plants grown by kids and adults in schools and communities and time after time it brings about poitive change to those people and their communities (Good link here is Evergreen Foundation).

The only question here is “why”.  Why are we not doing something now?  It would have been better to do it 30 years ago, but now is what we’ve got.  And I would suggest that tomorow…no…today, we need to start growing with our children to enculture a future with citizens capable of not just surviving, but thriving.  A future where Canadian innovation in *self sufficiency in food production is a model for the world, and a future where global food shortages is not going to threaten them or their children.

 

*self sufficiency…just a note:  genuine self sufficiency is a sustainable activity.  If my “self sufficiency” depletes or poisons the earths resources over time then its only a facade.  I could grow enough to feed my village if I intensified my use of pesticises and fertillizers, but now I’m increasingly dependent on other resources not to mention the fact that I’m destroying the system that allows things to live in the first place.  The same holds true for Genetically Altered Crops, except for them we are placing a high wager on the success of a vary narrow gene pool…a pool of one set of genes in fact!  

Below are the titles of some literature that would make excellent reading for those interested in learning more about this topic.  But don’t read them before you start growing…JUST DO IT! I’ll put some links in later so come back!

The Hundred Mile Diet

Monocultures of the Mind

Diet for a New America 

Tragedy of the Commons Garret Hardin (an essay)

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Household Hazardous Waste? Grass Roots Action…Do It!

Its a repugnent but undenialbe truth about the products that we use everyday…they come with a serious environmental price tag that we are barely paying the interest on!  Any number of toys or electronic devices that have rechargeable batteries pose a serious risk to the ecosystem and of course our health when they are improperly disposed of.  The stuff in those batteries is Hazardous Waste.  Heavy metals in these batteries can leach from landfill sites where they enter and remain in the food chain, contaminating the bodies of everything they enter, causing cancers, birth defects, and a number of other serious health and environmental problems. 

Now consider this fact: In a Statistics Canada report form 2005-06, an estimated 450 million batteries were sold in Canada in 2004, of which 348 million were thrown out with regular household waste. (The above statistic was cited in the March 29, 2008, Windsor Star, in an article by Sharon Hill.  Sharon’s article also reports on the problem of prescription drug disposal and the problem of these drugs showing up in our drinking water).

Another Fact:

The current system for helping these products find their way to Hazardous Waste facilities is so impractical that it doesn’t feel accessible for even the “Green Oriented” Folks in our society.  Take my  community for example,  the household hazardous waste collection depot is a 30 minute drive from my home in a remote location, and it only accepts waste on sporadic occasions (to be fair they have a callendar, but the days and times are few and far between).  So, I’ve got my batteries in a bag hanging in my laundry room.  They have been accumulating since I moved here 9 years ago!  While it may be true that if I really made the effort I could have taken them their already, but why would I?  True, I have had other Hazardous Wastes that I was saving for propper disposal but the stores where they were sold offered to take these back (paint, tires and motor oil in these cases), and my local landfill site took my old refrigerator ( they have a contract with a service that pumps out the refrigerant).

Some Questions:

Why don’t businesses take back the waste from products like batteries and small electronic devices for proper disposal?  I realize that some do, but more don’t.  If companies don’t have a foolproof plan take care of this aspect of the stuff they sell, then should they sell it?

Some of My Answers to This Problem:

  • Refuse. Either refuse to buy products that are associated with serious environmental contamination or refuse to buy from companies that don’t have an effective program to deal with the Hazardous Wastes that their products generate.

  • Reduce. Find ways to reduce your demand on consumer products that cause these problems. Can you borrow something or rent it only when you need it (considering the rental agency has a disposal plan). Can you find other ways to do things?  Make a personal plan to reduce the number of things you have and the amount of time you spend using them (consider that it may improve the lifespan of the product and/or batteries).

  • Grass Roots Community Action: Talk to your neighbours; ask if they have any hazardous waste.  Educate each other and make sure everyone understands what is at stake and that this waste should be stored safely at home until taken to Hazarodous Waste Depot. Make a plan to take turns taking waste to facilities.

 

  • Lobby government and local business. Tell them you won’t shop where there is no plan to deal with this waste.  And you will only support candidates, political parties and governments that have a transparent and thoughtful environmental agenda.

  • Demand It: “Disposal Service for What You Sell Plan”, where businesses would need an effective waste program to handle the discarded products that they sell.  If a company didn’t have a program…then they wouldn’t be able to sell it; if consumers don’t put on the pressure to drive the change, then legislation must be considered. 

Industry’s Answer:

I think Industry is on the right track with the Rechargeabe Battery Recycling Corporation and its Charge Up to Recycle Program. Its a licensing program that allows businesses that comply with the program to carry the “Charge Up to Recycle” logo.  In a market driven economy they have realized that it makes good sense to be green and tell people about it. To be fair their are and have always been industry people who have been concerned with the environmnetal impacts of their activities just because they are good citizens.  To read about the Charge up to Recylce Program and its success click here: Rechargeabe Battery Recycling Corporation press release  .   http://www.rbrc.org/call2recycle/releases/archived/11.3.98.html . 

Better yet,  to find a “Charge up to Recycle” centre call:  1-800-8-BATTERY or by go on-line at www.rbrc.org.

A Final Note
I’m not sure about the effectiveness of the above program in practice and I’m not clear about how they gaurantee that participants comply with the program.  Nor do I know about other quality control measures in place to ensure that recycling of returned batteries actually gets done.   Is it empty green marketing or the real deal?  And who pays for it?  I would feel better if I could tell people the answers to those questions.   There are other programs out there and we should be aware of them and there should be accountability that addresses the questions above…and I’m sure my list of questions is far from comprehensive but its a start.

Consumers have power!  We all have a lot at stake.  Our children, our health, the quality of the food, water and air that we put into our bodies and of course there’s the planet.  Lets do something to make a difference.

If you know of an innovative program, other readers might like to know!

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Snowmobile Amnesty

I wonder if snowmobilers would trade in their machines for something better?  Would they line up to trade them in for a recreational replacement that would do much less harm to the earth while also  nourishing their bodies and souls.  The replacement I’m refering to, is of course skiing.  Any kind of skiing.  Cross-country would offer the best body and earth benefits, while alpine skiing or snowboarding might give the thrill seeker a spiritual lift!  Any way you carve it,  anything that could get people off snow machines would be a step toward better health for everyone.  Snowshoes are fine but skis might be the best fit since the joy that comes from controling a board or boards on snow with your own body is a type of natural high that snowmobilers have no doubt missed out on,  otherwsie that is what they would be doing instead of driving their machines blindly around.  While its true that skiing is a skill and is harder to learn than pulling a throttle;   and while its true that for those who need it most, it may be difficult to get off the seat,  the fact remains that part of the joy in skiing comes from improving yourself, from learning and changing your body for the better.  Senses are awakened and the participant is intimately engaged in the fragrances, sounds and sights in their environment.

Would ski resorts and ski manufacturers offer a snowmobile amnesty?  You know, trade equipment,  lift tickets and/or trail passes for each snowmobile that gets turned in?  Imagine what a world it could be if they did… 

Here are some of the benefits: 

  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Conserves fuel for more necessary pursuits (reduced demand on resources reduces cost )
  • Improves ground level air quality from reduced *VOC emissions
  • Reduces noise pollution
  • Improved fitness, vitality, mobility
  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Feels Good
  • Saves lives
  • Spend time doing something more worthwhile
  • Personal Satisfaction of taking charge of your body and health
  • Personal growth and satisfaction of learning a new skill
  • Feeling that you are improving yourself and the world around you
  • And snowmobilers would save a lot of money that they could use for a lot of other things, even after buying new skis!

O.K.  That’s not likely to happen, not by tomorrow at least but there is something that might help bring on the change…Skiers! If you are a skier, you have power!  As skiers we can extend the olive branch to a snowmobiler and offer to take them skiing…to teach and mentor them.  And its in our best interest to do so since the snowmobile is contributing to the global warming that is melting away our winters!  Start close to home, with family,  neighbours or friends. Be vocal and share this idea and who knows what might happen!  There are other benefits to our communities and tourism initiatives that could be realized if local facilities were developed and networks established.

 *VOC  stands for volatile organic compound.  In terms of snowmobile emissions, VOC’s are the smelly unburnt gas and oil emissions that are spewed from the engines exhaust. It can make you choke and your eyes water (it is also a toxic mix of chemicals that damages living tissues, and contains heavy metals, benzenes and other chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic). 

Here is one of my personal experiences with snowmobile exhaust:  While out for a jog down my gravel road one evening in the early spring of last year, I was passed by a procession of snowmobiles.  Their noxious smoke brought water to my eyes; I could taste it on my tongue and could barely breath.  Needless to say my jog was over.  I walked for several minutes after they passed hoping the air would clear so I could get back to my run. Unfortunately though, on this calm night the smoke hung over the road, trapped between the forest on either side, until I had walked all the way back home (a 10 minute walk from where I stopped running).  When I came into the living room of my home, my wife and kids asked me why I smelled of gasoline. 

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Take Back the Great Lakes – Revisited

I watched a TVOntario Special about water tonight.  It was called “Water Under Fire” and was hosted by science correspondent Bob McDonald.  It was a really good synopsis of the problems of our relationship with water.  The Great Lakes was a focus of the program.  In addition to my original comments regarding the urban impact on the Great Lakes, the TVO program highlighted other problems such as introduced species, global warming, and other issues related to the greater problems of waste water management and pathogenic bacteria.  The water issue is one that we all need to come to terms with on many levels.  I would like to hear your ideas, questions and comments.

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Hello world!

To find out about, Doug McColl, author of Dougsplace click ABOUT at the header, or visit www.geocities.com/dougscanoe/blog.html  .

Keep your paddle in the water!

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