Archive for June, 2007
Posted by LT in on June 23, 2007
Harper’s government dishonest on the environment
From the Ottawa Citizen
On Thursday, the story broke that a report commissioned by the federal Environment Ministry found that a substantial carbon tax would have minimal impact on economic growth. The report, dated Jan. 16, 2007, was obtained and released by the Green party through an access to information request.
"The Canadian public can conclude that the Harper government is deliberately misleading them when they claim that a carbon tax does serious damage to the economy," May said at a press conference, "because they know it’s not true."
May was particularly furious with federal environment minister John Baird, who has consistently refused to consider a carbon tax. "He is demonizing and vilifying the measure that every economist who’s serious around the world recognizes as the most straightforward, effective and efficient fiscal mechanism to respond to the climate crisis."
She’s right. A hefty carbon tax is, without a doubt, the most effective way to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, and no government serious about climate change would dismiss it. But the Harper government has dismissed it. John Baird even called a carbon tax "the mother of all taxes." And he did that while claiming that his government is committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Even by political standards, that is dazzling cynicism.
I’m absolutely disgusted at how dishonest politics has become. I wonder how history will look upon the leaders of North America and how they deliberately misled people on such a grave threat to humanity. Global warming is enough of a threat to warrant action. We can fix the problem without destroying the economy but Harper simply won’t do it.
Earlier this year, the world’s top climate scientists released a definitive report on global warming. It is now "unequivocal," they concluded, that the planet is heating up. Humans are directly responsible for the planetary heat wave, and only by taking immediate action can the world avert a climate catastrophe. Megadroughts, raging wildfires, decimated forests, dengue fever, legions of Katrinas – unless humans act now to curb our climate-warming pollution, warned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "we are in deep trouble."
You would think, in the wake of such stark and conclusive findings, that the White House would at least offer some small gesture to signal its concern about the impending crisis. It’s not every day, after all, that the leading scientists from 120 nations come together and agree that the entire planet is about to go to hell. But the Bush administration has never felt bound by the reality-based nature of science – especially when it comes from international experts. So after the report became public in February, Vice President Dick Cheney took to the airwaves to offer his own, competing assessment of global warming.
"We’re going to see a big debate on it going forward," Cheney told ABC News, about "the extent to which it is part of a normal cycle versus the extent to which it’s caused by man." What we know today, he added, is "not enough to just sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that’s going to ‘solve’ the problem."
Read more about the sordid mess on Rolling Stone.
A new kind of Conversation
Over a year ago I was involved a in a great blogging to book project called "A new kind of conversation." Hunter Barnes and Myron Bradley Penner contracted me to set up a customized blog that would facilitate good interaction between different scholars, authors and the citizens of the blogosphere. The editors picked the best pieces of the conversation, did a little editing and put together as a book. It was a lot of fun. I just received my copy of the book. You can pre-order yours here. It is only $11.55 on Amazon.com.
I’ve only flipped through it but there is a strange feel to the book as there is a mixture of published authors, academics and thoughtful "lay people." Some of the people didn’t use there real names and it seems just a little bit odd to observe scholars interact with "Moose Lips."
I can’t resist mentioning I made it in to the book and so did one Prince Albert’s finest bloggers Marc Vandersluys!
Problems with Microphones, Vista and Dell Computers
I’m posting a solution to a problem I had with my Inspiron 6400, but I imagine it is applicable to any recent Dell laptop with Vista and Sigmatel audio. When you plug in your microphone Vista detects it and asks you whether you just plugged in a microphone. If you answer yes all is well. But if you ever click the box "don’t ask me again" then the prompt doesn’t come up and it doesn’t work anymore.
You can go in the control panel in the Sigmatel settings and adjust click the box "allow reconfiguration pop ups" but that doesn’t necessarily bring the pop ups back. From what I read in the forums this does fix it for some people but it didn’t for me.
I did that, and then I uninstalled the drivers for the Sigmatel device. The system will prompt you to delete the drivers. Don’t do that. Just uninstall and reboot. Vista will reinstall the drivers. Next time you plug in your mic it would prompt you again.
The only two issues I’ve had with Vista are this and how slow the equivalent of "My Computer" is when I have mapped drives for Networks I’m not currently sitting on. Seeing as how I have mapped drives for 3 different networks on my laptop it can take a long time. I stopped using mapped drives where possible and use short cuts to the network share instead.
Posted by LT in on June 18, 2007
Maybe I’ve been listening to too many of Wayne Jacobsen’s podcasts but I’ve been thinking about institutions. There was period of time in my wife where I was very sceptical of religious organization of any kind. I believed that almost all Christian institutions were inherently self-serving and depending on how “institutionalized” they became they would be willing to sacrifice their stated core values for survival. My position moderated as my study of scripture and church history led me to acknowledge that even the New Testament church had some level of organization, even if it was light in comparison to what we have today.
I come to observe that even alternative types of Christian gatherings or networks suffer from the very same problems they are attempting to distance themselves from. Sometimes it is much worse as the lack of organization gives people no mechanism to deal with a dictatorial unrepentant leader.
So what is a person to do? Part of me thinks the leaders of an institution must humbly examine themselves to see if there is too much of a gap between their stated values and their values as reflected in their actions. This is incredibly difficult to do as once you become heavily invested in an organization it is hard to think about it clearly. It becomes far too easy to hold on to anecdotal success stories while conveniently forgetting the people that slip through the cracks. Worries about your security and your family can cloud your thinking. Considering fundamental change is hard because at a semi-conscious level your mind gravitates towards safety and security. The institution becomes a part of you and considering life without it is scary and unnerving.
Just like what happened to Brooks in the Shawshank Redemption. I should offer a warning about the clip. The language is definitely “R-rated.”
Even if an institution is under pressure change is often seen to be too risky. It is easier to choose the status quo than risk your job in the shake up that change would produce. Change might accelerate the demise of the institution. Because of this few leaders choose anything but cosmetic or superficial change.
One of the biggest casualties is the mission. The disconnect between an institution’s stated goals and its actual accomplishments grows. This process goes largely unnoticed until it is too late to change.
According to the gospel of Shawshank it is fear that holds us prisoner and hope that sets us free. They are words to consider. I don’t think that institutions are inherently bad but they can go that way in a hurry if fear is more prominent than hope or faith.
A great argument for acting on climate change
Simple steps to fighting climate change in Saskatchewan
In Saskatchewan one of our biggest challenges is going to be finding environmentally friendly ways to heat our home and provide power.
When I got married our CO2 situation looked like this.
Drive a 2000 Toyota Echo 15000 km/year : 2.27 tonnes
Drive a 1990 Buick Regal 30 000 km/year: 7.31 tonnes
Electricity: 6.9 tonnes
Natural Gas: 7.64 tonnes
One return trip flight: 1.5 /tonnes
Total CO2: 25.62 tonnes
To do my part to save the environment I need to reduce that 80% to 5 tonnes by 2050. To calculate your co2 footprint go here.
Step 1: Buy Renewable Energy from local utility
You don’t have to buy solar panels just purchase renewable energy from Saskpower or Saskatoon Light and Power. It costs $2.50 for each 100 kilowatt hours of electricity you use. Our home uses about 700 kilowatt hours a month. The cost to switch to green power is an additional $17.50 a month. Compared to a home solar installation this is cheap. If you combined this with energy efficient appliances and lighting you could bring this down even more.
Annual cost: $200
Reduction: 6.9 tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced: 27%
This little action by itself reduced my footprint by 27%. My role in meeting the Kyoto targets was done at a cost of $200 / year. At a large scale this isn’t as feasible because Saskpower doesn’t have the renewable energy capacity, but all that extra cash they are collecting will make it much easier to invest in more wind power.
Step 2: Drive Less
We parked the Buick in the back and now live with one very fuel efficient car. Through biking, car pooling, working from home and using public transit we reduced the amount of distance we traveled by car. This step will be tested if Carol ends up working somewhere she can’t walk to.
Cost: Nothing – just the convenience of having two cars
Reduction: 5 tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced: 47%
Step 3: Home Insulation
This step we haven’t done yet so I can’t give you firm numbers. I am comparing my house with very little insulation to one a similar sized one with more insulation. I can spend about $4500 to wrap the exterior of my house with insulation and new siding. $3000 of which I can get from the government in the form of home improvement grants. This would reduce the amount of natural gas I use by at least one third.
Capital Cost: $1500
Reduction: 2 Tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced: 56%
Long term Utility Cost Savings: Tens of thousands of dollars over 25 years.
Step 4: Geothermal heating
Geothermal heating and cooling is very efficient. Pipes are placed underground and liquid is pumped through the pipes to transfer heat from the ground which maintains a constant temperature to the house. These pumps use a significant amount of electricity but it is much less than using natural gas, oil or electric heat.
How much can I save with Geothermal over natural gas? First I have to figure out how much of my natural gas bill is associated with heating my home. We pay $120 month. About $20 of that is infrastructure and delivery charges that are standard on every bill. Unless you can completely eliminate the use of natural gas that $20 doesn’t change. 20% of our heat bill goes to heating water. The standard Geothermal installation I’m looking at doesn’t heat water. So $80 of my natural gas bill is for the natural gas to heat my house. Take that number out of the equation, cut it in half and add it to my electricity bill. So switching to Geothermal will save me about $40 a month in utility bills.
The cost for Geothermal installed in my house is $20000 taxes included. This number assumes I’ve already done my insulation upgrades. I can get a $7000 grant to install it reducing my capital cost to $13 000. If I borrowed the money to do this at my current mortgage rate my monthly payment would increase $77. So the net difference is $37 a month.
This might seem expensive but in the long term it won’t be. Natural gas supplies are not as abundant as they once were. Much like oil the world is beginning to use up as much natural gas as we can supply. The oil sands project isn’t making things any easier as they use massive amounts of natural gas to steam out the oil in the sand. The cost of natural gas has gone up an average of 11% a year over the last 7 years and 14% in the last 5. That is a total increase of 77% in a mere 5 years. When that happens again geothermal starts to look like a bargain. Another real advantage comes with inflation as the loan payment doesn’t change over 25 years but your utility bill goes up every year with inflation. The cost of natural gas will likely increase faster than electricity.
If you didn’t have to borrow the money to do it your $13 000 investment would save you $500 a year which is 3.5% guaranteed return on your investment. That isn’t stellar but it is better than a Canada Savings Bond, and you are saving after tax income. If natural gas prices increase another 50% the savings would then double. An $80 natural gas bill becomes $120 but the monthly cost of the geothermal is still $40. The difference between the two is $80 or $1000 year. Now we are looking at a guaranteed 7% return.
Another factor in this is the increased value of your home. Home appraisers use the following formula. For each dollar you save a year increase the value of your home $20. So saving $500 a year would add $10 000 to the value of my home.
Annual cost in the first year: $444 (drops as the cost of natural gas increases)
Capital Cost: $13 000
Capital Appreciation: $10 000
Reduction: 5 tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced:76%
Long Term Cost with borrowing: Save thousands
Long Term Cost without borrowing: Save even more thousands
The last hurdle
The last big hurdle to over come is our driving. We still drive a lot and if I didn’t work in a small town 50km away from my house that would probably drop our annual driving distance another 5000km. That would bring us down another 3/4 of a tonne and we would hit the elusive 80% target. Almost everything I do in this scenario saved me money in the long term.
One of the stubborn problems is transportation. Ethanol is isn’t going to help much. Hydrogen is 40 years away. The solution is likely to be found in plug in hybrid vehicles. You’ve likely heard of hybrid gas electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius. GM is looking at introducing the Chevy Volt which would be a plug in hybrid. You plug your car in at night and it charges the batteries. When you drive it uses up all the power in the batteries before it switches over to gasoline. A typical driver would see over 100 miles per gallon.
Most of the changes an individual home owner can make will save them money in the long run. There is a problem with my purposed solutions. Realistically not everyone could sign up for green power from the power company it because there is only so much wind power capacity in Saskatchewan. The solution to this problem will be home solar. The cost of going solar is dropping rapidly. Most projections for new solar technologies see the price dropping to a fifth of what it is today.
For any home owner there is very little reason to not go green.
The best argument AGAINST acting on Climate Change
Here is a very interesting presentation from TED about the world’s problems, how big the problem is and how much it would cost to fix them. They prioritized things like communicable diseases, sanitation, AIDS and global warming. According to a group of economists fighting climate change by adhering to the Kyoto protocol would cost a lot with very little benefit.
His argument appears to be far more convincing than others that oppose fighting climate change. One thing that I found curious they used Kyoto and I’m assuming a $100/tonne carbon tax as the base response for fighting climate change. A $100/tonne carbon tax would cost my family over $2000 a year right now. Kyoto by itself is very expensive and won’t do much. It is pretty clear that to effectively fight climate change we would need at least a 70% if not 80% reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050. When discussing costs and priorities this is scenario we should look at. Every study I’ve read has concluded that limiting the rise in temperature to less than 2 degrees celcius cost a lot less than dealing with the consquences. I’d be interested to know how they framed each issue. Do they take in to the consideration the long term cost savings of energy effeciency and reneable energy technology?
That being said it does look like fighting things like Malaria and AIDS seems to be comparably easy to do. I’m going to take steps to reduce my CO2 emissions because most of them save me money over the long term. Right now the only thing that actually costs more is paying a 25% premium ($15 /month) for green power from Saskatoon Light and Power.
Perhaps I should consider prioritizing some of my giving so that these other easier to solve problems get some more cash. Unicef makes it easy.
Posted by LT in on June 14, 2007
Saskatchewan to reduce Green House Gas emissions by 80%
Saskatchewan’s government is aiming to cut the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 32 per cent in the next 13 years and 80 per cent by 2050.
The targets were unveiled in Saskatoon Thursday as part of the Saskatchewan energy and climate change plan.
The plan is built on five components, which include conservation and efficiency measures for industry, businesses and homeowners.