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Archive for the ‘Federal Issues’ Category

Robert-Falcon Ouellette is in the process of introducing the Indian Residential School Genocide and Reconciliation Memorial Day Act in the House of Commons. Not everyone likes this idea of having a day each year to “dredge up” or “dwell” on something that’s, you know, like, over and done with.

I’d guess that most people feel that way, actually.

And there is a wide variety of ways for naysayers to tell us why the Residential Schools Outrage doesn’t need to keep being brought up:

  • “It was a different time, and I wasn’t around for it, and we need to move on, already, jeez…”
  • “My family is from India/Russia/Paraguay/Equestria so I don’t see why it has anything to do with us or any other New Canadians”
  • “It was the churches who did it, not the government. Blame the churchies for it. (and Praise Sagan/Hitchens/The Flying Spaghetti Monster, while we’re at it)”
  • “Those aboriginals already get free money all the friggin time, man, so it’s not like they need some new form of handout and/or pat on the back”

But one of the newer ones I’ve seen, which I think is a much more clever way for someone to delude themselves, is this one:

“This was years ago, it’s in the past, and the First Peoples have not only survived, but thrived. And that’s what I choose to celebrate.”

(more…)

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I’m getting ever closer to accepting that I am not a politician by nature… part of that process is letting go of the self-censoring.  If I want to say something that’s controversial, I should just say it.  Life’s too short (at least it is now that I’m in my thirties) for continuous diplomacy.  Rather than playing it safe and listening to people yawn whenever I open my mouth, I’m going to give people a chance to truly hate me… I mean TRULY… like sick to their stomach, shaking with disgust… that’s the hate I’m talking about.  Or maybe people will like that I’m speaking my mind… it’s possible…

Winnipeg, MB

No real change in the city, even with large changes in council.

  1. Civic Election. I am pleased that Thomas Steen won Elmwood, because the NDP needs to learn that it doesn’t own a single piece of this city.
  2. Civic Election Redux. Wasn’t surprised to see Sam win again, since doing nothing while looking busy is one of the official passtimes of Winnipeg, His Worship being team captain.
  3. Bike Lobby. If I hear another mention of a project done “for the cyclists”, I will either vomit or simply descend into madness by perpetually paraphrasing Helen Lovejoy: “won’t somebody please think of the cyclists!”
  4. Roundabout/Traffic Circles/Turnamatrixes. Why did no one make any noise about the traffic circles?  Not “we need a story for the news” noise, but serious “WTF is wrong with the traffic department?!” noise.  “It’s just like Seattle”, I heard, but of course, Seattle does it based on citizen’s petitions and tends to actually install circles with dimensions that qualify as traffic circles.  Who asked for these circles?  Helen Lovejoy?
  5. North End shootings. What shootings?  It’s okay… we all forget about what happened to people who don’t live in the suburbs.
  6. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg used to be made fun of for comical reasons, like our creative drivers and big game mosquitoes.  But the U of M is trying its best to establish a new comedy routine.  It appears that some degrees are now being granted based on the same selection criteria as pinning the tail on the donkey.  I heard of someone who turned down a job at U of M to work in New Jersey!  There may be a punchline in there somewhere, but right now I feel like crying.
  7. University of Winnipeg. (Proud alumni of sorts.)  Not content to be the liberal arts college that time forgot, the U of W has decided to swallow up entire blocks in its urge to make gentrification and over-expansion a lifestyle choice.  I like shiny new buildings, especially when they block out superb examples of brutalist architecture (that’s sarcasm, friends), but wouldn’t it make sense to put some energy into improving the quality of the education?  Is U of W getting students because of academic excellence, or because for half the city the trip to U of M seems a little long?
  8. Rapid/Mass/Bus!Bus!Bus! Transit. I take the bus, but whenever I do, I feel like I’m kidding myself.  It’s not really saving me money, and I’m not sure I can justify the extra forty minutes it adds to my commute.  I saw someone I know taking the bus who is from all accounts wealthy and respected.  But do you know what my first thought was, deep in my Winnipeg psyche?  That guy must’ve gotten his license suspended; I didn’t realize he was such a drunk!  And that, my friends, is why Bus Rapid Transit is not the right choice for Winnipeg.  We’re just not bus people.  That’s probably why city council likes to increase the price of bus fare every two weeks.
  9. Canwest Global’s Big Screen. Yes, I know this is old news, and that Canwest has gone the way of my political ambitions, but seriously: who actually thought people would watch a screen that doesn’t face traffic?  It must be a big hit with the thirty people who work across the street, or the two guys who fish for cigarette butts in the garbage cans nearby.  Of course, that could be their target demographic.  I didn’t check how many commercials were for cigarette butt recycling operations.
  10. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A museum about human rights in a city with what’s close to record-breaking levels of poverty, alcohol abuse, and untreated mental illness.  That’s like a Museum of Hockey Greatness at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Don’t worry, though… they’ve got most of their funding… by coercing government and crown corps (so more government) to hand over money.  I’m not usually a “don’t go to space, solve Earth’s problems first” kind of guy, but I feel like a hypocrite just living in a far-from-perfect city with a human rights museum.  I’m not saying that Winnipeg is a festering cesspool, but something about glass houses keeps popping into my head while I’m in the shower… which, by the way, interrupts my time thinking about hot pants.

Manitoba the Have-Not Province

This province and I have a love-hate relationship.  It’s hard to see so much potential and so much disappointment.

  1. Budget Deficits. If we change the law, they’re no longer deficits.  Next up: poverty now called “monkish asceticism”, adultery known as “creative fidelity”.
  2. Manitoba Hydro. Whistleblower says company is deluding itself; in fact, company is deluding itself, but by even bigger proportions.  Does Bob Brennan have an all-marble office at the top of the Hydro Building?  I don’t think I’ll ever be invited to find out.  None of it matters, though, since our government can just bail out Hydro if things go wrong.  And because we don’t actually admit to the existence of deficits…
  3. Drinking and Driving. People are dying at alarming rates, sometimes on their way to work, because some dumb f*** thought that sleeping on his friend’s couch was a fate worse than vehicular homicide.  Why is this not a bigger issue?  We’re madly in love with plug-in hybrids that may or may not work in our climate, but no one gives a crap about technologies that could prevent drunks from starting their cars.  But wait, you say… the drunk could just get someone else to start their car… but I have a theory… when idiots let idiots drive drunk, it’s usually an indication that those initial idiots are also drunk.  Would you stay up until five or six in the morning with a drunk a*** if you were sober?  I know you may have counterarguments, which I’d then have to counter… but this is supposed to be point form, so move it along, okay?
  4. The Bodies Exhibit. Unclaimed bodies, Falun Gong prisoners… either way, those people did not give their consent, so they are victims of an indecent act.  I read a comment about the exhibit: “Their bad luck is our good luck because this is something to be seen.”  I like that comment.  It’s like the Swiss banker who said “hey, look at all these thousands of gold teeth those nice Nazis just dropped off.  It’s too bad their previous owners had to get rid of them, but hey, we’re making money!” Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, I do think this analogy is not as much of an overstatement as you may think at first.  Because you don’t know where those bodies came from, and you do know that the Chinese government has been accused of harvesting organs from unwilling Falun Gong practioners.  But wait, David Matas‘ paws were all over that report, too; isn’t he the guy who wants those exhibit bodies buried simply because Manitoba law states that the bodies can’t leave the province?  What’s with that guy?
  5. Manitoba Slogans. I remember what happened the day that we became the land of Spirited Energy.  The influx of new investment, business, and immigrants was up 500% from the day before.  People felt like the slogan really captured what they were looking for, so they changed their life plans to be a part of the action.  That’s how all the great centres of innovation and industry were formed:
  • Rome, Italy – 1st Century BCE: “Roma, a dirty pit of disease and unemployment… but we do kill a lot of gladiators!”
  • Oxford, England – 14th Century CE: “Students: come for the deadly riots, stay for the plague.”
  • Silicon Valley, USA – 20th Century CE: “Only squares live in Boston.”

My point?  Slogans are silly.  They are either going to make us sound like the guy who is always last to be picked for intramural soccer, or they’re going to blatantly conflict with reality.  Do you know what brings success to a region?  Pre-existing success.  How do  you nurture and develop that initial success?  There are a lot of ways, like education, incentives, culture… but generally NOT SLOGANS.

Country formerly known as the Dominion of Canada

I love this country, not just because I live here, but because I honestly can’t think of another country that’s as close as we are to getting things right.

  1. Bashing the Monarchy. We have a Queen for a reason.  Her Royal Highness is detached and separate from normal society through wealth and privilege, FOR A REASON.  We do not elect presidents in our country; we believe that people elected through money- and media-skewed popularity contests tend to be narcissistic and ambitious to a dictatorial fault.  So we have a person who is outside of the “rat race” to be there to ensure that if things go very wrong in our political structure, that person (or a local representative of similar mindset) can step in and dissolve the whole bunch.  It may not be an ideal solution, but anyone who followed US politics from 2000-2009 may agree that being a republic has an even uglier side than the occasional Heir to the Throne’s mention that he’d like to be reincarnated as a tampon.
  2. The NDP-Liberal Merger. There is no idea that would be quicker to kill the Liberal party than merger with the NDP.  As Canadians base much of their identity on not being American, so do many Liberals base their political life as being different than the NDP.  I like left-leaning Liberals, just as I like right-leaning Liberals… but the notion that cherished liberal beliefs should be set aside for the views of a party that exists for union members first and everyone else maybe sometime later is enough to make me start wondering if there’s enough progressive left in those Conservatives to make me a Harperista.
  3. Chicanery in the House of Commons. I would love to vote for a party that disciplined its members for showing a lack of decorum in the House and beyond.  I’d like there to be a party that actually realized that this is an issue that is destroying any remaining respect that Canadians have for their politicians.  At times I’ve said and done things that may not be in keeping with what I believe; it’s part of being human.  But I don’t make a career out of it.
  4. Hatred of Quebec. What is this, 1995?  I still hear that joke about building a wall around La Belle Province and filling it with water.  Granted, it’s fun to make GOOD jokes about the Quebeckers when you’re among friends (like when you’re in Acadia; those people know some really good ones), but let’s be honest.  What would Canada be without Quebec?  Answer: North Dakota.  A surprisingly beautiful place and good people, but no one goes there for the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
  5. Hatred of Aboriginals. We are all treaty people… there is no way around that.  If you don’t like it, see if your distant relatives in Britain, Germany and/or the Ukraine will take you back.  Oh, they don’t want you, either?  Seriously, though… what would Canada be without Quebec and our aboriginal peoples?  Well… we’d no longer qualify as North Dakota.

Other Items

Miscellany.  Its inclusion here is only to allow for the use of the word “miscellany”.

  1. Being Unfriended on Facebook. Why does it hurt so much?  So VERY MUCH?  Well, not that much, but when I saw that someone had dropped me it was worse than losing ten Twitter followers (hell, I’d unfollow me if I could).  It’s like that person is saying that our friendship fifteen years ago didn’t mean a thing…  I guess it didn’t, but to just go and unfriend me…
  2. Red Lobster. Who actually knows a group of people who are all willing to eat seafood?  This is more a mystery than a complaint.
  3. Payday Loans. I hate that people profit from the poor financial decisions and situations of others, but I have trouble envisioning other ways for a person who needs two hundred bucks OR ELSE to get the cash.  Why can’t there be more easy answers?
  4. Self-absorbed Bloggers. Self-important windbags born with silver spoons in their mouths, who type their rants about traffic circles and Facebook without actually wondering if they are contributing to society in a meaningful way.  Couldn’t they be spending this time trying to cure cancer?  Or reading to old people?  Or cleaning up the fifteen garbage bags that they piled up next to their garage two weeks ago?  Truly disgusting.

Note to startled onlookers:  Not only was I not drunk when I wrote the above, but I even saved the draft and reviewed it later.  I really have no explanation or defense for having pressed the Publish button.

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George Costanza was a visionary, despite being a fictional character based on Larry David.  Well, in truth, I just wanted a name to describe a concept, and most names are taken.  Even The Human Fund is taken, by an organization in Cleveland.  But that didn’t stop me…

So here’s the pitch: many of us who frequent blogs are idealists who hope for a better society, whether our focus is on local issues or on global affairs.  Some of us donate money to various causes, while others feel as though charities are simply “in the business of charity”, worrying that the administration and salaries might be taking too much of the donation money.

As an East Kildonan Lion, I know first-hand that there are charities that are truly working to help the communities they work in; Lions, for instance, do not spend any proceeds on administration costs, which means that all of the money from fundraising and donations goes directly to worthy causes, and not to salaries or awards dinners.  I’ve also seen the work that groups like the United Way and Siloam Mission are doing in Winnipeg, and they are worthy causes.

But there are other projects that I feel would benefit Winnipeg, and they don’t always fall under the auspices of charity in the traditional sense.  Some of these projects are on a line between charity and angel investing, because they are near a break-even point economically, so may not be considered viable enough for standard capital or not-for-profit enough for donations.

One of these projects is the Grassroots Apartments Project I talked about in an earlier post.  Another idea that I might write about in future is Youth Cafés.  Either of these projects, if they could be given a solid business plan, could receive capital from a rag-tag assortment of Winnipeggers who want to see some of their spare change used to enhance the build environment of our city.  This same concept could be extended to provincial, federal, or worldwide issues, whether it’s money for a prorotype of an algae biofuel plant or a little bit of cash to research the effect of Martian gravity on the development of embryos in mammals in anticipation of building a settlement on Mars.

If any of these projects sound good, great; if any of these projects sound incredibly stupid, that’s good too.  Because I believe that there is room for a fund that allows its investors (or sometimes more accurately, its benefactors) to pick and choose which projects to invest in.  This would be handled through a website that lists all projects once approved by a volunteer committee.  The benefactors would be able to choose the projects to invest their funds in, based on the type of project and its apparent viability.

Some benefactors may choose to automate their investment choices, while others would choose manually on a project-by-project basis.  Some projects could be donations to other charities, while others could be microloans to local entrepreneurs.  It would possible for one benefactor to treat the fund solely as a place to donate money, while another benefactor would use the fund as a way to earn back a small income from projects they deem worthy and viable.

This type of project could be started immediately with the creation of a website and a not-for-profit organization.  Rather than making donations in an official sense, participants would be purchasing virtual goods.  These virtual goods would be traded to various projects, where the executives of that project would borrow money from the organization using the virtual goods as collateral (often along with other guarantees), or they would sell the goods to the organization outright (in the case of a donation); it would also be possible for the organization to enable shared ownership of a portion of a for-profit project by a project’s benefactors, similar to buying shares.
If a project executive failed to repay a loan, the organization would use conventional means of collection to retrieve the funds.  All funds recovered would be distributed back to benefactors, and all dividends from shared ownership would be distributed as well.  All benefactors would be able to withdraw their funds at any time when their funds are not committed to a project.

So is this a worthy endeavour?  Is it something that could be made to work, avoiding both fraud and over-complexity?  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Climate change doesn’t matter because people are worried about keeping their jobs.

Climate change doesn’t matter because people are scared that the government is trying to control them.

Climate change doesn’t matter because developing countries are trying to punish the West.

Climate change doesn’t matter because there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

Climate change doesn’t matter because scientists are human and make mistakes.

The truth is, as much as we progressive types like to talk about climate change, and as much as we all seem to spout off about Kyoto and Copenhagen and renewable energy, climate change doesn’t matter to most North Americans, and that’s not going to change if we keep using tired old talking points.

Emissions reduction is a term that means one thing to most people: reduction of productivity.  It’s a logical point of view; how can we reduce emissions while increasing output?  We need output for economic growth, and reducing output will hurt the economy.  Green collar jobs sound appealing, but it’s hard to visualize unemployed workers in Youngstown, Flint, or Oshawa smiling in front of a new “green widget factory”.

Rather than being a new Apollo Project to energize society, climate change is on its way to becoming the next H1N1, a serious issue that loses the public’s attention.  People are starting to tune out, feeling as though the whole concept is overblown, or perhaps completely made up.  Even governments in Europe will soon feel the sting of climate change backlash, if they haven’t felt it already.

So those of us who do believe in climate change, who have read about the changes in the Arctic and in Australia, and who understand that declining glaciers will cause catastrophic drought in South Asia… we need to start accepting that talking about reducing emissions is the wrong way to change the world.

What is the right way to combat a climate change that doesn’t matter?  Restoring a proper balance to the atmosphere and the oceans while continually increasing global energy production is a hundred-year strategy, and at this point we haven’t even begun.

A Global Energy Strategy

The goal of this strategy is to increase global energy production as quickly as possible, raising the standard of living for all of humanity without penalizing developed nations.  More energy allows for new technologies in agriculture, electronics, biomedicine, construction, infrastructure and transportation that will lead to reductions in poverty and disease and an increase in opportunities for the people of all nations.

We need to expand our current energy production from 15 TW to approximately 35 TW by 2050, while replacing fossil fuels before supply dwindles to the point of being uneconomical.  By 2100, the world economy will require almost 100 TW of energy.

The declining supply in available fossil fuels, combined with ocean acidification caused by uncontrolled carbon emissions and changes to weather patterns based on changing atmospheric content, are the first issues to be resolved by this strategy.  Energy production based on oil, whether for electricity or for gasoline, must be phased out first (by 2050), followed by coal and natural gas by 2100.

This phase-out can be achieved only if all viable alternatives are pursued, including increases to efficiency in production and consumption, investment in renewable energy, construction of next generation nuclear fission reactors, sequestration of carbon emissions (to safeguard our fisheries and agricultural industries) and space-based solar power.

Meanwhile, research into nuclear fusion reactors must be maintained and increased when possible, as fusion energy will be required after 2050 in order to maintain economic growth at the desired pace.  In addition, innovation in space flight must also continue, both for space-based solar power to be economically sustainable and for new raw materials and fuel sources for the Earth.

Continued economic growth depends on new energy technologies, and not on continued stagnation with fossil fuel exploitation in its current state.  All agreements on energy policy must keep long-term economic growth as the ultimate goal, and this growth will only be possible if we prevent catastrophes caused by an overreliance on fossil fuels (or any one source) for energy production.  Such catastrophes can include the destruction of fisheries, a massive decline in agricultural yields due either to changing weather patterns or to a lack of fuel for equipment, or economic depression caused by rising energy costs.

Only if the focus of government investment and a healthy dose of private money are put towards various energy solutions will we see continued economic growth over the next century.  The future progress of humanity depends on a course of positive actions towards technological improvement.

The Same Actions, A Different Point of View

Defenders of a status quo in energy production will continue to oppose technological innovation that could affect their bottom line, but the vast majority of the population, including business owners and investors, are only concerned about changes in energy policy that could affect their ability to earn a living, consume products, and maintain a lifestyle to which they’ve grown accustomed.  By focusing on increasing energy production in order to foster economic growth, rather than simply pushing for reductions in emissions, we can send a message that changes in energy policy are to replace antiquated fuels with new technologies, and that curtailing economic growth is counter to the mainstream progressive agenda.

As long as the solution touted by Al Gore and others consists mainly of emission reduction, it will be forever tied to the notion of economic reduction; the emphasis needs to be placed on better energy and more of it, and our real-life policies and solutions need to reflect that point of view.

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Q: What do pet adoption rates tell us about our economy?

A: It tells us quite a bit more than we get from stats on consumer spending or consumer confidence.

If I were to buy a TV or even a car, it could be for one of two reasons:
a.    I need a TV/Car
b.    Wouldn’t it be cool to have the latest/fanciest TV/Car?  I’m going to buy one!

You could argue that people who NEED an item would not be buying the newest or best example of that item, but that’s not always true.  When we needed a car because the last one was attacked by a falling tree, we didn’t buy the cheapest used one available; we found a more expensive one, because it had the features that we had been without with the last car.  Yes, we have to pay every month for it, but we decided that we wanted a safe car to take our daughter places that aren’t particularly bus-accessible (or for when we have a case of the lazies).  So we would have bought some kind of new or almost-new car, and we didn’t feel that economic circumstances could bring us to a different result.

When we finally buy a new TV (we’ve lost three in the past year, and have been taking other people’s TVs to our palliative care facility), it won’t be the cheapest; it’ll be the one that best fits in our living room (probably 32 or 36 inches).   And with the TV, we’ll buy it once, and that’ll be it.  We won’t be financing it or leasing it, so we don’t need to worry if we’ll have money to make payments in three months.

Pet adoption is a different story.  Adopting a pet is a commitment to take responsibility for another life.  If money is tight, or a family is worried about keeping their jobs, adopting a pet will seem like a luxury they can’t afford.  At least that’s my assumption, since pet shelters are overflowing with animals, and adoptions are nowhere near keeping pace.

When I read in the paper that consumer confidence is up or that Christmas retail sales are at a good level, it doesn’t say nearly as much as when I hear that many pet shelters can’t take any new animals and that foster families are maxed out.  That information, coupled with the personal stories of bankruptcy that are becoming far more common, tells me that we’re still in the middle of this economic downturn.  And Manitoba has not escaped the effects; we’re just seeing them happen in slow motion compared to our friends in other provinces, and as transfer payments are slashed, it’ll take us longer than our neighbours to recover.

And following that uplifting anecdote…

Q: Why is downtown parking becoming the polarizing debate of our time?

A: People seem to have deluded themselves into thinking that parking is the core issue of downtown revitalization.

I know that parking is an important part of the character of our downtown, and I don’t like staring at surface parking lots or the WRHA’s tribute to urban decline on Main Street.  But realistically, I know that the city will continue to worship parking, just as I do between Christmas and Easter, and fighting downtown parking is like chaining yourself to the McDonalds at the Louvre to protest the lack of McRibs while museum staff is busy painting a bra onto the Venus de Milo.

There are two issues in downtown that turn parking into a boneless pork patty: historic preservation and residential growth.  I agree that surface lots don’t disappear when parkades are built, particularly when surface lots are left intact while adjacent historic buildings are torn down to make space for new parking; I know many people who will gladly exchange a bus pass for a parking spot if supply outstrips demand and prices start to drop.  Personally, I like the idea of incentives for surface lot redemption, to be followed after several years by a surface parking levy to finance further incentives.  In addition, it should be made impossible for ANY structurally sound building to be replaced with a parking structure or surface lot as long as there are existing surface lots on the same block.

But that doesn’t mean that parkades should be banned, or that all surface lot owners should have to pay five times the taxes because “there ought to be a building there”.  If they want to put a parkade in the East Exchange, I wouldn’t stand in their way if:
a.    No existing buildings are demolished
b.    Street-level commercial space is incorporated into the parkade
c.    The architectural design of the parkade is deemed acceptable by city council

Obviously, in a perfect world, I would put far stricter requirements on the construction of parkades in the Exchange District; one item I’d love to add is that construction materials for the building façade should come from reclaimed brick, but I don’t think that’s realistic in our current political environment.  As with everything else, city council will not back the Exchange District 100% until they are utterly convinced of just how valuable the area is.  I find it strange that the East Side of Lake Winnipeg is considered UNESCO-worthy by the province, but the Exchange District is left to be demolished one building at a time.

Why is it that a provincial park around Fisher Bay is touted as being worth $38 million, while the Exchange District, a national historic site, is completely ignored?  Do our governments have no concept of how much that neighbourhood is worth, or how much potential it has?  In the words of Councillor O’Shaughnessy: “The debate is getting lower and lower and lower. Please don’t compare this building or even our whole exchange district with the walled city of Quebec.”   Because the Exchange District will have no historical value no matter how old it gets,  we should replace it with parkades while financing is cheap.

And lastly…

Q: Why do NDP apologists feel the need to defend every action by every member of the Manitoba government?

A: Because it seems to work?  Does it?

I understand the idea of supporting your party; I even launched an incredibly successful fundraising campaign for the Manitoba Liberals: Help Block Out PC Websites! (as of today, only 6% behind the Progressive Conservative Fundraising Campaign!)

But sometimes, the men and women of your political party make mistakes.  I won’t list any Liberal mistakes, but I will admit (shockingly) that mistakes have been made.  If bloggers such as Never Eat Yellow Snow and Just Damn Stupid were to focus on defending more defensible actions on the part of the NDP, wouldn’t people be more convinced that their points of view have merit?

Note: I do apologize if any of my past actions mixed with this post now warrant a BlockReganHypocrisy.ca.

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The current 15 Terawatts (TW) of energy that we consume on Earth includes around 12-13 TW derived from oil, gas and coal.  It will take a very robust mix of various renewables to replace 13 TW; in fact, to replace around half (6 TW) of fossil fuels by 2040, we would need to replace the 6 TW as well as provide an additional 16 TW of energy from other sources to keep pace with global energy demand.  So 22 TW is required in order to halve the amount of carbon emissions from today, in addition to the approximately 2.5 TW of renewables that currently exist.  So the magic number of total renewables would need to equal 24.5 TW.

If we look at all of the existing and potential renewable production, we can come up with an estimate of the amount of renewable energy product we could have by 2040.  Please keep in mind that current production is estimated, and hopefully conservatively, so that actual production should be at or slightly above these estimates:

1.    Hydroelectric: Assuming current capacity of 1 TW (it’s actually a little less), it could be possible to see 2 TW by 2040 with hydroelectric dams; that is an optimistic forecast, as many of the best dam locations in developed nations are in use.  However, there are other forms of hydroelectricity, including micro-hydro, tidal power and osmotic power, and while generally unknown today, they should see some growth over the next few decades.  For the purposes of increasing the total hydroelectric energy, however, these other technologies may not provide too much of an increase by 2040.  It would be best to assume that these additional methods only serve to increase the probability of total hydro production reaching 2 TW.

2.    Geothermal: power from within the Earth currently provides around 10 GW of electricity and 28 GW of heating, which equals 0.038 TW in total.  Geothermal has much potential in many areas of the world, including British Columbia, where it’s possible for geothermal electricity to be generated.  Even areas that may not have efficient electricity production can use geothermal for direct heating.  In theory, almost all space heating and cooling on Earth (around 1.5 TW) could be provided by geothermal and passive solar, but it is unlikely that every home on the planet will be equipped with a geothermal heat pump and optimized for solar heating by 2040.  It is more realistic to assume strong growth in geothermal to a level where we could see a total of 1 TW, including electricity.

3.    Biomass: Ignoring the fact that not all Biomass energy production is sustainable, the current production of approximately 250 GW could increase due mainly to biofuels derived from agricultural waste products or algae (as opposed to ethanol from corn and other food crops, which is more of a fad than a solution).  I can optimistically imagine an increase to 1.5 TW by 2040, as there is abundant potential in mature economies for biofuel production.

4.    Wind: We currently have over 120 GW of wind worldwide, and we are seeing major growth of wind capacity in various countries, including Canada.  However, wind has a very large divide between peak capacity (high winds) and actual capacity, as sometimes the wind isn’t providing enough force to create a measurable amount of energy.  The “uptime” of wind can be estimated at 40% by wind optimists and at 1% by its critics.  In my opinion, wind is an excellent companion to solar, but still requires an additional backup for the rare times when there is no wind or sun.  However, improvements in battery technology (including plug-in hybrid cars) could help to make the 40% capacity a more reliable figure; in addition, efficiency will probably be improved somewhat by innovation.   So our current 50 GW of actual capacity (0.05 TW) could possibly expand to as high as a full TW by 2040.

5.    Solar: Along with geothermal and wind, solar has far larger potential than is currently being employed.  It is estimated that 120,000 TW of solar energy is available for use, and while it’s impractical to capture all solar energy that visits the planet, a miniscule percentage could be harnessed to meet all of our current needs, as long as reliable methods of storing the energy can be employed (battery technologies).  Solar energy, including solar space heating and solar water heating, amounts to around 120 GW (0.12 TW).  The capital costs of solar are declining due to mass production and innovation, and I expect that solar installations will increase over the coming years, and will be given a boost by the coming commercial availability of plug-in hybrid automobiles.  Plug-in hybrids function not only as automobiles; they are also mobile batteries for storing excess energy.  It will be possible to charge a battery using renewables such as solar or wind when there is abundant energy being produced, and the battery could then be connected to a home electrical grid to provide power.  It is possible in my opinion that solar could increase to 5 TW of actual capacity (versus peak capacity), which is the figure that is most important when looking to replace baseload fossil fuel generation.

If we combine these totals, we see that my total projection for worldwide renewable energy production to equal 10.5 TW by 2040.  On its own, this would be a good start to replacing fossil fuel production at 2009 levels, but it cannot also accommodate the projected growth in worldwide energy usage.

Many environmentalists hope that better efficiency in energy generation and consumption will cut back the growth in energy usage, but I believe that it is not realistic to expect growth to be curtailed by more than several terawatts.  It’s not impossible that cap and trade programs or carbon/consumption taxes in G20 countries can allow efficiency gains to result in a decrease in energy usage (defying Jevons Paradox), but we cannot and should not expect less developed nations to stop any economic growth that outpaces gains in the efficiency of their current energy resources.  In truth, we can’t really expect that G20 nations would be able to slow economic growth to such levels even if there was consensus to do so.

Assuming that the global population will be at or around 9 billion by 2040, freezing power consumption to current levels would require every person on Earth to cut their energy usage by a quarter in order to accommodate the newcomers.  Of course, this is more likely than the idea of freezing the global population at 6.8 billion, but is still very difficult to imagine.  Realistically, I can imagine the 14 TW shortfall being reduced through conservation and purposeful consumption restrictions to 10 TW; a ten terawatt shortfall is about as optimistic as I can be.

If we can cover this shortfall of 10 TW, we’ll see the maximum carbon dioxide threshold reach between 450 and 500 ppm by 2040, at which point we will need to immediately begin removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to minimize the damage as much as possible.  A threshold of 350 ppm is currently recommended by many activists and scientists as our ultimate goal.  Barring any unexpected and amazing technological breakthrough in energy production, I don’t think it’s possible to avoid reaching 450-500 ppm (note: carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas, so 450 ppm CO2 can mean different things based on other gases as well as some cooling effects such as aerosols).

The damage done by the carbon emissions that have already occurred can only be reversed quickly through energy-intensive geoengineering.  Geoengineering involves various engineering technologies to mitigate or reverse climate change or remove emitted greenhouse gases, and is an important second step after alternatives to fossil fuels have been developed and deployed.  The ideal geoengineering methods are any that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere; methods to reduce the amount of sunlight (and heat) reaching the Earth will not solve other greenhouse gas emissions problems, such as ocean acidification.  However, devices such as artificial carbon-removing trees and scrubbing towers may take too long to reverse temperatures on their own, so concepts such as cloud-seeding and even deflecting sunlight could help to accelerate a decrease in warming.

It’s very important to note that the energy- and capital-intensive nature of geoengineering makes the notion of using it without reducing fossil fuel usage unrealistic; the additional fossil fuels required to power geoengineering would in all likelihood add more emissions than the geoengineering would be able to remove or mitigate, making the whole strategy pointless.  While it’s expected that fusion power will be available in the second half of the 21st century (the running joke is that it’s fifty years away today, and that it will still be fifty years away fifty years from now), there are no absolute guarantees that this technology will ever be ready for commercial use, and continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions may result in catastrophic changes in climate before fusion-powered geoengineering can come online.

To make up the shortfall in energy production involved in halving fossil fuel usage by 2040, there are four options available (that I know of):

1.    Heavier investment in renewables: a worldwide campaign to equip all buildings on Earth with solar panels and geothermal heat pumps, and to place wind farms and next-generation hydro next to every city is possible, but it’s difficult to see how a strategy can be agreed upon when there isn’t even consensus on the sheer impossibility of conservation and our current renewable energy growth rates removing the need for fossil fuels anytime soon.  Until such time as we can expect to see our world leaders telling us that we could be 10 TW short of survival, I don’t expect an even larger growth in renewables than I’m predicting above.

2.    Continued use of fossil fuels using on-site sequestration of emissions: sequestration is a movement that is gaining momentum in the two largest coal-burning nations, the United States and China.  However, even if “clean coal” can replace the thousands of coal plants in these two countries, it does not solve other environmental issues with marginal oil extraction (including tar sands) and coal mining; in addition, sequestration will reduce the efficiency of existing fossil fuel power plants and has a negative effect on air quality; lastly, we will still eventually run out of fossil fuels.  China has already started to work at replacing its most inefficient coal plants with gas-fired plants and cleaner coal plants; the first coal plant in China to sequester its emissions is planned for operation in 2011.

3.    Space-based solar power: if launch costs to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) could be reduced to $2,500/kg (and that looks to be possible by 2025) and the increased cost of fossil fuel energy (due to consumption taxes and not just demand) can rise to a high enough level, it would be possible to assemble solar arrays in Low Earth Orbit.  The assembled satellites would either be left in LEO (smaller antennas) or thrust outwards to Geostationary Orbit (less redundancy required) to transmit power to terrestrial receiving stations using microwaves.  While there are no amazing new technologies required (aside from the advanced composites used in the next generation of launch vehicles, which are already being developed), the economics and risks of this venture make it a challenge to achieve within a 30-year timeframe.  Ten Terawatts of solar power would weigh approximately 10 million tons, which would require 150 yet-to-be-developed 150-tonnes-to-LEO heavy-lift launch vehicles launching approximately 475 times each (twice a month for twenty years).  In addition, there would either need to be additional propulsion to bring the solar array to geostationary orbit, or more satellites for 100% uptime in LEO, as well as the large receivers on Earth that may need to be as large as 5km in diameter.

4.    Nuclear Fission: Fusion may be commercially available by 2040 if we’re lucky, but fission is here today.  There are environmental costs to uranium mining, and there are definite concerns about safety and nuclear proliferation, but I don’t believe these outweigh the benefit of revisiting nuclear power.   The biggest threat to good ideas is fundamentalism on either side, and the “no nukes ever” argument could affect more than global energy production: nuclear power is an essential part of space exploration and exploitation.  Ironically, nuclear fission may be the key to accessing extra-terrestrial sources of fusion fuel and space-based solar power that will eventually make our current nuclear power plants obsolete.  In the short term, newer designs involving passive safety, along with the addition of light water reactor sustainability for existing plants could result in an increase in nuclear power both through construction and the life extension of existing plants.  Because it takes around ten years for a new nuclear power plant to go from planning to operation, it would take serious devotion and effort to expand the current global nuclear capacity of under a terawatt to three or four TW.  To reach 10TW with nuclear alone, we’d need around 10,000 new nuclear reactors, which is 500 per year over twenty years.

So which of these options is the best choice for humanity?  I believe the answer is all of them.  To find that missing 10 TW of energy, we will need more than just one strategy; if one of these options succeeds, it will get us closer to our goal, but won’t be enough to get us all of the way in a reasonable timeframe.  If two out of four, or perhaps three out of four succeed, we will finally see emissions drop to a manageable level; only then can we start looking at step two, reducing the greenhouse gases that have already been released.

I am all in favour of reduce, reuse, recycle, and the idea of planting trees and investing in cleaner fuels; a strong spirit of conservation can save us terawatts of energy.  But emotional environmentalism isn’t enough on its own to conquer our current energy crisis; we need to start looking at our energy crisis in absolute terms, including both the required energy and the costs of construction and operation.  This involves not being sucked into the arguments of the zero-growthers or people who obsess over a climate change conspiracy, which will result in more arguing and no progress.  No matter your view on just how much warming there is, or how much of it is due to human activity, we are still left on a planet with finite fossil fuels and a population that will continue to expand in numbers and in energy consumption.  A revolution in energy is required for the future progress for humanity, and we’re running out of time.

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Warren Kinsella aside, now’s not exactly a time of great joy for Federal Liberals.  The Liberal poll numbers are low, and an anecdotal glance at the comments sections on news sites and blogs seem to indicate less Liberal/Iggy support than in the recent past.

I myself joined the Federal partly only recently, having before that been a member of another party federally.  (I think many readers could probably hazard a guess as to which other party a centrist Liberal could have flirted with.)  To be honest, I was scared away by the apparent rift between Mr. Chretien and Mr. Martin, and several controversies that didn’t make the Liberal party seem like the right party for a young idealist.  But I’ve come to realize that no matter what the fortunes of the party, and even when other Liberals say or do things that I don’t agree with, the Liberal Party of Canada has always been my ideological home, even if I wasn’t always ready to admit it.

When I describe the Liberal party (both provincial and federal) to voters, I refer to it as a sort of a Libertarianism with Conscience.  It’s the idea that individuals should always be free to make their choices in life, but that the government will be there to support them when they want help.  That last piece is important, because too often governments decide to “help” when their brand of assistance isn’t wanted or needed, and it’s very difficult for a government to walk the line between being supportive and getting in the way.  So a good government doesn’t stick its nose where it doesn’t belong (in the bedroom, for instance), and guarantees the safety and well-being of its citizens while protecting their rights and privacy.  I strongly believe that the Liberal Party of Canada is our best hope of achieving this kind of government, which I will call a Proper Liberal Government.

Our best hope is still very much a work in progress, as there are things that happen every day that seem to get in the way of the LPC reaching that goal.  My opinion (which may be somewhat naïve) is that the Liberals need to start behaving in politics the way that they would hope to behave as the ideal government for Canada.  And first and foremost, that means treating all Canadians with respect, even if they have a big Conservative ‘C’ stitched onto their shirt.

–    All Canadians deserve to have their voices heard: a Proper Liberal Government would not marginalize any citizens, no matter their background or social situation.  So that means it’s not okay to treat other MPs maliciously in the House of Commons, or in media interviews, or in ten-percenters.

–    It is better to build up than to tear down: a Proper Liberal Government would place its emphasis on constructive solutions, with negative comments on the actions of others kept to a minimum, and delivered not only with respect but with a positive remedy suggested.

–    Governments function best when they have the consent of the governed: a Proper Liberal Government would view opposition parties as partners in legislation and initiatives.  The best way to curry favour among the voters for the next election is to find and build consensus whenever possible.  This cannot be achieved when the MPs of other parties, who represent the majority of our citizens, are treated with disdain or distrust.

–    Transparency is a virtue and a powerful ally to Canadians: the Liberal philosophy is based on the idea that our opinion is valid because it is well-conceived, well-researched, and well-debated.  A Proper Liberal Government would make sure that all facts are made available to all Canadians as quickly and as accessibly as possible.

What this means to me is that our current doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction with the Conservatives isn’t working.  We are the party of intelligent consensus, which while causing more arguments within our party, creates strong and thoughtful policies that reflect the opinions of a majority of our citizens.  We are the party that captures the ideals of most Canadians, but we’re also the party that has lost its ability to sell our citizens on the idea of good government.

The disenfranchised majority who can’t even bring itself to vote isn’t made up of mostly far-right conservatives or far-left socialists; many non-voters are centrist Canadians who have lost faith that they’ll ever see a Proper Liberal Government.  They see politics as a game between two or three armies of self-serving politicians, where no major party has risen above the fray.

I believe that the only way we have a chance at restoring the majority’s faith in their system of government is to very clearly and very publicly draw a line between the partisan politics of old and the new politics of respect.  We need to have our LPC leaders stand up and say that we’ve had enough of the game, and that we’re not going to play any longer.  And we need to back it up, by treating all other MPs with respect in Parliament and in the media, and by focusing on construction instead of destruction.

At first, the other parties might gain some advantage, by continuing to use strategies that we would deem too abhorrent to employ, but I actually don’t believe that.  As the LPC proves its sincerity in the weeks and months to follow, the other parties will either suffer backlash by continuing the old battle, or will start to change their ways as well.  And when the noise of nasty politics has faded, the policies and promise of a Proper Liberal Government will bring the Liberals a new opportunity to govern Canada, and govern it well.

The only way to solve the political deadlock in Canada is to start acting like the government we aspire to become.  Any other strategy will continue to be seen as a cheap ploy to the majority of Canadians.

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