Green Climate Change


My sense of irony is on overload because I had been reading a series of announcements about new green technology — particularly using algae to produce high test biofuels for cars, followed closely by an argument that to save the planet we need to put even more ethanol into gasoline — 15%. And where I live the government is rabidly promoting industrial scale wind farms and pushing laws and the people out of the way to get them done — nature and the natives will cope somehow… don’t you want to save the planet?

The irony comes in that according to a multiplicity of authorities, climate change is being accelerated by the combustion byproducts of our expanding ‘civilization’. So I am frankly puzzled as to how burning different stuff is going to help, since the waste gasses released will be roughly proportional to the energy produced.

What is worse is that for ethanol in gasoline, not only are there the production and distillation costs of making the ethanol, but over the years the decline in fuel economy I have seen has been pretty much directly proportional to the amount of ethanol. Moving to smaller and smaller vehicles masks this effect somewhat, but gasahol is just not as energy-intense as pure gasoline. So it follows that the more we put in, the more fuel that is burned so more greenhouse gasses.

And tangentially, wind turbines may seem like a good idea, and probably are in some places, but on an industrial scale are both expensive and problematic, to say nothing of the potential hazard they pose to both wildlife and the people unlucky enough to live near them. And in no way do they produce the kind of stable power on demand that current western society expects.

The government is convinced, it seems, that soaring power prices will motivate people to conserve, which they do — as seniors we consider our state as one of energy poverty, heating and cooling is done deliberately and conservatively (in the dark). Being uncomfortable is getting to be the new normal. But because freezing in the winter is not a prospect we look forwards to, like many of our neighbors we are considering putting in a wood stove for winter heat.  Trees are at least a renewable resource and wood is still fairly cheap (bet Bay Street would like to fix that, to say nothing of Queens Park…). So instead of heating our home with safe, clean electricity produced by a large, carefully managed central plant, we would be running an uncontrolled combustion process that likely spewed partially distilled wood chemicals, soot, tar and so forth.  Hardly good for the planet — but affordable (and warm).

And don’t get me started on the tar sands and fracking… Problem is that right now the money is to be made by accelerating green house gas production rather than going the other way. Governments seem to see this as opportunities for their best buds to make money — they may say its green, but I think that refers to the money. And the whole approach in Canada at least is to make it harder for people to take care of their own energy needs — instead, these new energy projects are done on a mammoth scale, feeding a centrally managed grid, using technologies whose production profiles are at odds with the needs of society. And managing that grid (which must be built out significantly) is likely to be more of a science fiction exercise than an achievable reality [for entertainment one must read the final report on the 2003 Blackout — particularly the assessment of grid management complexity].

One wonders if the direction had been to encourage people to put in their own small scale solar and wind, to reduce the load on the grid. A very different model, probably would have produced a lot more sustainable jobs. Didn’t happen…

So I am thinking that since there are no serious efforts being done anywhere at scale, particularly in Canada, to develop energy sources and approaches that don’t accelerate climate change — instead it all seems to be a chorus of ‘Burn, baby, Burn…’.  (Although the work of the climate change office in the Chicago government suggests that not everyone is sleeping through this one…)  Here in eastern Ontario, climate change will probably help things — as will areas much further north. But for the bulk of the world it doesn’t look pretty (though likely both wet and hot). I suppose I should be glad that governments and their ‘smart money’ associates are helping it happen.

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