Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Carbon Sequestration in Saskatchewan

via SaskPower

So the first coal-fired power generation facility with CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) has opened in Saskatchewan. I know I'm supposed to cheer about this, it being Canadian and "green" and all, but, no.
I've never really understood the desperation to cling to fossil fuels. It just seems so sensible that instead of replacing dinosaurs with more dinosaurs, you should be moving into new, cleaner modes of power generation. And this should be easiest with outfits like Sask Power, a state-owned monopoly.
I'm pro state-owned power generation, don't misunderstand. I went through power privatization in Alberta, where public utilities were sold off and bought (primarily) by Enron--who proceeded to whipsaw everyone in the province except the few (like Edmonton) who kept their own municipal power utility.
So how is the new CCS system working in Saskatchewan? Well, Grist is reporting on a new report on the finances and functionality of the plant. As Grist reports:
In 2008, the provincial government announced the Boundary Dam CCS project, whereby one of the station’s boilers (No. 3) would be replaced with a modern 160-megawatt boiler and coupled with a facility that would capture and store up to 90 percent of the boiler’s CO2 emissions. Seven years later, in 2014, boiler No. 3 began operations, representing the world’s first full-scale coal CCS project.
The captured carbon dioxide is compressed into liquid form and transported via pipeline. Most of it goes northwest to the aging Weyburn oil field, privately owned by Alberta-based Cenovus Energy, where it is used in “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR), boosting oil production.
The plant also scrubs sulphur dioxide, NOx, and  resells its fly ash. There's no reference as to whether it captures the released mercury, though. The SO2 is sold as sulphuric acid for industrial uses.
But the compressed CO2 is shipped to an oil field and used for enhanced oil recovery (ie. pumped into a played out field to force the last of the oil to the surface). So I'm failing to see any significant carbon savings in this scenario. Any reasonable carbon accounting would have to include the CO2 release from the recovered oil.
And the dollars don't really add up either. According to to Grist/the Glennie report:
 (All dollar figures are expressed in net-present-value terms, and in Canadian dollars.) The project — heretofore known as BD3CCS, for Boundary Dam Boiler No. 3 Carbon Capture and Sequestration — was initially forecast to cost $1.2 billion but ended up costing $1.47 billion. Of that, the Canadian federal government contributed $240 million. The remaining $1.23 billion was paid by SaskPower customers. Of the total, the new boiler cost $550 million and the CCS facility cost $917 million. Over the 30-year life of the plant, in terms of cash flow, the boiler itself nets out at a $391 million profit — that’s total revenue from power sold minus the initial investment and operation and maintenance costs. Over the same 30 years, the neighboring CCS facility will generate $713 million in revenue from the sale of CO2 and sulfuric acid. If you then subtract the initial investment, operation and maintenance costs, and the costs of “parasitic load” (the electricity required to run the CCS facility, which is almost 25 percent of the power plant’s output), the CCS facility nets out at a $1,042 million loss. Note that even if capital costs were zero, the CCS facility would still generate negative Earnings Before Interest Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA). Subtract that $391 million profit from the boiler from the $1,042 million loss from the CCS facility and you get a $651 million net financial loss for SaskPower customers from BD3CCS.
 Provincial monopoly power producers are in a position to lead in power production--just as Ontario Hydro has been pushed to do. The problem still remains that international trade agreements and entrenched interests will do all they can to thwart any progress on the transition to clean, renewable distributed power generation. As citizens, we have to demand that change even if it should cause disruption and destruction of business models.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The New Corporate SLAPP to Canadians

Bill C51, the new expansion of "anti-terror" legislation in Canada, isn't really about the one-in-twenty-million chance of an act of terror having any effect on a Canadian. Rather, it is clearly about expanding the remit of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to allow the the infiltration and disruption of environmental groups (and, by extension, other politically progressive groups), and to allow the prosecution (and persecution) of Canadian activists under "anti-terror" legislation.
The idea is clearly to scare the shit out of Canadians who question the neo-fascist politics of the Stephen Harper government. In this way it follows in the footsteps of the use of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to chill public reaction to corporate domination of the public sphere in Canada.
The RCMP has already begun branding environmental action groups and individuals with the "terrorist" label:
Sgt. Cox would not comment on the tone of the January, 2014, assessment that suggests opposition to resource development runs counter to Canada’s national interest and links groups such as Greenpeace, Tides Canada and the Sierra Club to growing militancy in the “anti-petroleum movement.” via: Globe and Mail
It's all just part of the naked displays of corporate power rising around the world (particularly the developed world). Meaningful action on global warming is stymied because the massive oil corporations would see their value collapse if it was clear to the investment community that the on-book reserves would never be able to be tapped. This is the point being made by the divestment movement: we cannot burn any more fossil fuel if we hope to live on the planet. Therefore, what's in the ground must stay in the ground. And that makes those reserves worthless--a fact not reflected in share prices.
So corporations have enlisted (or compelled) the help of national governments to ensure that they are still able to realize profits--regardless of any threat to (or from) those same national governments, or to the global ecosystem. The global  one percent figure they and their descendents should make out all right without regard to what happens to the rest of us. And they may be right.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Very Canadian Mess

Via IPS: 
MANILA, Mar 15 2015 (IPS) - Filipino Catholic priest and activist Reverend Father Robert Reyes, dubbed by media as the “running priest”, joined a protest of environmental and public health activists last week by running along the streets of the Makati Business District, the Philippines’ financial capital, to urge the government to immediately re-export the 50 Canadian containers filled with hazardous wastes that have been in the Port of Manila for 600 days now.
Along with the groups BAN Toxics, Ecowaste Coalition and Greenpeace, Reyes staged BasuRUN, a name derived from the Filipino word ‘basura’, which means trash or waste.
“These toxic wastes are the worst forms of expressing friendship between our two countries,” said the politically active and socially conscious Reyes.Although praised by activists but criticised by the Filipino Catholic bishops, Reyes’ latest run, which ended across the Canadian Embassy located in the financial district, added another voice to the call for Canada to take responsibility for its “overstaying” toxic shipment in the Philippines.
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is an embarrassment to the civic-minded and environmentally conscious Canadians,” said Reyes. “We know this is not the real Canada. We urge Prime Minister Harper to take immediate action. Take back your illegal waste shipment now,” he stressed.
In June 2013, the Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) seized 50 container vans carrying various hazardous household waste and toxic materials imported from Canada, with the consignee Chronic Plastics, Inc., declaring the shipment as “assorted scrap plastic materials for recycling”.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Meanwhile, Off Continent...

 video from Japan's Ministry of Agriculture website.

From IPS News:
TOKYO, Jun 26 2013 (IPS) - Yukako Harada, an energetic 29-year-old, is part of a small but determined band of women farmers working hard to revitalise Japan’s moribund agricultural sector, which is feeling the crunch of an ageing population and a flood of cheap imports.
From accounting for half the country’s economic output just after World War II, agricultural production has shrunk down to just 1.2 percent of the world’s second largest economy, generating only 39 percent of Japan’s food needs.
I'd be thrilled to live on an island that produced 39% of its own food needs....
Mauritius Beach via Wikipedia
Over in Mauritius:
PORT LOUIS, Jun 25 2013 (IPS) - “No fighting, please. Everybody will get their fish. Give us time to empty the crates and weigh today’s catch,” Patrick Guiliano Marie, leader of the St. Pierre Fish Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, shouts at the crowd jostling impatiently at the fish landing station in Grand Gaube, a fishing village in northern Mauritius.
People bump into each other to buy the fish that this cooperative society has just harvested from cages out in the lagoon.
“We don’t get fresh fish all year round. We have to buy frozen ones. This is an opportunity for us to eat some fresh ones,” one customer Marie-Ange Beezadhur tells IPS as she tries to negotiate her way through the crowd.
In the lagoon, about 500 metres from the coast, two platforms have been set up, each with four underwater cages.
In one average-size cage of four square metres, there are about 5,000 fingerlings, or young fish, which are fed pellets and seaweed collected from the lagoon.
It takes eight months for the fish to grow to about 500 grammes, with a small cage producing about four tonnes of fish, and a large one producing about 25 tonnes.
To date, aquaculture has been introduced to three areas in the surrounding ocean here, while a further 19 sites have been identified.
The cages, nets, fingerlings, and feed have all been provided for free by the government and the European Union (EU) under the Decentralised Cooperation Programme.
Marie and the 14 members of this cooperative society catch fish on a line for seven months of the year and for the remaining five months they aquafarm – they were trained to do this by the Albion Fisheries Research Centre.

 It seems like a great idea, but aquaculture, like agriculture, is not really environmentally benign. We have a number of salmon farms here in BC, and if you haven't watched Salmon Confidential yet, well, let's just say that it's required viewing. And when it comes to fish farms, Alexandra Morton has been keeping track of their effect on the local environment for decades.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

ALEC and the Corporate World

I didn't see this when it first aired, but I'm listening to the show as I type. This is Moyers and Company on ALEC: the American Legislative Exchange Council. This is one of the most significant ways that corporations re-shape the laws of a country to favour their pet projects--like charter schools and the disbanding of public education, or the carry of concealed weapons , tort "reform", or taking away the right to collective bargaining--anything that allows the 1% to become richer and strip the wealth and rights of the public at large.

Until there was a whistleblower, no one really knew how deep into the legislative process this outfit had penetrated. The development of model laws and the work on getting them passed state by state is detailed. One area which particularly concerns me is the work done to stop renewable energy research and purchase.

Moyers and Co. did a follow up to the original report (above).  It is all very interesting, and does help to explain the insanity that is apparent south of the border. But it also helps explain the insanity north of the border as well. Alberta enshrining charter schools and the rights of parents to take their kids out of the public school system. The progressive control over public policy exerted by Big Oil. The inability of our Prime Minister to even say the words "global warming." With a smaller "elite" to draw from, the links between Bay Street and the Hill are even tighter here than they are in the State legislatures in the US. rankly, it's time to Occupy democracy. We don't actually need an "elite" to make our decisions for us--we are perfectly capable, both individually and together, to understand the problems facing us and to make our own damned decisions. And it's time to talk about an 80% corporate tax rate and an even higher one on personal wealth.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Harper Government Hates You

Really. You're a whiner, a complainer, a taker not a maker. You want clean water, and you bitch about eating mercury contaminated food. There's that whole thing about thinking that the Canadian government is for all Canadians, that it's not the Harper Government For Corporate Rule. And that's just wrong.
What the hell's wrong with you anyway? You want your kids to have a planet to grow up on? Forget it--taking action on climate change would interfere with the right of the 1% to own everything (including you, your life, and your children). Sure carbon in the atmosphere is 395 ppm and rising, and the only known safe limit is 350 ppm. But that's the price you pay for progress.
You don't believe that the Harper government hates you? They're incompetent at managing money--they started life with a billion a year surplus and have transformed that into an ongoing deficit. Harper hates science--after all, it points out that he's a lying liar who lies. Take the ELA, the Experimental Lakes Area. Totally avoidable harm to your life from pollution was being monitored and programmes for fixing it being developed at the cheap cost of 2 million/year. It has to go. So do all the scientists--but first they have to be muzzled so they cannot talk about what they've been finding and figuring out.
Get used to it. Your children will be born with significant avoidable health problems, to a planet that is inhospitable to human life, and you will probably die before your time--probably starving or cancerous from eating contaminated food. And all because we've given up, don't want to face the future. And that's what Harper and his cronies are counting on.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Windfarm Sickness

via Wikimedia Commons
 ...is pretty much a myth, according to new research. It's spread by word-of-mouth rather than windfarms. From the Guardian:
Sickness being attributed to wind turbines is more likely to have been caused by people getting alarmed at the health warnings circulated by activists, an Australian study has found. Complaints of illness were far more prevalent in communities targeted by anti-windfarm groups, said the report's author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University. His report concludes that illnesses being blamed on windfarms are more than likely caused by the psychological effect of suggestions that the turbines make people ill, rather than by the turbines themselves.

"If windfarms were intrinsically unhealthy or dangerous in some way, we would expect to see complaints applying to all of them, but in fact there is a large number where there have been no complaints at all," Chapman said.

The report, which is the first study of the history of complaints about windfarms in Australia, found that 63% had never been subject to noise or health complaints. In the state of Western Australia, where there are 13 windfarms, there have been no complaints.

The study shows that the majority of complaints (68%) have come from residents near five windfarms that have been heavily targeted by opponent groups. The report says more than 80% of complaints about health and noise began after 2009 when the groups "began to add health concerns to their wider opposition".

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kill Anything That Moves

Chris Hedges reviews the new book “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam” by  Nick Turse.This is what modern, technological war does to its soldiers--not just American soldiers, although they are in the most modern, technological war machine, but to all soldiers. War is, by its very nature, brutalizing.
Nick Turse’s “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam” is not only one of the most important books ever written about the Vietnam conflict but provides readers with an unflinching account of the nature of modern industrial warfare. It captures, as few books on war do, the utter depravity of industrial violence—what the sociologist James William Gibson calls “technowar.” It exposes the sickness of the hyper-masculine military culture, the intoxicating rush and addiction of violence, and the massive government spin machine that lies daily to a gullible public and uses tactics of intimidation, threats and smear campaigns to silence dissenters. Turse, finally, grasps that the trauma that plagues most combat veterans is a result not only of what they witnessed or endured, but what they did. This trauma, shame, guilt and self-revulsion push many combat veterans—whether from Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan—to escape into narcotic and alcoholic fogs or commit suicide. By the end of Turse’s book, you understand why. 
This is not the book Turse set out to write. He was, when his research began in June 2001, a graduate student looking at post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans. An archivist at the U.S. National Archives asked Turse whether he thought witnessing war crimes could cause PTSD. He steered Turse to yellowing reports amassed by the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group. The group, set up in the wake of the My Lai massacre, was designed to investigate the hundreds of reports of torture, rape, kidnapping, forced displacement, beatings, arson, mutilation, executions and massacres carried out by U.S. troops. But the object of the group was not to discipline or to halt the abuses. It was, as Turse writes, “to ensure that the army would never again be caught off-guard by a major war crimes scandal.” War crimes, for army investigators, were “an image management” problem. Those charged with war crimes were rarely punished. The numerous reports of atrocities collected by the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group were kept secret, and the eyewitnesses who reported war crimes were usually ignored, discredited or cowed into silence. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Garth Lenz at TEDxVictoria

This talk is a bit difficult to watch as Garth Lenz comes close to breaking down a couple of different times during his talk. Keep in mind, as he talks, that atmospheric carbon is at 395ppm, the target to maintain civilization on the planet is 350ppm, and last spring saw recording stations report spikes of over 400ppm. If everything stopped right now, we're still on target for 21 metres of sea level rise, a dramatic explosion in extreme weather events, a huge expansion of deserts, wild changes in fresh water availability and an inability to grow many corops and certainly not consistently. And all that within the projected lifespan of our children.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

3-D Printable Recordings

I stumbled onto this and was blown away. Over at Instructables, amandaghassaei is doing the most ridiculous things with audio--including converting audio information into files suitable for 3-D printing.

The video above has examples of familiar sounds converted to print files, printed, and played back on a standard phonograph.This is not a way to get a perfect reproduction--in fact, the results almost achieve the quality of the original Edison recordings. You can compare and contrast if you want.
The printed record is different from a traditional LP in a couple of ways; the grooves are so much larger (because the printers simply aren't up to the resolution) that you can't record as much information on a side. The grooves are also analog representations of analog sounds--the grooves are printed with triangles.
3-D printed record grooves
You can see the sharpness of the grooves, above, compared with the analog grooves, below.
Analog grooves cut in vinyl
The printer is not your neighbourhood RepRap printer, but a similar printer but working to finer tolerances. Even so, it can't yet match the fineness of an analog record--yet.
I love how she's used all this crazy technology to produce a recording on the level of a Edison cylinder.

She's also using an Arduino to explore granular audio--which gives me hope that she won't be doing too much clean-up on the 3-D printed recordings. Because I find a big part of what's interesting about the recordings is their imperfection, their decompositional aspects.Perfection of reproduction isn't the goal (or at least not the only goal).

The way the Arduino savages the sound is fascinating. In fact, all of her work is.

I'm quite fond of this new version of Over the Rainbow. It's no Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (a version that transformed the song for me), but the mutations that it runs through, I find sonically attractive. And Instructables is to be given an "attaboy" chip for finding her a place to stand.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Asstro --NSFW

Chilean indie electro-pop group Astro released this video recently. Gizmodo had it as their "Weirdest Thing on the Internet Tonight." NSFW in most places. Goofy as hell.


Yup, an aristocracy of parasites. George Monbiot points out the latest in the painful saga of the economically insane: notably CEO's of major financial institutions. Mr. Monbiot:
Matt Ridley used to make his living partly by writing state-bashing columns in the Daily Telegraph. The government, he complained, is “a self-seeking flea on the backs of the more productive people of this world … governments do not run countries, they parasitise them.”(1) Taxes, bail-outs, regulations, subsidies, intervention of any kind, he argued, are an unwarranted restraint on market freedom.
Then he became chairman of Northern Rock, where he was able to put his free market principles into practice. Under his chairmanship, the bank pursued what the Treasury select committee later described as a “high-risk, reckless business strategy”(2). It was able to do so because the government agency which oversees the banks “systematically failed in its regulatory duty”(3).
On 16th August 2007, Dr Ridley rang an agent of the detested state to explore the possibility of a bail-out. The self-seeking fleas agreed to his request, and in September the government opened a support facility for the floundering bank. The taxpayer eventually bailed out Northern Rock to the tune of £27bn.
When news of the crisis leaked, it caused the first run on a bank in this country since 1878. The parasitic state had to intervene a second time: the run was halted only when the government guaranteed the depositors’ money.

And now Matt Ridley has written a book. As expected, it indulges in the same magical thinking that got Northern Rock into trouble in the first place. Evil governments, terrible parasitic bureaucrats, crippling regualtion all come in for the usual bollocking.  As usual, the remedy is more of what failed the last time. Not only should these idiots not be allowed near levers of economic power, clearly they shouldn't be allowed near a cup of coffee. this belief that their ideology must be correct, must actually justify what they do and who they are, that they cannot give it up without a complete mental breakdown. Like cultists at the end of the world; when it doesn't arrive, you double down.
To let Mr. Monbiot finish up:
It is only from the safety of the regulated economy, in which governments pick up the pieces when business screws up, that people like Dr Ridley can pursue their magical thinking. Had the state he despises not bailed out his bank and rescued its depositors’ money, his head would probably be on a pike by now. Instead we see it on our television screens, instructing us to apply his irrational optimism more widely. And no one has yet been rude enough to use the word discredited.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Screwing Up And Never Paying The Price

From The Washington Post:
Consider it a mea culpa submerged in a deep pool of calculus and regression analysis: The International Monetary Fund’s top economist today acknowledged that the fund blew its forecasts for Greece and other European economies because it did not fully understand how government austerity efforts would undermine economic growth.
Yeah, the top economist for the IMF got it wrong. Of course, he still gets to keep his job, his house, his benefits package and the respect of his peers.Unlike, say, the Greeks, the Spanish, and the other members of the 99% that got done over by his policy demands.
These are the people who really are the Masters of the Universe--at least of the economic universe. And their decisions have real-world consequences--consequences they never have to face. So it becomes very easy for them to do incredibly stupid stuff and not think twice about it. Like Edward Greenspan, acknowledging that he was utterly wrong on so many things before the 2008 smash. These are generally people who come from privilege and will be certain to pass that privilege on to their kids, and its no damn wonder they keep getting it wrong--they don't live in the same world as the rest of us poor buggers. They are just as prone to mistakes and misjudgements as the rest of us, but, as a rule, they don't have to pay any price for being wrong--as long as the  wrong only affects us.
It won't do us any good to keep this system in place; it is chockablock with perverse incentives and the rich protecting the wealthy. All that's happened since 2008 is to re-establish a system that will crack up even bigger next time, until it either fails completely or is brought under significant regulation.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Three Stories

From Aljazeera

Earthrise, Al Jazeera's environmental program, ran a show back in July 2012 which I missed. But I've caught it up now, and I'm a bit excited. It covers three stories: wind generators in Kenya, end-of-life plastic reuse in Ireland, and land reclamation in Indonesia.

If you haven't read Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano,

 or Cory Doctorow's Makers,
from the website
you really should. They are both about humans and their relationship with their monkey-brains, about our inveterate need to fiddle with stuff. And they're both really good reads.
In Kenya, approximately 82% of the population is off-grid--entirely. They rely on batteries and hydrocarbon fuels for power. Access Energy, a local company, uses re-purposed parts and re-used automobile alternators to build not brilliant, perfect wind generators, but appropriate-tech wind generators that can re-charge cell phones and power a light. Which takes care of a large number of the power requirements the off-grid Kenyan's have.
In Ireland, the urge is the same; to take waste and re-purpose it into something useful. Only this is re-using end-of-life plastic to create synthetic diesel. Endlessly more complex than the wind generators, but born of the same need.
And in Indonesia, a born-again tin miner works to repair the damage done by himself and those like him. Here, desolate cratered land is transformed by energy and cows into something beautiful and livable. A model project for restoring lands we'd prefer didn't get destroyed in the first place.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Australia on the Front Line

Fascinating overview of Australia's record breaking temperatures. From The Guardian:

What is causing Australia's heatwave?

Does the country's record-breaking heatwave have something to do with climate change?
Australia has started 2013 with a record-breaking heat wave that has lasted more than two weeks across many parts of the country. Temperatures have regularly gone above 48°C, with the highest recorded maximum of 49.6°C at Moomba in South Australia. The extreme conditions have been associated with a delayed onset of the Australian monsoon, and slow moving weather systems over the continent.
Australia has always experienced heat waves, and they are a normal part of most summers. However, the current event affecting much of inland Australia has definitely not been typical.
The most significant thing about the recent heat has been its coverage across the continent, and its persistence.
It is very unusual to have such widespread extreme temperatures — and have them persist for so long. On those two metrics alone, spatial extent and duration, the last two weeks surpasses the only previous analogue in the historical record (since 1910) – a two-week country-wide hot spell during the summer of 1972-1973.
A good measure of the spatial extent of the heat is the Australian-averaged maximum daily temperature. This is the average of the highest daily temperature of the air just above the surface of the Australian continent, including Tasmania. The national average is calculated using a three-dimensional interpolation (including topography) of over 700 observing sites each day.
On Monday and Tuesday last week (January 7 and 8) that temperature rose to over 40°C. Monday's temperature of 40.33°C set a new record, beating the previous highest Australian daily maximum of 40.17°C set in 1972. Tuesday's temperature came in as the 3rd highest on record at 40.11°C.