Innovation and making the world better

Innovation and making the world better
An engineer’s illustration of the Site C dam on the Peace River.Image courtesy of BC Hydro.

Many countries are doing their part to move the world’s economy away from dependence on fossil fuels, striving to source new ways of accessing energy, but it will take the impetus of individuals, communities and urban initiatives - all of us and how we use energy in our day-to-day lives - if the world is to truly move to a green economy.

It is a good news story. The world’s first zero-emission double-decker bus arrives in London, England this year, the forerunner to an electric-powered fleet of the iconic, red, British, people transporters. The announcement was made at the Clean Bus Summit last month where 24 cities from around the world committed to having ultra-low emissions buses. Innovation and technological advancement in action – other cities will follow.

The planned Site C dam on the Peace River, for example, is a dinosaur before the first shovel of dirt is moved, and is only proceeding because those who stand to benefit are pushing it through.

Utilities in Texas are now selling solar power near or even under five cents a kilowatt hour. One of them, energy giant Sun Edison, is so optimistic there are profits to be made at those low rates they are investing billions of dollars in India and China on solar panel manufacturing. As new materials and technologies emerge, the cost of solar panels, and the energy they generate continues to drop rapidly, to the point where new hydro dams on rivers that face escalating construction costs can no longer compete. The planned Site C dam on the Peace River, for example, is a dinosaur before the first shovel of dirt is moved, and is only proceeding because those who stand to benefit are pushing it through.

Meanwhile the solar-powered, single-pilot airplane dubbed Solar IMPULSE is making aviation (and renewable energy) history flying around the world powered solely by energy from the sun. The 4,000-mile Pacific Ocean crossing from Japan to Hawaii was the first leg of its global expedition. It is now stuck in Hawaii for a few months, awaiting replacements for its overheated batteries, but keep in mind the first-ever powered flight by the Wright brothers was a decade in development and lasted only 37 metres (120 ft).

How fast will the world shift from using fossil fuels? Change on such a scale is slow and because many, many people make a great deal of money sourcing and supplying fossil fuels, opposition from them is a huge impediment to any evolution. Canada, dependent as it is economically on the export of fossil fuels, is one of those trying to delay the move to new energy sources. The fossil fuel lobby here and in the United States is incredibly powerful and too many leaders are happy to be bought out by them. Only public pressure can alter that.

One of the tactics in support of keeping fossil fuels is the campaign to debunk climate change theories, yet arguments that climate change does not exist have become muted as scientific evidence mounts to confirm what is obvious, that our planet is undergoing a dramatic transformation. With weather getting crazier all the time, ordinary citizens are joining in the chorus. If the byproduct gases of fossil fuel use are causing climate change, how much time do we have before damage to our planet is irreversible? What kind of messed up world will future generations face, thanks to us?

We have to take better care of the world that sustains us as we grow and evolve. Massive islands of plastic refuse float in our oceans. Oilsands mines tear up the land and leave sprawling toxic tailings ponds while they spew carcinogens into the atmosphere. Diesel trucks emitting carcinogenic exhaust are our main source of hauling goods. Two-cycle engines powering everything from lawnmowers to chainsaws spew pollution. Old mines with poorly stored toxic tailings are found beside river systems around the world. Those are but a few of the contributors to a way of life that is counter to intelligent living. All of them need to be rethought and replaced. That would be the case even if there were no climate change.

Weaning the global economy off fossil fuels is an obvious solution. We have to change the way we think and make the transition to a different way of living. Given that the future of humanity may hang in the balance, it would be a good idea to make those changes as quickly as possible.

Northern Journal

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