Wednesday, December 23, 2009

4th Sunday of Advent - a message of Peace

I tend to be affected by Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD). As the days get shorter my energy gets lower and my mood gets darker. It’s like I have a solar-powered personality. I suspect this might have something to do with the fact that three of my ancestral lines come out of Denmark and southern Sweden.

The lives of our ancestors in these northern climes were dominated by the cycle of the seasons. Warming weather and lengthening days of Spring marked the time for planting. With Summer’s arrival the northern sunshine pushed back the darkness and provided almost 24 hours of daylight to enliven the crops and speed the harvest. As Fall approached the sun retreated, hopefully leaving abundant harvest from the Summer’s rapid growth. The harvest was commemorated with thanksgiving and celebration as nature’s bounty was brought into the barns and store rooms - hopefully providing enough surplus to last through the remainder of the year. From the harvest equinox onward was a time of tension and fear. With each new day the sun’s retreat resulted in noticeably shorter days as cold, darkness and death reclaimed the northern lands. As winter’s solstice neared it must have seemed like the sun was abandoning the earth and leaving us in eternal night. Our northern European ancestors reacted to this celestial drama with mourning, fasting, sombre gatherings and pleadings for the sun to return to the earth. By December 25, it was noticeable that the days were no longer shrinking and the sun was returning on its annual cycle. In the midst of winter’s darkness, it was evident that light would return to the earth. This observation was received with great gladness and Yuletide festivals dominated the northern lands full of feasting, hope and optimism for the year ahead.

As people living in our modern age, we are aware that the cycles of the seasons are the result of the earth’s annual orbit around the sun combined with a 23 degree tilt on the rotational axis. Solar travels and solstice sacrifices have nothing to do with this long-standing seasonal pattern. But this is all a matter of perspective and our knowledge is only possible by looking at this divine dance from a different, more theoretical view point. From our 21st century perspective, often disconnected from our agrarian roots, it is difficult to appreciate how important this cycle of the year was to our ancient ancestors.

Conversely, the celebration of Christmas was not very important for early Christians. In the earliest of the four gospels, Mark does not even comment on the birth of Jesus. For Mark, who was Peter’s translator, it seems that everything of importance began with the baptism of Jesus. John’s gospel starts with the Word that was with God before the world was and then he goes directly to the baptism. Once again the birth narrative was completely ignored.

Christmas did not become an important Christian celebration until after Constantine, the 4th Century pagan Roman Emperor, took control of the Christian church. His goal was to use Christianity to consolidate his power throughout the known world. Progress was slowed when the Northern European tribes resisted conversion and retained their traditional ways. When Roman authorities found it too difficult to prevent the customary pagan festivals, they decided to simply change the meaning of the celebrations. This is how Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25th - in place of the traditional Yuletide. Somehow it is strangely appropriate - at least in the Northern hemisphere - because Jesus represents the return of the light in a dark and hopeless world. Somehow, it was more difficult to capture the Christmas spirit during the years when we lived in Australia. Christmas caroling in 40 degree heat on the longest day of the year is not the same experience. Once again, it is a problem of perspective.

Fortunately for Christmas traditions, two of the gospels record the birth of Jesus, but they are both from specific viewpoints. Matthew, a first century Jew, wrote his gospel to the Jewish people of his time and insisted on linking the events in the life of Jesus to the Old Testament messianic prophesies. He even begins his story with a genealogy of Jesus that begins with Abraham and follows through the line of David, Israel’s most famous king. You can’t get more Jewish than that. Consistent with his culture, Matthew virtually ignores Mary’s role in the messianic miracle but records Joseph deliberating about how to break his marriage contract - until an angel appears to him in a dream. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Matthew records that wise men travelled from afar bearing precious gifts for the rightful king. Meanwhile, Herod the Roman-appointed Jewish tyrant, was so concerned about protecting his illegitimate power that he ordered the death of all Bethlehem-born Jewish sons. Gentiles, outside of Jewish society, could recognize the worth of the new-born King while God’s chosen people were kept from their rightful inheritance by a power-mad, Roman-installed political leadership. Luke was the last of the synoptic gospel writers. Unlike Matthew, Luke was a gentile physician and came from outside the first century Jewish traditions. He was not a product of that class-conscious world, where a man’s place in society was governed by his degree of ritual cleanliness and where God was kept safely in the central room of the temple - only to be disturbed by the high priest on a once-a-year basis. In Luke’s version, the story of Jesus begins with the perspective of women - starting with Elizabeth and then on to Mary. His version of Jesus’s genealogy doesn’t start with the father of the Jews - Abraham, but rather with Adam - the father of all humanity. Perhaps this is why Luke records the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds. It would not have occurred to him that due to their profession, shepherds were seldom considered ritually clean.

While it might have seemed unlikely from a first century Jewish perspective, there was plenty of precedence for shepherds receiving divine visitation. David, the model of Jewish kingship, had been a shepherd. Even Moses was tending his father-in-law’s flocks when he encountered God’s presence in the burning bush. At that moment God introduced himself to Moses using the divine name I AM, or in Hebrew Eyheh something closer to “Absolute Reality” or “Ultimate Existence”. God had heard the cries of the Israelites and Moses was chosen to free God’s people from bondage in Egypt.

In this past year, a dear rabbi friend pointed out that Egypt, or Mitzra'eem in Hebrew, literally means a narrow place. This is probably because the Nile creates a fertile lifeline in the midst of a lifeless desert. So Moses was called to deliver the Israelite people from their lives of oppression and bondage in the narrow place of Egypt and deliver them to the promised land which flowed with milk and honey. This likely explains why the Hebrew word for salvation is Shaleh which means to be brought from a narrow place of danger to a wide open place of safety. It is connected to the Hebrew word for peace - Shalom - which means to be made perfect, whole or complete.

This concept of Shalom has deep connections to the divine drama of existence. God created the universe in seven creative cycles -or days- and at the end of each cycle the work was pronounced good - perfect or complete. Things were exactly as they should be. Until Adam came along. According to ancient Jewish tradition, the fall of mankind did not happen when Adam partook of the forbidden fruit. This is when Adam and Eve became self-conscious or awake to their individual being. The fall occurred when Adam (Hebrew for humankind) and Eve (living) tried to cover themselves and hide from God because of guilt, fear and shame. This caused the separation of human consciousness from God’s all encompassing consciousness and gives us the illusion of an independent existence that is tied to our mortal frame. Perhaps it signifies the birth of the ego. Now we create our individual worlds beginning with birth, ending with death and made from personal experience. Our mortality is the narrow place of danger in which our consciousness eternally resides in the shadow of physical death. Sin occurs when we mistake the personal world that we are creating for the real world that God has created. We can easily justify selfishness, greed, hatred and even murder when we believe the world - or at least our individual world - depends on it. This illusion brings us to the point where we will cut down the last tree or catch the last fish to briefly extend our jobs, or even consider destroying the planet through nuclear war to protect a political ideology. No wonder it is so difficult for people to consider changing their lifestyle even if they could reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change.

From this perspective we can truly appreciate the meaning of Christmas. Starting at birth our lives pass through the cycles of the seasons. Springtime is our time of growth. Summer is our time of strength and fertility. Autumn marks our golden years but we can’t shake the realization that Winter is closer with each passing day. Eventually our light will go out, our personal world will end and the darkness will win. Jesus came to break this cycle. In Joseph’s dream the angel told him “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” In Hebrew, Joseph’s language, the words go something like this - “Shemo Yeshua kee Yeshua imo” meaning “His name is Jesus because He will save His people” or “His name is He will save because He will save His people”. Hebrew is a wonderful language. In fact, if you break it down further, shua actually comes from that word Shelah meaning he will take his people from a narrow place of danger to a wide open place of safety. While we live in one time and space along this arc of our lives, God exists in all time and all space independent of creation. Jesus comes to deliver us from the bondage of living the illusion of our individual reality and brings us into the wide open place of God’s Reality. This is how He brings us true Shalom.

To those shepherds on the Judean hillside, those outcasts of their own society, the angels brought shalom. To a young, unwed mother-to-be who lived two millennia ago in Nazereth, a backwater rebel town in the occupied Jewish state, another angel spoke shalom. In spite of military occupation, religiously sanctioned class discrimination, revolution and the impending destruction of the Jewish state, Jesus embodied God’s shalom. So at this Christmas time of year, my fondest wish is for peace. Not the false peace that comes from everyone being forced to stay quiet in the face of injustice. Not the peace that comes from ignorance. Not the peace that comes from justifying the position of the strong against the weak. My wish is for that authentic peace that comes from a willingness to put God’s perspective above our own. That brings the peace that comes complete with hope, joy and love. It is the only way creation can reach it’s wholeness and we can all experience true shalom.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's not perfect - but it's a start -Thanks to a last minute push by Obama

It has been an interesting month. As we awaited the UN Copenhagen Climate summit it seemed like nothing could go right. The David Suzuki Foundation together with Pembina Institute and funding from the TD bank actually completed the first comprehensive economic study that examined the impact of CO2 emission regulation on Canada's economy. The study was mostly good news, and it was ready early enough to affect a vote on bill C-311, which would have forced the Harper government to commit to real reductions in GHG emissions in advance of Copenhagen. Unfortunately, Ed Stelmach and the federal conservatives immediately stole the headlines with a categorical refusal to honor any regulations that would limit Alberta's potential for unrestrained economic growth and the uncontrolled environmental destruction that goes with it. Bill C-311 was pushed into committee before the 3rd reading and final vote - thanks to Iggy and the liberals. Then the TD bank came out with a review of the report and that should have gathered more coverage in the media - but for some reason, it did not. On the other hand, when the Canada West Foundation released their critique of the economic study,right in the middle of the Copenhagen Summit, it received massive attention in the media.

Then came the hacking of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit computers. Fragments of emails quickly appeared on the internet in attempts to discredit the scientific consensus around global warming. From what I read, it certainly looks like the researchers believe that global warming is real, and they were doing everything they could to ensure the message was being delivered to the public in as clear a manner as possible. Unfortunately, in their zeal, it appears they did what they could to suppress alternative views. To the credit of the scientific community - the information that was initially censored did eventually get published in peer reviewed journals. From my background in the geosciences, this sort of scientific prejudice and imperfect behaviour is not all that unusual. Scientists are people too - with all the ego and bias that goes with our human condition. Nevertheless, this "revelation" about global warming science made headlines with Fox News and conservatives in the blogoshere - as well as in the US congress. Most recent polls in the USA suggest that about 70% of Americans don't believe that humans bear any responsibility for climate change.

The Copenhagen Summit started in the midst of this charged environment. Right from the start there was tremendous pressure between countries with developed, developing and undeveloped economies. No one wanted to give. Then came revelations about massive fraud in the EU cap and trade system. Then someone leaked an early draft of a possible agreement. Nothing seemed to go right.

In the second week, Canada's own Jim Prentice had his chance to speak and he attempted to look like a hero by offering a compromise agreement that everyone could sign - because it didn't make any real commitments to do anything that would slow economic growth and the accompanying emissions.

At the last minute, Obama came into town. As everyone was declaring the conference a dismal failure, somehow he managed to salvage some sort of agreement. It is far from perfect - countries make their own reduction commitments, it is not legally binding, etc. However, it does make an abstract commitment to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees C or less. This could have some binding power eventually (we can only hope).

Even more importantly, Obama did get China to sign on. This may not seem like much, but loss of face is a very big deal in China and I believe it will have a strong influence on the leadership. More importantly, I really believe that Obama "gets it". In his post-conference press interview, Obama spoke about how important it is for America to become more energy efficient. He spoke about the potential for green collar jobs and the importance of improving energy efficiency in building stocks and transportation. This is where he is showing true leadership - and who knows - maybe he will spark some kind of a green race, in the same way that Kennedy and the Soviets embarked on the space race. If China and America put their resources and competitive rivalry into becoming the most energy efficient economy, that would certainly make a huge difference.

We can only hope.

So - it is far from perfect - but all things considered - it is a miracle that this much was finally accomplished.

Obama brokers a climate deal, doesn't satisfy all - Yahoo! News

Obama brokers a climate deal, doesn't satisfy all - Yahoo! News

Thursday, December 17, 2009

1 more day of fasting for the Copenhagen climate summit

World leaders arrived en mass at the Copenhagen climate summit earlier today. Our PM Harper was among them, but he mostly tried to dodge the spotlight and even deferred to Jim Prentice when it was time to give a speech on behalf of Canada. Mostly the talks have been blocked with rich countries like Canada and the USA unwilling to make serious cuts in emissions, developing countries unwilling to cap their rapidly growing emissions and poor countries unwilling to commit unless they receive assistance for coping with climate change and future development. There have been some positive gestures, like when Hilary Clinton promised to commit US dollars to a $100 billion dollar fund for developing nations, but this progress was slowed when China refused to allow external monitoring and verification of their stated CO2 emissions. And now headlines report that several prominent leaders are working through the night in hopes of finding a way to salvage some form of agreement.

Overall, it's seems highly unlikely that any kind of meaningful deal will emerge from Copenhagen and many people are breathing a huge sigh of relief. I'm sure that Harper, Prentice and Ed Stelmach are part of this large demographic. They successfully protected "Alberta's" money and freedom to exploit the tarsands from Ottawa or some massive socialist plot to form a new world order headed by the UN, Al Gore, the CRU, the green industry and David Suzuki.

Unfortunately for me, - a 3rd generation Albertan with a 30 year career as a research geoscientist in the oil and gas industry - I can’t shake a feeling of profound sadness. My personal research has left me with the conclusion that we are probably facing a serious long-term threat from climate change and I’m even more certain that we will be in economic and social crisis caused by declining world-wide oil and gas production long before that.

All we can do now is sit back and wait to see who is right. It could easily take 10 years to find out. In the meantime, I hope they enjoy their wealth, their freedom and luxurious lifestyle and I will continue to appreciate all the unexpected benefits of my recent change to a low-stress, low-carbon lifestyle.

For sake of our children and grandchildren, I honestly hope they are right. Otherwise, there will be lots of explaining to do.

On a positive note, there was a mass movement formed during the past few months, especially among the youth, that has done tremendous work in raising awareness about the climate change issue. I truly believe that this Copenhagen meeting is a defining moment where we are choosing our future and they have the most at stake. Whatever the outcome, the world of the future will be created in our image - and at this moment it looks greedy, selfish, intolerant, and filled with hate and fear.

In the end I don't have any answers, but I am praying for a miracle. If we want a future of hope, joy, justice and love it will take something more than our collective political will. This is the reason why I chose to fast one more day and I am sincerely praying that this mighty miracle will occur. After all, it's that time of year.

On Alberta and the Copenhagen Climate Summit

The UN Copenhagen climate summit appears to have inflamed deeply held emotions about the Canadian federation. Being born and raised in Alberta, I am well-schooled in the rhetoric of western Canadian isolationism and arguments for separation. Oddly, a few years back, I awoke one morning wondering how the Trudeau era National Energy Policy had caused simultaneous economic collapse in Denver, Colorado and Houston, Texas as well as in Calgary. That seems to have broken the illusion for me. On the other hand, our long-held regional biases are proving to be alive and thriving if comments on the CBC website are any indication.

It seems that the potential for a climate change treaty terrifies some Albertans - including Ed Stelmach, Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice. They paint it as some sort of power-grab where Ontario is going to steal everything from Alberta - again. Much of this is based on popular misconceptions, and I would like to clear up one of these. It is often asserted that Alberta provides oil for all of Canada - like Ralph Klein's famous quote "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark". While it’s true that Canada is the world's 15th largest oil exporter - and most of this oil comes from Alberta - most of Canada actually relies on imported crude.

According to Stats Canada, for 2006 : Total crude oil supply was 103,974.1 thousand cubic meters with 49,284.9 or over 47% of that being imported. Large imports of crude were purchased from Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela, the UK and Norway. Alberta's oil pipelines run dominantly North to South and the overwhelming majority of Alberta's oil goes directly to the United States. For many conservative Albertans, their loyalty seems to do the same thing.

It seems some Albertans believe they deserve credit and respect for the oil that lies deep underground within provincial borders. It's worth considering that the oil was generated millions of years ago. Alberta’s power and wealth are largely an accident of nature combined with arbitrary political boundaries drawn on a century-old map. When I compare what successive Tory governments have done with Alberta’s oil resources to what Norway has done with theirs, it makes me want to cry. Being third generation Albertan, it sometimes seems like the conservatives have been around forever, but compared to that - it's hardly a drop in the barrel.

On the other hand, if the global warming predictions are correct and Albertans like Harper and Prentice can block an effective GHG reduction treaty, then the Alberta Tory legacy will truly last forever.

Another open letter to Stephen Harper on his way to Copenhagen

Dec 16, 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

1600 90th Ave. SW
Calgary, Alberta
T2V 5A8

SJ: Canada should be a leader in the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I am writing to ask you to be a leader in the climate talks in Copenhagen. Recent news reports indicate that your government would like to weaken Canada’s GHG commitments by giving special treatment to the oil and gas industry. This is clearly not realistic - the oil industry can’t opt out of Canada’s greenhouse gas commitments any more than Canada can opt out of the international community. There is one atmosphere, and like it or not, we all share it, regardless of nationality, political party or industry affiliation.

You may think of this as a regionally polarized issue and expect you can motivate your base of support in Alberta through shunning international agreements. This may be true in some cases, but this one is too important to play politics. As for me, I am a third generation Albertan who is also second generation in the oil and gas industry. In my career I had the opportunity to work on several projects in the tar sands and CO2 sequestration at Weyburn - as well as several years working internationally. Unfortunately, the current policy direction of the Alberta PC government brought me to the point where I could no longer work in the industry and keep my integrity. Please bear in mind that even Premiere Peter Lougheed, one of my personal heros, called for a moratorium on future oil sands development back in 2006.

In summary, you have the obligation to represent all Canadians - not just the ones you agree with. If you continue to block progress at Copenhagen, you will damage Canada’s reputation on the world stage and ultimately risk international tariffs and sanctions if the rest of the developed world reaches a positive consensus. You are leading Canada at a critical time - your legacy will be defined by the actions you take at this moment. Please move forward to a sustainable and equitable future rather than attempting to undermine a growing consensus while defending a clearly unsustainable past.


Keith Hirsche
1161 Chapman Road, Cobble Hill BC
V0R 1L7
(250) 929 5586

cc: Jack Layton Leader NDP
Gilles Duceppe Leader BQ
Elizabeth May Leader Green Party
Michael Ignatieff Leader Liberal Party

Saturday, December 12, 2009

7 Days of fasting for world leaders at the Copenhagen Summit

I am very concerned about what will happen in Copenhagen over the coming week. Negotiators have been hard at work for the past seven days, but now the environment ministers have come to the conference. Each of them carrying their political agendas. Towards the end of the week, heads of state from 110 countries -including the 15 biggest CO2 emitting nations -will appear in Copenhagen to add their diverse and often competing viewpoints to the mix. On one hand, this is very encouraging because a little over a month ago, only 65 leaders had committed to attend - and this did not include Stephen Harper or Barack Obama. The fact that Harper is even going is a testament to the power of public pressure.

The past week has not been easy. Several times the talks have run into major snags. One of the draft agreements was leaked, leading an African delegate to weep when it was his turn to speak. The USA and Canada are pushing India and China to make serious emission reductions, and at the same time, they are not willing to commit to the targets proposed for developed nations. The hypocrisy of this position is not lost on China and India - since North America is responsible for a major portion of the current CO2 emissions and a large percentage of the total atmospheric CO2 is the legacy of our creating modern industrialized societies. Now as we have become service and information based economies, we want China to produce all our manufactured goods without emitting CO2 in the process. It often looks like real progress is impossible.

On the bright side, over 100 world leaders will soon be in Copenhagen - including Stephen Harper. Climate gate, massive fraud in the carbon trading market and leaked draft agreements have not scuttled the talks (yet). People are arguing about what action to take - not whether to take action. All of these things - especially Stephen Harper going to Copenhagen - are miracles in themselves.

Seven days of fasting has not been easy, but I suspect it is nothing compared to what lies ahead for world leaders who have the courage to stay at the negotiating table. My thoughts and prayers are with them all as I am hoping for an even bigger miracle to emerge from Copenhagen - the city that has already done so much in creating a sustainable future for the people of Denmark.

On the other hand, if the Copenhagen Summit isn't able to slow global warming, I am completely confident that peak oil will - and it certainly won't be pretty. It's Nature's way.

Friday, December 11, 2009

CWF and TD reports on GHG policy and the economy - discussion points.

Two recent reports predict economic impact of climate change legislation in Canada. The first (Oct 29, 2009) by TD bank economists, together with David Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute (DSF/Pembina). The second (Dec 10, 2009) is a critique of this report by the Canada West Foundation.

The TD report shows results of detailed economic modeling performed by MK Jaccard and Associates (MKJA). TD considers the analysis to be robust.

MKJA made forecasts of economic performance assuming two reduction targets; the government’s proposed 20% below 2006 by 2020 and a more stringent target of 25% below 1990 levels (like Kyoto). Forecasts were made at national and provincial levels.

Results indicate that Canada could meet either emission target and the economy would continue to grow between 23% and 25% from 2010 to 2020.

Climate change legislation would result in improvements to public transit, the electricity grid, refunds to homeowners and manufacturing to offset higher energy costs, investment in domestic agriculture, lower income taxes and higher employment relative to a “do-nothing” scenario.

Alberta would be hardest hit, but would still lead all provinces with economic growth between 38% and 45% of GDP over the decade. In context, growth over the past 10 years was 43%.

The CWF report expressed concern with model assumptions, but provides no new economic modeling. Their critique is based entirely on their interpretation of the MJKA predictions.

CWF states that the DSF/Pembina report underestimates very substantial economic consequences for western Canada and if policy is perceived to be unfair, it will not be effective. It will also weaken Canada’s political union. No support is given for these statements.

CWF uses modeling results to demonstrate that the government’s recommended emission targets would reduce Alberta’s 2020 GDP from $296 to $274 billion -a loss of $22 B in one year alone relative to doing nothing.

CWF does not mention that Alberta’s GDP/capita with carbon tax is predicted to be $80,000/person which is 50% higher than Ontario’s at $52,000/person.

The CWF report uses 2020 projections to argue that reducing carbon emissions would cause Alberta pre-tax salaries to fall by 6.2% relative to no legislation. Ontario salaries would only fall by 0.2%.

Tables in the CWF report show Alberta maintains the highest salary level in Canada regardless of the carbon reduction scenario. Using the government proposed target, average salaries in 2020 would be $61,182 vs $65,890 without reductions. By comparison, Ontario salaries are predicted as $57,321 and $57,453. This is not noted in the report text.

The DSF/Pembina study recommends that 36% of carbon tax revenue be allocated to personal income tax reduction and 10% allocated to offsetting higher household energy costs. According to CWF, this results in a net cost of $1,318/Albertan/year because a higher proportion of the taxes are collected in Alberta (the main source of carbon) and the benefits are distributed to Canadian citizens - ( with 90% of these living outside Alberta).

CWF argues this distribution of the carbon taxes across Canada will result in a bigger wealth transfer than the current federal equalization system and it primarily affects Alberta and (to a much lower extent) Saskatchewan. Sadly, CWF does not seem to recognize that carbon emissions do not recognize provincial boundaries.

CWF claims that there will not be sufficient re-investment of carbon tax revenue in the energy sector - ( “energy sector” clearly means “fossil fuel sector” ) and Alberta/Saskatchewan are left to fund Carbon Capture and Storage without outside assistance.

Somehow CWF seem to have missed recent headlines that the federal government has committed their $1 billion dollar “clean energy fund” to subsidize CCS projects in Alberta (this has resulted in the federal government canceling their renewable energy subsidy programs in favour of promoting oil and gas).

The CWF report simply disputes some of the DSF/Pembina assumptions and then proceeds to interpret the MKJA model results in a biased and provocative manner.

CWF emphasizes each case that can be seen as Ontario being unfair to Alberta and ignores any information that looks beneficial for Alberta.

The CWF report confuses differences in potential economic growth with real economic costs.

CWF ignores the real economic risks associated international penalties, tariffs and sanction - as well as economic risks associated with un-mediated climate change.

The CWF report indicates that the MJKA economic models were run assuming a constant oil price of $46.48/bbl over the 10 yrs. Recent DOE forecasts suggest prices will run between $100 and $200 /bbl. during this decade. Canada has the least energy efficient economy in the developed world and oil prices at these levels will damage our economy far more than any carbon tax.

The status quo is not an option, it is time to make a change.

A more detailed comparison of the TD and CWF reports on the impact of GHG regulation on Alberta's economy

In parallel with the UN Copenhagen climate summit, two reports have emerged which attempt to predict how carbon dioxide emission regulation might affect the Canadian economy. This note provides a brief comparison of these reports, the first published by TD bank economists and the second by the Canada West Foundation.

On October 29, 2009, TD bank economists, Don Drummond and Craig Alexander released a report entitled “Answers to key questions about the costs of combatting climate change”. Their report summarizes the results of a David Suzuki Foundation/Pembina Institute (DSF/Pembina) modeling study that addresses the potential economic impact of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in Canada. The modeling was performed by MK Jaccard and Associates (MKJA) and policy information was provided by DSF/Pembina. Two carbon reduction targets were analyzed; the current Canadian government proposal to reduce CO2 emissions to 20% below 2006 levels by 2020 (this is equal to a 3% reduction from 1990 levels), and a stricter, Kyoto-compliant emission reduction of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. The modeling indicated that these emission reductions could be achieved and Canada’s economy would still grow between 23% and 25% over the 10 yr. period. It also suggests that climate change legislation would result in improvements to public transit, upgrades to the electricity transmission grid to better incorporate renewable energy systems, refunds to homeowners and manufacturing to offset higher energy costs, investment in domestic agriculture, lower income taxes and improved job creation over the existing policy environment. However, the forecasts also indicated that Alberta would be more adversely affected than the rest of Canada. Nevertheless, Alberta would still lead all Canadian provinces with GDP growth between 38% and 45% between 2010 and 2020 - even with Kyoto style reductions. In context, Alberta’s overheated economy only grew 43% between 1999 and 2009. While not endorsing the report, or any particular set of emission cuts the TD economists declare the MKJA analysis “appears to be robust”.

On December 10, Dr. Roger Gibbins of the Canada West Foundation released a critique of the DSF/Pembina report titled “Sharing the Load - Addressing the Regional Economic Effects of Canadian Climate Policy”. While Dr. Gibbins expressed concern with some of the assumptions used in the MKJA modeling, he provided no additional economic projections and all of his policy criticism is based entirely on the MKJA results. His primary argument is that the DSF/Pembina report “identifies and likely underestimates very substantial negative economic consequences for western Canada, and for Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular”. Based on this assessment, he argues that regional differences must be accommodated in Canada’s climate policy and “If we fail to do so, climate policies will not be effective, their economic impact will be exacerbated unnecessarily and the political union in Canada will be badly strained”.

To support his claims, Dr. Gibbons uses the MKJA model predictions to demonstrate that the government of Canada emission targets would result in Alberta losing $11.6 billion (from $113.4 to 101.8 billion) in investment income in 2020. On the other hand, investment in Ontario would increase from $175 billion to $184 billion. For comparison, the total capital investment for Canada in the year 2020 is projected to be $510 billion, but somehow Dr. Gibbons concludes that Alberta with 10% of the population receiving 20% of Canada’s total investment dollars is somehow “the clear loser in capital investment”.

The MKJA results are further used to indicate that Alberta’s GDP would be $296 billion in 2020 if no action is taken to reduce CO2 emissions. If emissions were reduced to the current government target of 20% below 2006 levels, Alberta’s GDP would only be $274 billion - for a loss of 22 billion dollars in that one year alone. For comparison, he indicates that “the loss in Ontario is zero”. Oddly, Dr. Gibbons does not point out that Alberta’s 2020 GDP/capita projections are the highest in Canada and range from $80,000 to $70,000 /person while Ontario’s are 34% to 50% lower at $52,300 person. Over the 10 year period, Ontario’s economic growth ranges between 2.1% and 2.2% GDP growth/yr for the various emission targets, compared to Alberta’s growth which ranges between 4.4% and 5.7%.

Referring again to the 2020 projections, Dr. Gibbons continues, “Pre-tax salaries are expected to fall 6.2% or $4,069 in Alberta, and 1.7% or $811 in Saskatchewan; in Ontario, the fall is predicted to be 0.2% or $132.” However, he does not mention that average Alberta salaries are projected to be $65,890 in the “business as usual” case and $61,821 with government emission targets whereas average salaries in Ontario only range between $57,453 and $57,321. According to the MJKA predictions, Albertans would maintain the highest average salary level in Canada even with Kyoto style emission targets.

The DSF/Pembina study predicts that in the year 2020, $17.2 billion in “carbon revenue” would be collected in Alberta and only $12.3 billion would be returned. Dr. Gibbons concludes that “this is a difference of about $5 billion or a net cost of $1,318 per Albertan in 2020”. By comparison, each person in Ontario only loses $432. Gibbons then equates this to a revenue shifting proposal that “dwarfs the (federal) Equalization and is likely to have all sorts of unintended consequences that could generate tension in the federation ... Over a third of the revenue raised by a carbon tax or a cap and trade system (36%) will be returned to Canadians through reduced personal income taxes. In essence, hit one region hard and then distribute the bounty.”

The DSF/Pembina study recommends that 10% of the carbon tax revenue should be returned to home owners to offset higher household heating and electricity costs. Dr. Gibbons writes that “the revenue extracted disproportionately from Alberta and Saskatchewan will be used to ensure that Canadians in all regions do not face higher home heating costs. This makes no sense with respect to energy conservation, but it does assure Canadians that, as far as home heating and electricity goes, the reduction targets are cost-free.” He further states, “When we look at the combination of revenue raising and revenue distribution, the Pembina/Suzuki approach is to raise revenue disproportionately from Alberta and Saskatchewan and then use the revenue for tax reductions and spending across the country, thereby focusing the pain as much as possible on Alberta and Saskatchewan.” and “What we don’t see is any plan to use revenues for re-investment in the energy sector... It would make more sense to invest in energy research than provide rebates for home heating costs.”

Dr. Gibbons claims it is unfair that all Canadians would benefit from reduced income taxes and home utility rebates while Alberta and Saskatchewan would have to pay the entire cost for the development of Carbon Capture and Sequestration. He states, “It is important to note that the regulated cost of carbon capture and sequestration will not be covered by the carbon tax revenue and Alberta and Saskatchewan will bear virtually the entire bill for this new infrastructure”. Somehow Dr. Gibbons seems to have missed several news headlines over the past few months; “Alberta to spend $495 M in carbon capture pipeline - Ottawa invests $63M” (CBC news Nov 24, 2009) or “Feds, Alberta pledge $779M to carbon-capture project “ (CBC News Oct. 14, 2009). Oddly, he doesn’t seem to have noticed that the federal government has pledged to spend the vast majority of their $1 billon dollar “Clean Energy Fund” funding Alberta’s CCS projects.

The Canada West Foundation report adds no new information on the potential impacts of CO2 emission regulation on the Canadian economy. It simply disputes some of the assumptions of the DSF/Pembina study without offering concrete alternatives and then proceeds to interpret the MKJA modeling results in a biased and provocative fashion. The report emphasizes every result that can be interpreted as Ontario being unfair to Alberta and it ignores any beneficial data in an attempt to polarize public opinion and cater to an underlying feeling of Alberta’s alienation. Canada West Foundation adds nothing new to the debate except to state that implementation of a carbon trading system would strain the Canadian federation. The author suggests that “Big Oil” is being used as a convenient target for climate change legislation but cautions that “ People will lose their jobs, see the value of their homes go down and be forced to uproot and move.” It then appears to suggest that these possible sacrifices are more important that the potential victims of human-induced climate change. In it’s conclusion, the report states “Either we are all in this together or we are not. If we are not, no matter how much you want to address climate change, the nature of Canadian politics will scuttle the plan.” Unfortunately, it seems clear that unless you agree with the Canada West Foundation position that it will be very difficult to be together.

Finally, the Canada West report appears to confuse differences in potential economic growth with actual financial penalties. Regardless of the carbon policy framework, Alberta would continue to have the fastest growing economy in all of Canada. However, it must also be repeated that the model predictions are only as good as the underlying assumptions. One of these key assumptions is that oil prices will remain constant at $46.48 throughout the ten year period. Unfortunately, the most recent US Department of Energy Outlook report indicates that oil prices will likely be between $100 and $200 per barrel. As we have recently seen, oil prices at this level will likely do more damage to Canada’s and Alberta’s economy (which are the least energy efficient in the developed world) than any of the proposed carbon emission regulations.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A open letter to PM Harper - fasting for Copenhagen Summit

Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, K1A 0A

SJ: Fasting for progress in reducing GHG Emissions at Copenhagen

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I am writing to thank you for attending the UN Climate change summit in Copenhagen. I also want you to know that thousands of Canadians, including myself, are united in fasting and prayer on your behalf. As a Christian, I believe the Copenhagen summit is a call to honour and respect God’s creation. This call was originally given when God created Adam (Humankind) and put him in the garden to tend and care for it (Gen. 2:15).

I also understand that the negotiations will be difficult and there are many competing interests. According to media reports, it seems that you believe climate change legislation will damage Canada’s economy. Please rest assured that this need not happen. TD bank economists recently forecast (Oct. 29, 2009) that Kyoto-style emission reductions (25% below 1990 levels by 2020) are achievable even if Canada acts without our trading partners. The report forecasts a modest reduction in GDP growth (about 0.4% per year from 2010 to 2020) but it also predicts that this will result in improved public transit, better electricity infrastructure, investment in domestic agriculture, refunds to homeowners to offset higher energy costs, lower income taxes and improved job creation over the “business as usual” case.

If you don’t believe these predictions are possible, please take the opportunity to tour the city of Copenhagen. While the Danish people enjoy a very high quality of life, often ranking above Canada in the UN “happiness” index, they emit about 1/2 the CO2 and use about 1/2 the energy per person as the average Canadian. This is due to the far-sighted action of the Danish government during the late 1970s. After the Arab oil embargo and increasing energy prices devastated their economy, the Dane’s chose to artificially inflate energy costs through taxation and use the resulting funds to become world leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

As Canada slowly recovers from the economic collapse that was caused - at least in part - from 2008’s record high oil prices, we have the same opportunity to act by implementing realistic carbon taxes and using the revenue to make our economy more energy efficient. This will prepare Canada for the future, where the 2009 US Department of Energy forecasts that oil prices could reach $200/bbl before 2020.

I realize that it will be difficult to make commitments that will lower CO2 emissions and many people will be unhappy with this decision. Nevertheless, reducing emissions and conserving non-renewable resources is the right thing to do for Canada and for the world. While it won’t be easy, please be confident that I, along with my family and countless other Canadians, are fasting and praying on your behalf. May God grant you the wisdom, courage and foresight to respond appropriately at this critical time.


Keith Hirsche
1161 Chapman Rd.
Cobble Hill, BC
250 929 5586

cc: Jim Prentice Min. Environment
Lisa Raitt Min. Natural Resources
Jim Flaherty Min. Finance
Jean Crowder MP Nanaimo-Cowichan
Jack Layton Leader NDP
Michael Ignatieff Liberal Leader
Ed Stelmach Premiere Alberta
David Swann Liberal Leader Alberta

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fasting for the Copenhagen Summit

Today marks the start of the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit, or COP15. Leaders from 192 countries, including Canada, USA and China are planning to attend. Whether they can come to meaningful consensus on how to reduce world wide carbon emissions remains to be seen. In Canada and the USA, we must make some major changes. Currently we use about 22 bbls of oil/person/year to maintain our economy and our standard of living. At China's current level of economic development, they are using less than 2 bbls/person/day and India is about half that level. There is great pressure from the citizens of China and India to have a higher living standard, and if that were to occur in North American way, it would require increases in crude oil production that simply aren't available.
You'll notice that I switched from carbon dioxide emissions to bbls of oil/person/day. This was not an accident, as these two parameters are intimately linked. Countries, like Canada, with low levels of energy efficiency are also very high per capita CO2 emitters. Countries like Denmark, Germany and Switzerland who have attained a much higher level of energy efficiency in their economies are also very low CO2 emitters.
I bring this up because Canada, under the Harper government (although Cretian and Martin were not much better) is one of the worst countries for derailing consensus around climate change legislation. Prime Minister Harper, as echoing Alberta's Premier Ed Stelmach, claim that honouring legislation to reduce CO2 emissions would ruin our economy. If this were the case, why are the Western European countries so willing to commit to more aggressive cuts? Are they attempting economic suicide or have they experienced the energy security that comes from a more energy efficient economy? With all our fears about carbon taxes in Canada - which simply increase the cost of oil and other carbon-based energy sources, what will happen to us when oil prices really rise to $200? Certainly Denmark and Germany are far better prepared than we are.
Why are Harper and Stelmach so willing to keep Canada vulnerable to high oil prices and potential tariffs and sanctions for staying outside of international carbon trading systems? Is it really about the economy or are they simply catering to their corporate base of support?

In any case, all these questions won't find easy answers. In the meantime, Jan, Trevor and I are engaging in fasting and prayer over this week, asking that the national leaders will blessed with the wisdom and courage to do the right thing. We were inspired in this act by the Rev. Dr. Bill Phipps (former moderator of the United Church of Canada) who is fasting for this entire week as he posts vigil outside the Calgary offices of many prominent politicians and Darrell Belrose, President of the Community of Christ in Western Canada.

After all, social justice and stewardship of God's creation are primarily spiritual in nature.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

CO2 Emissions - Porter-Hirsche's from 2001 to 2009

After calculating energy use, I decided to work through CO2 emissions for our family. I will update both of these posts with some details in the coming days. Just a couple of lines of reality check here.

First, it is much easier to heat a small house in Victoria (average temperature ~10 degrees C) than a very big house near Calgary (average temperature around ~4 degrees C). It is also wonderful to live in BC where electricity is generated using carbon-free sources (hydro) instead of Alberta which uses coal for about 90% of power generation. However, this same level of improvement can be made for Albertans by using Bullfrog Power to insure that your electricity comes from renewable sources.

Lastly, while we have finally dropped below the Canadian average of 5 tons CO2/person/year (as published by the government - more on this later), we are not done yet. Ongoing improvement to our house and much less driving (not driving to Georgia and coming back with a trailer) is planned for the coming year!

Energy Consumption - Porter-Hirsche's from 2001 to 2009

I recently worked through our records to determine how we have changed our household energy consumption over the past decade. I used the methods described by David MacKay in "Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air" to convert GJ of natural gas, litres of gasoline and cords of firewood to kilowatt hours. This is the only way to compare the relative cost of driving, heating the house, lights and conveniences. I also used MacKay's method to normalize energy to kWh/person/day.

Our Copenhagen Commitment - what are we doing?

I sincerely believe that next week's UN Copenhagen Climate Conference is one of the most important events of our lifetime. The meeting will directly address international regulations for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to avoid catastrophic climate change. Personally, I believe that unprecedented levels of atmospheric CO2 are not a good thing, and CO2 probably leads to global warming (on average). However, I'm not convinced that climate scientists can reliably predict exactly what kinds of changes will happen and when or where they will occur. My uncertainty around the accuracy of the climate modelling has not changed much despite reading several articles, attending lectures by climate scientists and following the "Climate Gate" saga as it has unfolded in the media. All of my personal research has left me with some fairly strong opinions. For example: there is way too much CO2 in the atmosphere, the planet (on the whole is getting) warmer, this warming is not caused by changes in solar radiation or changes in the earth's orbit and there are non-linear changes happening on the global climate scale that are not fully accounted for in the climate models. This means we are potentially dangerous situation and we don't really have enough knowledge to know what is going to happen next.

Beyond climate change, I believe the Copenhagen meeting is important for several related issues. These include the reality of world-wide energy shortages, environmental destruction caused by the Alberta tar sands and similar developments and increasing inequality between the haves and have-nots. It is interesting to me that most of the world's poor peoples will not be affected much by energy shortages (they never knew the conveniences so they won't miss them) but they will likely be devastated by climate change and environmental degradation. The richer nations will probably cope with climate change but they will be devastated by energy shortages. We really need a way to work together for the good of all people - and the biosphere. This is more important than national economies or how difficult it might be to give something up.

Sorry for the rant - I just want to be clear about why this whole issue is so important to me. Having done that, I suppose I should say a few words about what our family are doing to address these issues. As many of you know, we have been making various attempts to reduce our environmental footprint and improve our personal energy efficiency for the past ten years or so. The next two entries will show how we have done.

Beyond the figures, I would just like to assure everyone that our quality of life has dramatically improved. While some of the transitions have been difficult - like physically moving our mountains of stuff out of that monster house - and we have made lots of costly mistakes, like trying solar thermal to heat our house during Calgary winters and buying that fifth-wheel trailer - our quality of life is far better now than it was before. It has been a fascinating journey and we haven't reached the destination yet.

Monday, November 30, 2009

An open letter to Stephen Harper and Ed Stelmach

The Rt. Honorable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

SJ: Endorse Bill C-311 and Bigras motion at Copenhagen climate summit

Dear Prime Minister Harper,
I firmly support your decision to travel to Copenhagen for the UN Climate summit. Thank you for taking this important step. Furthermore, I believe this Copenhagen summit is one of the most important international meetings in our lifetime. While you participate in this event, please act for the well-being of future generations and work to achieve meaningful reductions in green house gas emissions as detailed in Bill C-311 and the Nov. 24 Opposition Day motion put forward by Mr. Bigras of the BQ.

Our economy is often the excuse for not taking action on climate change. The recent TD bank report (TD Economics Special Report Oct. 29, 2009) indicates that this is simply not the case. If Canada were to meet our Kyoto targets, our economy would still grow by 23% from 2010 to 2020. At this level of economic growth, Canada could improve pubic transit, upgrade our electricity grid, subsidize key manufacturing industries to maintain 2008 levels, reimburse home owners for higher energy costs, invest in domestic agriculture, reduce personal income tax and create more and better jobs than in a “do nothing” scenario. Denmark took a similar strategy, starting in the late 1970s, and has demonstrated how this approach can improve the economy, achieve energy security and fulfill Kyoto commitments.

The report suggests that Alberta would be the most penalized province, with growth over the 10 year period dropping from 57% to 38% (which is still the highest growth in Canada) and this could cause regional tension. However, as a 3rd generation Albertan with a 30 yr. career in the oil and gas industry, I believe that the TD bank may not be including 2 important factors in their predictions. First, it may not be possible for Alberta and Canada to meet the higher level of economic growth as predicted in their models. During recent years we have seen Alberta’s economic growth restricted by shortages of labour and materials. In addition to this, the US DOE Energy Information Administration/ Energy Outlook 2009 predicts that world-wide oil production will not meet demand unless oil prices exceed $100/ barrel from 2010 to 2020. Canada’s economy currently consumes 5.6 Million barrels of oil equivalent per 1 million dollars GDP (this figure includes 2.73 Mbbls of oil) and it is the least energy efficient economy in the developed world. This leaves us highly vulnerable to this level of energy pricing. At first glance, this looks promising for Alberta - being a major oil exporter - however, we have recently seen that oil prices in excess of $100/bbl can damage world economies and ultimately stifle demand. Second, Alberta is among the best places in the world for solar and wind resources. Unfortunately, these sectors of the Alberta economy have been neglected and even Calgary’s Canadian Hydro Developers built their latest wind farm developments in Ontario because of Alberta’s inadequate electricity grid and the lack of incentive for renewable energy projects. If the Alberta government provided an environment that supported renewable energy, I firmly believe that Alberta would experience tremendous growth in this important sector of the economy.

Finally, I believe the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit will be a measure of our morality. While there is uncertainty in the climate science, like in economics, there is no doubt that we are damaging our atmosphere and the very planet that supports all life. Short term greed should not dictate something as important as this. Committing to ambitious reductions in green house gas emissions, as outlined in Bill C-311 and in the recent BQ motion brought forward my Mr. Bigras, is the right thing to do. Not only for energy security, job creation and stable economic growth but also for the environment.


Keith Hirsche
1161 Chapman Road,
Cobble Hill, BC V0R 1L7
Phone: 250 929 5586

cc: Hn. Jim Prentice - Minister of the Environment
Hn. Michael Ignatieff
Hn. Gille Duceppe
Hn. Jack Layton
Hn. Jean Crowder
Hn. Keith Martin
Hn. Gordon Campbell - Premiere of British Columbia
Hn. Ed Stelmach - Premiere of Alberta
Hn. David Swann

Business as usual is not an option

Temperatures - or at least tempers - are quickly rising in the run-up to the UN Climate conference which begins in Copenhagen on Dec. 7. As the Kyoto treaty winds down, there is hope that Copenhagen might be the place where a more inclusive and binding treaty will bring all nations together in an attempt to decrease CO2 emissions. As hope and potential for change increases, so does the fear, anger and resentment from the more conservative elements of our society. Organized opposition groups, like the Friends of Science, are using their considerable funding (mostly provided by the oil and coal industries) to broadcast advertisements that mock the scientific consensus of the climate modeling community (see ).

In contrast to these well-funded groups, we recently learned that world-class climate researchers, like Nobel prize-winning Professor Andrew Weaver at UVIC, are victims of a systematic removal of government funding.

In an effort to further confuse the process, a series of emails, software and working documents were stolen - or leaked - and distributed across the internet in an attempt to discredit the climate research community (see and for 2 interesting prospectives.) Finally, it certainly doesn’t improve public confidence when it appears that the climate modelling community were repressing publications that questioned the conventional wisdom about global warming in an attempt to strengthen the political case for action.

On the other side of the argument, politicians like Alberta’s Premier Ed Stelmach argue that any attempt to curb CO2 emissions will cause an economic catastrophe - especially for Western Canada. However, I just finished reading the TD bank’s economist's report on the potential economic impacts related to Green House Gas regulation. Some of the conclusions are amazing:
  1. In a “business-as-usual” or a “do-nothing” scenario, Canada’s economy would experience a 27% growth in GDP from 2010 to 2020. During the same period, Alberta’s economy would experience 57% GDP growth.
  2. If severe cuts in CO2 emissions were implemented (25% below 1990 levels by 2020 in accordance with the Kyoto protocol), Canada’s economy would grow by 23% over the same 10 year period. Alberta would continue to be Canada’s fastest growing economy with a growth of 38% by 2020.
  3. Carbon taxes would be re-invested in the economy and this would result in:
  • Improved public transit
  • Upgrades to the electricity grid to incorporate renewable energy
  • Investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects
  • Refunds to manufacturing to maintain 2008 output levels
  • Full refunds to home owners to offset higher energy costs
  • Investment in domestic agriculture
  • lower income taxes
  • improved job creation over the “business as usual” scenario

Effectively, carbon taxes would increase the cost of high carbon activities and reduce the cost of lower carbon activities. Market forces would do the rest. One might argue that this unfairly penalizes the oil and gas industry, however it needs to be recognized that the oil and gas industry is implicitly and explicitly subsidized through government support of infrastructure (roads, pipelines, refineries, etc), preferential royalty arrangements, research funding and military spending. It can also be argued that the environmental cost of oil and gas development - especially in the tar sands- is not being effectively accounted for in the current economic scenarios.

Finally, the TD report is only as good as its’ underlying assumptions and one of its’ most fundamental assumptions may be incorrect. Every economy can be evaluated in terms of its’ energy efficiency as expressed as the energy required to create $1M of GDP. On this scale, Canada is the worst of the industrialized countries, requiring the equivalent of 5.6 Mbbls/day of oil for each $1M of GDP. In reality, Canada only consumes approximately 2.7 Mbbls/day in liquid oil (or about 40% ) with the remainder of our energy needs coming from hydro, natural gas, coal, nuclear, etc. By comparison, Denmark only consumes 2.3 Mbbls/day in total energy per $1M GDP - this is less than half the Canadian requirement.

Unless we make fundamental changes to our economy, Canada will require almost 3.6 Mbbls/oil per day to meet the TD bank’s projected 27% growth rate. The US DOE Energy Information Agency estimates that world oil demand in 2020 will be 96 Mbbls/day. Their predictions indicate that this production level requires sustained oil prices ranging from $100 to $120/bbl from 2010 to 2020. Based on recent history, it is unlikely that Canada will be able to sustain economic growth with these oil prices. It is also worth noting that the the EIA concedes that it may be impossible to achieve this level of oil production and in a more realistic scenario, oil prices exceed $150/bbl by 2012 and near $200/bbl by 2020. It is highly unlikely that Canada’s inefficient economy can grow in this price environment.

Limiting carbon dioxide emissions is the best possible scenario for strengthening Canada’s economy. It has the potential to create jobs in the “green” sector while reducing Canada’s dependence on cheap energy. Doing nothing, or business as usual, is simply not an option for the economy - or the environment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The next Great Recession - 2010 or 2011?

It has been a tough couple of years for the economy - in fact sometimes it is difficult to put everything in order. Through early 2008 oil prices steadily rose with apparently no end in sight. By the time we left Calgary in July, oil prices had exceeded $130/bbl. Increasing energy costs put a drain on the US economy, as shown by the Dow Jones Industrial average which dropped from a high of 14,000 in October 2007 to just below 12,000 in the Summer of 2008. However, I don't think many people could have predicted that the DJI would fall from 10,800 at the end of September to below 8,500 on October 10. No one had seen a drop like that since the great depression.
Looking back, the media blames sub-prime mortgages and lack of financial regulation. However, it is difficult to ignore the effect that oil prices had on the auto industry, transportation and consumer spending during those months when gasoline prices exceeded $4.00/gallon. It is also important to remember that this unprecedented price spike correlated with a time period where the world-wide demand for oil had clearly exceeded the available supply.
While governments injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system, the economy continued to self-destruct until the DJI average reached a low of 6500 in early March 2009. In this same time period, demand for oil had significantly decreased and prices plummeted to a low of $31 in early 2009.
Since March, world-wide government stimulus spending has fostered steady but cautious economic growth. Unemployment is still high, leaving consumers cautious. In spite of this, the DJI is clearly showing a strong recovery, reaching the 10,000 mark in early November. And as the economy improves, so has oil demand.
During the downturn we saw world-wide oil production remain fairly steady. US demand was significantly decreased, but China picked up about half of the available surplus. Now with returning US demand, we are seeing a steady increase in the price of a barrel of oil. In fact, this increase is averaging out at almost $1.00 week.
Increases of this magnitude have never been seen - except for the first few months of 2008, where the increase was almost $2.00/week. Of course we all know how sustainable that was. So, if you want my prediction, I expect to see oil prices continue to climb over the coming weeks - until sometime in 2010 when the increases will again reach $2.00/week or so. After a month or so of these rapid increases the economy will nose-dive again - ultimately constrained by the inconvenient limitations of a finite oil supply.
We will enter this next economic collapse in a significantly weaker state than the recession of 2008. How will this affect the next cycle? If you know, you are much smarter than me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Drop in US energy use drags stock market lower - Yahoo! Finance

Sorry for posting these news items without explanation -

OK - here's the problem:

1) for the world-wide economy to improve requires oil production in excess of 86 million bbls/day.

2) maximum oil supply available is less than 86 million bbls/day.

3) When demand exceeds supply oil price immediately spikes which kills demand and therefore the economy.

Fasten your seatbelts, we are in for a very bumpy ride!

Drop in US energy use drags stock market lower - Yahoo! Finance

Higher oil prices seen threatening global recovery - Yahoo! Finance

Higher oil prices seen threatening global recovery - Yahoo! Finance

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sustainable Energy - without the hot air

Our son Trevor is in the second year of his masters program at UBC and part of his program includes a course on sustainable energy. During his studies he ran across an amazing book that takes on the whole issue of renewable energy, energy consumption, sustainability and climate change in an amazing way. The book is called "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" and it is written by David JC MacKay, a professor of natural philosophy in the department of physics in Cambridge University. The book is freely distributed on-line and it can be found here:

I have devoted considerable time to learning about energy issues for the past 10 years or so and I have not found any better resource to get a clear perspective of the problems that we face in the coming years. Dr. MacKay does many important things right in the structure of this book. First, he converts all of our energy usage to a single understandable unit. Rather than talk about litres of gasoline for transportation, GigaJoules of gas for heating and calories for food, he converts all energy usage to kiloWatthours/person/day. This allows a direct comparison of how much energy we use to drive to work vs the amount of energy we use to heat our homes.

Next, he directly compares how much energy we consume from the burning of carbon based fossil fuels to the maximum amount of energy that we can possibly produce from renewable energy techniques. It is very sobering to realize that covering the entire land area of Great Britain with windmills, solar panels, solar hot water systems, tidal barrages and bio-fuel crops won't come close to meeting the current energy needs of its' citizens. This is demonstrated through a painstaking analysis of each energy generation system starting from it's basic physical principles. Then he compares these calculations to the actual performance of existing facilities to show the accuracy of the analysis.

On the plus side, David clearly shows that it is much easier to save a kWh of electricity (or any other form of power) than generate a new one. Clearly conservation and energy efficiency are the most important issues to tackle if we want to preserve some semblance of our society in the coming years. Once again, it is very refreshing to see that these problems are best addressed with basic fundamentals rather than exotic science.

Even more significant, the book clearly connects the serious problems of resource shortages, climate change and economic recession and demonstrates how the problems are best addressed with similar solutions. In fact, Dr. MacKay first intended to write a book about green house gas emissions and climate change but felt that this book might be ignored because of the high level of cynicism that has surrounded these discussions. As a scientist, he freely admits that there is uncertainty in science surrounding CO2 emissions and climate change. Then he proceeds to clearly demonstrate the undeniable link between the release of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuel (probably the most comprehensive and understandable treatment I have read). He then compares our refusal to do anything concrete about climate change due to scientific uncertainty about the details to a motorcyclist who is riding along a treacherously narrow road that travels along the edge of a cliff. If fog blows in and obscures the road, should the rider to speed up because he can no longer see the edge of the cliff?

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the book is written in a very accessible style. A chapter is devoted to each major issue and the text is written in a conversational style - and with a great sense of humour. The chapters are not cluttered with equations or footnotes which could destroy the smooth flow of ideas. At the end of each chapter there are several paragraphs or even pages that provide the evidence for every statement that has been made in the associated text. And as if that weren't enough, there is another chapter at the end of the book which meticulously covers the technical background of the chapter starting from the first principles of physics.

I truly believe that this book provides the complex reality of energy production and consumption in a manner that allows for informed debate and leads to the level of understanding we desperately need in order to face the enormous problems that lie ahead.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where are we now???

Sorry for the long delay in blog updates - it has been a long and hectic Summer. September was not much better either! We have been very busy - much of the time has been unproductive and not everything has been positive.

On the plus side, we have come to love Vancouver Island and truly no day goes by that we don't appreciate the beauty that surrounds us here. We had several visitors drop by this past Summer - Jan's sister Joanne and her husband Roy brought their dogs along and stayed with us for a week. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore the nearby beaches and some hiking trails. Then my parents dropped by and gave us a good excuse to visit Butchart Gardens, the butterfly garden, East Sooke provincial park and the Fisgard lighthouse. Then Jan's brother George and his family came and we took the opportunity to explore the old growth forests at Cathedral Grove and Goldstream Park, swim in the ocean and at Shawnigan Lake, go kayaking at Cowichan Bay and most impressive of all - go snorkeling with the seals at Snake Island - just off Nanaimo. Each of our guests brought us unique perspectives and an excellent excuse to see things that we would have otherwise not seen.

Between our assignments as tour guides, we managed to keep the garden going and harvest some of the fruit from our trees. Kailee completed her internship in sustainable food production at O.U.R. Ecovillage and followed this with a 2 week permaculture design course. Jan completed a one week course in natural building techniques where she helped to build a cob wall on the first new residential house at the ecovilage.

September came unexpectedly fast and with this came the beginning of the school year. Trevor made it back from Peru and Mexico and is now settled back in Vancouver where he is completing his MSc program. Kailee finally relented and she is now committed to trying one year at UBC in natural resource conservation. Krista started grade 11 at Frances Kelsey high school in Mill Bay.

With all of this busyness came some real challenges. Most significantly, Jan has suffered with consistently poor health with a range of symptoms that has prevented a consistent diagnosis. Mostly she has suffered with fatigue and physical exhaustion, but at times she has had severe pain in her shoulder and shortness of breath. We are desperate to get some solutions that will enable her to recover her health again.

This concern truly puts everything else in perspective.

Friday, August 7, 2009

SEG : Smart Energy Group

I recently had the opportunity to attend a wonderful celebration hosted by the T'Sou-ke Nation on the South end of Vancouver Island. This celebration marked the completion of their 75 KW solar photo-voltaic and solar hot water installations. It was a beautiful sunny day and you could actually watch the electric meters spinning backwards as the tribe sold clean, renewable electrical power to BC Hydro for the rest of us to use. In addition to a tour of the solar installations, the T'Sou-ke band provided visitors with a feast of salmon from their native fishery and vegetables from their organic farm.

From project conception to completion took less than 1 year. To put this in perspective, it has taken me 8 months to connect our first solar panel and a community group in Duncan has been working for 2 years on a project that would provide solar hot water for 25 households. Currently they are still in negotiations and no systems have been installed. Members of the T'Sou-ke nation were trained in the installation and operation of the alternative energy systems and they performed most of the installations. This included all the band offices and more than half (over 40 homes if I remember correctly) of the houses in the community. The other half should be completed soon. They have now formed the Smart Energy Group to provide assistance and education on issues related to energy conservation, energy security and alternative energy to other native bands - and to the rest of us.

All in all, it is an amazing success story. Clean energy, energy security, green-collar employment, economic development, income from power sales and so on.

As the free Smart Energy Group T-shirts remind us, the T'Sou-ke people have been "Providing Environmental Education to Southern Vancouver Island since 10,000 BCE.

First Solar-Powered blog update

Finally getting around to some long-delayed projects.

Last February we ordered a solar panel kit from our Visa card points catalogue and when it arrived I promptly placed it in a storage shed. There it has set, right where I put it, until yesterday. Finally I made the time to unpack the kit, read the scanty installation guide and set the panel up.

Our EnerG+ 43 Watt solar power kit came complete with a solar panel, overcharge protector, deep cycle battery and an inverter. The most difficult part of the installation was finding a stand for the panel - I chose and old stationary bicycle stand - and deciding where to set things up. Then it was a simple matter of connecting a few cables to get the whole thing running.

I suppose it's fair but after enjoying weeks of bright sunshine, today turned out to be cloudy and cool. Nevertheless, the panel is still producing current. This has given me the opportunity to run an extension cord into the house and use the "free" electricity. So far, I have connected a power bar that supports my desktop computer, LCD monitor, a laptop computer and a few accessories. In spite of the cloudy weather, I have been running for 3 hours or so and the battery is maintaining its' charge.

While a 43 watt panel will not do much to offset our total electricity consumption, it does give us a good opportunity to experiment with solar power. By monitoring power usage at various points in the house, we should learn alot about our overall power usage and find the most effective way to utilize solar power. The construction of our log house also provides us with a great deal of flexibility in running solar power from outside the house to various points inside. If things continue to go well, I expect we will invest in additional panels and batteries to power strategic points around the house.

In addition to this, solar panel kits are a cost effective way to bring electricity to our "off-grid" workshop. and solar power provides us with some additional energy security for the power disruptions that commonly occur on Vancouver Island in the Winter.

All those concrete benefits AND I can honestly say that this blog update is completely carbon- free.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Feasting from the Garden

We visited the eco-village on Thursday and Kailee gave us a wonderful complement. She was chatting with her team-mates from the garden crew and she told them that we have a small garden, but it's so full that it's like a jungle. It is a pretty accurate description.

Not only are we over-run with vines and leaves from all the squash, zuchinni, cukes, peas, beans and tomatoes, - the garden is actually producing food at an amazing rate. We had our first ripe tomatoes about a week ago. Now we are harvesting about 12 ripe tomatoes a day. Zuchinni, cukes and squash seem to appear out of no-where in the oddest places. Peas and salad greens are always in need of harvesting.

Our last 3 meals have been directly from the garden. Squash, beets, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and zuchinni in various combinations and recipes.

We are truly enjoying the benefits of the 100 meter diet.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Progress in the Garden

We are fully enjoying the amazing blessing of a Vancouver Island Summer. The long days and warm weather are truly wonderful. The weather also seems to have brought an intense level of activity in all areas of our life - and the garden is certainly providing one level of incredible busyness.

Things really grow on Vancouver Island, and this growth is an active and incessant process - almost seeming desperate at times. Certainly this has to do with the warm sunny days. The sun provides about 1000 watts of energy per square meter and the plants are eager to transform this energy into roots, stems, leaves and ultimately fruit. More and bigger leaves translate into more area for collecting solar energy and in turn this gives additional energy to the plant for the uptake of water and soil nutrients and the organization of these nutrients, along with CO2 from the air, into the complex carbohydrate and protein chains that are stored in the fruit and vegetables that we eat. The warm evenings on the Island allow the plants to sustain the growing process, unlike the Calgary area where the plunging temperature send plants into a state of shock almost every night.

All this growth provides a new set of challenges for gardening. First, the weeds are just as eager to grow as the plants we want to nurture. Daily weeding is required to prevent blackberries, thistles, grass and other assorted weeds from choking out the desired growth. Second, our warm and dry Summer weather means we have to provide a thorough watering every day. While these requirements are standard for most gardens, there are a couple of extra things we have learned about our West Coast home. While tomatoes will grow here at a spectacular rate, it turns out that they are highly susceptible to a soil or airborne blight that can destroy your crop just as you are preparing for harvest. It seems this blight can be prevented by keeping the plants dry and clean so we need to cover the plants with plastic, trim all the lower leaves and branches from the plant and water the plants at ground level. Cucumbers, zuchinni and other squash related plants are also susceptible to blight but their insane growth rates make it very difficult to cover the plants. Currently we are hoping that careful watering and the dry weather will be enough to keep the plants healthy - however we also have plans for implementing plastic covered tunnels to provide shelter for these plants. In addition to these challenges, we have to keep up with the incredible growth of the lentils, beans and peas. These plants invest tremendous energy into climbing vines that give their leaves better access to the sunlight. If left untended, these plants can collapse into a dense mat of tangled leaves and stems. However, when supports are provided, they cover the available structures with incredible speed.

While I want to emphasize that the garden doesn't tend itself, I also don't want to sound like I am complaining. The obvious by-product of this growth is a steady supply of fresh and delicious food. So far we have enjoyed a steady diet of salad made from several varieties of lettuce and spinach - supplemented with wild berries. Last week we experienced the incredible flavor of our first vine ripened tomatoes. Early pea pods can already be eaten whole - and the peas should be coming strong in the next few days. Potatoes and beets will be added to next week's menu. Squash and zuchinni should be ready for early August.

The 100 meter diet is an incredible blessing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Garden Growing

Sorry for lack of updates lately. Life here is hectic, somewhat stressful and tremendously rewarding. The garden is growing well and the cherries are full on - more details later. In the meantime, here's a recent photo.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Garden salad

You have to love Vancouver Island! While Calgary has been struggling with snowfall in June, we are enjoying a beautiful springtime on the Island. For the past week or so, Krista has been making salad from the garden. Tonight Jan and I did the same. There is something about fresh greens -spinach and several varieties of heirloom lettuce- that you just can't buy in plastic from the store.

The wild salmon berries are already ripe and the summer promises to bring an abundance of vegetables and fruit from our small acreage. What an amazing difference from the Calgary region!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back on the Island - and thanks to all the BCC supporters!

We had a pleasant weekend in Calgary. It was wonderful to see so many family members and friends. The BCC Clean Water Fiesta was amazing. There had to be more than 100 people in attendance at the La Pachanga restaurant for a program that included presentations, a buffet meal, live music and dancing. We don't know how much money was raised in total, but thanks to the generousity of friends at the Community of Christ in Calgary and family members, the evening fund-rasing was already off to an excellent start. With some of the money from ticket sales and the proceeds from the silent auction, there should be enough funding to install quite a few filters!

It was gratifying to see that the entire event was organized and completed while Trevor and Janaki were in Peru and Mexico respectively. The organizers deserve a great deal of credit and it is very satisfying that the Canadian end of the organization has grown so large!

Thanks to everyone who generously supported BCC, came to the Fiesta and to all those who played a role in organizing and running the event!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

BCC fund raiser in Calgary Sunday Night

Jan and I are getting ready to leave for Calgary. We are fortunate to be able to attend the first annual fund raiser for Trevor and Janaki's Bolivia Canada Clean Water Network. Sadly, Trevor and Janaki are not able to come to the event. Trevor is working on his master's project in Peru, which is trying to minimize ground-water contamination from a Canadian mining operation. Janaki is working on her master's project, which is a public health study in Mexico city. Interestingly, I just read on the CBC today that Mexico city is also facing a water crisis.

I feel truly blessed to go to this event. When Trevor and Janaki went to Bolivia in 2006, I never imagined how they would impact that country and how Bolivia would impact them. They went out with the intention of helping to start a project for a new Canadian NGO and ended up founding a brand-new organization. It was not easy for them.

At one point, after they had been in Bolivia for about 6 months, Trevor phoned us and expressed tremendous discouragement about the way things had gone. The fledgling NGO was out of money and they were not only covering their own costs (as they had from the beginning) but Trevor and Janaki were also paying for the project costs. Even with that, it appeared the project was doomed because of poor organization, family politics in the NGO and a very high failure rate in casting the concrete filter boxes.

At the end of the conversation, I encouraged Trevor to give up. I logically explained to him that they had less than 3 months left in Bolivia and they had not done any travelling yet. Why didn't they just leave Ascension behind and go see South America?

Trevor patiently explained to me that they felt an obligation to the people of Ascension and he wasn't going to walk away from them. They had promised them clean water and they didn't want to leave until it was done. Then he told me that somehow he knew that if they just kept trying, something good was going to happen soon.

Well, Trevor couldn't have been more right. Trevor and Janaki started a new NGO along with pastor Ernesto of the local pentecostal church. Then they got plans for new filter molds from CAWST and went to a local welder to get the molds constructed. In doing this, they learned the previous organization had built their molds incorrectly and that was the cause of much of their earlier problems. Then another amazing thing happened. People started showing up to help. First Roberto, the assistant pastor stepped forward. Then Philippe, a native of the highlands came by and offered to work for them. Finally Angel, a lowland native came to watch their work and finally came for a job. Then this little group, with somewhat reluctant help from the local municipality, started making water filters to benefit the poorest of the families in Ascension.

I had the privilege of visiting them in Bolivia during April of 2007. They were just getting ready to install their very first filters. Somehow this unlikely group had cut across the deep divides of Bolivian politics, culture and classes to form an organization committed to the common good. When Trevor and Janaki returned to Canada in late May of 2007 there were about 20 filters completed and installed. Today, thanks to the generous donations from family and friends, there must be close to 300 families who are benefiting from clean water.

And to add to that, a wonderful group of people have come together in Calgary to volunteer their time and talents for a fund-raiser to help keep the organization together. It is truly a blessing to be associated with this group of people.

Hope you can all come and support the event!

Sunday May 24 5:00 PM La Pachanga Restaurant 918 12 Ave SW Calgary

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Garden is In!

It has been quite a bit of work, and there were a couple of false starts, but the garden is officially planted. The previous owner of our property in Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island had built a fantastic area for gardening. It is even finished with 8 foot fencing to keep out the deer. Unfortunately, the garden plot had not been worked for the last year or maybe longer and it was badly overgrown.

We got rid of the grass, invasive blackberry bushes and general weeds. Then we terraced the garden and put in raised beds. Finally conditioned the soil and put in the seeds.

Now it is up to the sunshine and the rain. Over to the Creator and the living systems of Creation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Environmental Preservation- A Matter of Faith

Faith communities are increasingly speaking out about the spiritual dimensions of environmental conservation. This stands to reason - Are you honoring the Creator by destroying the Creation?

Last February, we attended a Shabbaton Sedar at Kolot Mayim - Victoria's Reform Jewish Congregation. This Sedar marked the Jewish Holy Day - Tu B'Shvat - traditionally the New Year for Trees. Increasingly this event has become a focal point for environmental awareness in the Jewish Faith.

At the end of the Sedar, Kolot Mayim invited a young woman from the local Sierra Club to speak about environmental conservation. During the discussion, she related that the local Anglican Congregation had hosted a workshop on the environment last year. During that event, congregation members were invited to fill out a carbon footprint survey. Not surprizingly, the congregation members averaged 11 tons of CO2/person/yr. This is right on the Canadian average for CO2 emissions and it also equates directly to an annual oil consumption of 24 bbls/person/year - right on the Canadian average.

Congregation members decided to look at ways they could reduce their environmental impact and took this as their spiritual duty for the next year. The Sierra Club representative had just met with the congregation and found that the average Carbon Footprint had fallen from 11 tons to 6 tons/person/year. This equates to a decrease in oil consumption from 24 to 13 bbls/person/year.

How was this accomplished?

Some improvements were made by individuals. Each family had done a home energy audit (and followed the recommendations) and personal habits were changed (using more public transit, walking rather than driving, etc). In addition to this, a major contribution was made by car-pooling,buying more local food and grocery shopping as a group etc. The group efforts required more planning and caused some inconvenience. However, they had a major unexpected benefit as well. The congregation had become much closer and began to experience a true sense of community.

It is also interesting to note that a similar Carbon Footprint analysis was done at Koinonia. This survey revealed that the average person at Koinonia was responsible for 3 tons of CO2/yr. That equates to about 6 bbls of oil/person/year. That is about 25% of the American average.

Whenever we think about reducing our energy consumption or our impact on the environment we generally think about all the things that we have to give up. The Victoria Anglican congregation and the people of Koinonia would be quick to point out that we also need to consider what we get in return.

How do you assign a value on closer friendships, a genuine sense of belonging, a simpler life and greater harmony with the rest of Creation?