Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dirty Oil: The Nagging Spouse

This will be my third blog in three days... Hope you're enjoying it as much as I am. Tonight's topic is the "Tar/Oil Sands" Debate in northern Saskatchewan. SHould Saskatchewan develop its' tar sands?

Participating in the debate were Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist who has wrote on the environment and the economy and Dr. Carolyn Preston, the Executive Director of the Petroleum Technology Research Centre in Regina. Andrew spoke against the expansion of a tar sands industry in Saskatchewan without national targets for renewable energy while Carolyn was in favour of the tar sands as an energy source. His most recent book is called "Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent".

The first thing that hit me from this debate was that both of them agreed upon the great mistakes Alberta had made with their strip mining and steam sand extraction of oil. This type of extraction known as System Assisted Gravity Drainage or SAGD has destroyed many boreal forests and wetlands and has caused the pollution of natural waterways in section of Alberta the size of the state of Florida or 3000km sq. This may be exaggerated but I can only imagine that it is a large parcel of land at any rate. If you see pictures of this you will understand the true definition of "raped land".

Here were a couple other random stats that hit me from Mr. Nikiforuk:

1. Albera royalties on oil produced are at 1% of what used to be 35% years ago. This means our government is basically giving away our resources. ANother stat said that Canadian people are actually seeing 39% of all profits from our oil whereas a country like Venezeula pockets 89% of all oil produced.
2. Of the remaining oil in the world today, most of it is bitumen or the type that is very heavy and difficult to extract oil from. This means that most oil extracted 30 or more years ago gave high yields for the energy put into extracting it (1 barrell of energy such as natural gas = 100 barrels of oil). Most of the oil left today all comes at a high cost of investment because of its crude and dirty nature (1 barrell natural gas = 3-5 barrells of oil). Is this sustainable?
3. As Canadians our biggest consumer is the US. The US buys more oil from us than any other country in the world. WHy? Because we practically let them do it for free for reasons I explained above.

Pretty interesting stuff. As for Dr. Carolyn. Here was a summary of her points:

1. Oil sands only produce 5% of our national contribution to global emissions.
2. Canada is at 2% contribution to Global emissions.
3. The efficiency of our combustines engines could be much better.
4. Cleaner oil can be produced.

She had some other points, but like the ones above they still don't seem like long term solutions to our problems, rather they seem like bandaid, quick fixes which seek to distract us. They distract us from the real issues of looking for truly sustainable energy solutions.

At times, I kind of felt bad for Dr. Carolyn who seemed to really want to do what was best as well. She is part of a team of researchers paid to come up with petroleum solutions to the tar sand problems. One must ask the question though, why are we not paying more experts to research the possibilities of more sustainable energy projects which could harvest wind, solar, and geo-thermal energies?

I really hope that we can work together on these solutions. As we all know wind turbines and solar panels are made of plastics that come from petroleum products. For this and other reasons (jobs, transportation and time for shifts in educational focus) I don't think we can just go cold-turkey to non-petroleum energy sources. My hope is that we can start to divert more and more to renewable energy sources. We should not be afraid to engage in these conversations just because we may feel like hypocrites (I still drive and fly in a plane; how about you?). It would be the same as saying that we should stop talking about deforestry because I am writing this blog on a wooden table in the kitchen of my wood framed house?

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dancing the night away...

Tonight myself and five students had the privilege of dancing the night away with a group of mentally challenged individuals in inner city Regina. Let me tell you, it will be a night I won't soon forget. My students said they had an awesome time too.

If you don't know Regina, you should know that the North Central part of it is considered one of the more crime ridden inner city areas in Canada. We were a little apprehensive pulling into the parking lot of the North Central Community Centre attached to Scott Collegiate high school. We were assured by our host Mariam (with the Salvation Army) that it would be safe. As soon as we walked in the door we were greeted constantly by many people there with warm handshakes, hugs, and smiles. People instantly took an interest in us and made us feel noticed to put it softly. We were soon shown to the kitchen where we would be making hot dogs for all of the people there. My students really enjoyed this and were so good hearted about it all, something that continues to impress me about our students at Notre Dame.

Soon it was time to serve the hot dogs, cookies, juice, and coffee. I couldn't help but notice how polite everyone was when they received their food. One cute little lady even tried to scam a few extra hot dogs so that she could put them in her purse and eat them for lunch the next day. When she was caught red handed she gigled and exclaimed, "But I love hot dogs!"

After dinner we ended up hitting the dance floor with everyone else. Unless you have ever experienced dancing with these type of people it will be hard to understand what follows. First of all people are not afraid to express themself in whatever way they feel. There is no such thing as self-consciousness. If ever there was a living definition for freedom dancers, they are it. You can't help but be swept up into this and soon find yourself dancing freely and like a child, laughing, smiling, loving every minute of it. Unfortunately our incredible evening soon came to an end and we had to leave to return home.

Thinking and pondering about this evening has left me with two thoughts: Firstly about labeling. In a culture hyper-aware of political correctness it is hard to know what exactly the proper term is to use for people with disabilities. What hit me again tonight is that though these people may have disabilities, the way that they live and interact reveals that in many ways we, the ones who are not mentally challenged, are really the disabled ones. Our social inhibitions and learned habits of being "normal" adults have handicapped us in ways unseen. We lack many of the freedoms that can be seen in people such as the ones I interacted with tonight. While we may need to offer assistance to help these people live in society they have much to teach us as well. I think the biggest lessons is how to love and accept others. Everything that happened from the moment we entered that Community Hall spoke of acceptance and freedom. From the warm greetings (how often do you get those today unless it is forced or encouraged) to the polite manners (another unfortunate rarity) to the freedom dancing (when was the last time you saw adults freedom dancing without the aid of alcohol?). Yes, we have much to learn from each other.

The other thing that hit me was a reflection on entertainment. We live in an entertainment addicted society. We are often looking for that next "fix" which will satisfy us and unfortunately the motive usually is selfish by nature. I see this so much with my students and their many forms of games and music entertainment. What I saw in my students tonight was something entirely different. You see last night there was a school dance and many of our students enjoyed it and had a good time. But the fun that my students had tonight would not even compare with the dance they had lastnight. Why? Well, I think it comes back to this word musing, the title of this blog. It is the root word in amusement, some activity which should make us think or ponder. I really wonder if any activites that make us numb or don't ask us to question ourselves or our motives, is really amusement. Rather it is false amusement, something I think our culture is full of. Activites that make people happy or pleased but do not stimulate any thought or reflection on our lives. I think Movies can be truly amusing if people take up the opportunity to discuss them and reflect on their connection to our lives. Otherwise we may be missing an opportunity to grow and develop. My point is that the event of dancing tonight with this group of people was fun and caused a lot of thinking on my part, thus it was truly an entertaining and amusing evening.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Economy and Happiness


I think this means "Hello Everyone" in Swedish. I was inspired by my friend Pierre Ducharme who started a blog and thought I would try one out to. When I was trying to think of a title for it, the word "musing" came to mind. I looked it up and here was the definition that I found:

Deep in thought; contemplative.
1. Contemplation; meditation.
2. A product of contemplation; a thought.

With that in mind I want to start my musings with a reflection on our economy. Tonight I was watching the news and was bombarded again with the latest on the economic crisis on our hands. After watching I decided to write the following:

There is so much talk of the economy these days. Tonight I was reminded of the time that I spent living in Uganda and visiting villages and seeing the plight of people there. Our economic crisis is something that people in the third world and our own inner cities have been experiencing for many years. These are people in constant crisis. Sometimes it seems that we can get so selfish and full of ourselves (when I say we I mean the haves in our society, people who have houses, clothing, and jobs). I also think about my buddy Mike who has a mild form of cerebral palsy. Finding work is hard for him not because of the economic times, but because of his disability.

In some ways I don't understand though because I have a job (teaching is pretty reliable) and I'm single without any dependents. I can't imagine having a family and losing your job and needing to re-invent yourself. That must be hard...

I do wonder though how all of this media about the economy is affecting the psyche of Canadians. Does it increase peoples stress levels? Is it taking away our joy and zeal for life-- our happiness? Should the economy dictate this... I once heard that a not-so-well-known country in Asia called Bhutan decided that measuring their countries GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) was more important that what their GDP was. Makes you kind of wonder how they evaluated happiness? And who sets the standard for what happiness is? This all made me wonder how we can all be more happy as people? More free? Do I believe that is possible? Or do I believe that there can never really be complete joy and freedom in life? Is suffering and evil really the only way that I can realize the good things in life?... Hmmm... Tonight I was just reading a section from The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. In it one of the characters personifies himself as the devil or all that is evil and says that once he thought of annihilating himself so that people could live without evil. The response back to him was:

"No," they say, "you must go on living, for without you there would be nothing. If everything on earth were reasonable, nothing would ever happen. Without you there would be no events, and it is necessary that there should be events." Well [evil speaking], and so on I drudge with unwilling heart so that there may be events, and bring about unreason by command... Well, and they suffer, of course, but... all the same they live, the live in reality, not in fantasy; for suffering is also life. Without suffering what pleasure would there be in it? Everything would turn into one single, endless church service: much holy soaring, but rather boaring. (p. 820)

Do you agree? Sorry this blog has been all over the map... I don't mind if your responses are too. Remember it's all about "Musing"