Monday, October 5, 2009

Perfecting Alberta, Part 6: Environment

Nation, people like to fight about the Environment. I'm not sure WHY - it's something we all share in common, after all. But for whatever reason, we feel somehow compelled to either default to "planet-raping money lover" or "tree-hugging hippie".

The reality is, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Unless we're talking to someone who disagrees with us.

The one thing we CAN'T dispute, though, is that the environment in Alberta is a huge asset to Alberta's people, both economically and from a quality of life viewpoint.

The land provides us oil, but it also brings forth crops, and a place for our kids to play. The air can power our turbines, but it also lets us breathe. Water can power our homes, and clean our dishes, host our fish, feed our cattle, keep our crops alive... but we also have to drink it, and have it be clean, just to stay alive.

We recreate in our Parks. We hunt on forest lands. We camp. We log. We farm. We try to preserve the sanctity of our watersheds, whilst also loving the thrill of riding a quad through a big mud bog.

We're a study in contrasts, we Albertans.

However, we're not talking about the Alberta of today. We're talking about the PERFECT Alberta, and how the people of that place deal with their environment. From tailing ponds to fishing ponds, from game trails to bike trails. National Parks, Provincial Parks, and City Parks.

So, Nation, you make the call: How does the Perfect Alberta deal with its environment?

Everything's an option, from higher density housing to emissions controls to carbon taxes to composting to increased provincial parks. Recycling and garbage. Building limitations to rainfall water collection to roof-top gardens to tax credits for ari-forming you lawn. Water treatment, hydro-electric power, hunting, fishing, ranching and farming (ranchers and farmers, by the way, are some of the best stewards of the land you'll find).

We love our environment, but we need a healthy economy. A healthy economy at the expense of a healthy environment, though, leaves us all wealthy and sick. Where's the happy medium? Where's the perfect balance?

No pressure, Nation. ;)


Mark Taylor said...

A little off the direct environmental question but somewhat related. There was a massive study by Brad Stelfox on land use in Alberta and where the future lies (he toured southern AB with it back in 2007). The long and short is that the province needs to be broken into regions where different priorities are defined (oil and gas, urban growth, agriculture, recreation, etc.). Once the priorities are defined, then how we utilize the land changes dramatically.

Case in point was the corridor between Calgary and Edmonton. A large percentage of the population lives in this corridor and that population will continue to grow over the next 50 - 100 years. If this region has a primary designation for urban growth, would it be wise to punch a few thousands holes into the ground that generate methane where homes may later exist?

The study doesn't answer the environment question is one fell swoop but does help the discussion about balancing the environment and the economy.

Brian Dell said...

Any measures aimed at the production side of things are going to be very costly to this province, whether it's carbon capture or just throttling hydrocarbon production to a trickle.

The province needs to get ahead of the curve by adopting a carbon tax. This goes after the consumption side of things and sets an example that if adopted across the continent would be fairly shared by all consumers.

Taxpayer subsidized carbon capture would just mean all of the cost of mitigation is carried by the Alberta taxpayer.

Harvey said...

Paging Mike Hudema, paging Mike Hudema. Please step up to the mike.
Mr. Savage is asking for realistic policy choices for the environment, I'm hoping those at Greenpeace HQ have a few of these that they'd like to share. And of course, with that, they might actually face some scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

When we talk about the cost, we must remember who pays . . . the consumer. Where do you think big oil gets its money from?

I would also like to see the full cost of hydro-electric being discussed. Usually, hydro-electric is generated by building a dam, and running water through a turbine. What is the cost of all that land being under water? What is the greenhouse cost of all those trees no longer growing? What is the cost of bringing that power to where it will actually be used? "Dirty Oil" is an easy target, and is a Alberta target. Would we being having this discussion if Quebec or Ontario had lots of oil?

I like what Harvey said above. Greenpease protests are not about fixing the problem, they are just raising money for their own use.

Harvey said...

Still paging Mike Hudema, paging Mike Hudema. Please come down from the bouldering wall and step up to the plate.
Or someone else from Greenpeace. Anyone? Anyone?
Mr. Andrew Nikiforuk perhaps? Or Daveberta?

Christopher said...

For water: we waste huge amounts of drinking water for flushing toilets and watering lawns. This water really doesn't need to be as clean as the water we drink. There will likely come a point where we ration water use for drinking only.

There's two ways to do this: Ship bottled water for drinking, at a premium price. This would ensure that it's only used for drinking, whereas cheaper water could be used for things that don't require 100% purity, but flies in the face of the fact that many consider clean drinking water to be a right. (It also takes us effectively back to the days where you'd have to visit the well.)

The other way is to pipe separate drinking and non-drinking water into homes. This would require a lot of infrastructure to implement, but could go a long way towards ensuring a continued supply of CLEAN water long into the future.

Recycling/Garbage: Charge per-bag. Less for recycling than for garbage. This rewards those who "reduce" (the most effective of the 3 'R's), but does not penalize unevenly for those above some arbitrary limit.

Forget carbon-capturing the oil-sands. Get us weaned off of point-of-use fossil fuel burning and utilize electricity infrastructure (and increase it), in order to make the burning (where pollutants are released) localized and manageable.

Largely, this could mean electric cars: which have a far more efficient drive-train that requires very little maintenance (no oil-changes, way fewer moving parts). Cars like the Chevy Volt still enable long-distance trips if required, but enable most energy use to be electric, and taken during off-peak hours. Best of all, the electricity supplied can come from any source, and improve as wind/solar/other alternatives become more available, without requiring a change to the vehicle itself.
The transmission loss of the electricity is much less than the efficiency loss of having to carry around an onboard explosion-containment chamber (aka: internal combustion engine).

Enlightened Savage said...

Harvey: Still no luck. Too busy yelling to offer real solutions when asked for them? No wonder no one taken them seriously.

I like Christopher's ideas re: Water conservation. There's a LOT we can learn from how they conserve water on naval vessels - the concept of "usable grey water" for things like flushing the toilet is something we should discuss - as is putting a lid on loss due to evaporation. Why do our reservoirs sit in the open air, waiting for a hot day to evaporate away millions of litres of usable water? Cover them up - keep the water where we want it, and makes it less likely to suffer from accidental contamination.

I'd also like to see tax incentives for ari-forming your property (if water metering is universal, then no need for a tax credit - you'll save money on your water bill).

Lastly, where is the comprehensive study on the feasibility of wind power generation? I don't know at this point if it causes more problems down-wind than it solves, but if we could power most of southern Alberta with an expanded windfarm in the Crowsnest Pass area, why aren't we doing it? Can it actually be more harmful than coal-fired plants?