Friday, June 27, 2008

Canada: Part of the Global Warming Problem

Greenpeace has done a lovely job creating a fake Alberta tourism site to educate us (through cutting humour) on the massive environmental toll being paid for the benefit of getting at all that juicy tar-sands oil. From the government-sanctioned and wanton destruction of pristine boreale forest, to the ghastly and toxic "Tailing ponds" left in their wake, this surely will count as one of the most shameful pillagings of mother nature in human history.

And that's not even taking into account the cumulative effect on greenhouse gas content in the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels to get at other fossil fuels that will eventually be burned (and require more fossil fuels to transport them to and from refineries using fossil fuels via fossil fuel burning trucks on tarmac roads made in part from fossil-oil products...) And whoops, our heads are spinning wildly before we even consider the effect of losing all that good carbon-trapping forest!

We really have to find a better way to deal with our collective hunger for energy. There is probably no greater effect we can have than to change our mindset of what is normal behaviour.

For example, I recently discovered that I can walk all the way to and from work (if I set aside 40-45 minutes to do so). And it is an enjoyable walk at that, coming with the health benefit of getting a degree of exercise. Previously, I would take a 15-20 minute bus trip at rush hour, having waited anywhere between 2 and 20 minutes for the bus to arrive, then be sandwiched-in uncomfortably while the bus jerked and heaved to deal with Montreal traffic.

Weather permitting, my wife bikes the kids to daycare, which is conveniently only a half-kilometre away from home, and around the corner from the studio where she works. We also chose to live in a neighbourhood where it is often possible to shop on foot - except for the big haul grocery buys. Our home is insulated and heated with electricity, but certainly could be more energy-efficient, and that's something to be investigated soon.

That's partly because I am in a neighbourhood that was designed to be more energy-efficient - back in the 1920's. But some of our friends live in the suburbs, designed post-WWII - with three times the living space to heat or cool (completely detached), huge lawns to tend, long commutes to work and no option to walk to the pharmacy or dentist, etc. While I am proud to be living more energy-efficiently, I can't say I'm not jealous of the space they have, but at least I live near a huge park for the kids to play in.

If we stop building communities on the premise of having cheap and abundant energy, and go back to tighter quarters and smaller-scale neighbourhoods the way we used to between the wars, this would go a very long way towards decreasing our energy thirst, at least in high-density population areas.

Now that energy prices are moving towards being value-costed, the North American lifestyle might just revert, especially if more people start thinking and living the way we do. And I sense this is already beginning to be reflected in the growing market value of the properties in densely-built older urban communities such as my own.

Now if only we can go back to rail transport as the primary means of moving goods around! (More on that in a future post.)

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