Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Power, Global Warming, And Deep Contradictions Within Environmentalism

With billions of people said to be facing the global warming prospect of dislocation, crop failure, desertification and famine, you’d think the only thing to worry about was polar bears on shrinking ice floes. Why is that?

If environmentalists really believe what they say about the implications of climate change, why is it that they're fighting green power development plans with dubious arguments about the “privatization” of rivers,
the protection of endangered "wilderness," the plight of the marbled murrelets and the splendour of grizzly bears? Fair play to people who are focused on these things, but these are old reflexes for old rituals. Are we serious about any of this, or not?

I'm just asking, in this month's Canadian Geographic. A taste of it here.


Blogger IceClass said...

That's not a taste.
That's barely a whiff!

You nasty old tease, you.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Ian H said...

I haven't read the article yet, Terry - but I look forward to it. And I know you realize this and likely reflect it in the article, but not all environmentalists oppose green hydro power. The organization I work for, the David Suzuki Foundation, has taken a much more nuanced and supportive position. Of course, that and our support for a carbon tax has prompted a lot of people to accuse us of being "Gordon Campbell supporters" - but that's the way it goes in this polarized climate.

For the record, here is the Suzuki Foundation's take on run-of-river (basically a call for a better management and planning process):

True run-of-river hydro has the potential to be an important part of the clean-energy mix that is needed to help British Columbia address the issue of climate change, while protecting against local environmental impacts.

That said, run-of-river hydro projects can result in unacceptable impacts if they are improperly located, poorly designed, or built and operated in a manner that does not minimize impacts to the local

B.C. needs an ecosystem-based management strategy that includes the protection of minimum water flows and minimizes wilderness fragmentation resulting from access roads and power lines.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Good piece by SFU prof Nicholas Dulvy on lack of debate on impacts to fisheries:

12:44 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


The Suzuki Foundation's approach to this issue is responsible and intelligent and I'm happy to see David taking some leadership on this question. I'm also aware of the ugly things people have been saying about David; they're no friends of mine.

Keep up the good work.


1:03 PM  
Blogger Naomi Devine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Skookum1 said...

"Green power" in relation to some run-of-the-river projects, such as at Bute Inlet, or the wind farm project on the Naikoon Peninsula, is a dicey term. Power transmission lines have a much bigger eco-footprint than the generation systems supplying them. If Plutonic's projects in "Bute Inlet" (i.e. in the Great Canyon of the Homathko) really ARE the same amount of power as would be produced by Site C, the scale of the powerlines needed to deliver that power to consumers, in BC or in California, will be on the same order as the lines from WAC Bennett or Mica. How power from Naikoon will reach the mainland I haven't read up on - undersea cables? From Cape Scott, again, there will have to be big new transmission line "linear clearcuts" to bring the power into "the grid". And these are kept clear by the use of herbicides, not hand-labour...

The greenest power is power that is consumed at its source. Partly because it's the most efficient, given the inherent resistance-over-distance that's inherent in electrical transmission. Unless somebody's reviving Tesla's ideas about transmission through the atmosphere, or the crust....and even with those radical (and probably dangerous ideas - had they ever been achieved), resistance is still an issue. It may only be a confabulation but during power-generation debates in the '70s, I recall it came out that only 10% of the power generated at Peace River reaches the Lower Mainland due to resistance, in much the same way as evaporation takes a lot of the water diverted from northern California and the Colorado before it reaches Los Angeles....

Now, if industry and urban development had been concentrated right in the Peace River area, or the Big Bend, powerlines wouldn't be an issue, nor would loss of efficiency from resistance. Ditto with Bute Inlet and other remote locations. Local environmental impacts around the generation sites themselves are trivial by comparison.

Decentralized power generation is REAL green power, so's conservation. Building new generation for long-distance delivery just isn't. It can't be - that's implicit in electrical reality. Not that I want to see Compton, Irvine and Van Nuys relocate to the Peace River, or Silicon Valley relocated to a new urban centre at Waddington Harbour....

But about the petty distractions of bears and murrelets, I couldn't agree more. The greens, big and small G, in the '80s, were more concerned with recycling and even vegetarianism and animal rights than they were with global warming. Ideology and common sense are not easy bedfellows. Rejecting technology when technological change was what was needed was complete folly.

But the technological changes aren't just ways to create centralized generation that doesn't flood valleys, or to harness wind and tide. It's about how power is used, and where it is used, and the secondary impacts of what distributed power necessarily requires. Big, honking powerlines.....but yeah, maybe that's only a scenic issue (other than Tordon and Agent Orange) in comparison to keeping the hungry energy maw of California fat and happy and roaring for even more....

Since when is feeding a glutton a way to get it to lose weight?

5:06 PM  
Blogger Naomi Devine said...

This looks like a very interesting article and I look forward to reading it. I can't find a copy of Canadian Geographic's June issue in Vancouver or Whistler. I am hoping it comes out tomorrow.

I wish there had been something like this in the Tyee during the election.

8:31 PM  
Blogger richard said...

I look forward to hearing some of this crankiness Wednesday at the ASLE conference in Victoria, Terry. I'm just saying.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Skookum1 said...

You mean this?

4:37 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

If you're referring to my comment about the ugly things people have been saying about Suzuki, you would not be wrong to think of that Tyee piece as an example.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Skookum1 said...

Actually I thought the "crankiness" that Richard was talking about was what Tieleman's article recounted; I hadn't followed the link to the ASLE Conference, which is not the same as the reception where the Tieleman-Suzuki confrontation took place....

3:23 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

No. The ASLE conference - Andrew Struthers ,Rick Kool and I did a panel presentation titled "Against Environmentalism." Not quite Sokal's Hoax territory, but cheeky with it.

8:53 PM  

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