afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
science is in a state of development. Similarly the scientific and engineering basis to manage now increasing greenhouse
gases is immature.
presentation undertakes a review of some proposed strategies which seem ineffective, totally opaque, or possibly even
counter to the goal of reducing greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere.
purpose today to foment consideration of progressive strategies to help develop
policy appropriate to the short and
The idea of
sustainable development provides a useful basis to frame this discussion. However the phrase has become so commonly
used is a precisely relevant definition might be hard to find.
Everyone has developed their specialized
idea of its meaning.
search on the phrase “sustainable development”
yields nearly 85 million “hits”
representing thousands of organizations. Canada’s International Institute for Sustainable Development
deserves honorable mention as number 1 on the “hit” list.
I found what I needed in the second organization
listed. The United Nations is the mother
of sustainable development and their website logo includes the fundamental definition “Development that meets the
needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
sake of this presentation I provide a modified definition to convey the idea that effective
policy should aim at control of atmospheric greenhouse gases – now and on into the future.
I define such a policy as: Policy and practice which
manages atmospheric greenhouse gases at present and provides a way forward for future generations to do the same
while meeting their own needs.
the term “low hanging fruit” to describe greenhouse gas reductions deemed easily achieved through efficiency
improvement and conservation.
Many organizations place great emphasis on
The “One Tonne Challenge” program was set up to
push consumers in this direction
have focused on improving efficiency of machines with great success. For example, thermal engines have increased
their energy output from about 1% of their
energy input to the near perfection ( 60% +) of combined cycle power plants. Many other machines have been improved similarly.
I don’t dispute this is is a good thing.
effective is energy efficiency improvement as a means of reducing overall use and emissions? The track record indicates
emissions they actually increase . How can that be?
The cost reduction resulting from efficiency
improvement makes energy use affordable
for a greater population. Individuals identify more useful applications of energy contributing still more to
increasing emissions. More energy also
results in more people and overall emissions increase again.
Until recently I thought this phenomena was as
universally known and appreciated as the
wheel. Apparently it was actually
documented back in 1865 and is known as
I have some recent
personal experience with this. Our household took on the One Tonne Challenge early in 2003, installing some 40
plus fluorescent bulbs, dimmers, timers,
and motion detection switches. Our
emissions, particularly from electricity,
went up the next year.
I suspect my
wife countered any savings with those perverse water cooler/heaters and some new light fixtures.
Energy efficiency improvement is not a stand alone way to control greenhouse gas emissions long term and thus does not
qualify as sustainable greenhouse gas
management in the context of this discussion.
Let’s move on to consider some
potential forest and agricultural
Canada considers the inclusion of sinks in the Kyoto Protocol a victory in the
negotiations. It does seem there is potential for sinks to be
Specified forest sink factors taken into account
by Kyoto include afforestation (That’s
planting new forests on previously unforested lands), and reforestation. Deforestation is to be counted too –
as releasing greenhouse gases.
Canada may be able to claim some modest credit
for such sinks within the Kyoto
However, once such forests have fully grown and
matured, it seems they cease to function
as sustained sinks. They need some human help to be sustainable for
aspects of Canada’s forest sink policy
which are very difficult to understand.
greenhouse gas inventory assumes that when forests are harvested, their carbon content is released to the atmosphere as
carbon dioxide. Actually much of the
carbon remains in wood products. Our growing inventory of houses represents a carbon sink not accounted for.
has inexplicably chosen not to take into account the carbon sink associated with wood products. A review of Canada’s GHG
inventory suggests emissions might be reduced by up to 150
million tonnes with a change of accounting
methodology. That’s a big chunk of our total emissions of some 750 million tonnes.
carbon representing about 40 million
tonnes of carbon dioxide is freely shipped
in lumber to the United States every year. Understandably, no one seems interested in factoring that into our lumber
dispute. That issue is already incomprehensible.
To summarize, the afforestation and reforestation
initiatives of Kyoto seem limited by land and forest growth constraints. They
discourage harvesting to allow regrowth and continuing carbon dioxide removal
if there is no sink credit for forest products. They are thus not sustainable by the standards of this
policies which are being considered for GHG management may even discourage removal of carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere. Reflection on the landfill
concept reminds us of Mother Nature’s
methods to produce fossil fuels as carbon is moved underground from the
atmosphere by burying organic wastes.
waste management systems could be designed which would trap nearly all of
the carbon in organic waste thus forming a sink and a potential emission removal credit. On the other hand if the waste
were simply incinerated the carbon content would be released to the
atmosphere as carbon dioxide. No removal
or reduction credit would be generated.
In between these extremes there is the possibility of generating
methane. Methane is 21 times more
effective than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. It thus seems possible to create up to
28 carbon dioxide equivalent credits from processes which produce methane.
That makes them much more financially
rewarding than those which might actually sequester carbon.
policy to provide credits for landfill gas capture could thus discourage waste management which would be carbon
neutral or would actually remove carbon
from the atmosphere.
shows waste output from one of the large feedlots near Lethbridge, Alberta. Methods currently used to process
manure produce some methane.
A plant on the outskirts of Lethbridge has been
proposed to process manure and other
wastes for energy. According to the company brochure, an anaerobic digestion process will produce
biogas. This biogas consists of 60 to 70% methane and 30 to 35% carbon dioxide. It will provide fuel for three 1 MW generators which will
supply electricity to the
Alberta grid and thermal energy
The company anticipates greenhouse gas reduction
credits may be earned through eliminating
the methane emissions from existing
This plant is in my backyard. I intend to
keep a watch on it.
presentation raised a few examples of
proposed greenhouse gas management policy
which may be ineffective, incomprehensible, and actually counter to sustained reductions.
It’s goal is to stimulate discussion of
sustainable policy to manage greenhouse
gases that will work in the long and short term.
We may not be sure, but it could turn out that
those who predict serious global warming from current human activity are right.
We need to take the time to think this
through and come up with policy to modify our activity in a way
which will work for us and for future generations.