geography 442 – a student-directed seminar

Posts from — September 2010

Another carbon sequestering technology…

I came across an interesting PopSci article in my feeds today.  I though it tied in with some of what we were discussing in the rose garden.

The popular science article doesn’t go into great detail, but it does raise some interesting ethical questions.  If we could eliminate or capture atmospheric carbon, what effect would that have on the arguments for reduced fossil fuel dependency.  Also who owns the carbon?  Is it an energy by-product of the machinations of the entire human race?  Would we be purchasing something that we already owned? I suppose since we discarded it, the carbon no longer would be our property.

September 23, 2010   No Comments

Corporate Responsibility

This summer the company I was working for released their first corporate responsibility report (they are a new company that has only existed since December of last year). Being a responsible citizen, I paid close attention to the content of this report and the information they released surrounding it. Overall I was not very impressed with the detail of the report, though that should be excused since like I said the company is very new, but what I did find interesting was what they chose to report on considering the timing of the release of the report itself — just following the first wave of Corporate Ethics International‘s 2010 summer campaign regarding the state of Alberta’s environment. The outline of what they chose to report is available here and I wanted to share this link because I feel like it is relevant to our discussion today regarding corporate social responsibility.

I know I came off more than a little neoliberal today in my support for private enterprise (I was even afraid of some of the things I was saying) but I did feel that certain organizations were getting a bum rep. When it comes down to it, most Canadian energy companies operate through a social contract that they are acutely aware of. There are many worthwhile ventures that have taken place in small towns across Western Canada that have shaped the landscapes of those areas, and given important opportunities to people who otherwise may not have had them.

I would argue that it is close minded and dismissive to assert that an energy company should not be given credit for its community investment simply by the virtue of its incorporation. These organizations establish specific guidelines to assure that the large amount of money they invest in the community is spent intelligently in their operating areas. At the end of the day, these contributions make a lasting positive effect on the landscapes in question.


September 22, 2010   No Comments

Interesting article by Nikiforuk: "A Smoking Gun on Athabasca River: Deformed Fish"

Andrew Nikiforuk published this article recently on the online news magazine The Tyee.

An excerpt:

At the University of Alberta in a room packed with nearly 100 reporters and onlookers, David Schindler, one of the world’s most celebrated water ecologists, explained that he had never seen so many deformed fish from one region in his long career as a freshwater scientist except on polluted rivers feeding the Great Lakes nearly 30 years ago.

September 22, 2010   No Comments

linguistic difficulties with 'energy'

The seminar is off to a great start, with 14 students enrolled from a diversity of backgrounds.

Our first topic of discussion dived into the history of the emergence of the collective idea of the word “energy”. Just what exactly do we mean when we say this word, so strong in connotation yet weak in denotation?

Ivan Illich’s lecture, titled “the social construction of energy”, looks back to the physicist’s role in trying to encompass into a word the concept of that which is inexhaustible and always conserved. Illich classifies this denotation of energy as the scientist’s “e”, differentiated by the popular term “energy”, which having left the defined space of the laboratory, has taken on vast connotations. Illich takes issue with the way founders of mainstream classical economics have claimed a monopoly on the term ‘energy’, defining it as “nature’s ability to do work” in a world presupposed to be governed by scarcity. In such a world, appropriating energy, like work itself, is a moral duty. But Illich, imparting these warnings in the 1980s, asserts that society is headed towards a future of “an energy-obsessed low-energy society in a world that worships work but has nothing to do for people” (17). (see structural unemployment).

In discussing energy from a social and spatial perspective, I hope to engage with the  subtle, yet crucial, characteristics of our energy extraction, production and consumption that are often left out in mainstream discussions of energy issues. In regards to oil, when industry experts and spokespeople use the impoverished language of “efficiency” and prices per barrel as their primary indicators for discussing the future direction of the resource’s use, what other aspects are omitted? How do we go about taking account of the space(s) resource networks traverse in order to make it to the pump? How can we elevate the importance of the livelihoods of those living in Iraq (among other places) within our perspective?  When discussing energy issues, these omissions play a major role in how we define the scope of the problem.

For instance:

The diversity of tactics in combating climate change on the ground, whether its market-driven Carbon-Capture-Storage (CCS- pumping metric tons of carbon dioxide into the ground) or international social movements demanding climate justice and a moratorium on further fossil-fuel exploitation, speaks to the huge gulfs in how different groups go about defining the “crisis”. Is the “energy crisis” about running out of the massive subsidy of easy-to-extract oil and facing the true environmental/social costs of an industrially-packaged lifestyle, or is it about the dangerous abundance of fossil-fuels, whose rapid exploitation and combustion has pushed the climate into “crisis”, or something entirely different?

How we define the crisis creates the scope of solutions.  CCS appears to be a coping strategy designed to purge fossil-fuel intensive industries of their most undesirable characteristics (carbon emissions) while preserving its fundamental nature (the insistence on the growth of a fossil-fuel based economy) and is symptomatic of a limited view of the issues at hand.

September 22, 2010   No Comments