Wednesday Night #1316

Written by  //  May 23, 2007  //  Biofuels, Climate Change, Environment & Energy, Herb Bercovitz, Nuclear, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1316

23 May 2007
A very interesting evening last week, which was a continuation of the previous week’s discussion of nuclear energy, this time in the company of John Jonas and Peter Ferst, along with the Lightfoot family enterprise. Meanwhile, Diana was launching the Year of the Dolphin in Washington while making sure that Tony Blair enjoyed his last visit with President Bush and Paul Wolfowitz departed the World Bank
This week, we will turn to a more local topic, albeit one with environmental focus, the Turf Wars in Westmount and the proposal to lay artificial turf on the soccer field in Westmount Park. Patrick Barnard has ably led the citizens’ group opposed to this idea and will be with us along with McGill Psychology Professor Gillian O’Driscoll who speaks on this topic as a scientist, mother, teacher and representative of Narnia Daycare. Whether or not you have soccer-playing children in Westmount, the topic touches myriad issues of environmental planning, municipal responsibility and health and safety.
We also look forward to a special treat – a visit from our very favorite diva, Susan Eyton-Jones, and Shem Guibbory. We look forward to their insider’s view of the success of the Metropolitan Opera’s telecasts and outreach programme
World events will not, however, go unremarked. The Cabinet introduced last week by France’s new president (he’s allowed to use that title for a few weeks) is indicative of new directions, as is Mr. Sarkozy’s early position on the environment
We are saddened and concerned by the outbreak of violence in Lebanon between the government and islamist militants, which does not show signs of abating despite pronouncements from the UN Secretary-General and the Arab League. The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. It looks like the beginning of yet another long hot summer in the Middle East, but we are encouraged that the Democrats are in the process of backing away from the forced withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
As Wednesday Night has agreed in a rare moment of consensus, setting the deadline was an invitation to the insurgents to retrench and rebuild until the deadline was reached. This change is particularly important with increased fears that Iran is preparing to orchestrate a summer offensive in Iraq in alliance with Al Qaida and Sunni insurgents.
On a happier note, we applaud the initiative of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum in setting up an endowment of $10 billion for education and research – he obviously “gets it” in a country where the illiteracy rate for women is 40% – educated women mean a major and beneficial paradigm shift in traditional societies – even notable at Wednesday Night!
Today’s bomb blast in Ankara is indicative of the delicate political situation in that country and the deep split between the secularists and the governing AKP What, if any, effect will this have on Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the European Union?
The European Union has other problems given the disastrous outcome of last week’s summit meeting aiming to bring Russi into a grand alliance with the EU.
So, despite the onset of magnificent summer weather, perfect for walking or cycling during the mass transit strike, all is not right with the world and there is much to review and reflect upon.
Update on the Turf Wars (Tuesday 5/22)
We are also pleased to forward below a short version of the communiqué received from Patrick regarding the Save the (Westmount) Park meeting of last Wednesday.
“Last Wednesday evening, 300 people packed Victoria Hall, with 30 more in the balcony. Attending were the Mayor, Council, the President of FieldTurf, the Green candidate in the last election, the head of Montreal’s Urban Ecology Institute, and many others. After the presentation by Director General Bruce St. Louis and 3 consultants, the briefs began, with 14 presenters criticizing the City’s plans and 4 in favour. The presenters were concise, articulate, extremely well-informed, and many of them had scientific training. Perhaps one among them seemed to symbolize the sheer excellence of the park’s defenders – Gillian O’Driscoll, distinguished Professor of Psychology at McGill, scientist, and mother of children at Narnia daycare. She and her fellow park defenders produced an extraordinary portrait for the audience – the spectre of synthetic fields formed from 30,000 recycled tires each, tires so toxic that in the words of the City’s landscape architect, Marc Fauteux, “it is practically impossible to determine the disposal cost of this artificial surface.”… Speaker after speaker pointed out contradictions in official information …Westmounter Camilo Perez Arrau, a geographer at UQAM, projected his infra-red, satellite images from the summer of 2005. At that time … Arrau had used Westmount Park as his standard against which to highlight the extremely hot surfaces of Montreal’s synthetic fields. The President of FieldTurf, Westmounter Jean Prevost, commented that he had never seen these pictures before and that his company was working on the problem which he acknowledged … He even added: “This [his own product] is not for everyone.”
The major points are:
The overwhelming rejection of artificial turf
The defense of the park as a natural greenspace
The support for unfettered access for all the users – soccer children, daycare toddlers, students of Westmount Park School, and the 20,000 residents of Westmount to whom the park belongs.
This event was unprecedented because never has a municipality in Canada examined urban environmental questions in such depth and with such focussed community attention.”

The Report

Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth Genesis 1:28

It appears odd in the face of almost total disregard for this and other biblical rules of behaviour and prohibitions, that the increasing population of the earth seems to have reached the point where not only are other species disappearing because of our unbridled quest for technology, but that the measures we have taken appear to threaten our own existence. We are denuding our forests, depleting our marine food supplies, warming our planet, polluting the air we breathe and robbing future generations of sources of clean air, clean water and carbon-based energy sources.
On the day after the International Day for Biological Diversity (Biodiversity), few Montrealers are aware of the importance of Biodiversity, or even know what it is, and even fewer are aware that their city hosts the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity; moreover, at least 1/10th of the Secretariat staff live in Westmount. The relationship of biodiversity and economics is poorly understood by most, but is cogently argued by, among others, Sigmar Gabriel, the German Federal Environment Minister
The Westmount Turf Wars
In so many cities in the world, green space has yielded to increasing populations, advancing technology and easy transportation. Unlike most cities within the Montreal metropolitan area, the City of Westmount has resisted the temptation to increase the density of its population for the sake of internal growth. Despite its proximity to downtown Montreal, with the exception of a relatively short post-World War II period, the move to denser population and increasing commercialization has been resisted. Green space on the mountain and parks has been maintained. Westmount Park, inspired (although not planned) by Frederick Law Olmstead, renowned American Landscape architect, remains one of the gems of parks in North America. Surrounded by space-consuming high rises of Montreal, Westmount Park provides a haven for beauty, reflection and recreation for its citizens.
Unfortunately, the adjacent urban area of downtown Montreal appears neither to share Westmount’s concern for conservation nor to have provided adequate areas for its citizens’ recreation and relaxation. Now it appears that increased use of the soccer fields in Westmount Park, not only by Westmounters, but by students in nearby downtown Montreal, has caused their deterioration over recent years. Westmount Municipal Council has proposed artificial turf as a solution to the problem. A group of citizens opposes that solution as being toxic and dangerous. Although in use elsewhere on the island, artificial turf is made from used rubber tires, hence toxic. There is said to have been no testing on the toxicity of the product, but infra red satellite photos have indicated that synthetic turf fields elsewhere in the metropolitan areas are over twenty degrees hotter than the asphalt surfaces in their vicinity.
The group opposing the synthetic turf emphasizes the integrity of the park, the possible toxicity of the material used, and proposes the removal of the field to a more suitable site. The Westmount Municipal Association, while remaining neutral in the current debate, has urged the City to consider “a broader problem-solving process[including] 1) clearly define the problem to be solved; 2) identify a broad range of possible sustainable solutions; 3) eliminate solutions that are not feasible; and 4) analyze the remaining possible solutions to rank-order them, taking into account initial and ongoing costs, lifetime of fields, safety, health, environmental impact, aesthetics, impact on other city programs, and preferences and priorities of city residents”.
You might want to consider sending the Council to Vancouver where they play soccer all year and kids up to the age of 14 play on gravel
On a 28 degree day the temperature of the artificial turf goes up to 65- small children are very susceptible to heat
I think the present Council members have created so much antipathy that those who have been acclaimed in the past election will face seriously mobilized opposition
In the fall, the Council will be presenting proposals for the renovation of the Arena and other recreational facilities; what is needed is a master plan for recreational facilities that is submitted to the citizens and allows Council a face-saving exit strategy from the current debacle
At a time when in North America it is the cities that are responding creatively and responsibly to the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, it is shocking to see a city with Westmount’s traditions and high level of education embarking on untested and questionable solutions. It does not bode well for poorer communities with less educated and/or involved citizenry
Another gem is Summit Park, left to the City of Westmount in perpetuity as a bird sanctuary, but currently, increasingly used as a dog run. There is some fear that continued use for the latter purpose will have a deleterious effect on the bird population. The fear has been expressed that up to one third of the resident birds will be lost unless visiting dogs are kept on leash, a proposal unalterably opposed by dog lovers and owners of larger dogs that require space for free runs.
Climate Change
More bad news this week as the American Academy for the Advancement of Science released its Proceedings:Alarming acceleration in CO2 emissions worldwide
Stanford, CA — Between 2000 and 2004, worldwide CO2 emissions increased at a rate that is over three times the rate during the 1990s-the rate increased from 1.1 % per year during the 1990s to 3.1% per year in the early 2000s. The research, published in the early on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences* May 21-25, also found that the accelerating growth rate is largely due to the increasing energy intensity of economic activity (the energy required to produce a unit of gross domestic product) and the carbon intensity of the energy system (the amount of carbon per unit of energy), coupled with increases in population and in per-capita gross domestic product. “No region is decarbonising its energy supply,” states the study. The research showed that the increases in energy and carbon intensity constitute a reversal of a long-term trend toward greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon intensities.
Biofuels – the answer to fossil fuels?
As time grows short and humans continue to selfishly deprive our descendents of the limited supply of fossil fuels and tend to believe in the concept of biofuels, it becomes more evident that the use of crops to create fuel constitutes a mixed blessing, as it tends to increase the cost of food beyond the reach of the poor.
It is increasingly evident that Kyoto targets will not be met, that carbon-based fuels are contributing to climate change and are in limited supply. Alternative energy sources are discussed but the measures implemented fall short of the objectives of Kyoto and contribute nothing to the post-Kyoto period.
Nuclear energy appears to be the mid-term answer but takes time to develop. The Stratfor Public Policy Intelligence Report this week supports the perception that nuclear energy is again becoming a popular choice – at least among governments: “Energy planners in China, the United Kingdom, Finland and elsewhere recently announced they either are embarking on a major nuclear initiative or are beginning the process of major policy changes that could lead to the construction of new power reactors. Even the United States is clearly turning toward a new energy policy that addresses both oil consumption and climate change — and also includes nuclear power generation. At the center of this new policy, which will evolve over the coming years, will be a cap-and-trade system that encourages conservation and the development of new energy technologies.”
Concurrently, Tony Blair has announced his government’s commitment to a new generation of nuclear power plants
Is a recession inevitable if we attempt to meet Kyoto targets?
While, as contended by the Minister of Environment and Mr. Harper’s government, meeting the Kyoto targets “next year” would plunge Canada into an extreme recession, their case may well be overstated . Furthermore, the consequences could very well be minimized – even completely eliminated – by the employment created in developing and selling the new technology.
[Editor’s note: examples of 10 noteworthy new Canadian developments were highlighted in an April 2 National Post story: “Ten who think green: Canadian companies among the hunt for energy-efficient alternatives”.
In the same vein is this item from Planet Ark, “General Electric Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt said his “green” ecomagination unit was gaining steam and it launched 11 new products and services Thursday, including a hybrid locomotive and a carbon offset company.]
Kyoto, thus, represents an opportunity. By adhering to the Kyoto Protocol we will encourage new technologies. The attitude of this philosophy is that we may not make it but let’s see how close we can get. China, not a signatory to the Kyoto accord, is pointed to as a major polluter, but plans to build close to forty nuclear plants there in the next ten years, believing it to be to their economic advantage to do so. Brazil is developing aircraft fuelled by bio-fuel. What is required is that a credible nation such as Canada move and having taken the necessary steps, co-opt other nations into following.
[Editor’s note: We received the following reminder and contribution to the ongoing dialogue from Douglas Lightfoot:
It is clear that most people do not know what Canada’s commitment to Kyoto means. We are legally liable for punishments of billions of dollars annually for failing to meet our commitment. This is a legally binding commitment. Where does this money go? It goes to undeveloped nations that do not have large emissions of carbon dioxide. …
It would be useful if some Canadian economists would look at exactly how much we are committed for and where the money will go. Do we have any say in how the money will be spent?

These are key questions for Canadians and which are not being addressed….The situation is serious because we are not going to meet our commitment – and no amount of ‘we must try harder’ comments will reduce the amount we have to pay.
The Nicholas Stern Report, though controversial and, in the opinion of some, inaccurate, concludes that an investment of one percent of the G.D.P. would be required to avoid the worst effects of climate change but doing nothing could result in Global G.D.P. being twenty percent lower than its potential, with potentially disastrous results.
Pop goes the Met
Inspired by pre-television radio broadcasts of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, the new General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera Company, Peter Gelb, has instituted a twenty-first century version. Gelb’s first season as general manager of the Met will be remembered for his video innovation, transmitting six operas live around the world in high-definition as part of a series that will expand to eight productions next season. Tickets sold for eighteen dollars, making the Met far more accessible to the public. This initiative appears to have been extremely successful, not only with full theatres for the live broadcasts but also with a full house for the live presentations. Indulging in the sincerest form of flattery, the San Francisco Opera and London’s Royal Opera are preparing to follow suit.

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