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magazine / oct10

October 2010 issue


Converging on the green highway

Building a Green Economy for the Future
By Andrew Heintzman
House of Anansi Press
320 pp.,
Alternative energy has taken root. The world’s largest wind farm opened in Roscoe, Texas, last fall, and the first battery-only sports cars have taken to the highways. As researchers worldwide push to develop new technologies, countless other projects are in the works. And yet global CO2 emissions continue to rise, with nonrenewable sources generating a larger percentage of the world’s energy every year. Peak oil production may be just around the corner, but we won’t know for sure until it has passed. So what’s next? Can renewable energies step up to meet demand? A wave of recent books offers hints at what the future may hold and how we might navigate uncertainties along the road ahead.

Capitalism is often viewed as a culprit in our current societal predicament, but as author and businessman Andrew Heintzman points out in The New Entrepreneurs, the energy and innovation that drive private enterprise may well be what’s needed to create the next generation of environmentally sound technology. Framed by Heintzman’s experiences living and working in Canada, the book is a tour of up-and-coming Canadian companies, with environmental innovation at the forefront.

Energy Options for a Low-Carbon Future
By Chris Goodall
Greystone Books
320 pp.,
Heintzman’s enthusiasm is contagious as he takes readers to British Columbia, where Triton Logging has discovered a valuable, if overlooked, resource: the world’s submerged forests. With an estimated $50 billion of lumber preserved within reservoirs worldwide, the company’s remotely operated vehicles stand to turn a handsome profit without cutting a single living tree. But that’s just a one-shot deal; other companies are focusing on longer-term sustainability. Saltworks Technologies, for example, has come up with a novel desalinization process, using sunlight and salt water itself to purify seawater. If Saltworks can scale up its design, this process could improve living conditions across much of the world.

Noting that our country was built on industry, Heintzman advocates a system of market cues, such as a carbon tax, to nudge modern industries in the right direction. “Put to the task of reducing our use of resources and preserving natural capital,” he writes, “[capitalism] has an almost unlimited potential to alter the way we live.”

Writer, businessman and climatechange specialist Chris Goodall takes a similar view. His book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, is a lucid and incredibly thorough exploration of green technologies worldwide.

“It is better to recognize early that the road is not going to be easy,” writes Goodall, arguing the need for massive implementation of green technology to keep up with climate projections. Through chapters ranging from oceangenerated power and soil conservation to a California-based company making clean petroleum from cellulose (and, yes, that’s carbon-neutral), he analyzes myriad new technologies, weighing the benefits they may provide against the technical, logistical and economic hurdles they’ll have to overcome.

“The battle against global warming should not be a game of roulette with countries tossing a few chips towards random technologies,” writes Goodall, and he’s right. Rigorous but easily comprehensible, this book is a must-read for technology enthusiasts, business leaders and policy-makers worldwide.

Moving People and Freight Without Oil
By Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl
New Society Publishers
448 pp.,
Others contend that more drastic changes are needed — and soon. In Transport Revolutions, consultant Richard Gilbert and political scientist Anthony Perl team up to address the world’s transportation options in anticipation of peak oil production, which, they assert, could bring about global socio-economic collapse. In their title, they really mean revolution. With 95 percent of global transportation currently based on non-renewable energy, they suggest sweeping changes to global transportation, from the electrification of intercity travel to sails to improve the fuel economy of ocean freight. Sound unreasonable? To keep things in perspective, the textbook-like treatise also looks at past transport revolutions. In 1941, for example, the United States manufactured 3.8 million cars. In 1943, it produced just 143. In the face of crisis, we have the capacity to change.

Our current oil habits are unlikely to go away on their own, but as all three books insist, there are viable, and perhaps necessary, alternatives. All we have to do is take them a little more seriously.

Scott Berdahl

Whitehorse resident Scott Berdahl has a master's degree in science writing and an undergraduate degree in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He was an intern at Canadian Geographic in the summer of 2010.

By Rodney White
Oxford University Press
184 pp., $16.95 softcover
Have you ever wondered why Canada’s emission levels not only have failed to meet our pledge under the Kyoto Protocol but have actually increased by 20 to 25 percent? How greenhouse gases work? What effects global warming could have on your region? People hungry for answers need look no further than this digestible duo.

Everything You Need to Know to Converse Intelligently About Global Warming in Any Social Situation
By Annette Saliken with Martin G. Clarke
Heritage House Publishing
192 pp., $16.95 softcover
Rodney White’s pocket-sized handbook serves up a potent, systematic albeit sometimes dry analysis of climate change and its Canadian and global implications in language that is lean and unassuming. In her Cocktail Party Guide, Annette Saliken takes a similar tact, vowing to connect the dots in non-technical and non-partisan terms, although not always achieving this end. Still, Saliken’s summary of humankind’s culpability is guaranteed to keep readers crying into their martinis.

Hugh Pouliot

In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

By Susan Casey
Doubleday Canada
352 pp., $34.95 hardcover
Blond surfer dudes probably don’t come to mind immediately when one conjures up an image of environmental experts. But Laird Hamilton, arguably the world’s best big-wave surfer, knows a few things about the giant rogue waves that rear up unpredictably in the Pacific and other oceans. In fact, the handsome Hawaiian and his crew regularly fly around the world with their Jet Skis — Hamilton and his pals invented tow surfing to allow them to catch bigger waves — when satellite storm forecasts predict monster swells. Toronto-born writer Susan Casey, editor-in-chief of O, The Oprah Magazine and author of non-fiction shark best-seller The Devil’s Teeth, rode shotgun to put together The Wave. The fast-moving and deeply engaging book is about much more than surf culture; Casey also spent significant time with scientists who study waves. She comes away with the conclusion that there’s a connection between 30-metreplus ship- and shoreline-destroying waves and global warming. And like a surfer with a house-high wave about to fall on his or her head, she writes, it’d be wise for us to pay attention to these untamed beasts of the ocean.

Dan Rubinstein

Audio interview with Susan Casey: The Wave



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