Saturday, December 23, 2006
Ottawa author Darryl McMahon at a recent book signing.
Ottawa writer Darryl McMahon has just released his book – The Emperor’s New Hydrogen Economy – and he hopes Canadians will start getting much greener after reading it.
How one gets green is, of course, a topic of debate.
For years now, hydrogen fuel cells have been touted as the flavour de jour that will put Canada in the forefront of the renewable energy revolution.
According to a spokesperson at Industry Canada, since 1996, Technology Partnerships Canada has made repayable investments totaling $107 million in the development of the Canadian hydrogen and fuel cell sector, with $82 million of this funding directed specifically toward development of the fuel cell.
Mr. McMahon does not think the hydrogen fuel cell is ready for prime time, however.
“Most people don't know the hydrogen fuel cell has been around for a long time and it still is not a viable commercial technology for the mass-market,” said Mr. McMahon.
What is wrong with hydrogen fuel cells?
“A large number of things,” said Mr. McMahon, in an interview. “Which is why The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy is a book, not a brochure. Beyond the technology issues that require decades more research and development before we will ever see a cost-effective, hydrogen fuel cell appropriate for personal transportation is the fact that hydrogen is not an energy source - merely an energy carrier - and not a very good one.”
Mr. McMahon makes it clear he is not against the so-called hydrogen economy. He just thinks it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
In the film Who Killed the Electric Car? Joseph Romm, executive director, Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions in the U.S., said he believes the industry must come up with five “miracles” before we will see a mass-marketed hydrogen fuel cell car: much lower cost per unit, increased space for fuel, lower hydrogen fuel costs, increased fueling infrastructure - and perhaps most importantly - that competing technologies will not improve.
Given the technological advances and market penetration of hybrid cars that does not appear likely.
Mr. McMahon, who has a long-standing interest in sustainable energy, hopes his book will finally deliver the message that we are running out of cheap oil and gas and people need to focus on efficiency and conservation. His website (www.econogics.com) lists several ways individuals can lower their greenhouse gas emissions.
His book suggests alternative modes of transportation: electric vehicles, hybrids and human powered vehicles.
He also has some advice for politicians: “Please get out of the way. Governments don't have a good track record on picking winning technologies. Federal and provincial governments have effectively squandered a decade on the climate change issue. The people understand it's an issue. They're looking for leadership, and if government will stop pretending to be leaders on climate change, environmental issues and energy policy, perhaps some real leadership can be found,” said Mr. McMahon.
Like many people, Mr. McMahon is concerned that Canada will not meet its Kyoto Protocol targets.
“If we take this on as a matter of national urgency, we could still make it,” Mr. McMahon said. “But if we wait for our governments on this matter, we simply won't even be close. We can't make it with a business-as-usual or incremental improvement approach in this time-frame,” he added.
What is Mr. McMahon doing to lower greenhouse gases?
“I'm living greener than I used to do,” said Mr. McMahon. “It's a continuing journey. Our household gets a significant amount of its heat from active and passive solar energy systems.”
Mr. McMahon does the majority of his travel by municipal transit bus. He also uses an electric car, electric bike and a biodiesel truck. His family has no plans for a hydrogen-powered vehicle.
“I hope we can show others that we can reduce our environmental footprint without returning to the Dark Ages,” said Mr. McMahon.
The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy is available online at iUniverse in both print and electronic versions. He will be signing copies of his book at a variety of locations in the Ottawa area. Details can be found on his website.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
A cluster bomb unit containing over 600 unexploded submunitions.
Photo courtesy Mines Advisory Group
The Ottawa Public Library recently played host to a two-hour discussion on the impact of cluster munitions in Lebanon after last summer’s conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
About 25 people – many of whom were involved with organizing the event – listened to Habbouba Aoun, co-ordinator of the Landmine Resource Centre in Lebanon, talk about the devastation caused by the bombs that exploded (loss of life, injuries, environmental damage, destruction of personal property and infrastructure), as well as the damage caused by the unexploded munitions buried in the rubble (fear of accessing property, job loss, psychological terror).
“Every step in South Lebanon is a dangerous step,” said Ms. Aoun. “There are three or four injuries per day as a result of cluster bombs or landmines,” she said.
“Palestinians who work in the agricultural industries (in Lebanon) are paid an extra US$2 per day if they survive the day,” she said.
During the discussion, there was no talk of the cluster bombs Hezbollah fired at Israel.
According to Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah fired Chinese-made Type 81 rockets into the village of Mghar, injuring civilians.
Cluster munitions are in the news now because of the recently completed Third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which took place in Geneva.
Why are cluster munitions so harmful compared to other bombs?
Cluster munitions contain bomblets (also called submunitions) that are packed into artillery shells or bombs dropped from aircraft. Hundreds of bomblets from a single cluster-bomb canister are typically scattered over an area the size of a football field.
Unfortunately, experts say the failure rate of the bomblets can be anywhere from five to 30 per cent. They lie in wait for someone to disturb them – much like anti-personnel landmines.
According to Handicap International, 98 per cent of all victims of cluster submunitions are civilians.
Many countries and NGOs are demanding a ban on the production, use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
If that phrase sounds familiar – it is because it is the same wording that appears in the Mine Ban Treaty that banned anti-personnel landmines in 1997 (which neither Lebanon nor Israel has signed).
Unfortunately, the only agreement to come out of Geneva was to keep on talking. That was not good enough for Norway, whose call to start a process on a new treaty to ban cluster munitions was met with enthusiasm from NGOs.
"After five years of talks, states have failed to ban a weapon that continues to maim and kill civilians during use and long after the conflict is over,” said Thomas Nash, co-ordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition in a press release. “NGOs call on all states committed to protecting civilians to start work urgently on a new treaty like they did for anti-personnel mines,” said Mr. Nash.
For countries like Lebanon (one of 24 countries littered with unexploded cluster bombs) a treaty cannot come soon enough.
“I hope Canada will lead in a new treaty to ban cluster bombs,” said Ms. Aoun.
What is Canada’s position on a cluster munitions ban?
“Canada is prepared to engage in focused discussions on cluster munitions,” said a spokesperson from Foreign Affairs. “Canada will review the results of the CCW conference and consider initiatives put forward by other countries outside the CCW in order to determine the best approach to be taken.”
Canada is one of 70 countries that stockpiles cluster munitions, however there has been some progress toward eliminating them.
“Canadian Forces (CF) destroyed their entire stockpile of MK20 Rockeye air-delivered cluster munitions in June 2006,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of National Defence (DND). “Remaining cluster munitions are artillery based, and a recommendation for their disposal by demilitarization or destruction is currently under review,” she added.
Ms. Aoun delivered a Power Point presentation that described ongoing humanitarian activities in her country. She said excluding South Lebanon (which contains 380,000 landmines near the Israeli border), some other areas of the country had been demined, mine risk education was being given to the population, and many minefields had been surveyed and mapped.
That all changed on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah launched an attack against Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.
Israel felt it had no choice but to respond militarily.
During the conflict, both the Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah fired cluster munitions at each other – with devastating results.
After hostilities ended, Ms. Aoun went to investigate.
“I was in a convoy and someone said ‘look up’ and when I did I saw a cluster bomb hanging from a tree (on its drag ribbon),” said Ms. Aoun.
It was not the only one.
According to the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG), there may be as many as 400,000 unexploded cluster bombs in South Lebanon. MAG – which has been demining in Lebanon since 2000 – tripled its staff to almost 300 – and set up 17 Battle Area Clearance Teams, one Emergency Response Team and one Reconnaissance Team in South Lebanon. MAG hopes to expand to 25 teams in the New Year.
Since Aug. 15, MAG staff has destroyed almost 10,000 unexploded cluster bombs or submunitions.
They clearly have their work cut out.
“Both the National Demining Office of Lebanon (NDO) and the UN Mine Action Coordination Center South Lebanon (MACC SL), the two tasking and governing authorities in Lebanon, have stated Dec. 15, 2007 as the end date for the clearance of South Lebanon,” said Nick Guest, MAG’s technical operations manager in an interview from Lebanon.
To date, one of MAG’s deminers has been injured after stepping on a submunition hidden in a pile of leaves.
When asked to describe his experience in South Lebanon, Mr. Guest said: “There are varying degrees of devastation as a result of the conflict. From media reporting you would think of blanket destruction across the south but in most cases it was very specific and targeted bombing and shelling. In MAG’s areas of operations very few people are living in tents or were living in tents immediately post conflict. Apart from roads, bridges and electricity stations there was little damage to the infrastructure. Clean drinking water and sanitation has not been an issue since the first or second week post conflict.”
Ms. Aoun hopes funding for the safe removal of remnants of war will continue.
“We depend on the international community to restore our life back to normal,” she said.
Hezbollah is playing no part in the eradication of the submunition problem, according to Mr. Guest.
“Hezbollah do not fund any demining or clearance operations,” he said.
According to CIDA’s website, Canada contributed almost C$1.5 million for mine action since September.