About Me

Rob Pincombe is a prolific television writer, recovering comedian and sometime comic artist/storyboard artist who just wasn't satisfied with a single blog. He writes about sci-fi and fandom at rebelalert.com, Canadian comics at comicanuck.com, and shares thoughts and insights on writing at starkravingadventure.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Environmental Phantom Menace

Welcome to the rebellion.

It's a night for musing by moonlight as random thoughts flow from my mind to my fingertips through my keyboard to you. I have no idea what I'm about to type but I'm in a thoughtful, meandering mood so precisely calculating where my gathering thoughts will take us is unlikely until we actually arrive where we're going.

I'll have to rely on my internal navigation computer to make sure I don't end up flying right through a star or bouncing too close to a supernova. That would end our trip real quick, wouldn't it?

I have taken advantage of Blueharvest.net's Star Wars Name Generator (or what I like to call the Moniker Droid). It mashes up your names into a name fit for a Jedi, or a beneath the contempt of a Sith. My new handle around the cantina is...


Dang that's some good namin'. I'll wear that holo-name tag proudly on my body armor.... unless I'm at a Dr. Who Con. Then I'll stick it to my long, colourful scarf. Blue Harvest has a young, energetic membership; perfect for carrying the Star Wars torch far into the century. If we all survive longer than another decade on this planet, that is.

I suppose I shouldn't worry about the end of the world. Problems like environmental destruction, the depletion of the ozone, global warming, spending more energy to dig oil from Alberta's tar sands than we'll be able to take out and leaving behind lakes of poisonous waste are no biggies right?

Perhaps George and the visionaries at Skywalker Ranch will find a way to replace the world's oil supply with a much cleaner digital oil. After they've found a way to make those pesky actors obsolete that is. I'm not sure Clone Wars will be much of a step in that direction though. :)

Will they end come with a bang, complete with enhanced explosion effects? Or will it simply disintegrate into constant war? It probably doesn't matter. George Carlin said of the end of the world, "the world isn't going anyplace. We are." Too true.

"What are you on about tonight, Pincro?" you ask? I'll try to pull it all together, I promise.

I was privy to a brief but depressing discussion about the tar sands in Alberta between a friend from Alberta and another from Ontario who asked for a Western persepcctive on the oil boom. Two days later I started working on a show about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and comedy for kids... a perfect combination. Kind of a dream gig for a kid like me!

My delightful story editor was flown out to Alberta to chat with dinosaur experts this week. The Canadian Badlands of southern Alberta is
dinosaur country folks. Smack dab in the centre is Drumheller, the dinosaur capital of the world. An amazing array of dino skeletons has been uncovered there. We are learning so much about our planet's past through these fossils. And the area is preserved as a unique provincial park to enjoy. Dinosaurs are fun!

The Alberta Tar Sands are are not fun.

With world oil prices through the roof, Alberta is once again raking in the dough thanks to their extensive oil reserves. Alberta is second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves. The problem is the crude oil of Athabasca mixed in with the water and sand is extremely difficult and expensive to extract. Firstly, an incredible amount of boreal forest and peat bog is cleared away, just to make sure we get no help clearing the toxic, sulphur-filled air (sulphur is a by-product of the process) we're about to create.

It requires intensive heat to burn away the water and sand. That takes power. Probably enough power to run a Star Destroyer (Pardon the sci-fi metaphor but this is a Star Wars blog after all) Since it takes much more oil to retrieve a barrel of oil than can be retrieved Oil companies are currently using natural gas and fighting for nuclear power plants to provide power for this process.

The damage to the environment is catastrophic. According to this Guardian.co.uk article, the mines can now be seen from space, acid rain is killing trees and foliage. Sludge is dredeged and carried in trucks the size of, well... think of it this way.

Remember the opening shot of Star Wars where the Star destroyer passed overhead and it seemed to go on forever? It really showed how massive the ship was. Now imagine that vehicle with giant wheels the tar sands. Apparently, it's like walking into your two-story house and up the stairs to your bedroom. There's a steering wheel by the window. You turn the key and drive your house to work. Massive equipment is all I'm sayin'.

The oil in Athabasca is process requires so much water the mining of the tar sands is using as much water as a city of one million, every day. The water used ends up forming ponds, more like huge lakes, of toxic water unfit for anything. They don't know what to do with the stuff it so it sits there, filled with, "carcinogenic hydrocarbons and toxic trace metals such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, all topped off, in Syncrude's case, with an oil slick."

Anyone up for a little for water-skiing? Let's ask the ducks shall we?

The mine area near Fort McMurry is beginning to resemble a combination of Tatooine's arid Dune Sea, the fiery forges of Mustafar, and Alderaan, post planetary explosion. (Again: Star Wars blog.)

Canada could exceed the most stringent Kyoto guidelines and still be one of the world's largest contributers to Global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. It's unlikely that the damage will ever be undone. Evidence is also growing that oil sand extraction also has a damaging effect on livestock and humans. I'll pause for your collective gasp of surprise.

Why is the Alberta government allowing this to happen? Money. Big oil is big business and Alberta Oil have The oil sands processing was cost prohibitive but now that crude is hitting and exceeding a hundred dollars a barrel... "Ka-Ching!" The United States, China and our own government is vying for all that oil. Go for the money now, screw the planet and our kids.

But I'm sure many of those in power feel they are taking care of their people by making them economically powerful and sharing the wealth though tax-breaks and cheques sharing the money left over after budgets have been met. Having few environmental protections in place saves a lot of Provincial dough. They can invest in infrastructure, tax breaks and increased medical allowances perhaps.

But the rising cost of the environmental damage will be huge. They may be running a money surplus now but we are most certainly getting deeper in debt to the environment. And it's coming to collect one day.
In short, we've been governing for today, not tomorrow.

But definitely not next week or year. Again, it's not exactly their fault. This is an extremely complicated question. And no one answer is gonna help us now. North America and China lead the world in oil consumption. It's our Achilles heel. We don't just need petroleum to drive. Our food production currently depends on it too.

Pesticides are are based on oil while fertilizer is made from ammonia, which is made by natural gas, production of which is already peaking. Tractors that plow our food and fridges that store it are made using oil. In fact, the production of almost all modern technology is powered by oil.

The internet alone consumes almost 10 % of the U.s.'s energy. Source.

Solar panels and wind turbines are made using petroleum based power.

In 1984, one of George W. bush's own energy advisers, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons has stated it will take oil reaching $182 a barrel, or $7 a gallon, for demand to be properly controlled.

We can't blame our government entirely for a failure to lead us forward. We'd have ousted them from office if they made any real strides. People may be crying out for new resources but their lifestyles are crying louder for oil. Alberta has always been the most right wing province in Canada and felt burned by the taxes put on their oil profits in the eighties during the last boom years.

People can make three times their salary working the sands and overtime puts their bank deposits and mortgage payments into overdrive. They need so many workers right now, they're flying them in from around the world and people are glad to do it.

So I sit at my computer, using electricity for light and for communicating with whoever you are. I'm writing a fun little show about a kid's love and fascination for dinosaurs (And this show truly revels in dinosaurs!) and I realize that the oil running our world is just that... fossilized dinosaurs. And trees and plants and insects and fish and whatever else existed and thrived before us.

I read the enthusiastic posts of the younger dreamers and true-believers on fan sites like Blue Harvest and I get hopeful. Yet it's hard to ignore how willing people are to ignore the realities of the world.

It will likely take a wide variety of power sources working together in combination to enable us to boldly go forward into a brighter, healthier future. We should be looking for and supporting innovative solutions all the time. And even after finding sustainable solutions, we should continue seeking and resarching in the hopes of discovering or creating sustainable resources that are even more effective.

We have known for decades that oil is a finite resource yet we have done little to find a new way to power our lifestyles, and we've done even less to promote new lifestyles that require less power. It's not that solar and wind power will replace all that oil provides. It's that they are part of a new way of thinking. Our oil is running out. And one day, we may all die fighting for the last drops of it.

Perhaps in a not so distant future humanity will lie fossilized in a national park where Cockroach families will learn about these fascinating and foolish creatures. (Actually, I read somewhere that cockroaches may not be as adaptable as we thought. They're too dependent on humanity's detritus to survive).

Or, we may end up being mined, burned and sucked out of the earth to power their weedwhackers.

Our troubles are here now. Not in a galaxy far, far away.

Read more on the tar sand concerns here, here and here.

For different perspectives, try here , here , here, here and, of course here.

I'm discovering that writing a blog is like navigating an asteroid field at top speed. You never know twists and turns you'll have to take. Perhaps I'll have some Imperial tech-droids clean this post up like pesky, optical printer garbage mattes. But not tonight. Tonight is a night for messy musings.

Let's end it on some dinosaur fun.. for kids of any age.

If you travel to Alberta on a dino hunt , check out this page of destination suggestions. You could also try kidsdinos.com. Online dinosaur games are at dinofun.com and you can always check out the ever-reliable national geographic.


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