North America's leaders met recently at George Bush's Crawford Ranch and discussed their plans concerning energy. Bush was quoted saying, "We're using a lot of it and we need to conserve better" and continued with, "We appreciate the fact that Canada's tar sands are now becoming economical and we are glad to be able to get the access toward a million barrels a day headed toward two million barrels a day."
Prime Minister Paul Martin said the tar sands offer a "great, great opportunity," then still on the energy subject, he added, "In addition to nuclear . . . Canada has great potential in terms of hydro electricity—Northern Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, to give you a couple of examples."
It is obvious their concerns are not with conservation. Meanwhile, there has been much talk in the news and in government about the Kyoto Protocol and how it should be implemented. Kyoto is trying to address the problem of global warming. The proposed solution is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG's). But this in itself is not a solution, especially if conservation is not a part of the plan.
The very essence of global warming is a chemical imbalance problem. There have always been a finite number of elements available on the planet. Carbon and hydrogen are the two main elements that function as the basic building blocks for nature. How all of these elements are combined determines what is available in the world. Throughout history the combinations and placements of these elements has changed, but never has the total available amount changed. Millions of years ago the carbon levels were higher in the atmosphere than in the ground. Over time plants changed this balance by taking carbon from the atmosphere (CO2), combining it with hydrogen from water, and forming hydrocarbons. Some of these hydrocarbons came to be stored in the form of oil, coal and natural gas.
Humans, in under 150, years have released millions of years worth of stored hydrocarbons back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon-dioxide by way of combustion. This once again changes the balance of the elements, and does so in an extremely short time frame. When shown on a scale of hundreds of millions of years, it registers as a startling anomaly, a giant pulse over the span of a mere second of the planet's life. How nature will handle this input is yet to be determined.
Making the problem worse is the reduction in the world's plant population over the last 150 years. The conversion of carbon dioxide back into oxygen and hydrocarbons occurs now at a much slower rate. This has allowed for a much larger accumulation of GHG's in the atmosphere than would have been previously possible.
To compensate for this, the Kyoto Protocol allows genetically engineered trees to be used in carbon-absorbing plantations as a means for reducing GHG's. This type of solution tries to overcome nature by directly modifying it. This is fundamentally flawed, since not understanding nature is how we came to global warming in the first place.
In Canada, some of the biggest developments are occurring at the Alberta tar sands. Extracting oil from the sands is extremely energy-intensive work; most of the energy to do it is being supplied by fossil fuels, namely, natural gas. Currently, the sands consume 600 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, which translates to 4% of Western Canada's annual natural gas production. As expansion continues, this will grow to 10% of gas production by 2015. The sands contribute GHG's during every stage of their development, from extraction, through distribution and consumption of the product. This process certainly does not address the problem of global warming.
If the cause of global warming were to be considered, the solution would focus on why there are emissions in the first place. But no one wants to ask that question. It hits too close to home. The solution would directly involve individuals having to make voluntary lifestyle sacrifices. Instead, the “other” solution is sought, one that addresses the problem in a very superficial way. This type of problem-solving is well documented in software development. It is called a “hack,” which is an inelegant and usually temporary solution to a problem that does not address the overall design issues.
The Kyoto Protocol employs new technologies to avert the limitations imposed by nature. Technological solutions are analogous to answering with a lie. Once a lie is told, more and more lies are needed, weaving a complicated web. As with introducing a technology, more and more problems are introduced and more and more technology must be applied. The result is easy to visualize. Just look around at the world we have built. Fossil fuels are required at some stage for almost everything we consume and manufacture.
Obviously, the modern world has a number of profound design issues. These issues have been circumvented by technological hacks. We are quickly approaching the point where things will be too complicated to undo. Will it be possible to force a complete rewrite and design a world where each individual takes ownership of the effects of their lifestyles, or will we stay on the current direction and allow the system to crash? Either way, it will ultimately be by nature's design.