Wind power helps ski resort during recession

February 27, 2009
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“Zephyr (nickname for the wind turbine) works its magic to produce about a third of Jiminy Peak’s electric needs, shaving $450,000 a year from the resort’s energy bill. To put that in perspective, the energy from the turbine is enough to power more than 600 homes.” – that is some serious savings there to say the least!!!
– FlashAddict

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By Ayesha Tejpar
CNN

HANCOCK, Massachusetts (CNN) — Imagine climbing 276 steps to change a light bulb. That’s all in a day’s work for Rian Harford.

The Zephyr wind turbine towers over Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

The Zephyr wind turbine towers over Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

He’s a mountain operations mechanic at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort. And that light bulb isn’t just a regular light bulb. It belongs inside an air-traffic warning light that sits 253 feet high upon a wind turbine.

Jiminy Peak, in Hancock, Massachusetts, touts itself as the first ski resort in North America to feature such a structure.

The idea to build the turbine came to company president and CEO Brian Fairbank after years of struggling with the astronomical cost of making snow.

“Somebody suggested we take advantage of the wind. You use the energy the most in the winter,” Fairbank said. “That’s when the wind blows the most.”

But such a simple concept wasn’t so easy to execute. It took more than three years to take the idea from conception to fruition.

Video Watch what it’s like on top of the giant turbine »

Before even placing an order for a turbine, the resort had to study everything from Federal Aviation Administration regulations to the structure’s effect on airplanes, birds and endangered species.

Once everything fell into place, Jiminy Peak was tasked to get 500 tons of parts and equipment up the mountain, via a two-mile-long gravel road.

“Once we got everything to the top of mountain, putting it together only took a couple days, but getting it up there was the biggest challenge,” Fairbank said.

In fall 2007, the $4 million project was complete. The turbine is nicknamed Zephyr, after the Greek god of the west wind. And Zephyr isn’t afraid to make its presence known.

The tower is more than 250 feet tall. The hub adds 10 feet, and the blades extend an additional 123 feet, creating a 386-foot green machine.

Zephyr works its magic to produce about a third of Jiminy Peak’s electric needs, shaving $450,000 a year from the resort’s energy bill. To put that in perspective, the energy from the turbine is enough to power more than 600 homes.

And Zephyr’s power doesn’t stop there. It has also drawn the interest of many visitors. Louise Pinho did her homework to find out how effective the wind turbine really is.

“When you read about what it’s able to do for the resort, that it can take up to 33 percent off of their bills, then you realize that there is more of a need for this,” Pinho said. “With what’s going on right now, we have to have some alternatives to our energy sources that we have available to us.”

But Pinho isn’t blind to Zephyr’s visual and environmental drawbacks. Studies show that wind turbines destroy the habitat that many animals live in. Bats, which play a large role in consuming insects and pests, are an example of a species that’s most affected.

According to Thomas Kunz, a biology professor at Boston University, these bats aren’t necessarily being struck by the blades of a wind turbine. Their bodies are affected by a low-pressure system caused when the blades move through the air.

“They die from hemorrhaging,” Kunz says. In areas close to wind turbines, “80 percent of the bats that we know about today are killed in that fashion.”

Kunz says that specifically, migrating bats seem to be more affected, mainly during their fall migration, which lasts from late summer to early autumn.

At Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the turbine produces electricity year round, but more than 60 percent of its output takes place in the winter months.

Regardless, Fairbank is no stranger to negative feedback. Some people in the community didn’t want the turbine to obstruct their view of the mountains.

But he says that only a small part of the community complains. In fact, some neighbors reap Zephyr’s benefit. In the summer, when the resort’s demands are lower, Zephyr’s electricity trickles downhill to power local homes and businesses.

“So all those communities become green when we’re not using the power,” Fairbank said.And when it comes to being green, this Massachusetts resort isn’t new to the game. Since 1985, the company has implemented various environmentally friendly practices. From recycling motor oil to heat lodges to installing waterless urinals, Fairbank says, the business is always looking for ways to conserve.

And that may be paying off. In a time when many businesses are closing their doors, Fairbank said, “we’re 12 percent ahead of our best year ever.”

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/02/27/ski.wind.turbine/index.html


The Canadian Oil Boom – National Geographic Magazine

February 25, 2009
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Very relevant piece done by National Geographic, even more so after going to the Surrey Art Gallery and listening to Edward Burtynsky’s lecture on his photographic work done at the Oil Sands in northern Alberta…
– FlashAddict

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Scraping Bottom

Once considered too expensive, as well as too damaging to the land, exploitation of Alverta’s oil sands is now a gamble worth billions.
By Robert Kunzig
Photographs by Peter Essick

oil_sands_industry
Dust hangs in the sunset sky above the Suncor Millennium mine, an open-pit north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada’s oil sands are layers of sticky, tarlike bitumen mixed with sand, clay, and water. Around a hundred feet of soil must be stripped off to reach many deposits.

One day in 1963, when Jim Boucher was seven, he was out working the trap­line with his grandfather a few miles south of the Fort McKay First Nation reserve on the Athabasca River in northern Alberta. The country there is wet, rolling fen, dotted with lakes, dissected by streams, and draped in a cover of skinny, stunted trees—it’s part of the boreal forest that sweeps right across Canada, covering more than a third of the country. In 1963 that forest was still mostly untouched. The government had not yet built a gravel road into Fort McKay; you got there by boat or in the winter by dogsled. The Chipewyan and Cree Indians there—Boucher is a Chipewyan—were largely cut off from the outside world. For food they hunted moose and bison; they fished the Athabasca for walleye and whitefish; they gathered cranberries and blueberries. For income they trapped beaver and mink. Fort McKay was a small fur trading post. It had no gas, electricity, telephone, or running water. Those didn’t come until the 1970s and 1980s.

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Squeezing Sand for Oil
At the bottom of a mine, a giant shovel devours sand and delivers it to trucks like this three-story, four-million-dollar Caterpillar, which muscle up to 400 tons at a time to extraction plants.

In Boucher’s memory, though, the change begins that day in 1963, on the long trail his grandfather used to set his traps, near a place called Mildred Lake. Generations of his ancestors had worked that trapline. “These trails had been here thousands of years,” Boucher said one day last summer, sitting in his spacious and tasteful corner office in Fort McKay. His golf putter stood in one corner; Mozart played softly on the stereo. “And that day, all of a sudden, we came upon this clearing. A huge clearing. There had been no notice. In the 1970s they went in and tore down my grandfather’s cabin—with no notice or discussion.” That was Boucher’s first encounter with the oil sands industry. It’s an industry that has utterly transformed this part of northeastern Alberta in just the past few years, with astonishing speed. Boucher is surrounded by it now and immersed in it himself.

Where the trapline and the cabin once were, and the forest, there is now a large open-pit mine. Here Syncrude, Canada’s largest oil producer, digs bitumen-laced sand from the ground with electric shovels five stories high, then washes the bitumen off the sand with hot water and sometimes caustic soda. Next to the mine, flames flare from the stacks of an “upgrader,” which cracks the tarry bitumen and converts it into Syncrude Sweet Blend, a synthetic crude that travels down a pipeline to refineries in Edmon­ton, Alberta; Ontario, and the United States. Mildred Lake, meanwhile, is now dwarfed by its neighbor, the Mildred Lake Settling Basin, a four-square-mile lake of toxic mine tailings. The sand dike that contains it is by volume one of the largest dams in the world.

Nor is Syncrude alone. Within a 20-mile radius of Boucher’s office are a total of six mines that produce nearly three-quarters of a million barrels of synthetic crude oil a day; and more are in the pipeline. Wherever the bitumen layer lies too deep to be strip-mined, the industry melts it “in situ” with copious amounts of steam, so that it can be pumped to the surface. The industry has spent more than $50 billion on construction during the past decade, including some $20 billion in 2008 alone. Before the collapse in oil prices last fall, it was forecasting another $100 billion over the next few years and a doubling of production by 2015, with most of that oil flowing through new pipelines to the U.S. The economic crisis has put many expansion projects on hold, but it has not diminished the long-term prospects for the oil sands. In mid-November, the International Energy Agency released a report forecasting $120-a-barrel oil in 2030—a price that would more than justify the effort it takes to get oil from oil sands.

Nowhere on Earth is more earth being moved these days than in the Athabasca Valley. To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself. It must heat several barrels of water to strip the bitumen from the sand and upgrade it, and afterward it discharges contaminated water into tailings ponds like the one near Mildred Lake. They now cover around 50 square miles. Last April some 500 migrating ducks mistook one of those ponds, at a newer Syncrude mine north of Fort McKay, for a hospitable stopover, landed on its oily surface, and died. The incident stirred international attention—Greenpeace broke into the Syncrude facility and hoisted a banner of a skull over the pipe discharging tailings, along with a sign that read “World’s Dirtiest Oil: Stop the Tar Sands.”

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Squeezing Sand for Oil
Sand, water, and bitumen residues are finally piped to a tailings pond, where the water is extracted, cleaned, and reused in the mines.

The U.S. imports more oil from Canada than from any other nation, about 19 percent of its total foreign supply, and around half of that now comes from the oil sands. Anything that reduces our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, many Americans would say, is a good thing. But clawing and cooking a barrel of crude from the oil sands emits as much as three times more carbon dioxide than letting one gush from the ground in Saudi Arabia. The oil sands are still a tiny part of the world’s carbon problem—they account for less than a tenth of one percent of global CO2 emissions—but to many environmentalists they are the thin end of the wedge, the first step along a path that could lead to other, even dirtier sources of oil: producing it from oil shale or coal. “Oil sands represent a decision point for North America and the world,” says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, a moderate and widely respected Canadian environmental group. “Are we going to get serious about alternative energy, or are we going to go down the unconventional-oil track? The fact that we’re willing to move four tons of earth for a single barrel really shows that the world is running out of easy oil.”

That thirsty world has come crashing in on Fort McKay. Yet Jim Boucher’s view of it, from an elegant new building at the entrance to the besieged little village, contains more shades of gray than you might expect. “The choice we make is a difficult one,” Boucher said when I visited him last summer. For a long time the First Nation tried to fight the oil sands industry, with little success. Now, Boucher said, “we’re trying to develop the community’s capacity to take advantage of the opportunity.” Boucher presides not only over this First Nation, as chief, but also over the Fort McKay Group of Companies, a community-owned business that provides services to the oil sands industry and brought in $85 million in 2007. Unemployment is under 5 percent in the village, and it has a health clinic, a youth center, and a hundred new three-bedroom houses that the community rents to its members for far less than market rates. The First Nation is even thinking of opening its own mine: It owns 8,200 acres of prime oil sands land across the river, right next to the Syncrude mine where the ducks died.

As Boucher was telling me all this, he was picking bits of meat from a smoked whitefish splayed out on his conference table next to a bank of windows that offered a panoramic view of the river. A staff member had delivered the fish in a plastic bag, but Boucher couldn’t say where it had come from. “I can tell you one thing,” he said. “It doesn’t come from the Athabasca.”

Without the river, there would be no oil sands industry. It’s the river that over tens of millions of years has eroded away billions of cubic yards of sediment that once covered the bitumen, thereby bringing it within reach of shovels—and in some places all the way to the surface. On a hot summer day along the Athabasca, near Fort McKay for example, bitumen oozes from the riverbank and casts an oily sheen on the water. Early fur traders reported seeing the stuff and watching natives use it to caulk their canoes. At room temperature, bitumen is like molasses, and below 50°F or so it is hard as a hockey puck, as Canadians invariably put it. Once upon a time, though, it was light crude, the same liquid that oil companies have been pumping from deep traps in southern Alberta for nearly a century. Tens of millions of years ago, geologists think, a large volume of that oil was pushed northeastward, perhaps by the rise of the Rocky Mountains. In the process it also migrated upward, along sloping layers of sediment, until eventually it reached depths shallow and cool enough for bacteria to thrive. Those bacteria degraded the oil to bitumen.

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Ronnie Campbell hauls whitefish from Lake Athabasca, downriver from Fort McMurray, to use as feed for his sled dogs. Locals say their catches are often covered in unusual red spots, and many no longer eat lake fish. While the cause of the spots is unclear, some believe toxic chemicals, such as those released during bitumen production, are leaching into Alberta’s rivers and lakes.

The Alberta government estimates that the province’s three main oil sands deposits, of which the Athabasca one is the largest, contain 173 billion barrels of oil that are economically recoverable today. “The size of that, on the world stage—it’s massive,” says Rick George, CEO of Suncor, which opened the first mine on the Athabasca River in 1967. In 2003, when the Oil & Gas Journal added the Alberta oil sands to its list of proven reserves, it immediately propelled Canada to second place, behind Saudi Arabia, among oil-producing nations. The proven reserves in the oil sands are eight times those of the entire U.S. “And that number will do nothing but go up,” says George. The Alberta Energy Resources and Conservation Board estimates that more than 300 billion barrels may one day be recoverable from the oil sands; it puts the total size of the deposit at 1.7 trillion barrels.

Getting oil from oil sands is simple but not easy. The giant electric shovels that rule the mines have hardened steel teeth that each weigh a ton, and as those teeth claw into the abrasive black sand 24/7, 365 days a year, they wear down every day or two; a welder then plays dentist to the dinosaurs, giving them new crowns. The dump trucks that rumble around the mine, hauling 400-ton loads from the shovels to a rock crusher, burn 50 gallons of diesel fuel an hour; it takes a forklift to change their tires, which wear out in six months. And every day in the Athabasca Valley, more than a million tons of sand emerges from such crushers and is mixed with more than 200,000 tons of water that must be heated, typically to 175°F, to wash out the gluey bitumen. At the upgraders, the bitumen gets heated again, to about 900°F, and compressed to more than 100 atmospheres—that’s what it takes to crack the complex molecules and either subtract carbon or add back the hydrogen the bacteria removed ages ago. That’s what it takes to make the light hydrocarbons we need to fill our gas tanks. It takes a stupendous amount of energy. In situ extraction, which is the only way to get at around 80 percent of those 173 billion barrels, can use up to twice as much energy as mining, because it requires so much steam.

Most of the energy to heat the water or make steam comes from burning natural gas, which also supplies the hydrogen for upgrading. Precisely because it is hydrogen rich and mostly free of impurities, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, the one that puts the least amount of carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Critics thus say the oil sands industry is wasting the cleanest fuel to make the dirtiest—that it turns gold into lead. The argument makes environmental but not economic sense, says David Keith, a physicist and energy expert at the University of Calgary. Each barrel of synthetic crude contains about five times more energy than the natural gas used to make it, and in much more valuable liquid form. “In economic terms it’s a slam dunk,” says Keith. “This whole thing about turning gold into lead—it’s the other way around. The gold in our society is liquid transportation fuels.”

oil_sands_boreal_forest
Beneath a green sweep of fen and forest in northern Alberta lies a promise of wealth—vast layers of hydrocarbons that can be refined into petroleum products like gasoline. Undisturbed until now, these trees may soon fall: This land has already been staked out by prospectors.

Most of the carbon emissions from such fuels comes from the tailpipes of the cars that burn them; on a “wells-to-wheels” basis, the oil sands are only 15 to 40 percent dirtier than conventional oil. But the heavier carbon footprint remains an environmental—and public relations—disadvantage. Last June Alberta’s premier, Ed Stelmach, announced a plan to deal with the extra emissions. The province, he said, will spend over $1.5 billion to develop the technology for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground—a strategy touted for years as a solution to climate change. By 2015 Alberta is hoping to capture five million tons of CO2 a year from bitumen upgraders as well as from coal-fired power plants, which even in Alberta, to say nothing of the rest of the world, are a far larger source of CO2 than the oil sands. By 2020, according to the plan, the province’s carbon emissions will level off, and by 2050 they will decline to 15 percent below their 2005 levels. That is far less of a cut than scientists say is necessary. But it is more than the U.S. government, say, has committed to in a credible way.

One thing Stelmach has consistently refused to do is “touch the brake” on the oil sands boom. The boom has been gold for the provincial as well as the national economy; the town of Fort McMurray, south of the mines, is awash in Newfoundlanders and Nova Scotians fleeing unemployment in their own provinces. The provincial government has been collecting around a third of its revenue from lease sales and royalties on fossil fuel extraction, including oil sands—it was expecting to get nearly half this year, or $19 billion, but the collapse in oil prices since the summer has dropped that estimate to about $12 billion. Albertans are bitterly familiar with the boom-and-bust cycle; the last time oil prices collapsed, in the 1980s, the provincial economy didn’t recover for a decade. The oil sands cover an area the size of North Carolina, and the provincial government has already leased around half that, including all 1,356 square miles that are minable. It has yet to turn down an application to develop one of those leases, on environmental or any other grounds.

From a helicopter it’s easy to see the indus­try’s impact on the Athabasca Valley. Within minutes of lifting off from Fort McMurray, heading north along the east bank of the river, you pass over Suncor’s Millennium mine—the company’s leases extend practically to the town. On a day with a bit of wind, dust plumes billowing off the wheels and the loads of the dump trucks coalesce into a single enormous cloud that obscures large parts of the mine pit and spills over its lip. To the north, beyond a small expanse of intact forest, a similar cloud rises from the next pit, Suncor’s Steepbank mine, and beyond that lie two more, and across the river two more. One evening last July the clouds had merged into a band of dust sweeping west across the devastated landscape. It was being sucked into the updraft of a storm cloud. In the distance steam and smoke and gas flames belched from the stacks of the Syncrude and Suncor upgraders—”dark satanic mills” inevitably come to mind, but they’re a riveting sight all the same. From many miles away, you could smell the tarry stench. It stings your lungs when you get close enough.

picture-9

On the banks of the Athabasca River, Suncor’s upgrader plants refined an average of 235,000 barrels of petroleum products a day in 2008. A narrow dike separates the river from ponds that hold water used during the industrial process, which will be cleaned before being reused.

From the air, however, the mines fall away quickly. Skimming low over the river, startling a young moose that was fording a narrow channel, a government biologist named Preston McEachern and I veered northwest toward the Birch Mountains, over vast expanses of scarcely disturbed forest. The Canadian boreal forest covers two million square miles, of which around 75 percent remains undeveloped. The oil sands mines have so far converted over 150 square miles—a hundredth of a percent of the total area—into dust, dirt, and tailings ponds. Expansion of in situ extraction could affect a much larger area. At Suncor’s Firebag facility, northeast of the Millennium mine, the forest has not been razed, but it has been dissected by roads and pipelines that service a checkerboard of large clearings, in each of which Suncor extracts deeply buried bitumen through a cluster of wells. Environmentalists and wildlife biolo­gists worry that the widening fragmentation of the forest, by timber as well as mineral companies, endangers the woodland caribou and other animals. “The boreal forest as we know it could be gone in a generation without major policy changes,” says Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Boreal Campaign, which aims to protect 50 percent of the forest.

McEachern, who works for Alberta Environment, a provincial agency, says the tailings ponds are his top concern. The mines dump waste­water in the ponds, he explains, because they are not allowed to dump waste into the Athabasca, and because they need to reuse the water. As the thick, brown slurry gushes from the discharge pipes, the sand quickly settles out, building the dike that retains the pond; the residual bitumen floats to the top. The fine clay and silt particles, though, take several years to settle, and when they do, they produce a yogurt-like goop—the technical term is “mature fine tailings”—that is contaminated with toxic chemicals such as naphthenic acid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and would take centuries to dry out on its own. Under the terms of their licenses, the mines are required to reclaim it somehow, but they have been missing their deadlines and still have not fully reclaimed a single pond.

In the oldest and most notorious one, Suncor’s Pond 1, the sludge is perched high above the river, held back by a dike of compacted sand that rises more than 300 feet from the valley floor and is studded with pine trees. The dike has leaked in the past, and in 2007 a modeling study done by hydrogeologists at the University of Waterloo estimated that 45,000 gallons a day of contaminated water could be reaching the river. Suncor is now in the process of reclaiming Pond 1, piping some tailings to another pond, and replacing them with gypsum to consolidate the tailings. By 2010, the company says, the surface will be solid enough to plant trees on. Last summer it was still a blot of beige mud streaked with black bitumen and dotted with orange plastic scarecrows that are supposed to dissuade birds from landing and killing themselves.

oil_sands_bird

Floating among mats of leftover bitumen on a thousand-acre tailings pond, a radar device scans for incoming birds. The fake falcon flaps its wings, and predator calls blare to scare off waterfowl that would die if they landed on the surface and their feathers became soaked with sludge.

The Alberta government asserts that the river is not being contaminated—that anything found in the river or in its delta, at Lake Athabasca, comes from natural bitumen seeps. The river cuts right through the oil sands downstream of the mines, and as our chopper zoomed along a few feet above it, McEachern pointed out several places where the riverbank was black and the water oily. “There is an increase in a lot of metals as you move downstream,” he said. “That’s natural—it’s weathering of the geology. There’s mercury in the fish up at Lake Athabasca—we’ve had an advisory there since the 1990s. There are PAHs in the sediments in the delta. They’re there because the river has eroded through the oil sands.”

Independent scientists, to say nothing of people who live downstream of the mines in the First Nations’ community of Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Athabasca, are skeptical. “It’s inconceivable that you could move that much tar and have no effect,” says Peter Hodson, a fish toxicologist at Queen’s University in Ontario. An Environment Canada study did in fact show an effect on fish in the Steepbank River, which flows past a Suncor mine into the Athabasca. Fish near the mine, Gerald Tetreault and his colleagues found when they caught some in 1999 and 2000, showed five times more activity of a liver enzyme that breaks down toxins—a widely used measure of exposure to pollutants—as did fish near a natural bitumen seep on the Steepbank.

“The thing that angers me,” says David Schindler, “is that there’s been no concerted effort to find out where the truth lies.”

Schindler, an ecologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, was talking about whether people in Fort Chipewyan have already been killed by pollution from the oil sands. In 2006 John O’Connor, a family physician who flew in weekly to treat patients at the health clinic in Fort Chip, told a radio interviewer that he had in recent years seen five cases of cholangiocarcinoma—a cancer of the bile duct that normally strikes one in 100,000 people. Fort Chip has a population of around 1,000; statistically it was unlikely to have even one case. O’Connor hadn’t managed to interest health authorities in the cancer cluster, but the radio interview drew wide attention to the story. “Suddenly it was everywhere,” he says. “It just exploded.”

Two of O’Connor’s five cases, he says, had been confirmed by tissue biopsy; the other three patients had shown the same symptoms but had died before they could be biopsied. (Cholan­giocarcinoma can be confused on CT scans with more common cancers such as liver or pancreatic cancer.) “There is no evidence of elevated cancer rates in the community,” Howard May, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, wrote in an email last September. But the agency, he said, was nonetheless conducting a more complete investigation—this time actually examining the medical records from Fort Chip—to try to quiet a controversy that was now two years old.

One winter night when Jim Boucher was a young boy, around the time the oil sands industry came to his forest, he was returning alone by dogsled to his grandparents’ cabin from an errand in Fort McKay. It was a journey of 20 miles or so, and the temperature was minus 4°F. In the moonlight Boucher spotted a flock of ptarmigan, white birds in the snow. He killed around 50, loaded them on the dogsled, and brought them home. Four decades later, sitting in his chief-executive office in white chinos and a white Adidas sport shirt, he remembers the pride on his grandmother’s face that night. “That was a different spiritual world,” Boucher says. “I saw that world continuing forever.” He tells the story now when asked about the future of the oil sands and his people’s place in it.

A poll conducted by the Pembina Institute in 2007 found that 71 percent of Albertans favored an idea their government has always rejected out of hand: a moratorium on new oil sands projects until environmental concerns can be resolved. “It’s my belief that when government attempts to manipulate the free market, bad things happen,” Premier Stelmach told a gathering of oil industry executives that year. “The free-market system will solve this.”

But the free market does not consider the effects of the mines on the river or the forest, or on the people who live there, unless it is forced to. Nor, left to itself, will it consider the effects of the oil sands on climate. Jim Boucher has collaborated with the oil sands industry in order to build a new economy for his people, to replace the one they lost, to provide a new future for kids who no longer hunt ptarmigan in the moonlight. But he is aware of the trade-offs. “It’s a struggle to balance the needs of today and tomorrow when you look at the environment we’re going to live in,” he says. In northern Alberta the question of how to strike that balance has been left to the free market, and its answer has been to forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not its job.

oil_sands_grave

In the small town of Fort Chipewyan, Emma Michael stands beside the grave of her sister who, like her mother and brother, recently died of cancer. Michael herself is a breast cancer survivor, and the family is among the victims in a cancer cluster that includes, among other forms of the disease, cholangiocarcinoma, a rare malignancy attacking the bile duct. About 1,200 people live in Fort Chipewyan, an isolated community more than a hundred miles downstream from Fort McMurray and its massive mining operations. For several years residents have wondered if pollution from upstream could be causing local health problems. John O’Connor, a physician in Fort Chipewyan for seven years, was among the first to report the high cancer rate. He says the government has not done enough to investigate. “How could such a small community in such a pristine place have such illnesses?” O’Connor asks. In late 2008 the provincial government completed a cancer study, but Fort Chipewyan community leaders rejected the results before they were made public, complaining the study was poorly done.

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Feature Article Links:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/essick-photography

Peter Essick’s website:

http://www.rolphoto.com

Additional Links:

http://www.surrey.ca/Living+in+Surrey/Arts/Surrey+Art+Gallery/Exhibitions/Exhibitions+-+Current.htm

http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/


Al Gore: New thinking on the climate crisis

February 25, 2009

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What are you doing to help solve the Climate Crisis?
– FlashAddict

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About this talk

In this brand-new slideshow (premiering on TED.com), Al Gore presents evidence that the pace of climate change may be even worse than scientists recently predicted. He challenges us to act.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/al_gore_s_new_thinking_on_the_climate_crisis.html


David After Dentist

February 24, 2009

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I first came across David After Dentist a few weeks ago and laughed my a$$ off, even more as I watched the remixes and spoofs continue on!
– FlashAddict

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The one and only original David…

The First Viral Remix begins…

And now it’s gone overboard lol…


The Captain’s Wife’s Lament / Code Monkey / Just As Long As Me / Podsafe Christmas Song

February 23, 2009

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These World of Warcraft Machinima movies made me laugh and smile – definitely worth watching and will make you giggle and feel good inside!
– FlashAddict

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– From YouTube –

Jonathan Coulton is a singer/songwriter who releases his songs via the Creative Commons license, which enables projects such as this video. Through his “Thing A Week” podcast, Jonathan has put out a clever, creative song like this one every week for a year.

Mike Spiff Booth is a Program Manager at Adobe who thought this great song deserved a video.

Please visit http://www.spiffworld.com for more information about my videos, including info about how I make them.

http://www.spiffworld.com

http://www.jonathancoulton.com/


A Lonely Sky

February 21, 2009

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This is a great short film that I found earlier today – a true diamond in the rough – great special effects, great story and great performances all around, including Keir Dullea, who played David Bowman in 2001!
– FlashAddict
– edit – The embedding has been disabled, so just click in the middle of the video box and it will open up a new tab in your browser and take you directly to YouTube to watch the videos…

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In 1947, a test pilot who will risk his life to break the sound barrier, is forced to question his reasons and abilities by a strange, yet familiar man…

http://www.talantisfilms.com


Road to riches ends for 20 million Chinese poor

February 20, 2009

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If you thought that the economy was bad here, look at what is happening in China…imagine 2/3 of the population of Canada suddenly unemployed?
– FlashAddict

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By Tomas Etzler and Jaime FlorCruz
CNN

JING SHI, China (CNN) — Tang Hui and his family prospered as migrant workers during China’s economic boom, earning $10,000 a year: enough to build a house, send a cousin to school and pay for his grandmother’s medical bills.

Tang Hui lost his manufacturing job in October just days after getting married.

Tang Hui lost his manufacturing job in October just days after getting married.

But those good days are over. The family’s cash earnings have evaporated, snatched away by a manufacturing crash cascading across China caused by falling global demand for its goods.

The nine people in the Tang family are facing an income of zero; their best hope to survive is to grow rice and raise pigs at home in the Sichuan Mountains.

“Farming is really hard. It needs a lot of hard labor,” says 22-year-old Tang Hui, who lost his manufacturing job four months ago. “None of the young people want to farm nowadays. The income is extremely low.” See photos of the hard-scrabble life of Tang Hui »

A Chinese proverb says: “Going on the road to Sichuan is as hard as going to heaven.” Isolated and mountainous, Sichuan is China’s third most populous province; 60 percent of its 87 million residents are poor and live in the countryside, authorities say.

It became the nation’s biggest source of the 130 million farmers who migrated into Chinese cities, especially in the south, to provide cheap labor for factories that churned out products, mainly for export to the United States. The province was also rocked last May by a massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people.

Five years ago, Tang Hui left for southern Guangdong province to work in a factory producing handbags and backpacks. He had to drop out of high school because his family was so poor.

There, he earned enough to stash away savings for his wedding. But last October, just days after he got married, his factory abruptly closed down. It was receiving no more orders from its American clients. Watch Tang Hui walk muddy roads to get home »

“I hope the government can help us during this crisis,” he says. “I hope it won’t be like this for too long. Now, there is not even enough money to celebrate the holidays.”

At least he was able to spend the most important Chinese holiday of the year, the Spring Festival, at home in Qingbadong village.

The road uphill to the village was muddy and slippery. The winter rice fields were brown; the slopes were covered in winter fog. “In two, three months,” Tang Hui says, “everything will be green and blooming.”

And the festive mood — the first time in six years the whole family celebrated the holiday together — was short-lived.

Reality is never far away. Many of the villagers are unemployed. The Tang’s next-door neighbors, a married couple, lost their jobs in a Guangdong shoe factory after working there for 16 years.

“A few months without jobs would be disastrous for us,” Tang Hui frets.

Before they ventured out as migrants, the Tangs lived in a wooden shack. Now, they live in a two-story brick house, with 10 rooms, concrete floors, an open fire pit for cooking. Still, it has no running water and one outdoor latrine.  See where Sichuan province is located »

In the past months, about 70,000 factories nationwide have closed. Beijing official Chen Xiwen estimates about 20 million migrant workers have lost jobs. Tens of thousands of villages in the countryside depend on migrant workers’ income.

China analysts say the spike in unemployment has caught China off guard. “The central government is now telling local governments to provide help and job training, re-employment,” says Wenran Jiang, a political science professor and China expert at Canada’s University of Alberta.

Vice Minister of Commerce Jiang Zengwei says China is offering “a one-off subsidy of 100-150 yuan ($15 to $22) to 74 million low-income people … for temporary relief.” Still, it will take some time before such measures make a difference.  Watch few job hopes for Beijing grads »

Some analysts have suggested that a “rural revolution” is imminent amid the economic turmoil. However, Wenran Jiang says such talk is premature. But he also says the central government must do more in the coming months.

“Many migrant workers have lived a very hard and simple life,” he says. “They have some savings for a rainy day like this, so in the short-term they may be able to cope — but if eight or 12 months later things continue to deteriorate, it could turn volatile.”

Most farmers like the Tangs do not get social security. So villagers who lost factory jobs have few choices except go back to farming. But it is not easy.

Farming feeds people but brings little cash. Millions of the jobless are second-generation migrant workers, young people who grew up in cities.

“It would be very hard,” says Tang Hui. “I have never farmed. I don’t know how to do it.”

To cope, China is creating training programs in the countryside. One of the pilot centers is in Chongqing municipality. Some 30,000 workers have so far taken classes in farming, farming machinery repairs, tailoring and other vocational skills. The trainees got a one-time incentive of about $45.

But the Tangs have never heard about such programs. When asked about the central government’s plan to invest billions of dollars in countryside infrastructure as a part of a huge stimulus package, they expressed anger.

“The central government has good ideas and intentions, but the local officials often ignore them. The road in our village was built by the local government but we had to pay for it. Every family had to pay $100 or more. We get nothing from the government,” says Hui’s father, Tang Zhong Min.

In the evening, the family huddles around an open wood stove. The stove and a small portable electric heater are the only sources of warmth during the cold winter nights. A flickering fluorescent lightbulb barely lights the room.

Tang Hui’s wife, Li Xiaochun, is 21 years old. She used to cut leather in a textile factory, and will soon head back to Guangdong with her husband to search for work.

“I think to be at home is better. I didn’t get used to living outside. I didn’t get used to Guangdong. It is better at home,” she says.

Tang Hui then interrupts. “Of course, I also like it at home, but it is better in other places. Coming home is only good during the Spring Festival,” he says.

Despite the uncertainty, they remain optimistic.

“We are young. There must be some factories still open out there. We should be OK to go out and do something,” Li Xiaochun says.

But Tang Hui’s mother is not so convinced. “Of course I am worried. How can they live without jobs, with no money so far away from home?” asks 46-year-old Hu Xiaoju. “But I will definitely go, too.”

For the Tangs and millions of others in China, the road to Guangdong and employment may prove even more difficult then the proverbial road to Sichuan.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/02/20/china.economy.family/index.html


The new pornographers

February 20, 2009

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I’ve been hearing more and more about this in the news over the past few weeks and it simply doesn’t make any sense…charging teens with child pornography when they it is they who are photographing themselves?!?
– FlashAddict

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What’s more disturbing — that teens are texting each other naked pictures of themselves, or that it could get them branded as sex offenders for life?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Life

Salon

Feb. 20, 2009 | The photographs show three naked underage girls posing lasciviously for the camera. The perps who took the pictures were busted in Greensburg, Pa., and charged with manufacturing, disseminating and possessing child pornography — and so were their subjects. That’s because they are one and the same.

It all started when the girls, ages 14 and 15, decided to take nudie cellphone snapshots of themselves. Then, maybe feeling dizzy from the rush of wielding their feminine wiles, the trio text-messaged the photos to some friends at Greensburg-Salem High School. When one of the students’ cellphones was confiscated at school, the photos were discovered. Police opened an investigation and, in addition to the girls’ being indicted as kiddie pornographers, three boys who received the pictures were slammed with charges of child porn possession. All but one ultimately accepted lesser misdemeanor charges.

“Sexting,” where kids trade X-rated pictures via text message, has made headlines recently after a rash of cases in which child pornography charges have been brought not against dangerous pedophiles but hormonally haywire teenagers — potentially leaving them branded  sex offenders for life. Just last week, there came news that a middle-school boy in Falmouth, Mass., might face child porn charges for sending a naughty photo of his 13-year-old girlfriend to five buddies, who are also being investigated. There’s been plenty of outrage to go around: Some parents are angry to see teens criminalized for simply being sexual, while others find the raunchy shots pornographic, another blinking neon sign of moral decay in a “Girls Gone Wild” era. In both cases, it amounts to a tug of war between teenagers’ entitled sense of sexual autonomy and society’s desire to protect them.

It’s rather stunning that in the same age of the Pussycat Dolls, Disney starlets’ sexy photo scandals, Slut-o-ween costumes for kids and preteen push-up bras and thongs, teenagers are being charged with child porn possession for having photographs of their own naked bodies. That noise you hear? It’s the grating sound of cultural dissonance.

According to these recent interpretations of the law, a curious teenage girl who embarks on an “Our Bodies, Ourselves” journey of vaginal self-discovery, and simply replaces a hand mirror with a digital camera, is a kiddie pornographer. The same goes for the boy who memorializes his raging boner or the post-pubescent girl who takes test shots of herself practicing the porn star poses she has studied online. Theoretically, this is true regardless of whether they share the pictures with anyone, and if they do share them, they could be additionally charged with peddling child porn.

There are plenty of examples of the moral and legal gray areas created as technology broadens our behaviors: cyber-cheating, MySpace bullying, online gossip, upskirting, employers’ Web snooping. When it comes to “sexting,” though, the potentially damaging implications — for child pornography law, free speech and kids’ sexuality — are abundant. And it’s not going away any time soon. A recent online poll found that 20 percent of teens have shared nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves, the majority with a boyfriend or girlfriend. (Sure, voluntary polls tend to be self-selecting, but the results seem obvious, maybe even understated.) Teens will, as they always have, experiment with their sexuality. But at a time when free hardcore porn is ubiquitous, technology is cheap and the Internet is a comfortable channel for expression and experimentation, is it really any surprise that this is a generation of amateur pornographers?

It certainly isn’t to 20-somethings like myself who came of age during the Internet’s youth. By the time I was 14, I had seen my share of online porn and late-night HBO and made frequent use of the phrase “U wanna cyber?” in early AOL chat rooms. In high school in Berkeley, Calif., at least two student sex tapes were rumored to be making the rounds. I didn’t have a cellphone camera or a webcam, thank god — though I did have a Polaroid camera, which, to be sure, my longtime boyfriend and I toyed around with.

This is all part of how kids initiate themselves into our sexual culture long before they actually have sex. At one time, that meant a boy would flip through his father’s stash of Playboys and a girl would try on her mother’s ample bra. For me, it meant privately mimicking the stripper moves I had seen on TV and having online chats with people who occasionally turned out to be aging pervs. It was the best way I knew to try on, test out and confirm my femininity without actually having sex. (And that’s having been raised by hippie parents who compared the spiritual magic of sex to “two star systems colliding in outer space.”)

That sexual rite of passage remains, but today’s teens have an entirely different notion of privacy than past generations. They grew up in the exhibitionistic Web culture of LiveJournal, YouTube and MySpace. They’ve seen girls on TV playfully jiggling their breasts for plastic beads, “Real World” cast members boldly screwing in front of cameras, Britney flashing her bald lady parts. These days, why would a girl be concerned about her silly topless snapshot circulating around school?

That’s certainly the case with 16-year-old Melissa, a student at a high school near Greensburg-Salem, who has never worried about any of the X-rated pictures she’s shared, because she cropped her face out of the photos, so “no one could identify me unless like [they] lifted up my shirt to figure it out haha,” she wrote in a message sent on the blog platform Xanga. On her profile page, a rap song with the lyrics “I jus’ wanna act like a porno flick actor” plays. It also exhibits a self-portrait she took with a cellphone camera of her reflection in a floor-length mirror; the sassy expression on her face matches the page’s background: a sexy hot pink and lime green leopard print.

Joey, an 18-year-old who graduated from a San Francisco high school last year, has gotten X-rated snapshots from girls on his phone, through e-mail and on his MySpace page since he was 15. Some were longtime girlfriends that he swapped photos with and others were girls he’d just casually met; some pictures were suggestive, others were explicit. (“How graphic do you want me to get?” he asks, cautiously. “I’ve had girls send me photos of them fingering themselves.”)

“Older adults have a short memory. There were things we did — people flashed each other and played spin the bottle,” says Elizabeth Schroeder, director of Answer, Rutgers University’s program dedicated to promoting sexuality education. “This is this generation’s way of doing that.” Heather Corinna, the 38-year-old founder of Scarleteen, a Web site that provides sex-positive education for young adults, agrees: “Before we had this media, we had video cameras, before that film cameras, before that the written word, and all throughout, public or semi-public sex, ways of proclaiming to peers that one is sexually active or available to become so,” she says.

But, clearly, there is a big difference between testifying on the wall of the boy’s bathroom about the toe-curling blow jobs the school’s head cheerleader gives and sending your buddies photographic proof. These digital offerings bring the potential for humiliation and blackmail if the photos or video get into the wrong hands — and, let’s face it, they often do. Acting as your girlfriend’s personal porno star is one thing; ending up a pedophile’s favorite child pinup is quite another.

There’s good reason to be concerned about teens being self-pornographers. But many, especially legal experts, are disturbed by the fact that a healthy horn-dog of a teenager could be grouped in the same criminal category as a clinically ill pedophile. “These cases are picturing these teenagers as both predators and victims of themselves,” says Amy Adler, a law professor at New York University who has studied child porn laws. “Child porn law was founded on a very different vision of what the major threat was.”

That major threat, of course, is supposed to be adults who produce and peddle child smut. Reed Lee, a Chicago attorney and board member of the Free Speech Coalition, says: “A law to protect victims shouldn’t send those very victims to jail.”

Typically, kiddie porn is seen as exponentially harmful because it’s more than the original sexual abuse: It allows for a reliving of the trauma every time another pervert gets ahold of the material. But “if the initial photograph was not taken as part of a traumatic episode and was, like it or not, part of a more normal teenage experience, the abuse rationale becomes harder to see,” Adler argues. Still, plenty of child pornography cases have been prosecuted where the original photo is awfully benign — for example, a family picture taken at a nudist camp that is discovered by a pedophile and then cropped to reveal only the naked kid.

But it’s tough to impress those kinds of nuances on kids, says Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Douglas. He once spoke to a high school class and tried to explain that, even though everyone seems to be “sexting,” it “can literally destroy your life.” The response? A boy rolled his eyes while making a grand jack-off gesture. “It’s just the bullshit that adults tell them when they come to talk to them,” he said. “It’s tragically funny.”

Douglas points out that the bungled law reveals fascinating cultural conflicts about childhood and teen sexuality. “I think the problem originates from the pathological fear that our culture, particularly the legal part of the culture, takes toward juvenile sexuality.” He has defended numerous child porn cases and says prosecutors will treat the exchange of trial evidence like “an undercover heroin deal.” Douglas says, “The fear is so enormous that it’s like you’re dealing with something radioactive. They don’t consider the context or the meaning.”

The context here is that teens are undertaking the sexploration that our porned culture at once dictates and forbids — in the same way that girls are taught that there is desirable validation in their sexuality and then are shamed for actually being sexual. Rutgers’ Elizabeth Schroeder says an example of this contradiction is that sex educators like herself have to fight an uphill battle just to get into schools, while all it takes is a click of a button and a kid can catch an episode of “G-String Divas.” She once asked a group of 12-year-old boys what they thought it meant to be a girl and the first response was: “Girls are here to give lap dances to boys.”

http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/02/20/sexting_teens/


Spanish artist shocks with Damien Hirst gun sculpture

February 19, 2009

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Some trippy art coming out of the ARCO exhibition in Spain…
– FlashAddict

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For the Love of Gold

For the Love of Gold

For the Love of Gold

For the Love of Gold

A statue of British artist Damien Hirst pointing a gun at his head has caused a stir at the 28th Madrid International Contemporary Art Fair, known as ARCO.

Sculptor Eugenio Merino’s piece puts Hirst in a suicidal pose with blood pouring from a bullet wound to his head. It was unveiled at ARCO’s launch over the weekend.

The piece has already been sold for $41,290 Cdn to a collector in Florida.

“Hirst is always trying to think of ways to make his art the most expensive,” Merino told Bloomberg News.

“If he killed himself, then the value of his art would increase a lot.”

Called For the Love of Gold, the work of parody was produced over a two-month period and refers to Hirst’s For the Love of God — a diamond-encrusted platinum skull that was reportedly sold in the summer of 2007 for more than $100 million to a group of investors.

The life-size silicone sculpture uses real human hair and glass eyes. Hirst is posed on his knees with a Colt 45 in his right hand pressed against his temple wearing a skull T-shirt.

It’s in a tank that looks similar to the ones Hirst himself uses to display dead animals pickled in formaldehyde.

Hirst is known as the bad boy of art.

After capturing the Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize in 1995, he’s created shocking sculptures including one of a 3.7-metre tiger shark and other animals preserved in formaldehyde, insect-encrusted canvases and pharmaceutical-inspired pieces.

http://www.cbc.ca/arts/artdesign/story/2009/02/15/hirst-sculpture-spain.html

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In a sure sign of the state of the modern art world, the single artwork attracting the most attention at ARCO (the Madrid International Contemporary Art Fair) that opened today was not a masterpiece by DAMIEN HIRST, but rather a parody of the UK bad boy artist by EUGENIO MERINO depicting the master financial strategist encased in one of his own white display cubes, shooting himself in the head. Titled “For the Love of Gold” in reference to Hirst’s $100 million diamond encrusted skull “For the Love of God,” the hyper-realistic yet oddly contorted piece incorporates real human hair, glass eyes, and realistic blood pouring from a gaping hole in the cranium and was quickly snapped up on opening day by a Florida collector for $33,500 USD. Sounds like Damien’s busy decorating his Miami winter home…

http://urbanpromoter.com/newsart-gag-of-the-moment-eugenio-merinos-for-the-love-of-gold-damien-hirst-sculpture/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damien_Hirst


Yesterday’s CrossFit Workout of the Day (WOD)

February 19, 2009

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My abdominal muscles are so freaking sore and strained after doing this workout yesterday…
– FlashAddict

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Warmup:

8 Rounds of the following:

30 second Kettle Bell Rotations (25 lbs.)
30 second Gut Busters (situps where your upper body and legs collapse together in the middle = pain)

Technical Exercise:

15 minutes of Gymnastic Ring pushups (with arms extended in front of you and to the sides = more pain)

Workout of the Day:

Number of rounds in 20 minutes:
12 rolling medball situps (partners sit 5 feet away from each other with legs straight out in the splits. One partner takes the medball and touches it behind their head throwing it from the ground while doing a situp. When the other partner receives the ball they then touch it behind their head and throw it from the ground while doing a situp. This process is repeated until each partner does 12 situps.
9 Medball Sprawl Balls (one partner drops to the ground doing almost like a burpee but instead of doing a pushup dropping your chest on the medball with your feet kicking back into a plank position, then stand up with the ball and do a chest pass to your partner who will still be standing 5 feet away. Repeat the process until each partner has done 9 Sprawl Balls)
6 Partner handstand pushups (three each partner-assistance is allowed-ask the coach how to spot a handstand pushup if you are unsure).
3 Partner Pistols (stand facing your partner off centered. Right hand of one partner holds the right hand of the other partner and use each other as counter balance to do a pistol-you will both be doing the pistol at the same time. Do three on one side and then switch sides and do three on the other side.)

My partner and I were able to complete 5 rounds of this brutal workout – although I didn’t do the Handstand pushups, I did 20 lbs. dumbell shoulder presses with each arm instead cause my body was aching as it was!!!