9/11 Tsunami Poster – Insensitivity or Design at its best?

September 4, 2009

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What do you guys think of this poster that was pretty well documented in the media this past week? Is it insensitive …or a well constructed commentary piece? It should be noted that the poster was not requested by the World Wildlife Fund. It was put together by DDB Brazil and submitted to the WWF but was rejected. While I personally find it could be labeled as being insensitive, I feel that the poster was very well designed around its central core idea to bring awareness of how devastating the Tsunami was.
– FlashAddict

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“The Tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11.
The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it. http://www.wwf.org”

 "The Tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it. www.wwf.org"

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Keith Olbermann had this to say about the poster in his “Worst Persons in the World” segment the other day:

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DDB, WWF reeling from fallout over 9/11 ad

Friday. In their joint apology for this now-infamous 9/11 ad, DDB Brazil and WWF Brazil mentioned their previous collaborations. Here’s a sampling of ads they’ve done together since 2007.


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Take a look at these otherwise insensitive or offensive poster campaigns as well for comparison by Benetton:

Growing excitement, expectations for green jobs corps

March 2, 2009
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Seeing how much the previous article I posted about wind power drummed up quite a bit of responses, here is another article from CNN that I came across today for further reference about wind turbines and the green economy. Let me also state that while I admit many issues and stumbling blocks remain on how to best address the issues surrounding renewable energy, at least people are starting to take things seriously and actively trying to make a difference for a better tomorrow – on that, I trust that we can all agree upon.
– FlashAddict

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By John D. Sutter

(CNN) — When Rita Bryer sees 300-foot-tall wind turbines sprouting up from the prairie near her home in western Oklahoma, she can’t help but wonder about the view from the top, where blades the size of semi-trucks spin.

Schools are adding courses to prepare wind turbine mechanics and other green workers.

Schools are adding courses to prepare wind turbine mechanics and other green workers.

“Out here, you can see the wind turbines from 10 miles away,” she said. “Think about how far you’ll be able to see when you’re at the top.”

So, partly out of curiosity, partly because she wants to be part of something new, the 51-year-old is leaving behind a career of odd jobs and oil-field work.

She’s going back to school to become a wind turbine mechanic — one who’ll have to scale the turbines to make repairs.

Across the country, people like Bryer are looking to the renewable energy sector in hopes its “green-collar jobs” will offer them stability in this shaky economy. Some are signing up for community college or apprenticeship programs that train students to be wind turbine mechanics, solar panel installers, fuel-cell engineers or energy efficiency experts.

Video Watch how the green economy is growing in Pennsylvania »

Government support has rallied excitement for the prospect of a green jobs corps, as President Obama’s stimulus package puts about $20 billion into greening the economy, according to the White House.

Video Obama says country will double renewable energy in three years »

In his recent speech to Congress, Obama said the U.S. will double its supply of renewable energy in three years. To do so, he’s calling on a new class of workers to be trained in environmental fields. Green jobs training programs will get $500 million from the stimulus.

At a summit in Philadelphia on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden said people who make $20 per hour before a green jobs training program can make $50 per hour after. On average, the clean-energy jobs pay 10 to 20 percent more than similar work outside the field, he said.

Video Watch how to land green jobs »

Adding to the enthusiasm, Biden cited a recent case in Chicago where a maker of energy-efficient windows intends to gradually rehire 250 workers who were laid off when their window company closed late last year.

There is a “very direct” correlation between the stimulus package and Serious Materials’ ability to reopen the plant, said Sandra Vaughan, chief marketing officer for the California-based company.

But not all signs for green industries are so positive.

Wind and solar companies have cut staff and stalled new projects as the credit crisis has tied up money, meaning banks are less able to invest in renewable energy.

In the short term, that will make things difficult for the newly trained green work force, said Kathy Werle, dean of applied sciences and technology at San Jose City College, in California, which offers associate degrees in solar panel installation.

“Right now, money is so tight. People can’t borrow money to put solar on their homes,” she said.

Werle said she expects Obama’s stimulus plan to help jump-start the industry. Within a year or so she expects the graduates to be able to find plenty of green jobs.

The uncertainty appears not to be tempering student demand for green education, though. Earlier this semester, 260 people showed up for 44 seats in solar panel installation classes at San Jose City College, Werle said.

“Anything green is very popular,” she said.

Meanwhile, some schools that train the green-collar work force are billing their programs as near-guaranteed ways to find stable jobs.

Sidney Bolfing, chairman of the Texas Renewable Energy Education Consortium, an association of community colleges, said nearly 100 percent of his graduates find jobs in the fuel-cell industry — many before graduation.

“Typically all of these students all get jobs,” he said.

Bolfing is so confident in the idea that he markets green-collar careers to high schools and elementary schools in the area.

He hopes that the standard list of childhood dream jobs — astronaut, firefighter, police officer — soon will include things like wind technician and fuel-cell engineer.

Even if there’s trouble in the short term, green jobs are needed to fight climate change and spur economic growth, he said.

“We need to develop these new technologies like there’s no tomorrow,” he said.

Matt Raines, 31, of West, Texas, had a career as an auto mechanic. But that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so now he is enrolled as a community college’s hydrogen fuel program.

He said local people look at him funny when he tells them about the decision because they don’t understand what he’ll be doing.

“I had one lady who actually asked me if I was building hydrogen bombs. I was like, ‘No ma’am, it’s energy production, green energy,'” he said.

Raines finds the program exciting, and says he’s been contacted about jobs by three companies, even though he is yet to finish his two-year degree.

Maria Kingery, co-founder of Southern Energy Management, a North Carolina company that installs solar energy panels, said schools need to catch up with the changing industry.

She applauded money in the stimulus package that will go to green job training programs, but said “training is going to be a real challenge” in the coming months.

Her company has a hiring freeze in place at the moment because of the economic downturn, but expects to grow in 2009, she said.

Some green jobs are low-tech and require little or no specialized training.

A former construction worker could easily take up a career in home weatherization and energy efficiency, said Bob Logston, owner of Home Energy Loss Professionals (HELP) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Some weatherization steps are as simple as shoving newspaper insulation in a home’s attic, caulking windows and repairing ductwork.

More than $11 billion of the economic stimulus package is intended to help people make their homes more energy efficient, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Because of those efficiency provisions, Logston said he expects his business to quadruple.

He employs six people now and expects to hire at least 12 more, he said. He also plans to offer his employees insurance for the first time.

“Everything’s budding, so to speak, everything’s in bloom even though it’s winter,” he said of green jobs in the home weatherization business. “The energy costs are so high people can’t afford” not to increase efficiency.

Part of the trouble with estimating the profitability of green jobs is that no one seems to be able to agree on a definition for the term. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separate data on green jobs or jobs in renewable energy, and economists disagree on how many new green jobs the stimulus package will create.

In such a murky situation, community colleges often network with the local business community to gauge their interest in students from green-jobs programs. Many have banded together to dig up regional knowledge.

“The students always ask, ‘Can you guarantee job placement?’ No, I can’t guarantee it, but I can tell you I’ve spoken with local wind farm managers and everybody I’ve spoken with says there is a need, (and) there will be a need,” said Kimberlee Smithton, director of business and industry services at the High Plains Technology Center in Woodward, Oklahoma.

That school, where Bryer is taking classes, is offering a wind turbine technician program for the first time this year.

Bryer said she doesn’t know how much money she’ll make in the wind business. She doesn’t much care.

“To me, especially, it’s going to be a job — a good job I think I’ll like, and I just look forward to doing it,” she said. “It’s always nice doing something different, not the same old thing.”

The woman who’s always been seen as a rebel because she was the lone female working tough jobs in the oil fields now feels like she’s part of a movement for change


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

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.”


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

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.

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.”

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.


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.”

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.


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.


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.


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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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.


Google Earth dives under the sea

February 2, 2009

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Please take the time to check out the new addition to Google Earth – it looks amazing!
– FlashAddict

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Google has lifted the lid on its first major upgrade to its global mapping software, Google Earth.

Google Ocean expands this map to include large swathes of the ocean floor and abyssal plain.

Users can dive beneath a dynamic water surface to explore the 3D sea floor terrain.

The map also includes 20 content layers, containing information from the world’s leading scientists, researchers, and ocean explorers.

You can now dive into the world’s ocean that covers almost three-quarters of the planet and discover new wonders
Al Gore

Al Gore was at the launch event in San Francisco which, Google hopes, will take its mapping software a step closer towards total coverage of the entire globe.

In a statement, Mr Gore said that the update would make Google Earth a “magical experience”.

“You can not only zoom into whatever part of our planet’s surface you wish to examine in closer detail, you can now dive into the world’s ocean that covers almost three-quarters of the planet and discover new wonders that had not been accessible in previous versions”.

Approximately 70% of the worlds surface is covered by water and contains nearly 80% of all life, yet less than 5% of it has actually been explored.

Google Oceans aims to let users visit some of the more interesting locations, including underwater volcanoes, as well as running videos on marine life, shipwrecks and clips of favourite surf and dive spots.

The new features were developed in close collaboration with oceanographer, Sylvia Earle, and an advisory council of more than 25 ocean advocates and scientists.

Sylvia Earle, the National Geographic Society’s explorer in residence, said the new features would bring the blue planet to life.

“I cannot imagine a more effective way to inspire awareness and caring for the blue heart of the planet than the new Ocean in Google Earth.”

“For the first time, everyone from curious kids to serious researchers can see the world, the whole world, with new eyes,” she added.

There are also updates on the terrestrial side, including GPS tracking, virtual time travel (where users can observe changes in satellite images, such as the 2006 World Cup stadium or the desertification of Africa’s Lake Chad) and narrated tours of imagery and content in Google Earth.

There are also updates to the Mars 3D section, so if users have had enough of the blue planet, they can always look at the red one.


Video Art – Thursday @ Emily Carr

January 16, 2009

Labyrinth – Jim Henson

– behind the scenes making of video
– his son Brian is a master puppeteer
– needs a multitude of people to rehearse in order to match the actor, facial features and voice over to synch
– 75 pound costume giant ogre type monster
– large orc costume for Humongous – weighed several tons
– reminds me of Return of the Jedi behind the scenes footage with 3-4 guys in the Jabba the Hut costume/contraption
– there was one midget pulling back and forth on an oar lever for hours and hours on end to move Jabba’s tail

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Tell it to the Fishes – http://www.Futureshorts.com
– Dylan Moran fand the Indian daughter rom Run Fatboy Run
– great short film

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Arcade Fire – Miroir, Noir, Neon bible Archives – by Vincent Moon

– long continuous shot as they emerge from their dressing room on their way up to the stage
– they pause in the elevator and breakout into the song even though they are squished together
– at the end of the concert, they walk into the crowd itself like a traveling band
– drummer ripping the magazine in place of hitting a snare and he just had enough pages to last till the end of the song = Serendipity
– Montreal based band and large number of members

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Requiem for a Dream – Darren Aronofsky

– split screen shot showing conflict between mother and son
– keyhole mask shot looking into the other room showing her son’s drug crazed rant
– Requiem for a Dream title dissolves into dust like heroin (will be used for rest of intro credits shortly)
– son walks the gauntlet of the other retired widows in their lawn chairs in front of the apartment building
– used carrot on a stick type camera shot to look back at characters as they walk (reverse shot wobble cam)
– shows the brutality of drug addiction in the full light of day
– opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film – sense of desperation – develops character conflicts
– physically painful to watch this film – which is a powerful and tangible reaction to feel
– adds to the theme about the depths that drug addicts will sink to in order to fuel their habits

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– otherwise known as Miss Tint because she would go to the hardware store and purposely pick out the missed tint paint colours that no one wanted
– Big Vagina Clapping Mouth = epic win!
– massive installation mural is shown at the 4:55 mark of the video
– had no pre-conceived plan for the mural, just let inspiration flow out of her
– likes to do a lot of outdoor environmental work – abandoned corrugated metal buildings
– Barnstormers in North Carolina

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Mister Lonely – Harmony Korine

– otherwise disjointed imagery, themes and plot lines that are linked together into a collective piece

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– upload website for minute long short films
– impressionistic extrapolation of dream state imagery
– again, otherwise disjointed imagery, themes and plot lines that are linked together into a collective piece
– photography/video overlays

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Michel Gondry

– Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet scene on the couch
– row row row your boat, gently down the stream…merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream
– duality between the nursery rhyme and the dream/memory sequence
– Jim Carrey as a 4 year old boy and Kate Winslet as his babysitter (love the knee high go-go boots)
– false perspective used to show height/size differences
– they take on the aspect of their memory characters – Jim starts acting like a 4 year old

Scene 2
– drive-in sequence as they start erasing his memories
– car disappears – then the fence – then the faces of characters

– similar to Let Forever Be – Chemical Brothers video directed by Michel Gondry as well

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Gummo – Harmony Korine

Rabbit Junkyard scene

– IMBREEDERS – po white trash on display

Tap Scene

– kid looks like the imbred boy from Deliverance
– weightlifting with taped up cutlery as dumbbells
– oh god he’s working out to Madonna’s Like a Prayer
– got his balls popped?!?!?
– this kid has the longest skinniest face I’ve ever seen
– his mother is doing the funky kitchen

Gummo & Spaghetti

– OH MY FUCKING GOD – this is sick
– mmmmmm there’s some good eats there
– love the shot of the spiked up shampoo hair slowly dropping to end the scene!
– was this shot scripted? I highly doubt it, which gives it greater value and emotional attachment
– cinema verite structure = this is a snapshot of poor, uneducated america – this stuff probably really does happen

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GRADIUS III – SNES Video Game by Konami

– the 7-11 in Tsawwassen got a $hit load of money out of my pockets due to this arcade game
– clean + simple + effective = my design/artistic philosophy

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INSOMNIA – by Christopher Nolan

– quote from the original article Pacino: The Legend Speaks – “A scene like that shouldn’t be perfect. It should be spontaneous. That’s what it’s about.”
– this scene actually makes the audience hold its collective breath
– the imperfection of the scene adds to its value – the scene should not be staged – instead it should be allowed to unfold as it naturally would
– theme of chance and its role in film is important to consider and how it can affect the plot
– just the general premise of having the typical premise of a cops and robbers chase scene, yet having it situated on rolling logs completely takes it to a new dimension of complexity

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– cinema verite video documentation of major bands doing live musical performances in speak easy type locales

– guerilla style type musical performance similar to Arcade Fire – Miroir, Noir, Neon bible Archives – by Vincent Moon – as seen above
– using found musical instruments on site and meshing them into the music
– haha the neighbours came up to complain about the noise level – hilarious $hit!
– erosion of the cult of celebrity

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Self Portrait – Jenny Saville

– definitely in your face painting – no stone left unturned as it were
– interesting and dynamic angles and shapes are created by the folds and curves of the muscles limbs
– makes her look intimidating as she looks down – the scale of the painting as well intimidates the audience (7′ x 9′)
– Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible album cover


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The Science of Sleep – Michel Gondry
Dream Sequence

– my classmate isn’t interested in the plot or characters per say but in the costume and set design used for the film
– turns out it was only a dream – windows opening turn out to be his eyes

If you rescue me

– the main character’s brain says, “I’m exhausted…I’m gonna wake up now” – brilliant line!
– recycled material used to create backgrounds and props – just like Urban Source here in Vancouver