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.

http://adweek.blogs.com/adfreak/2009/09/911-was-nothing-according-to-new-wwf-ad.html

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




Obama invokes mother’s battles against cancer, insurers

August 12, 2009

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“She was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known,” Obama wrote, “and that what is best in me I owe to her.” – I know exactly how he feels…love you Mom!
– FlashAddict

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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Among the heartrending tales invoked by President Barack Obama as he stumps for healthcare reform, none is more poignant than that of his own mother’s losing fight against cancer.

As he presses for an overhaul of the healthcare system, Obama often recounts the crises faced by Americans who with their jobs have lost their medical coverage, or who file for bankruptcy when faced with a health calamity.

But Exhibit A among the tragic examples is that of his own mother, Ann Dunham, who lost her fight to cancer nearly a decade and a half ago as she battled insurance companies.

“It’s… personal for me,” Obama told a crowd at a high-profile forum on Tuesday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“I will never forget my own mother as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment,” he told the crowd.

He was reprising a story he told frequently on the campaign trail, and more recently on the road, while drumming up support for his health industry reform agenda.

“The insurance company was arguing that somehow she should have known that she had cancer when she took her new job, even though it hadn’t been diagnosed yet,” Obama told the New Hampshire audience Tuesday.

“If it could happen to her, it could happen to any one of us. And I’ve heard from so many Americans who have the same worries.”

In the preface to his first book, “Dreams From My Father,” an elegy to his absentee dad, Obama also eulogizes the mother “whom we lost, with a brutal swiftness, to cancer a few months after this book was originally published.”

According to some news accounts, Ann Dunham’s cancer at first had been misdiagnosed in Indonesia as indigestion.

It was later determined by experts at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to be a fast-moving uterine cancer that had spread to her ovaries.

In remarks that seem informed by his mother’s ordeal, Obama added that his goal now with healthcare reform is to set up a system “that gives a little bit of help to people who currently are working hard every day but they don’t have healthcare insurance on the job.”

He also hopes to ensure that patients already insured “are not going to be dropped because of a pre-existing conditions or because you lose your job or because you change your job — that you’re actually going to get what you pay for, that you’re not going to find out when you’re sick that you got cheated.”

“If we can set up a system that gives you some security, that’s worth a lot,” he said.

His mother, who held a doctorate degree in anthropology, forged a career in international economic development, working for a while with the Ford Foundation in Jakarta and later with the US Agency for International Development and the World Bank, and helping to guide micro-enterprise projects to aid poor women.

Her mother’s frustrating odyssey as a cancer patient also figured into his historic presidential campaign, when he vowed to remake the medical coverage system.

“In (her) last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well,” Obama said in one campaign advertisement that aired in 2008.

“I hear stories like hers everyday. For 20 years Washington has talked about healthcare reform and reformed nothing. Unless we stop the bickering and the lobbyists we will be in the same place 20 years from now,” he said.

Ann Dunham returned to her home state of Hawaii where she lived out the final months of her life, and died at the age of 53 on November 7, 1995, before Obama — who by then was living in Chicago — could get to her bedside to say goodbye.

Obama has said that his greatest regret is not being at his mother’s side when she died, and has called her the most influential person in his life.

“I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book — less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life,” he wrote in “Dreams From My Father.”

“She was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known,” Obama wrote, “and that what is best in me I owe to her.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/afp/090812/usa/us_politics_obama_health_mother


Halifax band an overnight Internet sensation with ‘United Breaks Guitars’ song

July 9, 2009

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I’m not the biggest fan of country music, but this guy PWND United Airlines big time!!!
– FlashAddict

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TORONTO – When Halifax’s Dave Carroll got off his United Airlines flight last spring and discovered his $3,500 custom-made guitar was severely damaged – allegedly by overzealous luggage handlers – at first he was mad.

When the airline’s customer service team gave him the runaround and refused to address his complaints to his satisfaction, he was incensed.

But in typically Canadian fashion, the songwriter decided to be the nice guy, shrug off his anger, and instead wrote a song about his experience.

As of Wednesday evening, that song, “United Breaks Guitars,” was the most popular music video on YouTube with about 169,000 views, and to his shock, his phone rang and rang and rang all day, with calls from across the continent.

One minute it was CBS asking him to play the network’s morning show, the next it was CNN, asking for details about his story so he could be featured on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

What started off as a lark has turned into far more exposure than Carroll has ever had with his band Sons of Maxwell, the kind of publicity he could never afford to buy, he said in an interview.

“I’ve been at this for well over 15 years, slugging away at it and … this has been an incredible lift to our career and my career as a solo artist,” he said.

After months of badgering with United for some sort of compensation he gave up, and told the last company representative that he spoke with that he planned to write a trilogy of songs about his disappointing experience.

“The whole thing has been a challenge artistically and that’s what makes this so fun,” he said, and added that he’s no longer bitter or seeking any kind of compensation from United.

“I think not only does it resonate with people because it’s an airline song, which all people can relate to, but I think the fact it’s a light-hearted song and fun is something that everyone can appreciate, because not everyone – including myself – likes to hear angry, hateful songs all the time.”

“It’s nice to have a light-hearted chuckle at things.”

He posted the video late Monday night and went to bed with the view count at about half a dozen. The next day he emailed a few hundred fans, friends and family and within 24 hours, the hits started to grow exponentially, by about 20,000 per hour.

Carroll said United has attempted to call him a couple times since the song went viral online, but he never got to the phone. But someone who spoke with United on his behalf said the company was gracious in accepting the criticism.

“They seem encouraged, by all the bad publicity I guess, to change the way they do things and change the culture of customer complaints,” he said.

“I think they’re actually having a great attitude about the whole thing, they’re not coming across as angry or threatening or anything like that. And maybe this will be a love story at the end of the day,” he said, noting that while song two of his trilogy is already written, song three could be about a happy ending.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/090708/entertainment/halifax_band_vs_united


Feds lend Tesla $465 million to build electric car

June 24, 2009

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We could see full scale production models in showrooms by 2011…
– FlashAddict

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By Chuck Squatriglia

(WIRED) — The Obama Administration will lend Tesla Motors $465 million to build an electric sedan and the battery packs needed to propel it. It’s one of three loans totaling almost $8 billion that the Department of Energy awarded Tuesday to spur the development of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk behind the wheel of a Model S electric car in March.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk behind the wheel of a Model S electric car in March.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy is also lending $5.9 billion to Ford to retool factories in five states. Nissan will receive $1.6 billion to refurbish a factory in Tennessee to produce electric cars.

The loans are the first awarded under the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program to help automakers offset the cost of retooling to build eco-friendlier cars that are at least 25 percent more fuel-efficient than 2005 models.

“We have a historic opportunity to help ensure that the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks are made in America,” the president said in a statement. “These loans — and the additional support we will provide through the Section 136 programs — will create good jobs and help the auto industry to meet and even exceed the tough fuel-economy standards we’ve set while helping retain our competitive edge in the world market.”

The Obama Administration announced last month that it is raising fuel-efficiency standards from the current average of 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2016. Chu said the loans will help automakers achieve that goal.

“The American innovation machine, when it revs up, is the greatest in the world,” he said during a press conference at Ford’s headquarters in Detroit, according to the Detroit News. “Today, we’re putting that engine into gear.”

Tesla said its share of the pie will help get the Model S sedan (pictured) on the road by the end of 2011.

“We are honored to receive one of the first loan awards in this program,” company CEO Elon Musk said. “I’m confident we’ll put the money to very productive use. We look forward to producing the Model S.”

Tesla has long been counting on the loan to help it build the sedan it unveiled in March and had been in discussions with the agency for about nine months. It had sought $350 million to retool a factory to build the car and $100 million to manufacture battery packs and drivetrain components. Those packs and components will be used in vehicles built by Tesla and other automakers  most notably Daimler, which recently bought nearly 10 percent of Tesla to jump-start development of the Smart EV.

Musk said the money will be disbursed on a monthly basis. Repayment will commence within one year of the start of Model S production and the loan must be repaid by 2022.

“There are incentives for early repayment,” he said, without elaborating, “and I suspect we will have repaid the loan well before 2022.”

There’s still no word on where the factories will be located, but Musk said they most likely will be in California. An announcement could come as early as next month, he said. As for the Model S, Musk said it could share components with Mercedes sedans now that Daimler has a stake in Tesla.

“There’s a possibility the car will use a Mercedes-derived suspension and other components such as safety systems, crash structures, interior fit and finish,” he said. “There are a number of areas where Daimler can be quite helpful.”

Musk said Daimler’s investment in Tesla coupled with the federal loan and revenue from the Roadster leaves the company “in pretty good shape” financially. Tesla has gotten the cost of goods for the Roadster the materials and labor cost to build the car down to about $80,000 and the company expects to be profitable in July, he said. The company has delivered more than 500 Roadsters and received more than 1,200 refundable deposits at $5,000 apiece for the Model S.

Ford was the big winner, walking away with a promise of $5.9 billion in loans through 2011. The automaker says it will use the money to retool 11 factories in five states to build more-efficient gasoline engines and electric vehicles. It also will use the money to convert two truck factories to automobile production. Ford has said it will have an EV by 2011, and it plans to spend $14 billion on advanced technology during the next seven years. It expects to begin drawing on the government loan within 35 days.

“This is the kind of partnership that will help American manufacturing not just survive, but thrive,” company president Alan Mulally said after Chu announced the loans at Ford’s headquarters in Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Ford intends to be the fuel-economy leader.”

Nissan is charging ahead with plans to put an electric car in showrooms next year. Although the first cars will be built in Japan, Nissan says it will use the $1.6 billion loan to retool a factory in Smyrna, Tennessee, to take over production by 2012. Construction on the factory is slated to begin by the end of the year. Nissan says the factory will employ 1,300 people and build 50,000 to 100,000 cars at full production.

“This loan is an investment in America,” Dominique Thormann, a senior vice president at Nissan North America, said in a statement. “It will help us put high-quality, affordable zero-emissions vehicles on our roads. This project will expand our Smyrna plant, and that’s great economic news.”

Chu said the Obama Administration hopes to disburse the loans quickly.

More than 100 companies ranging from General Motors to Aptera Motors are seeking funding through the program. The government is expected to announce recipients for the remainder of the $25 billion program next year. The DOE did not disclose the terms of the loans.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/06/23/tesla.electric.cars/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.

oil_sands_vehicles
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.”

oil_sands_waste
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.

oil_sands_fish

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/


Today is the dawn of a brand new day…

January 20, 2009

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I think this image says it all – capturing such a beautiful moment and showing the admiration of a young girl for her father…
– FlashAddict

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“President Barack Obama, right, is congratulated by daughter Sasha, lower left, as first lady Michelle Obama looks on after taking the oath of office.”

Barack Obama is sworn into office and delivers his inauguration speech.

Bushisms: U.S. leader sets standard for mangled phrases during presidency

January 8, 2009

– It’s hard to believe that this dumb $hithead has been the leader of the free world for the past 8 years…

By The Associated Press, The Associated Press

President George W. Bush will leave behind a legacy of Bushisms, the label stamped on the U.S. leaders original speaking style. Some of the president’s more notable malapropisms and mangled statements:

-“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.” – September 2000, explaining his energy policies at an event in Michigan.

-“Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?” – January 2000, during a campaign event in South Carolina.

-“They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander-in-chief, too.” – Sept. 26, 2001, in Langley, Va. Bush was referring to the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

-“There’s no doubt in my mind, not one doubt in my mind, that we will fail.” – Oct. 4, 2001, in Washington. Bush was remarking on a back-to-work plan after the terrorist attacks.

– “It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber.” – April 10, 2002, at the White House, as Bush urged Senate passage of a broad ban on cloning.

– “I want to thank the dozens of welfare-to-work stories, the actual examples of people who made the firm and solemn commitment to work hard to embetter themselves.” – April 18, 2002, at the White House.

-“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” – Sept. 17, 2002, in Nashville, Tenn.

-“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” – Aug. 5, 2004, at the signing ceremony for a defence spending bill.

-“Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” – Sept. 6, 2004, at a rally in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

– “Our most abundant energy source is coal. We have enough coal to last for 250 years, yet coal also prevents an environmental challenge.” – April 20, 2005, in Washington.

– “We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job.” – Sept. 20, 2005, in Gulfport, Miss.

-“I can’t wait to join you in the joy of welcoming neighbours back into neighbourhoods, and small businesses up and running, and cutting those ribbons that somebody is creating new jobs.” – Sept. 5, 2005, when Bush met with residents of Poplarville, Miss., in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

-“It was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship. After all, 60 years we were at war 60 years ago we were at war.” – June 29, 2006, at the White House, where Bush met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

-“Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to families who die.” – Dec. 7, 2006, in a joint appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

– “These are big achievements for this country, and the people of Bulgaria ought to be proud of the achievements that they have achieved.” – June 11, 2007, in Sofia, Bulgaria.

– “Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction. Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit.” – September 2007, in Sydney, Australia, where Bush was attending an APEC summit.

-“Thank you, Your Holiness. Awesome speech.” April 16, 2008, at a ceremony welcoming Pope Benedict to the White House.

-“The fact that they purchased the machine meant somebody had to make the machine. And when somebody makes a machine, it means there’s jobs at the machine-making place.” – May 27, 2008, in Mesa, Ariz.

-“And they have no disregard for human life.” – July 15, 2008, at the White House. Bush was referring to enemy fighters in Afghanistan.

– “I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office.” – June 26, 2008, during a Rose Garden news briefing.

-“Throughout our history, the words of the Declaration have inspired immigrants from around the world to set sail to our shores. These immigrants have helped transform 13 small colonies into a great and growing nation of more than 300 people.” – July 4, 2008 in Virginia.

– “This thaw – took a while to thaw, it’s going to take a while to unthaw.” Oct. 20, 2008, in Alexandria, La., as he discussed the economy and frozen credit markets.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/090103/world/distinctly_bushisms