Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sustainable Development Requires Systems Approach

Kamloops Daily News

In recent years, issues of pollution, depletion of resources, natural and human-induced disasters, and other environmental and economic problems are becoming of more concern. It is obvious that the only way forward is sustainable development, which is a new way to designing and building cities, transport and energy infrastructure with a view to maximize their overall efficiency while minimizing their environmental impact.
Complex problems such as this can be solved only with a systems approach. There is a lot of information, often contradicting, about global warming, oil peak, “green” technologies, alternative energy and so on that is available from various sources. For non-specialists it is very difficult to navigate in that sea of information and form an educated opinion. It is even more important for authorities, responsible for making decisions that affect our future, to have a specific and unbiased analysis.
Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy on sustainable development.  Relying on oil and gas exports is not sustainable and not in the long-term interests of the nation and the world. It also puts our country in one line with the developing countries. But even some of them already realizing that resource-based economy is a dead end.
Ecuador has made a conscious decision that they will leave huge oil reserves underground and will develop other industries. If a poor central-American country can do it, then why can’t Canada, one of the most developed countries in the world?
We can take advantage of our natural resource — cold temperatures — to house data centres which generate large amount of heat, which could be recycled. At the back of the Sun Peaks fire hall facility there is a room used by Mascon Cable, which has air-conditioning run through the winter! On one side, the energy is used to heat the facility, on another — warm air is wasted outside. 
Financial motivations for the plans to build a gas pipeline through Alberta and B.C. are obvious. But isn’t it shortsighted and unwise from the national and global point of view?
Suppose, the “oil peak” is further in the future and natural gas reserves are bigger than was previously thought. Just look at the erratic history of prices on fossil fuels, often disrupted by acts of terrorism or regional conflicts, increased resistance from environmental groups, factor in a steady rise in alternative energy produced by the U.S., but especially China, where we are hoping to sell our natural gas.
All this will make expected benefits from such a project too short-lived. Adding to the equation is the greenhouse gas emissions, bad international image and backward reliance on resource-based economies.
We should not trade our not-too-distant future for very short financial gains. If we need to plan for use of the fossil fuels in the short term, we must do it wisely, while at the same time plan on moving away from them within a specific time period and with a concrete plan in place.
A comprehensive national strategy has to look beyond few years of the electoral cycle. When President John F. Kennedy announced the plan to put a man on the moon, it was a specific target with a deadline. As a result, Neil Armstrong was able to say, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
We are now at about the same point in our history. The decision we make today will determine if we will be make a leap over our centuries-old dependency on oil, coal and gas, and give mankind a better, cleaner future.

Vladimir Grebenyuk is a principal systems architect at Ascent Systems Technologies. He lives at Sun Peaks and can be reached at VG@ascentdevelopments.ca

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