District Heating, Geoengineering & Carbon Offsets

On this week’s show we take a look at Yellowknife’s ambitious plans to heat their downtown core using geothermal energy tapped from a defunct gold mine. We explore geoengineering, the intentional large-scale manipulation of environmental processes. And we demystify the complexities of carbon offsets, explaining what you need to look for when making a purchase.

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Exhaust trail from a passenger jet. Photo by François Roche.

News Headlines

Alberta’s river water conservation plan
Vancouver Sun
Public Interest Alberta

Ontario orders environmental review of proposed mega mine
Toronto Star

Alberta’s new air quality index
Fort Saskatchewan Record
Environment Canada
Alberta Environment

Obama administration refuses to allow increased air quality standards
San Francisco Chronicle
New York Times


District Heating in Yellowknife

These days we hear a lot about our carbon footprints. The climate is warming, and if we don’t do something to reduce the amount of CO2 we’re releasing… well, it’s bad news. But that can be easier said than done. Especially here in Canada, where a lot of our emissions are from heating our homes and offices.

Well, Yellowknife has come up with a pretty innovative solution. City councilors have a plan to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire community. They want to convert an old unused mine near town into a brand new source of geothermal power. And it’s got people talking. When you live as far north as they do, finding a cleaner way to heat your buildings can make a huge difference for the environment, and your pocket book.

Yellowknife Con Mine Energy Project


Carbon Offsets

Most of us think little of hopping on a plane and heading off for a quick break, especially when airfares are on sale. But air travel is one of the world’s fastest growing sources of carbon emissions. For those who are concerned about their personal impact on the planet, avoiding plane travel is a good start. But for those flights you insist on taking, offsetting the carbon emissions might help alleviate the damage. But the world of offsets is tricky – lots of companies, not much regulation. To help make sense of it all, we’ve sorted through the details so you don’t have to.

Guide to Purchasing Carbon Offsets by the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation

Arcitc Issues Montage

We revisit the best of our reporting from the last year on arctic issues, along with updates and recent developments on these stories.

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Photo courtesy The Canadian Travel Guide

Energy and the Environment

This week on Terra Informa, Dave Kazcan investigates how the ongoing development of Canada’s energy economy can fit together with Canada’s climate change goals and whether those goals are good for the economy anyhow. Steve Anderson reports on the City of Yellowknife’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions for the entire community. Rebecca Rooney brings us another Science Short on Lisa Buckley’s Ph.D. reaseach into an important paleontological dilemma. 

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Yellowknife at Night, by Claude St. Pierre

Environmental News

The Toronto Star has acquired records that indicate that Ontario Hydro had used Agent Orange to clear power line corridors across the province through the 50s, 60s and 70s. These corridors passed through city backyards, parks and farmers’ fields. Further to this, the Toronto Star interviewed former Ontario Hydro employees who were assured these chemicals were harmless but who have been suffering from illnesses over the past decades.

CBC News, Toronto Star, First Perspective

In B.C. RCMP have discovered 34 cesspools related to marijuaina production in the interior. The pools contain a number of toxic materials including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and diesel fuel.

CBC News

 Alberta’s new budget reduces funding for the Alberta Environment Department by 3.3% and a slow down in funding for Alberta’s heavily promoted carbon capture and storage initiative.

Calgary Herald


Energy and the Environment in Canada

Energy seems to be Canada’s biggest line of business these days. The Prime Minister, in particular, is enthusiastic about what further development of our energy resources will do for our economy. How will this fit in with our carbon reduction goals? And is it really that good for the economy anyhow. Correspondent Dave Kazcan takes an in-depth look at Canada’s energy future.

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Yellowknife Geothermal Plan

City councilors in Yellowknife have a plan to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire community. They want to convert an old unused mine near town into a brand new source of geothermal power. Steve Anderson investigates this unique plan in northern Canada.

City of Yellowknife Information

UBC Geothermal Concept Study

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Science Short: Bird Species Identification

Rebecca Rooney also talks to Lisa Buckley, curator and collections manager at the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. about her Ph.D. research into an important paleontological dilemma. She has attempted to classify current bird species based on only their bone records to try and standardize bone identification for extinct species.

Lisa Buckley from the Peace Region Palaentogy Research Centre, looks over the ulna (part of an arm bone) from the duck-billed crested dinosaur skeleton. Picture Courtesy of Tumbler Ridge News

Alternative Energy Possibilities and Perspectives

Terra Informa February 15, 2010 -Geothermal, Sustainability Projects, and Oil Sands Part 2 (Download/Listen Online)

This week’s episode brings lots of bonus features and is focused on a loose theme of alternative energy, with segments looking at biofuel transportation, geothermal power generation and a critical look at the Alberta oil sands. First off Steve Anderson did the hosting and Eric Bowling compiled the news summary.

The Alberta government is investing $2 million dollars into what is it describing as a “one stop action center” which will provide advice to municipalities on how to reduce energy costs in their facilities as well as host energy efficiency workshops around the province. The center located at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association was built with recycled materials and a solar panel, has its own wind turbine and co-generation unit, and several other high efficiency upgrades.(Edmonton Sun Article)

The Alberta government is reducing air and water quality monitoring as part of a 5.4%, or $17.5 million cut in its environmental portfolio, the government says it will focus its environmental monitoring on developing areas, such as the oil sands and Edmonton’s industrial parks. The cuts in the environmental budget also include a slowing of Carbon Capture and Storage development as well as investments in public transportation. Alberta’s Sustainable Resource Development ministry is receiving cutbacks of $42 million, or a 12 per cent cut and has put on hiatus the popular Junior Forest ranger and Aboriginal Forest ranger programs,  made cuts to numerous fish and wildlife programs and eliminating dozens of jobs in its department.

Whole Foods and Bed Bath and Beyond, have included not buying so called “dirty oil” into their own climate change plans and announced that they will not purchase fuel that comes from Alberta’s oil sands. Whole Foods  have asked their suppliers to not provide any diesel or gasoline that has its origins in Alberta. Bed, Bath and Beyond is being a little less strict, stating its policy will be to prefer fuels with less carbon emissions where possible. Both companies are listed in the Fortune 500.

The University of East Anglia in England has ordered a review of its research into climate change. An external body of scientists, selected by the royal society, will re-examine papers produced by the Climate Research Unit that recently came under fire when over a thousand emails were illegally posted to the internet. The University is also funding a separate team of scientists to investigate the CRU’s handling of information, as well as whether it properly followed Britain’s Freedom of Information Laws.

Greenpeace is asking fans and members alike to support two Japanese activists that  were charged in 2008 after taking a box of whale meat from a mail depot and giving it to Japanese state prosecutors.  The box was labelled “cardboard” but contained fifty pounds of salted whale meat. The Japanese prosecution began an investigation into the activists claims, but ended the investigation the same day the activists were arrested and charged with theft and trespass. If convicted, they could face up to ten years in prison. Their trial began on Monday.  Greenpeace has set up a petition in defence of the two activists. Sign the petition and share the link with your friends.

The founders of Driven to sustain, a non-profit project designed to promote global environmental awareness in the media, have been traveling around north America in a van power by waste vegetable oil. This week Cloe and Tyson share some of their experiences with Terra Informa.

Wondering how geothermal works? What opportunities exist in Alberta? or the green jobs potential for geothermal? well good thing you’re listening to Terra Informa because correspondent and blogger Myles Curry interviews the University of Alberta Energy Clubs geothermal expert, Ryan Saunders, about these topics and a whole lot more. So much more that we couldn’t fit it all in. The full interview features a more in depth discussion of all things geothermal along with a conversation about the university of Alberta energy club. The geothermal bonus features don’t end there, On Terra Bloga Myles explores the potential benefits and feasibility of using abandoned wells for geothermal power generation in Alberta as described in an Energy Club report title GeoNow: A novel approach to geothermal energy in Alberta.

Did you know that in order to extract just one barrel of oil, developers of the Oil Sands must use an average of at least 3 barrels of fresh water? Melina Laboucan-Massimo, from Greenpeace and the Lubicon First Nation was one of the panellists of the stakeholder discussion. She mentioned that in some instances the in-situ process has required 18 barrels of fresh water to loosen the sands from the oil, only to produce one barrel of oil. Jade Gregg’s second segment on the University of Alberta Oil Sands Delegation 2010 focuses on the water, air, land and society  in Northern Alberta’s Oil Sands communities. The delegation ran from Jan 30th-31st in Fort McMurray. Last week Jade brought us day one of the delegation which included a presentation and discussion with Suncor on corporate social responsibility. This week we focus in on day two which consisted of a trip to the Oil Sands Discovery Centre and a stakeholder panel discussion at the Redpoll Centre with the United Way. Here are a selection of pictures that Jade took of the delegations trip.

For all of our Edmonton listeners there is an important event sponsored by the Greater Edmonton Alliance on Feb 22 at City Hall in support of local foods. Here is an excerpt of a blog post Myles wrote about the event.

The Greater Edmonton Alliance is calling for citizens to pack Edmonton city hall on February 22 to show support for the final stage of the effort to include a local food system strategy, and increase the sustainability of, Edmonton’s 10 year municipal development plan (MDP). Twice before with great success GEA has called upon the citizens of Edmonton to flood city hall in support of local food initiatives and demonstrate through a tactful form of protest which makes city council accommodate, and acknowledge, to extraordinary ends the passion of Albertans for a healthy local source of food…..We need to pack City Hall once again to send a message to the provincial government that we are not waiting for their leadership to start creating the kinds of communities we need in a future of climate change and peak oil. This is a fight for local foods but it is also a fight for the long term sustainability of Edmonton, this is the perfect opportunity to begin taking action to create the post carbon society we so desperately need. (Closing the Deal for Farmland Protection)

Terra Informa February 15, 2010 -Geothermal, Sustainability Projects, and Oil Sands Part 2 (Download/Listen Online)

A Photo of Oil Sands Extraction Equipment by Jade Gregg while on the UofA Oil Sands Delegation