Science talk, ePlane presence and panel discussion plug into low-carbon issues
Salt Spring got a glimpse of a lower-carbon future on the weekend through a visit by a trailblazing electric seaplane, a panel of people working to electrify transportation and one of Canada’s best-known science journalists.
Bob McDonald of CBC radio’s Quirks and Quarks fame was the keynote speaker for the festival called Electrify Salt Spring! Accelerating Pathways to Carbon Zero, organized by the Salt Spring Community Energy (SSCE) group. His entertaining talk to a capacity ArtSpring crowd on Friday night was called The Future is Now: Solving the Climate Crisis With Today’s Technologies, the same title as his just-released book.
McDonald explained that he was motivated to research how greenhouse gas emissions could be slashed because he was getting depressed by the lack of action on something that scientists had been predicting since he started reporting on the environment in 1977.
“It’s been frustrating for me to listen for all these years to the scientists warning us about what was going to happen. But we weren’t doing anything about it,” he told the crowd.
In wanting to make a difference with a new book, he was determined to look for solutions instead of rehashing the problems.
“And I came to the wonderful realization that all the solutions to go green already exist. We don’t need to invent anything new to go to a low-carbon or zero-carbon economy. Those technologies already exist.”
With visuals on the screen behind him on the stage, McDonald gave the audience the basics of energy science and the ways we can eliminate the burning of fossil fuels and its impacts. But first he explained how the density of energy provided by oil is so difficult to replace, with one barrel providing 6.3 billion joules of energy. One joule is equivalent to raising one kilo of rice one metre in the air, an action McDonald illustrated for the crowd.
“So if you do this six billion times,” he said, raising and lowering his arm, “you’ve got the amount of energy in one barrel of oil. That’s a lot. That’s huge. No wonder we like it.”
But he also pointed out that it’s not efficiently used: for every litre of gasoline put into a vehicle, 80 per cent of it is burned off as heat, he said, so only 20 per cent is used for its intended purpose.
More energy is actually provided by the sun.
“The amount of solar energy hitting the Earth in one hour is more than all of our civilization uses in one year,” he said, “but it’s spread out. It’s not dense like [oil].”
McDonald described how it would still be possible to use oil but for the production of hydrogen energy, with the carbon remaining in the ground. He also detailed advancements in solar, wind and tidal energy, and the huge potential of electricity created by new kinds of batteries.
“There’s so much happening in batteries . . . Toyota is working on solid-state batteries that are very thin; they don’t have the liquids in them so they won’t catch fire. I’ve heard of sodium batteries, aluminum-air batteries. I even heard of a battery that’s made of iron. All it does is rust and you get electricity. People are looking at all kinds of different materials.”
If McDonald’s presentation was decidedly hopeful, a discussion about the electrification of transportation in B.C. and on Salt Spring cooled the optimism somewhat. Representatives from Harbour Air, BC Ferries and BC Transit formed a panel moderated by SSCE’s Kjell Liem, where the on-the-ground challenges to achieving quick change were made apparent.
But tilting the optimism balance back the other way was the arrival of Harbour Air’s first “ePlane” in Ganges on Thursday, piloted by company founder and CEO Greg McDougall. Excitement from the docks was palpable, with Harbour Air staff, SSCE and other community members watching the retrofitted all-electric lime-green DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver land. It was the star of an open house event on Saturday afternoon, and was charged up before leaving on Sunday morning.
Harbour Air is the world’s only carbon neutral airline, first announcing its plan to offset 100 per cent of its emissions through “green” practices in 2007.
SSCE also marked its 10th anniversary over the weekend, with its achievements summarized at the McDonald event at ArtSpring and delicious cake shared before the Saturday panel event at GISS.