What you don’t know can hurt you – a lot!

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By Bill Caswell

Special to Ontario Construction News

Let us begin by asking something you probably do not know – but feel you should know.

Which is the third largest city in Russia and where is it located? The answer my friends is blowing up the 8 km.-wide Ob River that runs besides this city, which carries nearby, some of the gas flares of the oil fields of Gazprom, the third largest company in the world.

The third city, called Novosibirsk (New Siberia), with a population of 1.6 million, is located in the geographic middle of the east-west axis of Russia, on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  If one boards a train in St. Petersburg and passes through Moscow, then onto Novosibirsk, the full trip to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean (10th sized city) will take 9,900 km, about three times the distance of New York to San Francisco.

Siberia’s immense size is difficult to grasp. What draws our attention, is that the natural gas in the Novosibirsk area which escapes during oil drilling (as a by-product) is burnt off as waste. The quantity of natural gas being flared this way is enough to supply an entire high-demand, large, American city.

Greta Thurman would be shocked not only at the wastage or the resulting pollution, but also at the estimated 26 billion cu. ft. (1) of methane gas escaping from these oil wells each year.  As a heat-trapping gas, methane is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This segue ways into the next “what you probably don’t know” issue: methane in Siberia.

The amount of methane in Siberia’s lakes is said to be 10 times as much as the earth’s atmosphere holds now. Global warming has methane bubbling out of these frigid lakes at such a rate, currently, that the lakes do not freeze, despite -400C temperatures. Methane is stored under the huge land mass of Siberia, which when permafrost thaws, will put 75 times as much carbon into the atmosphere as does the current burning of fossil fuels1.

Next, we segue way into the real purpose of this paper: Most businesses and most humans don’t acknowledge the serious environmental trouble we are in now. They don’t know that global warming by fossil fuels is the trigger to release the much larger and more dangerous methane monster.

The conclusion to be arrived at is that we cannot wait. We better start doing something about it now. My biggest fear is that we are facing a hockey stick projection such as in the example on the next page – the growth of the world’s population from 4,000 BC to 2,000 AD. In 1,000 AD with 300 million, the population rise was clear and ‘knowledgeable’ projections would put the 2,000 AD projection at 1 billion, not 6 billion.  See chart below (1).

X- Axis Number Year Earth Population (millions)
1 4000 BC 7
12 1000 AD 300
13 2000 AD 6000

Intuitively, I fear the atmospheric change will follow such a pattern – as have other events.

population hockey stick imageEven with the bleak picture painted above, I realize it is unreasonable to expect that most of us would voluntarily, and suddenly, change all our well-worn living habits. Despite Greta’s pleas, you’re not about to line your roof with solar panels.

But what if there is something you can do now that will not inconvenience your living patterns?  I would like to suggest 10 actions that are completely doable by anyone and would have you takes steps towards mitigating our environment Armageddon – right now.

  1. Turn off that TV you use as background and return to it only when you choose to watch a program.
  2. Turn off electric lights as soon as you leave a room empty. You only need the lights in the room where you are.  All that this takes, is a bit of discipline and the physical energy to flick switches.
  3. Don’t you push that automatic door switch at the shopping mall if you are simply passing in or out. It burns fuel from our international power grid.  You can easily push the door (with your elbows during the pandemic, MB).
  4. At next Christmas, reduce your number of outdoor Christmas lights by one third. In Canada this would save about 200,000 megawatt-hours during the Christmas season.
  5. Swallow your pride and bring two of your own solid bags to the store for carrying away some of your groceries. (Again, this one may need to await the end of the COVID-19 pandemic). Assuming that 10 million Canadian households shop once a week for food and save two plastic bags each time, we would have over one billion bags per year no longer being used.
  6. Stop drinking bottled water if you are near a tap. Even New York City tap water is higher quality than most bottled waters. Assumption: One billion plastic bottles saved each year in Canada.
  7. As well, at the supermarket ask for paper bags instead of plastic, which stores now offer.
  8. Take the train from Ottawa to Toronto, not the plane. The train ride is 4 hours, while the door-to-door flight time from home to destination is typically 3 hours – if no air delays.
  9. When buying your next car, get a smaller one. That larger vehicle is a luxury you can no longer afford, environmentally speaking. Of course, you could up the save-the-planet ante by buying a hybrid or an electric car – but in this note we have agreed not to ask too much of you.
  10. At the service station, buy the next higher level of octane gas. Higher octane gas will assist your car engine to last; you will save in the long run.
  11. One more, as in the baker’s dozen. Pass this list of 10 environmental-saving thoughts onto your employees and anyone else you can think of.  Your grandchildren’s lives may depend on it.

(1) Environmental Protection Agency figures noted in “Travels in Siberia”, Ian Frazier, Picador publishers, New York NY, 2010.

Bill Caswell leads the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCCC) in Ottawa, www.caswellccc.comor email bill@caswellccc.com.

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