Equinox Summit day 3: ‘What happens if the lights go out?’

From June 6-9, some of the top scientists and environmental researchers in the world will be in Waterloo at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics for the Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) Equinox Summit. These experts will be discussing ways in which the world can chart a course for the future that will involve sustainable, low-carbon energy solutions.

Each day, a scientist or researcher, will give a public lecture at Perimeter Institute, stay logged on to thecord.ca for continuing coverage.

When talking about efficiency, a cultural change of mindset is needed to reduce energy waste and optimise use of ‘infrastructure energy’: the invisible electricity that comes from renewable and sustainable fuels in their natural abundance. This was the main point brought forth by Walter Patterson, one of four speakers on Wednesday’s panel discussion at the Equinox Summit. The topic of the panel, “What happens if the lights go out?” focused on the importance of short term thinking with long term solutions.

Speaking at the 9am panel along with Patterson were Bill Rosehart, department head of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Calgary, Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, Professor Emeritus at the School of Chemical Sciences and Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Ted Sargent, Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology and professor at University of Toronto.

Whether it is a solution to store our energy in Vanadium Redox flow batteries to even out the fluctuations of renewable such as solar and wind, or to redevelop technologies such as solar power to process all wavelengths of the sun, or simple changes in the mindset of grids and fuels, the panel spoke to a unified message: it’s time to change the rules of energy to include efficiency and sustainability.

With very active participation from the audience and forum, the discussion after the panel included a varied focus on private and public sector funding. A forum member asked if the panel had one year to solve this issue what kinds of people would they talk to, and the responses were almost identical, “you’re the ones who make this happen”, said Patterson, addressing the forum, “we place this in your hands.”

By Marcie Foster

If you ask anyone what their biggest fear is for future generations, most will answer quite similarly: global warming. While not discrediting this fact, David Keith, in the concluding lecture on the third day of the Equinox summit, warns us that we must look deeper.

“What are the reasons that we have for conserving the natural world?” asked Keith to a full crowd on June 8 at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo.

As he currently holds the Canada Research Chair in Energy and Environment and teaches at the University of Calgary, Keith has spent much of his time researching environment technology and addressing environment policy.

With this vast experience, Keith spent majority of the lecture talking about how technology shapes the world we live in and the relationship with the natural world. However, Keith thinks a bit different about that relationship, especially in terms of other species.

“I don’t believe or support the view that if the planet loses species that [ecosystems] will collapse,” said Keith. “We have a lot of examples where we’ve lost a lot species and ecosystems have changed.”

Keith also addressed the continuing decrease in natural resources, focusing primarily on oil. By disproving Hubbert’s oil peak and reduction theory, Keith mentioned that there is more oil than originally perceived.

But he did end up addressing, “It is true we will run out of oil.”

The decreasing number of resources will be a point of focus in the future, argues Keith. Conflict between countries is inevitable to occur, and this is what worries Keith the most.

“What really worries me, for my kids, is not the climate,” continued Keith. “What actually worries me…is that humans are fantastically effective at killing each other.”

Keith warns that the likelihood of conflict will grow as resources continue to become scarcer. He also outlined air pollution and poverty as his other concerns.

Current air pollution levels in metropolitan areas are causing people, on average, to live one to two years shorter. “Just science, not speculation,” stated Keith.

Keith also warned of the cheap, easy methods of dealing with global warming that may result in negative repercussions.

Technology will eventually become an inescapable part of many people around the world and will be a vital aspect of human evolution. With this, argues Keith, life without nature can be a possibility.

In the allotted time for audience questions, many audience members asked Keith what he really thought was going to happen in the next century.

One attendee asked what Keith thought was one of the biggest roadblocks. Keith answered, “People will be slow to restraining carbon emissions.”

The final question of the day was about if Keith felt optimistic or pessimistic about the future. While he quickly replied by saying he felt optimistic, he eventually restated that war will occur within this century or the next.

“You can’t have nation-states with nuclear arms. You can’t.”

By Justin Smirlies

Click here for coverage of day one.

Click here for coverage of day two.