Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

June 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm | In arts, business, canada, comments, ideas, innovation, writing | Comments Off on Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

I came across Brendon J. Wilson’s excellent blog post, Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? last week and felt compelled to comment.

Brendon’s post addresses a response to Macleans Magazine’s article You can’t buy that here, which, as he wrote, mirrored concerns he already expressed in a March 2009 post, Borders keep out innovation, too. If you’re Canadian (or maybe thinking of doing business in Canada) Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? and Borders keep out innovation, too are both excellent must-read pieces.

The Macleans article Brendon references had prompted a defense of the Canadian condition by another writer. Brendon’s Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? addresses both positions. He ends in favor of Macleans’, however, and writes that its “attempt to point out how Canada is missing out on the future, however small a piece of it, seems like a valid tactic despite the weakness of its execution.”

I agree, and also left a long comment on his post. I’m using my blog to remind me of what I wrote in response (most of which I excerpt, below), but really encourage people to check out Brendon’s original post(s). My comment (abridged):

I think you get at something very essential with your observations, Brendon, for example when you write about missing “the experience of using the device in your daily life, of truly understanding the implications, applications, and untapped potential of the device” (and while you were talking about the iPhone in that example, I think the point translates across the technology landscape.

It’s conditions like the ones that exists around technology and innovation in Canada that make the issue of Canadian culture so difficult, too, because the words “paternalism” and “tutelage [from authorities on high]” come to mind, not independence, liberation, freedom. And that, too, contributes to the niggling sense of inferiority.

Do you know what the wealthy establishment fathers of Canada told young artists in the Group of Seven (now recognized as the founders of national Canadian landscape painting) back in the early 20th century? “It’s bad enough having to live in this country. Why bother hanging pictures of it up on one’s walls?”

They preferred to collect Old European Masters instead – Dutch landscapes in shades of brown with brown cows. Instead of embracing the innovation that the Group of Seven artists offered, they turned to the past and haughtily told those innovators to learn to paint like the *Old* Masters instead. The innovators wanted to look to other innovators in Europe instead – Cezanne, cubism, futurism, abstraction. But the paternalists knew “better” – and with their “wisdom” helped stunt Canadian culture instead of furthering it. Take a look at the museums built on private collections in the US and you’ll see that contemporary American captains of industry collected European and American avant-gardists, not brown pictures of brown cows. Consequently, American culture benefited from their support, and – as a spin-off many decades later – there are now many seminal collections for the public to enjoy. Canadian collections from that period are small miseries in comparison, and viewing them isn’t nearly as satisfying. That’s how a culture of old-fashioned paternalism (with its flip side of “made in Canada” solutions – the Group of Seven worked often in isolation) has ripple effects that are felt for generations.

Urban density and social media tools

June 8, 2009 at 9:40 am | In cities, creativity, innovation, land_use, social_networking, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Urban density and social media tools

It won’t come as news to those of us who love and defend cities, but it’s nice to have scientific research backing up what we espouse as urban positives: High population density triggers cultural explosions, according to a new study by scientists at University College London. The study was published in the journal Science; see also UCL’s page here (h/t Richard Florida/Creative Class blog).

The study reports that “complex skills learnt across generations can only be maintained when there is a critical level of interaction between people.”

I wonder how current social media tools mimic the benefits of density, or augment it in places that are emerging.

For example, I live in Victoria, BC, a medium-sized city that is approaching good density levels in the core neighborhoods, and I’m continually amazed by how social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and a local forum on Vibrant Victoria have allowed a speedier dissemination of ideas. The dissemination doesn’t necessarily produce “instant” results, but how much more bereft we would be without the various platforms for those conversations.

While web-based tools can’t replace actual rubbing-up against people, they do facilitate transmission of ideas as well as complex skills, particularly if those skills aren’t manual. Yet even in the realm of manual skill or physical production – say, vegetable gardening or backyard chicken-raising – I’m likely to turn to the internet to find instructional videos or a local group. Digital natives will always go there first (and I’ve been an immigrant several times over, so I consider myself fully “naturalized” here, too, thank-you!).

Online social media tools absolutely augment the benefits of “real” population density. Thinking about online density and actual urban density (and its benefits) together, as being of a piece, seems important.

Quiet days in cliche. But…

May 27, 2009 at 10:37 pm | In ideas, innovation, newspapers | 2 Comments

It’s no doubt a sign of mental rot when one writes entries (or anything) with puns for titles, but there you have it: I’ve hit a wall. Until I manage to break the cliche (by smashing the mold, say), the pun I’m sorry to say will have to stand in for what should pass muster as enthusiasm.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not enthusiastic about some things I’m reading, mostly online. Yesterday, for example, – who is a real live neighbor of mine (Mike literally lives across the street and around the corner, but I didn’t even know he existed until we met through Twitter) – wrote a brilliant blog post called My Book Industry Blueprint (v0.2a1). This article really does break the mold, bust the cliche, and I encourage anyone interested in publishing (including not just book publishing, but all other categories as well) to click through and read the entry in full.

From the first sentence (“The publishing industry is broken, and not just in a ‘that glass is chipped but if you drink out of the other side you’re fine’ sorta way.”) you know this is going to be a great read.

Go. Read. It. Now.

And in the meantime, I will try to peel myself off that wall I’ve hit – it’s not very comfortable, it ruins my perspective, and it does nothing for my writing.

Better gold through green

May 20, 2009 at 11:20 pm | In architecture, cities, green, innovation, land_use, leadership, real_estate, resources, urbanism, victoria | 4 Comments

It seems everyone is going green, or will be. Today I went to Victoria’s UDI (Urban Development Institute) luncheon to hear Terasen Energy Services‘ Gareth Jones present “All About Geo-Thermal: Learning from Local Projects.”

Some basic take-away points: unless I severely misheard, British Columbia prices for energy (or electricity) will rise 80% in the next 10 years; the best place to make inroads in meeting the very ambitious greenhouse gas reductions (which are nearly as ambitious as Europe’s) set by the BC Liberal Party is in communities/ municipalities; and the best places to get the best bang for the buck in alternative energy is in dense settlements, whether multi-family complexes (including highrises and townhouse developments) or densely settled neighborhoods.

Other points: we in BC often think that we get most of our energy/ electricity “from hydro” (i.e., from hydroelectric power projects, therefore from “clean” water-driven sources), but we actually import 15% of our electricity from out-of-province, and those imports are “dirty” (typically derived from coal-fired plants). In addition to that little wrinkle, only 21% of our total energy needs in BC are met by electricity in the first place (and of that 21%, remember that 15% aren’t “clean”). The remaining 79% are met by natural gas (another 21%), other fossil fuels (can’t remember the exact number – I think it was around 20%?), wood (another 16%), and other sources. Alternate sources are at present but a small, very small piece of the pie.

There was more, and it all deserves a longer blog post or article, for which I’ll have to dig out my notes and do some research. What struck me today was the sense of urgency that came across in Jones’s presentation: that we really don’t have a lot of time to sit on our hands in pursuing alternative energy – not least because an 80% rise in costs will really do a number on the economy. It would probably make the current recession look like a walk in the park.
Energy System plant

Jones encouraged all the developers, builders, and planners and politicians at the luncheon to explore the myriad ways that the provincial government and Terasen Energy Services are trying to make alternative energy production (and consumption) more commonplace.

Meanwhile, there’s more to research and think about: Living buildings and how they’re cost-effective, for example.
Living Building diagram
Next week, there are two events scheduled in Victoria – first, at the University of Victoria on June 3, Jason McLennan, CEO, Cascadia Region Green Building Council will speak on The True Costs of Living Buildings, and the next evening (June 4), a less formal event showcasing some examples will take place at the Burnside-Gorge Community Centre. (I have to admit that after hearing Gareth Jones explain the benefits of density when it comes to installing alternative energy both for new and retrofitted buildings, Jason McLennan’s homepage photo disturbs me. It’s of an isolated single home – a converted church even? – in the middle of nowhere, which is probably the most large-footprint lifestyle, in environmental terms, that privileged westerners can choose. Perhaps his home is environmentally sustainable, but it’s still not a great model in the sense that it’s not anything we should strive for. Ok, end of sour aside.)  (Update, 5/27: If readers click through to the comments on this post, they’ll see Eden’s comment, which corrects my assumption about the photo. It’s actually not a private home, but the barn of a sheep farm. That’s really good to know, because the myth of the self-sufficient yet large single-family family home on a large property – a “green” variant of the suburban lifestyle – exerts a strong and unsustainable pull, which I prefer not to see strengthened. Thanks, Eden, for the additional info!)

And since it pours when it rains, there’s an out-of-town event I’d love to be able to go to: The Seattle Architecture Foundation will lead a tour through South Lake Union, called LEED: It’s Not Just for Buildings Anymore:

SLU’s close proximity to donwtown’s and existing transportation lines are the foundation for a successful sustainable neighborhood. Community design focusing on adaptive building re-use, alternative transportation, storm water management and other sustainability techniques is revitalizing the neighborhood adjacent to Seattle’s urban core.

SLU was accepted into the USGBC’s LEED-ND Pilot (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Neighborhood Development) program, and is one of the first existing neighborhoods anticipated to receive LEED certification.

Catherine Benotto and Ginger Garff from Weber Thompson and Katherine Cornwell and Jim Holmes from the City of Seattle will explain how great neighborhoods are created. Highlights of the tour include the Terry Thomas Building, the redesign of Cascade Park, the street car maintenance facility and an exploration of the master plan for Terry Avenue.

Seems to me that the South Lake Union walking tour would be a perfect complement to Gareth Jones’s presentation, but then again, Jason McLennan’s presentation is a lot closer to home…

Comment on Kevin Kelly’s “4 Arguments Against Technology”

April 26, 2009 at 2:33 am | In comments, ideas, innovation | 4 Comments

I just responded to Kevin Kelly‘s 4 Arguments Against Technology. He’s compiling a list, which he wants to flesh out – so that he can write better arguments in defense of technology. So far he has 1. Contrary to nature; 2. Contrary to humans; 3. Contrary to technology itself; 4. Contrary to God.

I added the following, which (in keeping with the “contrary” theme) could perhaps be dubbed “Contrary to staying the same”:

Another anti-technology argument I’ve sensed is that technology brings change, and therefore is destabilizing. Technology is opposed because, by facilitating change, it appears to destabilize important things like community, shared history, relationships.

“Facilitating change” is another aspect of innovation. We can’t live without it, but people love it and hate it simultaneously.

Why would people be uncomfortable about change? (My field is, loosely, urban ecologies, where the change-hating species NIMBY is well-represented, so I run into the anti-change way of thinking all the time…) I think change swings both ways: toward growth or toward decay. The problem is that we reach a certain age and think we can have stasis (no change). But stasis just masks decay (which is bad change). Of course stasis (masked decay) can look so much more comfy than growth (which takes work, but is good change). Growth or decay, life or death: stasis is not an option.

Biology, perhaps, is nature’s technology?

Technology is a constant reminder (because it facilitates change) of the two options (growth or decay), both of which are painful (although growth is better).

What do you think?

Local emphasis

February 23, 2009 at 11:28 pm | In ideas, innovation, local_not_global, northernvoice | 2 Comments

At Northern Voice 2009 (which I still have to assimilate/ digest), I attended a session on hyper-local blogging and also heard people (myself included) lauding the value of “local.” On the ferry ride home, I had a chance to look through The Wall Street Journal. Peggy Noonan’s column, Remembering the Dawn of the Age of Abundance, was strangely wistful, but she ended on a note that really resonated with what we’re trying to do with MetroCascade:

I end with a hunch that is not an unhappy one. Dynamism has been leached from our system for now, but not from the human brain or heart. Just as our political regeneration will happen locally, in counties and states that learn how to control themselves and demonstrate how to govern effectively in a time of limits, so will our economic regeneration. That will begin in someone’s garage, somebody’s kitchen, as it did in the case of Messrs. Jobs and Wozniak. The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local. That’s where the magic will be. And no amount of pessimism will stop it once it starts.

You can see that her thoughts veer into several directions in this last paragraph, from garage- or kitchen-based innovation that churns through the world (globally – and big), to an affirmation of the not-so-big local focus. I got the impression that small and local isn’t yet her preferred comfort zone…?

But I think she’s really affirming that the heavy lifting is going to originate locally – and from the ground up, not from the top down.

Which also means it will have to be real, testable, confirmable, measurable, visible, and concrete – vs fantastic, uncontested (except by bullshitters), improbable, amorphous, mirrored, and abstract.

I can live with that.

Closed routine or open innovation?

January 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm | In green, innovation, silo_think, victoria | 5 Comments

While there’s much to be said for routine and regular habits, there are other times that require smashing the status quo.

I went to City Hall this morning, expecting to participate in a workshop/ presentation by city staff on the implications of BC’s Bill 27 on revenue earned by the city through DCCs (Development Cost Charges). DCCs are levied on developers to pay for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, and Bill 27 allows municipalities to waive DCCs under certain conditions, specifically for projects that are “green” or socially relevant (affordable housing, for example). Bill 27 sets out to reward municipalities financially (with additional funding for infrastructure) if they achieve green or social goals.

Since council was running overtime because of lengthier-than-expected discussion of prior agenda items, the 11:00 a.m. workshop was delayed and delayed, …until I finally left shortly after noon because it seemed that all the key personnel that should be involved had somehow disappeared after calling an “in camera” meeting. I did come away with a ~60-page consultants’ report, “Development Cost Charges: Implications of Bill 27; Discussion Paper,” by Urban Systems (a Richmond BC firm). Skimming through their report, I gathered that the bottom line – which must have been derived at least in part from interviewing city staff – was: no impact, negligible impact, unimportant impact, do nothing, do the same old thing you were doing already.

I’d be understating if I said that I find those conclusions disappointing. I had an opportunity to leaf through the report with two friends who also came for the workshop (but left, as I did). As one of them put it, the report confirms the present modus operandus of staff, rooted in traditional approaches. For example, it might be the case that traditionally a city – any city – plans for X-amount of waste-water infrastructure based on projected population growth, and that it then budgets DCC revenue to meet those growth expectations. In that scenario, any reduction of DCCs is negative.

We could say that in the current climate (literally) of having to think differently and more flexibly, that’s the wrong approach. We could instead say that we need to meet a certain infrastructure target (determined on the basis of best environmental practices in waste-water management, on-site sewage treatment, and so forth – all of which, combined, actually take a load off the existing infrastructure, versus adding to it, even with additional population growth factored in), and then ask: “How do we best get there?” By waiving DCCs for those developments? Sure, and some of that is already in the existing laws. But additionally you want to create incentives for developers to go that route – so perhaps you have to create tax structures that pave your path to said goal.

The reason this is so crucial at this point is because British Columbia’s Bill 27 (followed up by Bill 44, “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act”) is designed to reward those municipalities that achieve green targets by giving them more infrastructure funds, which in turn give cities the resources to enhance livability.

In other words, the province has created a state where municipalities can compete for infrastructure funding, receiving more if they show that they’re more green and socially responsible. While some municipalities might take this new incentive and run, run, run with it, Victoria is standing at the starting gate wondering what all the fuss is about. I almost get the impression we’re deciding to sit this one out.

It’s easy enough to understand the attitude, I suppose. After yesterday’s UDI luncheon and my “d’oh!” insight into the reactive nature of codes – building codes, but also all the codes related to infrastructure, too – I’m not surprised at how difficult it is to get an innovative spirit into any of this. As one of my friends put it, if you want to allow composting toilets, for example, you will generate many many many pages of changes to The Code, because at each micro-stage of implementation, there’s some kind of repercussion that has to be dealt with on yet another page of the Code Book.

And cities with constrained budgets will (justifiably) point out that they don’t have the resources – people and money – to look into all those changes.

So what’s the answer? The only thing I can think of is to crowdsource and open-source government. Imagine, if you will, if you put something like the building code or the codes around waste-water management online, like a wiki, and got people to run with it. There are experts – builders, plumbers, etc. – everywhere who, because of years of experience of working in the field, have micro-solutions to just about every problem, if you allow their disparate bits of expertise to aggregate. There are immigrants from countries where green building practices or green infrastructure solutions are further along than here, who could contribute. There is a huge pool of ideas and intelligence out there, distributed across the population. We need to tap into that.

But at present, city governments work from the premise of absence: no money, no staff, no resources. Meanwhile, there’s an abundance right outside the door, but it’s not captured or allowed in. And so we keep doing the same old things in the same old way, budgeting for the same old approaches, disregarding the slow-moving train wreck that our economy and city is shaping up to be.

Drug use as side effect of suppressing innovation and risk-taking?

December 13, 2008 at 12:20 pm | In addiction, comments, creativity, education, ideas, innovation, social_critique | 4 Comments

The other day Rob Randall posted an entry, Amsterdam cracks down on prostitution, cannabis: lessons for Victoria?, on which I left a long comment.

Rob’s post was about how Amsterdam is reconsidering its liberal laws regarding drugs (and prostitution). My comment wasn’t about Amsterdam or about liberalizing drug laws (as such), but more discursive, “thinking-out-loud” about our factory school system, the artificial extension of childhood into late teens, and how we rather systematically suppress creative risk-taking and innovation in young people. I went so far as to suggest that maybe that’s why we have such a big drug-use problem in the first place.

Here’s my comment:

Permissive approaches to what we quaintly used to call “vice” don’t work if there’s a network – an entire ecosystem – of crime behind the behavior. Anyone who tells me that we should just legalize everything, and that this would get rid of the criminal element, is (imo) delusional. For one thing, what’s legal in one jurisdiction (say, Amsterdam) is not going to be universally legal everywhere (say, Afghanistan), which means you can’t get rid of the criminal element.

Further to that, when people compare our current social problems that are caused by interdicted drugs to the organized crime problems we saw during the era of alcohol prohibition, I also think they’re totally mistaken. Why? The two substance categories are apples and oranges – nay, apples and rocks: totally different.

Yes, alcohol can kill, it can derange people’s lives, destroy families, and turn (some) individuals into addicts (alcoholics). But it’s in no way as quickly and massively and universally disruptive and corrosive as cocaine, crack, crystal meth, heroin, and so forth are. Otherwise, every social drinker or everyone accustomed to drinking a glass or two of wine with their dinner would be saddled with the same problems that addicts of those other drugs have.

Yet they aren’t. Why is that? It’s not because alcohol is legal while drugs aren’t. It’s because those drugs really truly are bad for you, they alter your brain chemistry, and there’s no way – except in a ritualistic, quasi-annual or seasonal Saturnalia kind of way (think Mayan ritual) – that they can be integrated into well-functioning social routines. (And, um, the Mayans mixed their rituals with heavy-duty mayhem that no one would really be cool with today…)

So I wish people would stop with the “let’s legalize this and solve the problems that way” BS.

What’s the answer? Everyone keeps coming back to “education”: that if we educate our kids to the dangers of these drugs, they won’t do them.

Yet our kids are doing drugs anyway. So what’s going on? Maybe ‘education’ means a bit more than just warning people about the dangers. Maybe there has to be more authoritative parenting – note: I don’t write (or mean) authoritarian, but authoritative.

What does that mean, from where I’m sitting? Well, a bunch of things. First off, parents should be parents – they should damn well pay attention. For another thing, speaking as a parent, I wouldn’t (and I didn’t) send my kids into the factory school system. Pink Floyd said it best on their album “The Wall”: you’re just another brick in the wall. Schools as they exist today are by and large set up to babysit kids, to get them out of their parents’ hair so that the parents can go to work, and they’re designed like factories, where it’s “one size fits all,” and you’re a cog in the machine. Whatever drive you have to take risks, to be creative, to pursue your own dream (unless it fits in with the system) is drummed out of you by the curricula you’re obliged to follow, with bells that go off every 50 minutes to tell you to move on, irrespective of any desire on your part to continue pursuing a subject you just got interested in. It’s modeled on the factory, and a factory it is. It’s the opposite of a system conducive to innovation and creative risk-taking.

It’s a system that’s designed to kill whatever entrepreneurial or innovative spark you have, and it typically channels all your adolescent desire for proving yourself and for taking risks into the most inane and puerile (immature) behaviors of the peer group.

I’ve been reading and thinking about innovation (Canada hasn’t been particularly welcoming or conducive to innovation, by the way, as we don’t celebrate risk-taking here). I’m also thinking about how the drive to innovate, to undertake (i.e., entrepreneurialism), and to take risks is tied to biology and age: in the Renaissance, 14-year-olds (if they were born into the right families) ran city-states (Florence, eg.) or became apprentices so that by the time they were 18 or 19 they were called “masters.” (This was true for boys. Girls’ options were extremely limited: they undertook motherhood, an option tied solely to biology but not skill or inclination, and one that can gravely limit all other options, especially when embarked on so young. Luckily, we don’t encourage that any more, but there are still “buts”…)

Today, we extend childhood – which is just another way of killing or subduing or controlling the natural instinct to take risks. Hell, if having sex and procreating isn’t the ultimate risk, risking your very self to keep the species going, what is? And what’s typically of interest to many young people? If they’re sexually active, they’re not doing it to bug their parents, they’re doing it because it’s bred in the bone, it’s in the DNA: you have to do it (or at least have your attention aroused by it), it’s a drive, regardless of how much you think about it. (Of course, extensive or excessive cerebration has an effect on the drives, as the Surrealists well understood – which comes out in many of their visual works.)

I have to wonder whether drug use isn’t a by-product (so to speak) of the factory school system, which (imo) tends to throttle the natural (and good) inclinations of adolescents to take risks, to innovate, to undertake (entrepreneurialism). Put a couple of hundred frustrated teens into a factory, er, excuse me, school, and add some heavy dollops of crappy absentee parenting and a home-life where no one is paying attention to anything (it has to be said: parents have a lot to answer for!), and bingo-presto, you have a setting for a nihilistic peer culture whose creativity is thwarted, and which too often doesn’t have mature outlets for risk-taking. (And remember, I’m arguing that risk-taking, contrary to some research on the teenage brain, isn’t a medical condition or a question of incomplete neurological development: I’m arguing that it’s part of our DNA, and essential for an entrepreneurial and innovative and creative culture. But we deny it.) In a “perfect storm” type scenario (absent parents, no proper outlets for creativity, immature peer group, bad role models/no leadership models), those kids will do drugs, whether legal or illegal. They will seek them out, explore them, pour their energies into them.

After all, their own parents have been doping them up since they were babies, often with Ritalin or other behavior-modifying junk. So why shouldn’t they try some little extras to help them get through the asininity of their extended, risk-free/ un-innovative, endless childhoods?

In other words, I’m arguing that substance abuse and a badly suited education system (the factory model, based on 19th and early 20th century Fordist & Taylorist principles) and the suppression of (as well as the absence of a proper object and outlet for) innovation/ creative risk-taking / independent thinking must be thought of as pieces of the same puzzle. That’s something that should be tackled at social policy level (see also Judy Estrin‘s new book, Closing the Innovation Gap.)

I’m also arguing that the other big piece in that puzzle is absentee – or outright bad – parenting, which is relatively new as a mass phenomenon insofar as it has been created by recent generations who are themselves the product of an education system that’s outdated/ innovation-killing (or, worse, who are themselves drug-users), and who most certainly are boxed into the at least partially absent parent role if they’re trying to make their career mark, or just working as much as they can to keep up with …well, with keeping up (whatever that means in each case – in many cases, basic means: keeping a roof over one’s head and food on the table).

Everything is an ecosystem, a web.  You can’t tinker with stuff in isolation and expect to avoid consequences along the way.  This makes me think that the much-lauded concept of a track (career track, education track, policy track, etc.) is as artificial or outdated as other mechanical (factory model based) ways of thinking.  You can’t put careers on tracks or put kids on tracks or put your life on tracks or put social policy on tracks/ fast track policy without accounting in some way for the effects “your” tracks have on the ecosystem overall.  It’s not “isolatable” in the bigger sense, which means we need to keep big- and small-picture views in focus.

Great title for my letter-to-the-editor

November 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm | In business, green, innovation, times_colonist | 1 Comment

I missed this when it was published on 11/13, but my letter in response to Les Leyne’s Times-Colonist column on the carbon tax (see my blog entry about it, Cracking cement: Industry and municipalities could work together) did make it into the paper.

The editor came up with a witty title for it: Cast a solution for cement pollution, and it was minimally edited (for brevity, I guess), so that’s nice.

Why am I blogging about it (again)? Because it’s important to keep solutions like this in the public realm, in front of people. Otherwise, we all climb back into our cozy (not!) boxes and carry on as usual.

Here’s the letter, as published:

Cast a solution for cement pollution
Times Colonist

Published: Thursday, November 13, 2008

Re: “Cement industry fears carbon tax squeeze,” column, Nov. 8.

Kudos to the B.C. Liberals for putting industry under pressure — not to destroy it, but to force it to innovate. It really is time for more creative thinking when it comes to environmental issues. Municipalities and industries need to step up, perhaps to collaborate.

Finding ways to sequester the carbon dioxide produced by cement production continues to be a contested holy grail for the industry. The “squeeze” of a carbon tax might actually make sequestration a more realistic goal.

A Nova Scotia company, Carbon Sense Solutions, recently claimed it has a process that sequesters all emissions from cement production by storing them in precast concrete products.

Our cement factories typically don’t also produce precast concrete products, but consider a scenario where there is more creative co-operation between industry and municipalities. In such a world it might make sense to add facilities that produce precast concrete products, if municipalities (which also need to meet carbon-neutral goals) found ways to use precast concrete (vs. concrete mix) for public works (roads, sidewalks, etc.) projects.

There will have to be a lot more innovative thinking, literally to disrupt traditional supply-chain setups. If the carbon tax “squeezes” industries and municipalities to embrace that disruption creatively and constructively, it’ll be a win-win for us all.

For more on the still-contested methods of carbon sequestering in cement making, see

Yule Heibel


I’m also happy to know (via an email I got from Les Leyne in response to this letter) that he’s on the case, here and in other areas concerning the environment. Good to know!

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