Associate News Editor
Engineering student group Footprint Design organized a sustainability symposium held on Oct. 3.
The symposium featured presentations by three people on three different aspects of sustainability. Edita Sieminska of Souleio Foods spoke about organic markets, Michael Nemeth, former co-chair of Footprint Design, discussed the utility of electric cars and Mark Johnston of the Saskatchewan Research Council addressed the issue of carbon dioxide concentration.
Sieminska highlighted the difference between organic markets and supermarkets, the benefit to farmers and the health benefits of eating local food.
“To us, it’s all about respect,” Sieminska said. “Our meat cooks see the animals when they’re alive, they see them when they die. So none of the meat goes to waste because they have respect for those animals.”
Sieminska came to the organic food business in a rather roundabout way. She has a masters degree in biochemistry and was planning to continue with a PhD when a friend asked her what she would do once she had gotten it.
“I said, ”˜I think I’ll get a job at a lab and I’ll work for a while but what I really want to do is open an organic market,’ ” she explained. “It came out just like that.”
Criticism has been levelled at Souleio because of the prices of the food. People living on a tight budget such as students and elderly people are unlikely to be able to shop there frequently. In response, Sieminska says she would like to be able to feed every hungry person in Saskatoon but she is still a businesswoman.
Electric cars are neat
Both a former engineering student and former co-chair of Footprint Design, Michael Nemeth gave the second presentation of the symposium. Nemeth’s talk provided both scientific and social explanations of the utility of electric cars.
Cars “are a huge part of our energy consumption in Canada,” Nemeth said. Transportation accounts for 29 per cent of Canada’s total energy use.
However, replacing gasoline cars is not the only necessary step in cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, as Nemeth explained.
“Some people say, ”˜What’s the point of electric cars if we’re powering them on coal?’”¦Saskatchewan needs to change how it gets its electricity.”
Nemeth cited Manitoba as an example for Saskatchewan to look to: Manitoba gets most of its electricity from hydro energy. If everyone in Manitoba switched to electric cars the province’s greenhouse gas emissions would fall to “almost nothing.”
Outlining some of the differences between gasoline and electric cars, Nemeth explained that an internal combustion engine runs at about 20 per cent efficiency while an electric car’s engine runs at 90 per cent efficiency. A gas car still goes considerably farther than an electric one. However, a company named EEStor is working on an energy storage unit that would replace the lithium ion battery currently used in electric cars.
As well, it would only cost about $8 to completely charge an electric battery. The price of gasoline as of Oct. 4 is 95.9 cents per litre. As the average mid-size car has a fuel tank size of approximately 57 to 68 litres, it costs between $55 and $65 to fill up.
Human impact on the environment
The final speaker of the day was Mark Johnston, who works with the Saskatchewan Research Council. Johnston has been involved in research into carbon-offset credits and has a long history of forestry research.
Johnston’s talk covered a broad array of subjects but was ultimately centred on the impact of human activity on Earth. Citing a study recently released by the Stockholm Resilience Institute, Johnston outlined the many ways in which the environment has changed due entirely to human activity.
The suggested sustainable limit of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million. Currently the actual concentration of CO2 is 387 PPM; it has not been at or under the sustainable limit since the 1980s.
Extinction rates of other species have risen startlingly as well. Before the industrial revolution the extinction rate was 0.1 to one species per million. The goal set by the SRI was 10. The world is presently losing over 100 species per million, meaning that in the last 200 years that rate has gone up 100-fold.
When asked why the desired level of extinctions was not zero, Johnston answered, “You’d think we would want all these levels to be zero, and especially if we’re talking about human influence we want it to be zero, but if you look at evolutionary history extinctions are natural.”
Johnston next turned to discussing carbon emissions, saying that while all countries certainly need to reduce their emissions, the issue largely rests on rapidly developing nations such as China and India.
“China exceeded the USA as the top carbon emitter,” Johnston said. He added that the “aggressive expansion” underway in China means that emissions will not be decreasing any time soon.
He continued on to India, where he had spent the previous two weeks.
“They were very clear that the future of energy production in India is all about coal.
“What is the ability of a developed country to go to a nation like India and say they shouldn’t develop, shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of a developed economy? We have absolutely no moral standing to say that but it’s true, looking at the numbers, that the future of climate change depends on what these developing nations do.”
photo Robby Davis