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Cybernaut

How many studies do we need?

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The U.S. National Research Council http://www.nationalacademies.org released a new study last week confirming that the earth was at its warmest in at least 400 years, and that human activity – specifically our greenhouse gas emissions – is a major culprit.

We can file this newest study with all the others under "Duh", next to all the existing studies showing that carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere are at the highest level in probably hundreds of million years, or that glaciers and ice caps are shrinking while ocean and air temperatures are getting warmer. It’s really a pretty thick file already.

How many people out there are still in doubt that global warming is real, that climate change is likely already happening, and that humans are part of the problem?

How many studies or opinions from the world’s leading scientists (including most of the living Nobel prize winners), or documentaries and news pieces are necessary to convince those holdouts?

The worst skeptics of all are all the pundits who finally admitted that global warming is real, but now doubt we can really do anything about it – a group that currently includes our prime minister and the U.S. president, as well as the heads of several oil companies.

The thing is, we’re not exactly helpless. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper unilaterally decided to pull funding for the previous Liberal Government’s climate change program, he raise the ire of dozens of Canadian companies that were hard at work on technologies to help us meet our Kyoto commitments – which most expect Harper to one day abandon because of a perceived impact on Canadian industries. Harper, Bush and friends believe that offering tax and research incentives to businesses will eventually get the job done.

They’re partly right – innovation got us into the climate change mess, and innovation has to get us out. But because we don’t have a lot of time to turn this around (some scientists think we’ll be hitting a tipping point within the next few decades, while other argue that we’re already toppling) it’s important to use a few sticks as well as carrots to get individuals, companies and countries to change their pollutin’ ways. Hence Kyoto and its strict deadlines and penalties.

Reinforcing the "sticks" idea, another new study by the International Energy Agency www.iea.org found that we could cut our energy consumption by half just by adopting existing technologies.

As individuals we’re not entirely helpless in this mess, and can accomplish a lot on our own with or without our fearless leaders.

For starters, check out the climate change section on the David Suzuki Foundation website at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Harper’s government did away with the One Tonne Challenge website, and stripped a lot of useful climate change information from www.climatechange.gc.ca, but there are still a few useful tools there like the Greenhouse Gas Calculator and energy efficiency tips.

The province of B.C. also offers several programs for homes and businesses through B.C. Hydro’s Power Smart program www.bchydro.com that are quite effective. Some of the initiatives for homeowners include paying money for old, inefficient refrigerators, and rebates for installing energy efficient windows. For businesses, Power Smart offers everything from partnering programs to catalogues of energy efficient products.

Some people would like to do even more, and are only waiting for new technologies we’ve been told about to become viable before investing.

The good news is that they’re coming – hydrogen fuel cells, ultra-efficient and inexpensive solar panels, next generation wind power generators that need less wind to produce more energy, and systems that use everything from copper and magnifying glasses to tidal power to produce electricity.

One of the longest links of relevant sites I’ve found is at www.cirkits.com under Alternative Energy Web Sites. You’ll see pretty quickly that there are a lot of different things we could be doing if only our leaders thought beyond the next election cycle and their friends in the energy industry.

Until the next study…

Google puts out a spread

Recently the Internet was abuzz with the revelation that Google was about to launch an online spreadsheet application, seemingly in competition with Microsoft’s ubiquitous Excel.

When you include Google’s recent acquisition of Writely.com into the equation, an online word processing program, you end up with a lot of conjecture that Google is getting ready to go head to head with Microsoft Office.

While there may be some merit to that line of thinking, there’s also the possibility that Google is merely trying secure its niche within the Web 2.0 framework. If you’re not familiar with the concept of Web 2.0, there’s a basic explanation at www.webopedia.com, and it’s discussed in infinitely more detail at www.oreilly.net

There are a lot of different aspects to Web 2.0, but one of the more compelling aspects is the gradual move from disk-based software to web-based software programs accessible through the Internet.

You’ll need a Gmail account to access the beta version of the spreadsheet, located at http://spreadsheets.google.com

Website of the Week

If you’ve never visited YouTube’s immense movie archive www.youtube.com, then go there immediately and prepare to spend at least a few hours. They have footage of everything here from robot dance contests to a clip of the hockey fight you saw last night. One of my favourite links is "Driving in India" – you’ll never get road rage on Highway 99 again.