Thursday, December 20, 2007

Proposal to Dam Red Sea.

It is thought that 50 GW of power might be extracted from a dam built across the Red Sea, and which might alleviate tensions in the Middle East related to energy. Opponents to the idea think that the scheme could create environmental damage on a huge scale and even displace millions of people from their homes. The environmental costs must presumably be weighed against those from CO2 emissions which it is argued the project would save and easing demand on other resources which will run short within a few decades. The dam would need to be 18 miles across, to match the sweep of the Red Sea where it opens into the Gulf of Aden, it's narrowest point.

Hydropower is clean and entirely renewable, albeit there are arguments to the effect that the creation of dams, when areas of land are deliberately flooded, cause the release of methane, another gas thought responsible for global warming. Presumably there would also be some flooding of coastal regions in this project, which would be a stupendous feat of civil engineering. Regarding a timescale, one estimate of 25 years has been given, in comparison with that incurred in building other large dams.

The largest existing hydropower installation is powered by the Italpu Dam at the Paraguayan Brazilian border, which produces 12.6 GW of electricity, and the Three Gorges Dam in China is due for completion in 2009, and more than one million people were displaced during its construction: hence the fears among environmentalists that a similar outcome may befall coastal populations around the Red Sea. The Three Gorges dam generates 13.4 GW and when it is fully operational is expected to increase its output to 22.5 GW. By way of contrast, the Niagara Falls generates just 2.5 GW, taking 90% of the flow of water that flows over the falls themselves.

As ever there are many issues to be considered, but the world may need all the hydropower it can get, rather than using nonrenewable fuels to produce electricity such as gas, coal and uranium, supplies of which may be under quite some pressure in 25 years time, if not before then. However, it is clear that we can't have it both ways, i.e. preserve our energy-rich lifestyle and avoid environmental impacts whether they be on land, sea or the atmosphere, in their interconnected entirety.

Related Reading.
"Proposal: 50 Gigawatts if they dam the Red Sea." By Rick C. Hodgin,


Anonymous said...

As if this would motivate the beneficiaries to produce more of whatever, i.e. increased efficiencies and/or innovations acceptable to vested interests and so on.

Greed itself does not produce economic value (re: the never-ending sub-prime mortgage issue).

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a renewable New Year!

Anonymous said...

Another reason to promote a low-energy lifestyle are the incredibly toxic wastes that are produced if oil and oil-based petrochemicals are used:
(Global Anti- Incinerator Alliance)

Anonymous said...

canada, canadian search engine, free email, canada news
Wednesday » December 26 » 2007

1973 oil crisis fuelled ideas for energy alternatives
The CCA examines how a crisis 34 years ago sparked research into sustainable ways of living


Saturday, December 22, 2007

An exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture is not your usual museum show where you go and look at "works of art." Their curatorial focus is not on the material per se. The material is on view to sustain an idea, a concept. CCA director and chief curator Mirko Zardini explains, "I am not interested in a monographic exhibition on the work of an architect. I am interested in explaining a problem. Sometimes an architect is good to explain that problem, but I never start from that."

The current exhibition, 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas, looks at the response to the 1973 oil crisis in search of some answers to our current concerns about energy, waste and the environment. I had a chance to talk about the exhibition with Zardini.

CR: I always think about oil as being from the Middle East. I was very surprised to discover that the first commercial oil well was drilled here in Canada 150 years ago.

MZ: Yes, and by the beginning of the 20th century you started to have in place a real production system in North America. There are two very interesting historical books: one is Sonia Shah's Crude: the Story of Oil, the other is Daniel Yergin's The Prize.

CR: Another thing that surprised me was in the publication that accompanies the show. I never realized all these items came from oil or from oil products like petrochemicals - sunglasses, fertilizers, shampoo, tires, CDs, candles, ink, detergents, polyester shirts, nylons, paint, toothpaste, wax crayons....

MZ: Plastics developed rapidly after the Second World War and now today, plastic in all its shapes makes up the landscape of our lives. In Out of Gas, we address oil in terms of it being an energy source. But you can address it in terms of plastic, or even asphalt, because the bitumen that's used in asphalt comes from the oil refinery process. My point is that we cannot address the problem of energy in our society in a purely isolated way or in a pure technological way. I feel that most of the ideas coming from the 1970s were questioning not only the energy problem, but also the idea of production, consumption, waste, recycling, social organization, technology.

The difference today is that the peak of oil production has already passed. We see oil now as a limited resource. Cheap oil was at the base of a model of development for our society and our economy, particularly from 1945 to 1970. What happens today is people say, "cheap oil is no longer there, fine, we'll replace the cheap oil with sun, wind, nuclear energy and this and that."

And the intention behind that is: keep the system as it is. On the contrary, a lot of people in this exhibition were really alternative thinking.

CR: They were questioning the model. Who do you admire?

MZ: Fritz Schumacher is one, he wrote this wonderful book, Small is Beautiful. He became a kind of a guru and then has been forgotten.

The reason I wanted to do this exhibition is because it is very striking when you see all this richness of technological research, but also the ideas, thinking, books, magazines - especially the idea of low technology, of do-it-yourself. There is behind a lot of this the alternative culture of that period. It is necessary to have technical competence, technical improvement, but it is not enough.

We need to go back and think more about these intellectual tools from these 10 to 15 years of research, which were very critical of the model of development.

The idea of super urbanization and sprawl was a clear political and economical decision. By reinforcing the use of the car, in improving the infrastructure, highways ... in Europe too.

How much money has been invested in highways? How much in trains? How much has been given to support the building of individual houses? These are political decisions which have really affected the urban organization, our way of life.

What I want to say is that what seems to us as a kind of inevitable model - of the individual house and car - was just a choice. It was not inevitable; it was a choice. We could have made other choices.

As soon as you start to think about alternative models, there are a lot of alternative possibilities. But the problem is, how much are we willing to change our way of life? Our economy? How much are we able to change our values?

1973: Sorry, Out of Gas continues until April 20 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 Baile St. For information, call 514-939-7020 or go to
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.


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