I Am Ashamed To Be Canadian

Tar-sands developers and their spokesman (our prime minister) Harper are ramping up their program of obstruction and misinformation, in time for the world’s climate summit now under way in Copenhagen.  While many of our fellow humans labour to avert disasters, we Canadians ignore the impending train wreck while selfishly attending to our own dirty profits.  For shame, Canada.

-Johnny 0.

Neither Canada nor the world can afford growth of dirty oil

Toronto Star — Published On Mon Dec 07 2009

Today in Copenhagen, the Harper government will walk into the UN climate summit not with the intention of transitioning Canada into a clean energy economy, but instead with the agenda of prolonging the oil industry frenzy in the tar sands in northern Alberta.

It is crunch time to stabilize the climate so that our children inherit a safe world. Scientists tell us there is no more room in the atmosphere for the heat-trapping gasses that result from our burning of fossil fuels, and that we must in fact reduce the concentrations of those gasses if we want some measure of security.

Into this historic moment steps the tar-sands industry, on the one hand breathless when describing the hundreds of billions of barrels of oil it could potentially get out of the ground, while on the other pleading to be seen as a minor global warming villain. But you cannot have it both ways.

The current estimate of recoverable oil from the tar sands is 175 billion barrels, which if processed and burned amounts to over 110 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This alone, if it happened quickly, is enough to increase global concentrations of heat-trapping gasses to levels that scientists consider more than dangerous.

Even the growing emissions from just producing rather than burning tar-sands oil will compromise Canada’s climate efforts and stress our federation. Currently, the tar-sands industry produces 40 million tonnes of emissions, about the same as the entire country of Norway. But, according to Canadian government figures, expansion plans could increase these emissions to almost 110 million tonnes by 2020 – about the same as adding in New Zealand and Switzerland too.

If Canada is serious about reducing national emissions at the same time the tar sands expand, then the proportion of Canada’s emissions from the tar sands could quickly rise from 5 per cent to more than a quarter. Moreover, under a national cap-and-trade system, this growth in tar-sands emissions could squeeze out other industries that compete with the tar sands for finite pollution permits, which is why Ontario Premier McGuinty is calling on Ottawa to design a fair system that does not let this happen.

But won’t carbon capture and storage (CCS) let us have our tarry cake and eat it too? A recent WWF/Co-operative Bank report on CCS in the tar sands showed that even the most optimistic projections for implementation of CCS would still result in the tar sands taking up all of Canada’s allowed emissions by 2050 if the country as a whole makes science-based emission reductions. CCS won’t even bring tar-sands oil down to the “life-cycle” emissions profile of regular oil – accounting for emissions created both producing and consuming the oil.

Given the sobering context of climate science, the debate about life-cycle emissions of tar-sands oil is bizarre. Industry likes to cite one study that says tar-sands oil is just a bit worse than the worst oil on the market, like crude from Nigeria where flaring is rampant. But at this point in history we have no choice but to rapidly switch to the best of the best of transportation fuels, like powering our cars and buses with electricity from renewable energy.

The production phase of tar-sands oil produces on average three times the emissions as producing regular oil, but this average threatens to get worse as the vast majority of the deposit is too deep to strip mine, and requires more energy to access. None of the experimental methods of extraction that could reduce emissions is required by law, and in the meantime the Alberta government has issued draft guidelines to let the industry burn the tar itself for energy, which is dirtier still.

Nor should Canadians be taken in by one-sided industry arguments about the economic benefits of the tar sands. Consider this: tar-sands growth means we now have a “petro-loonie” that rises when the price of oil rises, as it will inevitably do again, causing trouble for our manufacturers as their products get priced out of international markets. The Ontario government estimates that a 5-cent change in our dollar impacts $6 billion of Ontario’s GDP.

The Harper government has refused to table a climate plan in advance of Copenhagen because it knows that Canadians will see that a growing tar-sands industry is incompatible with doing our part to stabilize the atmosphere for our children. So, it will walk into international climate negotiations today playing for time, seeking loopholes for tar-sands polluters, and generally trying to get away with doing as little as possible.

Matt Price, Program Manager, Environmental Defence.

Environmental Defence is a national charity with a mission to protect the environment and human health. See www.environmentaldefence.ca


The Project Management Spectrum

Lately I’ve come back around to considering project management as the next phase in my career.  Project managers are often ex technical people who go on to managing technology projects in (or near) their area of expertise.  I call it a paratechnical role (a role around technical roles).  Because a PM’s technical knowledge is secondary to other skills, it’s easier to be a PM than an engineer outside of one’s core technical competency.

Two promising things that I’ve learned recently:

  1. There is a spectrum of jobs between the purely tech-y and the purely PM-y. This is good news because I’m not a certified PMP yet, and the “Project Coordinator” role (Jr-PM) sounds boring and doesn’t pay well.  Lately I’ve come upon other job titles like “Project Lead,” “Project Engineer,” etc.  These mid-spectrum roles are for people who have enough technical understanding to work on highly technical projects interfacing with the engineers, designers, contractors, technicians and the senior PM, and have enough business skills to handle contracts, project schedules and budgets, communications, customer/vendor management, etc.  If the projects in question were renewable-energy or smart-grid projects, I could see this type of role being very rewarding for me; and leading to bigger and better things.
  2. Renewable energy developers and EPC service providers are two kinds of companies have lots of these paratechnical roles, and some of them have told me that they value passion and drive above specific knowledge and experience.  Developers get renewable energy projects started: they do the initial wind or solar or geotechnical studies, the grid-tie studies, the market studies, they buy options on land for wind and solar farms, get supply contracts with the hydro companies, get financing, hire the EPC companies, and stand back.  The EPC (Engineer, Procure, Construct) service providers do the detailed design work, buy the hardware, hire the crews, manage construction of the project, and get it on line.  There are lots of developers and EPCs operating in the renewable energy / smart grid space, because it’s the next big thing.

So, roles that I like and am qualified to do, and lots of places where those roles are found.  Things are looking up!

Green Buildings

There seem to be a lot of jobs out there in the area of “green buildings”: LEED coordinators, energy management consultants and the like.  Some of it sounds like interesting work, it’s certainly in the right direction green-wise, and I have the skills.  I just lack one thing.  Okay maybe two.  To quote from a recent job posting:

Project Coordinator – Energy

  • Experience in the administration of contracts and managing contractors and consultants. Experience in … preparation of specifications and contract documents. Must be able to read and interpret drawings.
  • Thorough understanding of energy sources and conservation strategies. Detailed knowledge of building electrical/mechanical system theories and applications including lighting, power consumption, HVAC systems, and water distribution. Knowledge of building automation systems, refrigeration systems, renewable energy applications, water conservation practices.

My question: is there a course somewhere that I can take to get the level of familiarity with (a) the construction industry and (b) with building systems, in order to do jobs like this?  Because there are a lot of them out there!


OSPE Career Planning Session: Green Jobs

Yesterday, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) put on a career-planning session for P.Eng’s who want to get into the new Green Economy.

It was interesting.  The three panelists were a career counselor, a LEED buiding professional, and the executive director of the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA).

Things that I learned:

  • every industry has environmental issues now; be open-minded about where to work
  • there’s a skills shortage, not a labour shortage; get the hard skills that are in demand!  “you probably need a skills upgrade, but not as much as you think.”
  • beyond qualifications: demonstrate your interest by being active with associations, reading industry publications
  • use job search engines (e.g. wowjobs.ca, eluta.ca, simplyhired.ca), not job boards (workopolis.ca, etc);
    in technical fields, the rule “most jobs never get posted” doesn’t apply!  Don’t ignore the posted job market!
  • PMP: OSPE provides discounts with 2 companies that offer PMP prep courses

Jobs to look into:

  • LEED Consultant (they’re in demand)
  • LEED facilitator (like a Jr. PM…)
  • LEED AP (?)
  • Energy modeler for LEED (they’re in demand)
  • Energy Auditor (NRC has info on getting certified)
  • CEM – Certified Energy Manager
  • Energy Management Verification professional
  • Greenhouse Gas professional
  • check out multidisciplinary engineering firms, they have some interesting roles.

The New Plan

The Very Next Steps

  • be specific about what industries and companies I’m going after.
  • work to identify roles that I can fill, or am interested in filling.  This will require some research & networking.
  • work to nail down job descriptions, and the qualifications I’d need.  Research & networking.
  • identify ALL the companies that I should be targetting.  Research.  Check their career pages.  Set up auto searches.
  • send out CVs.  Keep networking and checking job postings.

Some Thoughts

Smart Grid / Advanced Metering / Electric Car Infrastructure

  • wireless network engineer: designer, optimizer.  Operations?
  • project manager

Renewable Energy

  • I don’t know, but take another look at the LOCAL industry, find any opportunity to get either PM experience or power tech experience
  • be open minded; don’t snort at manufacturing or system integrator or installation work


  • I don’t know, but try to network or cold-call my way in, and solicit opinions on where I can use my powers for good (& make a living)
  • Maybe to work for an NGO, maybe to use them for advice, networking.

The Hardest Thing

When you’re not sure what to do next, choose the hardest thing; it’s usually the right choice.

For the past few months, I have been focussing (or not focussing (see post on procrastination)) on the contract work.  As before, some of it is wireless engineering and some of it is SR&ED consulting.  Which means I haven’t been looking for a job.  Well, a few job opportunities came to me, and I pursued the interesting ones.  But really, I haven’t been looking for a job.  Or, to be perfectly honest:

I have been avoiding looking for a job.

The economy is improving, companies are hiring and building again, and the clean-tech sector is awash in government subsidies and positive public sentiment.  RIGHT NOW is probably the BEST TIME there will ever be for looking for a green job!  Does it make sense for me to keep my nose buried in short-term work which bears no relation to the future that I desire?  No!  So why have I been doing it?  To keep the money flowing in?  Because I like the hours?  (really, the hours are quite good!).  No, I have to admit to myself now, it’s because crappy contract work is less daunting than going after my dream job.

So I’m kicking myself in the ass and getting back to what I committed to do.  Going forward, I’m going to spend half my working hours on going after the career that I want.  That will mean reading industry news, finding and researching local companies that I (may) want to work for, reaching out and building a network of relationships with people in the business, and studying to build new expertise.

The other half of my time will still be spent on crappy contract work.  Gotta keep the money coming in.  😉

Attacked By Monkeys: Post #15 on Procrastination

I had an awesome week… two weeks ago.  The deadline loomed, the pressure was on, and I performed.  I made a month’s worth of income in a week, and good thing too, as I had pretty much pissed away the preceeding 3 weeks.  The week after that was another total write-off, I did almost nothing besides attend a meeting and answer my email.

How can I follow a star-performer week with a useless-johnny week?  Why, after I shake off the procrastination monkey, is it so easy for him to climb back on?

For a while now I’ve been performing well.  The work was new and exciting.  But now it’s all so last-month.  It’s time to bring back some tried-and-true procrastination-beating tactics, and to try out some new ones.   Continue reading