Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heating Things Up

Many Canadians are preparing (or embracing if you ski/snowboard!!) for one of the coldest winters in fifteen years according to Environment Canada. Meanwhile the situation is heating up in warmer parts of the globe, where the Government of Indonesia is hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali. The conference is set to conclude later this week with persistent raging debates concerning the Kyoto Protocol and carbon emissions, involving bureaucratic jostling and finger pointing between political figures, industry members, and environmentalists of the like. In the wake of the October announcement awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change" (Nobel Committee) it appears that there has been both an influx in the global audience as well as the media coverage with the increasing presence of environmental issues in headlines. I would have to say rightfully so. Even better still is Al Gore’s hockey analogy that he delivered during his speech earlier today at the UN Conference, reprimanding certain countries and the disappointing stance that they have taken thus far.

There is an abundant amount of research being conducted on the consequences that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may have on microbial life in our oceans, and the implications that this imbalance may have. These include various issues, among them:

−an expansion of the oxygen minimum zones may trigger even greater emissions of nitrous oxide, further contributing to global warming

aquatic food sources may be threatened by ocean acidity

−the effect on dimethyl sulphide (DMS) levels which may disrupt the food chain.

One of the greatest challenges to overcome as well, will be to provide the energy needs of the developing world and to relinquish the current dependence that most of the energy we utilize is sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels. Of course, there are many propositions of ways to accomplish this daunting task. Energy efficiency, energy conservation, reducing environmental impact, and renewable energy are rapidly becoming important factors in the global energy demand. Many efforts to make renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biofuel, and hydrogen power more commercially viable are already underway as we hear about them on a regular basis.

We all understand the vastly important role that microorganisms play in our environment. But what if we could utilize our microbial counterparts to provide a clean, renewable energy source? According to Dr. James Chong at a Science Media Centre press briefing, "by using methane produced by bacteria as a fuel source, we can reduce the amount released into the atmosphere and use up some carbon dioxide in the process" (Science Daily). This relates back to our case study on waste water treatment. We had a discussion in our tutorial about the capability to harvest methane at the end of the anaerobic process, and from landfill sites. Not to mention the numerous other sources and methods for waste decomposition. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methanogens produce about one billion tonnes of methane every year, and can feed on waste from farms, food, and homes to make biogas, which is already being integrated in Europe (Science Daily).

This may sound idealistic, but the chance for humanity to solve the predicament of the energy challenge alongside enhanced processes for consumption and waste degradation is the ultimate solution. I also hope that the government of Canada will make some wise decisions for both the environment and for our future in the coming days.


Canadian Press (2007, November 30). Blast from the Past? Coldest Winter in 15 Years, Environment Canada Says. CBC News. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from <>.

Marchildon, Sarah (2007, December 13). David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved December 13, 2007, from <>.

Norwegian Nobel Committee (2007, October 12). The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from <>.

Panetta, Alexander (2007, December 13). Canadian Press. Retrieved December 13, 2007, from

Society for General Microbiology (2007, December 12). Nitrous Oxide From Ocean Microbes Could Be Adding To Global Warming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Society for General Microbiology (2007, December 12). Aquatic Food Sources May Be Threatened By Rising Carbon Dioxide. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Society for General Microbiology (2007, December 12). Climate Gas Could Disrupt Food Chain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

Society for General Microbiology (2007, December 12). Methane From Microbes: A Fuel For The Future. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from

1 comment:

Dominic B. said...

well researched blog....good job!