Mark Hendricks, Contributor Ω
Bob McDonald, CBC’s chief science correspondent and host of the national science radio show Quirks and Quarks, spoke to a packed audience as the guest of the March 4 president’s lecture series.
The lecture was held in the Grand Hall of the Campus Activity Center. The hall was full as the audience waited in anticipation of McDonald’s talk, entitled “Thriving in the Third Millennium.”
Despite having no formal science education, McDonald has received the Michael Smith Award for science promotion, the Sandford Fleming Medal from the Royal Canadian Institute, the McNeil Medal for public awareness of science, is an officer of the Order of Canada and has received six honorary PhDs.
McDonald’s talk began by discussing Canadian scientific endeavors, beginning with astronaut Chris Hadfield. Hadfield was the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space and will soon be the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station
He’s also a personal friend of McDonald’s.
“I have had the honor of knowing him for a number of years now,” McDonald said.
McDonald even gave an anecdote about being invited by Hadfield to play in his band while wearing his loudest Hawaiian shirt.
McDonald briefly touched on Canada’s contribution to early satellites. Canada was the third country in space, Russia was first with Sputnik, the United States was second with Explorer and Canada was third with Alouette 1.
“Sputnik decayed after 3 months. Explorer, 12 years. Alouette 1, still up there,” McDonald said as he let out a cheer.
McDonald took time to cover the facts and figures associated with global warming, starting with how the data is being collected. Scientists drill ice cores into the Arctic and extract long cylinders of ice that have air pockets trapped inside them.
This air can then be examined to determine what it contains. That data is then extrapolated to get figures on temperature and other variables to create detailed climate records.
The trend shows what we already know, a distinct spike in carbon emissions starting in the 1800s, aligning with the mass consumption of fossil fuels.
“I’m not making this up, the numbers are right here,” McDonald said.
McDonald spoke of several alternate energy solutions, believing that solar, while not necessarily the entire answer, will be part of the solution. He also showed a convection turbine in France that forces hot air heated in a greenhouse through a windmill-lined chimney as an example of the clever solutions people are finding.
Cars are a part of everyday life in North America and McDonald recognizes that they are part of the problem. But he also recognizes the solutions people are offering.
McDonald began by talking about the old 400-horsepower muscle cars of his youth, the gas guzzling titans of the ’60s. Then he moved onto the modern electric supercar, the Tesla roadster.
The Tesla is a fully electric supercar that has 248-hp and an effective range of 393 kilometres. The Tesla is powered by what according to McDonald is the equivalent of 2000 lithium ion laptop batteries.
“Unfortunately it costs $100,000,” McDonald said.
Water will be the scarce resource of note in the future according to McDonald. Using a visual demonstration and a young volunteer from the audience he showed why only one per cent of the world’s water is drinkable.
Of the remaining 99 per cent, 90 per cent is salt water and the remaining nine per cent is frozen. According to McDonald the oil wars of the past will be nothing compared to the water wars of the future.
“And Canada is the Iraq of water,” McDonald said.
McDonald wanted to leave the audience on a message of hope, as he truly does believe that we can fix the situation we’re in.
“We need an evolution, not a revolution,” McDonald said.
McDonald believes that although the resources will stay the same, the way we use them needs to change. Efficiency is our largest problem.
Four-stroke engines used in modern cars are only at a maximum 20 per cent efficient, the remaining 80 per cent of the energy in the fuel being lost to heat.
“Imagine putting $10 worth of gas in your car,” McDonald said, “and then pouring the remaining $40 of gas on the ground.”
Scientists are clever and the market will respond to externalities. McDonald remembers the 1970s oil crisis and the immediate change in the market from muscle cars to fuel efficient cars with small engines like the Ford Pinto.
“If you hit the back end it exploded,” McDonald said, “but other than that it was a good car.”
McDonald believes that this can happen again if the market, meaning all of us, demands it.