Describing himself under the broad umbrella of “philosopher of science,” it is no wonder that Dr. Kent Peacock’s perspective of the world is big picture in nature. With one foot rooted in science and the other in philosophy, he examines the world’s problems through a very wide lens.
For much of his career, the environment has been Peacock’s point of focus and as the world approaches what many earth scientists have dubbed a new geological epoch, Peacock is continuing his studies from that big picture vantage point. On Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at Lethbridge City Hall, Peacock will present that picture as the February speaker in the PUBlic Professor Series.
Alberta in the Anthropocene is the talk title and while that might be a new term to the general public, the Anthropocene has become quite common among earth scientists who have measured the effects of humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels and forecast dire consequences if new forms of energy are not identified and utilized.
“At some point in the last few hundred years, humanity started to be such a major influence on the climate and the whole ecology of the planet that we’re not just bit players anymore,” says Peacock.
With a population of 7.3 billion people that continues to grow, enabled by energy that is still largely reliant on fossil fuels (80 to 85 per cent), the science indicates that model cannot continue. Peacock knows this, and therefore he is now asking what can be done and how we can transition to other, more sustainable forms of energy.
A native of southern Ontario, he can’t pinpoint particularly where his interest in the environment began, noting only that he enjoyed the visits to his aunt’s farm as a child and always found the environment, soils and farming fascinating. He schooled exclusively at the University of Toronto and while in graduate school, taught a course on environmental philosophy. Once he delved deeper into that literature and learned more about the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole, his interest in climate change issues was sparked.
A hot button issue if there ever was one, especially in oil-dependent Alberta, he’s quick to say what he won’t broach during his PUBlic Professor talk.
“What I’m not going to do, and it’s really tempting but it would be a mistake, is spend the time refuting all of the arguments raised by climate deniers, because it’s a waste of time,” he says. “And it would be very easy to stand there and rant about Donald Trump for 40 minutes too, but I want to try and get people to look at the big picture – that’s my job as a philosopher.”
He describes fossil fuels as finite resources that have grown incredibly inefficient over time.
“Back in the good old days you could stick a pipe in the ground near Leduc and oil would start squirting out. You had a 100-to-one net energy ratio. The tar sands today, they are at best a five-to-one ratio. It’s just a terrible way to produce energy and without even looking at the climate change factor, fossil fuels are going to become obsolete because people are finding better ways to produce energy,” he says.
Change is coming, and Peacock is trying to get us to look at the bigger picture of how best to respond to that change.
“I’d love to see Alberta, and particularly southern Alberta, become a centre for innovation and renewable energy,” he says.
He describes the newly-introduced carbon tax as a push to get people away from fossil fuels. For the plan to truly work however, there must be sufficient pull to other forms of energy.
“The pull is the incentive to move to other things,” he says. “When all of a sudden the average person can afford an electric vehicle that costs one-third as much to run as a gasoline vehicle, that’s a powerful pull away from fossil fuels – so let’s find a way to facilitate that.”
Peacock says there are currently no subsidies offered to consumers who wish to buy electric vehicles, nor are there enough recharging stations on the roads.
“This is where the government could provide some leadership but to do that, they have to admit they are ultimately going to be off oil and that’s really hard to say in Alberta.”
Peacock has been broaching these tough topics for years and it’s likely to make for a lively PUBlic Professor.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “I enjoy talking about what I work on and I’m really excited about engaging the audience in the discussion.”
For more on the PUBlic Professor Series, visit this link: http://www.uleth.ca/artsci/public-professor.