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Archive for the ‘energy’ Category

The Natural Gas System is Leaky and in Need of a Fix

with 2 comments

The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

That’s a really neat summary of a new study from Stanford. The mainstream media is reporting this – often behind paywalls – so the link I have posted is to the original not them. It also seems that they have decided the story is to be about buses. That’s in the report but a ways down

the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.

“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.

At first this was the item that made me think I should blog about it. I have long been critical of the way that in BC we have glommed onto to NG as an alternative transportation fuel and have so often found it wanting. I won’t repeat that here.

What struck me was much closer to the top of the story

Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada. [emphasis added]

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

So instead of me ranting about buses I am going after the more significant target. Our Premier’s obsession with LNG, and how this is going to be both our fiscal salvation – and will help other countries wean themselves off dirtier fuels like coal.

The problem with natural gas – methane – is that is far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. As noted above “30 times more potent than carbon dioxide” which means while burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, if just small amounts leak unburned then the advantage in terms of impact on climate is negated. Since the leaks have been underestimated up to now, that means we now need to rethink some of our strategies. I think it is very common for the people who promote fracking to downplay the destructiveness and carelessness of their activities. So the phrase “some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure” is striking even though in context it is stressed that these levels are not characteristic of the continent as whole. The frackers keep secret the chemicals they add into the water – and deny that these chemicals damage the water supply of people downstream. Rather like the way the tarsand developers prefer us to not pay attention to what happens to the water supply people who live near the operations depend on.

Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.

But I do not think that justifies a strategy that throws LNG in as the be-all and end-all. Recent developments in solar power, for instance, are showing that the competitiveness of this source of electricity has been greatly improved. BC has all sorts of renewable energy sources that remain virtually untouched. Geothermal energy, for instance, seems to be mostly confined to a few spas and hot tubs. Wind and wave energy generally is ignored, despite our location on the shore of the Pacific.

There are also very real doubts about the viability of some of the proposals being floated for LNG plants, which seem to me to based more on wishful thinking than clear headed analysis of the realities of a market place that has recently seen a flood of new production for a product that is difficult to package and transport to market. It is still the case that what I was taught in that CAPP course all new employees of the Ministry of Energy were required to attend, that what comes out of the ground is either oily gas or gassy oil. And what the market demands here is usually liquid fuel, and the gas is flared. About half of the volume produced I’m told. Using lots of energy to liquify the gas and then ship it around the planet to be sold at competitive prices to places that can pipe gas in from much closer locations does not seem very likely to be viable.

But mostly I am very tired of this administration pretending to care about the climate (because we had the carbon tax implemented before other places) while doing their very best to undermine the limited success we have had in reducing our own ghg. Which may not be entirely due to good management but simply reduced levels of economic activity.

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Threatens Ecology and Economy of Salish Tribes

Tribes on both sides of the border intervene in proceeding to address tanker traffic and oil spill risks

 Seattle, WA & Vancouver, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Opposition to Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain proposed pipeline project ramped up today as Coast Salish peoples on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border vowed to oppose the project as intervenors before Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB). Coast Salish intervenors include the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation, and Suquamish Tribe in Washington state, and the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in British Columbia. The deadline for application to participate in the NEB process was last night at midnight.

“Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “Every kind of pollution ends up in the Salish Sea. We have decided no more and we are stepping forward. It is up to this generation and future generations to restore and protect the precious waters of the Salish Sea.”

“Our people are bound together by our deep connection to Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. We are the ‘People of the Inlet’ and we are united in our resolve to protect our land, water and air from this risky project,” said Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “We will use all lawful means to oppose it. This is why we have applied to intervene in the NEB hearing process.”

In December, Kinder Morgan filed an application with the NEB to build a new pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Alberta to Vancouver, B.C. The NEB is the Canadian federal agency that regulates interprovincial energy infrastructure. It is responsible for reviewing, recommending and regulating major energy projects, such as the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

If approved, the proposal would see the transport of tar sands oil expanded from its present level of approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. With an almost seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through the shared waters of the Salish Sea, an increase in groundings, accidents, incidents, leaks and oil spills is inevitable. More information here.

Experts have acknowledged that a serious oil spill would devastate an already-stressed marine environment and likely lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks and further contamination of shellfish beds, wiping out Indigenous fishing rights.

“The fishing grounds of the Salish Sea are the lifeblood of our peoples. We cannot sit idly by while these waters are threatened by reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and increased risk of catastrophic oil spill,” said Mel Sheldon, Chairman of the Tulalip Tribes.

The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers, bulk carriers, and other vessels through Salish Sea shipping routes and adjacent waters on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. In addition to oil, regulators in both countries are reviewing controversial proposals to export huge quantities of U.S. coal.  Taken together, these projects would greatly increase the risk of oil spills and other accidents that threaten the Coast Salish economies and cultures.

“Today we are taking a stand to honour our ancient connection to the Salish Sea. The threat of oil spills and industrial pollution continue to threaten our way of life.” said Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation. “We stand in unity with all who care about the health of the Salish Sea and defend it for future generations.”

Chairman Timothy Ballew III of the Lummi Nation stated, “I am a fisherman, a father and a member of the great Lummi Nation. As the northernmost Washington Treaty Tribe of the Boldt Decision, we are the stewards the Salish Sea and will not allow the Kinder Morgan proposal along our waterways that will threaten our harvesting areas and further the detrimental impacts to the environment and natural resources.”

BACKGROUND INFORMATION HERE: http://earthjustice.org/documents/fact-sheet/pdf/faq-kinder-morgan-pipeline-threatens-ecology-and-economy-of-salish-tribes

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

Electric Cars Won’t Save the Planet

with 3 comments

Tesla Model S

There is a lively debate going on first as a result of some research at North Carolina State and then some rebuttals at web sites like Slate. I was going to join in there but there are already 197 comments there - and anyway I am going to drag this off. It is not about the emissions – or lack of them. As I have said here before, the problem is that they are still cars. Cars are the problem. An electric car is a little bit better than an internal combustion engine car – but then a Smart car is better than an SUV or a Car2Go smart car is better than either. And in actual experience the emissions performance is better than expected.

Smart EV front off

But cars are still a leading cause of death and ill health. They take up far too much space in cities – moving and parked. We can easily accommodate the next million people who are coming to this region, but not if they insist on driving everywhere. Even the President of the Ford Motor Co recognizes that. It is bad enough what cars do to us – as the result of collisions and the inevitable congestion – but even worse is what it does to the places we live in. The interconnectedness of society is irreparably damaged by infrastructure designed simply to get cars through urban areas as quickly as possible.

We can easily electrify our transportation systems using existing technologies. We could build streetcar systems within towns and interurbans between them – and still live like they did in the 1920s. We could add electric high speed trains to cover longer distances, and reduce not just car travel but jet aircraft too – and that really does make a significant difference to emissions.

But the greatest benefit would be the ability to live without owning a car and getting everything we need within walking distance. We would abandon the ideas that have been so bad for us – like separating out land uses, and building single family home subdivisions which waste so much valuable farm land (which we do not value properly). We could protect much more of the wilderness and watersheds as a result. The reduced need for fossil fuels may be what drives this progress but the benefits in terms of health and quality of life are going to be the unique selling proposition that gets people on board. The sort of places which keep cars under control and make them largely unnecessary are going to be the ones that are most successful. While we now think that being “Green” is good, I think that “livable” may have been a more accurate term for what we want from urban regions.

But as long as there are lots of  “thought leaders” being seen in their Leafs or Teslas, we will continue to think that we can continue to live as though it was still the 1960s.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

The following article arrived in my in box this morning from David Suzuki . I am copying it in its entirety since it expresses exactly what I would write.

I have not used the image that accompanied the text since it does not actually depict the dangerous DOT111 cars that are one of the causes of the present problems. DSF chose a picture from flickr (good) that comes from Europe, where they use a quite different car (oops!). The picture below is from one of my flickr contacts in Quebec and shows “a loaded tank car on CN 710, stopped for a crew change at Turcot West in Montreal. Train is destined for Ultramar refinery at St-Romuald, QC (near Quebec City)”.

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard
© Photo by Michael Berry on flickr – used with permission

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2014 at 8:21 am

How is Climate Change Reshaping Our Future?

with 4 comments

SFU Woodwards, January 22

I went to an event last night organized by The Tyee and the Stonehouse Institute. It will save me a lot of typing if you click one of those links to see what Geoff Dembicki had to say about it before it happened. By the way, the title used in the article is different from what was on the screen at the start of the event (shown above). It is not clear to me how much of the content of last night’s presentations will appear in The Tyee later. I did take some notes. There was not the same link to social media that would make a storify possible. And the way that they had set up the Q&A at the end – people were supposed to text questions through one of three media – did not seem to work very well. There certainly was no real audience engagement – and despite the suggestion that this would occur afterwards in the foyer it did happen, but in the room itself in front of the stage and was chaotic.

It also seemed to me that it failed to actually address the topic title. One far out presentation by Keith Gillard of Pangaea Ventures showed a series of illustrations from some of the more extreme projects being proposed. None were realistic – nor were they supposed to be. I did not bother to note the names of the projects. They looked horrific to me.
Panel
Jim Hoggan, Chair and co-founder of The Stonehouse Institute, and DeSmogBlog
Keith Gillard, Pangaea Ventures
Christie Stephenson, NEI Investment
Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh

Geoff Dembicki opened by saying that climate change is much bigger than other environment issues. As profound a change as the internet which impacts everything.

Jim Hoggan 
Actually promoting a book The Polluted Public Square and not presenting the views of the Suzuki Foundation of which he is Chair

There should be a more civil public discourse. He is optimistic due to people he interviewed for the purpose of writing this book

Why are we doing so little? Why aren’t we listening to the evidence.

You can pollute conversation. “Ethical oil” is a term used to make the tar sands look like fair trade coffee. Environmentalists are painted by our  opponents as extremists paid by US businesses! The PMO refers to those opposing tar sands as “foreign funded extremists”

Neil Young painted as a hypocrite by the main stream media because he uses a private jet .

Improbable terms like “ethical oil” are a  linguistic strategy to silence others.
Just as Fox TV is neither  “fair” or “balanced” – claims it makes for its “news” coverage

If there is a ruckus outside your home, you will be curious about it. But if the ruckus occurs every night it will be ignored.

How to clean up the public square? Our minds are designed for “groupish righteousness”.
Speak out against injustice in a way that does not create more hatred. “Speak the truth but not to punish” Tich Naat Han

Keith Gillard, Pangaea Ventures

Said that he had been asked by the organizers to describe the future as if all the problems had been solved [by technology]. His company uses the physical sciences to identify new solutions to problems without the environmental impacts currently being experienced

“Natural gas is cheap forever and we are not going to run out of it”. It can be a very cheap source of  hydrogen.  Renewables will continue to be a small part of energy provision for a long time. Rectenna appears to be capable of producing 90% efficient solar energy compared to the 10% of existing systems. Canada is very inefficient in energy use because energy is so cheap and plentiful.

Electricity storage – battery technologies are emerging rapidly to help cope with the intermittent nature of renewable sources like wind

dezeen_Biostamp-temporary-tattoo-electronic-circuits-by-MC10-2
MC 10 tattoo (he actually used the illustration above) shows how technology is going - your “gadgets” (tablets, phones, laptops) will be gone which is just as well since “silicon etching is nasty chemistry”.

A new insecticide developed from spider venom is completely harmless to other life forms so can be sprayed at any time without affecting humans, animals or plants. There is now a better understanding of the role of micro bacteria that co-evolved with plants and is essential to their growth. They will in future have a big role in replacing chemical fertilizers.

Algae will have a role in creating fuels, desalination of water and even sugar production [which I am not at all convinced is a Good Idea. Do we really need more sugar?] But perhaps the most important innovation will be in water cleaning.

Christie Stephenson, NEI Investments
Used only one illustration – a jagged arrow pointing upwards to the right. She said that there is a  shared assumption that growth is good for shareholders but what about the rest of us?Investors not the only stakeholders – and we need to create incentives to get executives to consider more than just short term profits. The present obsession with quarterly results and their impact on share prices is what is killing us. She said they we should expect to hear a lot about  “materiality” – which before I added that link I knew nothing about – “Reward leaders to do the right thing” Strategies and tactics for Socially Responsible Investors to deal with the “Enormity of climate change”.

Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh

Her concern was to address the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion which will impact the Burrard Inlet (the name of her FN means “the people of the inlet”). Their response is simply

No!

They have created a “Sacred Trust Initiative”, of which she is the Project Manager, to try to protect what is left of the ecosystem of the inlet.

“We try to be as inclusive as we can not just for us here and now but for future generations”

“You have to understand what your truth is.”

She learned much from her grandmothers, but was not aware of how much until she became a grandmother herself and started to pass that knowledge along to her granddaughters.

“We are installing wind and solar power”

“I have no choice but to be hopeful.”

“Protect the land and the water. That is what connects us to each other and all other life forms.”

“We have to thank Harper for bringing us together.”

“We must find a way to coexist”

We have seen the harvest from the inlet vanish. The kelp (which was used to cover the calms at the clam bake) has gone. The water is now polluted – and the red tide is more frequent. But the red tide is nature cleaning herself. “If we give space to mother earth she can heal herself.”

“Take only what you need”

They recently held new ceremonies on the water including one which involved other First Nations outside the Kinder Morgan terminal. Two helicopters circled over the water ceremony which she said made her feel that they were trying to make the ceremony seem somehow a threat to the terminal.

————-

I wanted to participate in the question and answer ceremony so I stopped taking notes to submit a question – which, of course, did not appear on the screen at all. I wanted to ask the financial people how I was supposed to convince my investment adviser to consider renewable energy and other clean tech projects which he currently rejects as too risky. Putting money in a savings account earns 1% interest – and the Bank says it will not raise rates – but an investment in solar power last year would have seen a 25% increase in share prices.

I felt that Christie Stephenson had been far too vague. Her employer is owned by the credit unions. I have been very unimpressed by the investment advice I have had from Coast Capital (which seems ever more like any other bank to me) and I wanted to know how I could put money into better things than pipelines. I think she needed to have been much more specific in her recommendations.

I did talk to Keith Gillard. The problem that I see is that natural gas is still seen by the drillers as a waste product. At least half the well output is simply flared. Not only that but our governments give the resources away for free. There are no royalties collected on many new projects. The oil sands projects only exist because of subsidies and tax breaks. It is now estimated that overall the subsidies to the oil and gas industry worldwide can be counted in trillions of dollars. Moreover they get the water for fracking for free, can put whatever they choose into it and just leave it behind afterwards. If the externalities they create for others showed up on their balance sheets, their activities would cease. I am in favour of market prices when they reflect externalities: mostly of course they don’t. If fossil fuels had to bear the cost of externalities there would be no longer any restraints on the switch to renewables.

I do not understand how we are supposed to have a dialogue when the entire process is undermined quite deliberately by a small number of very rich right wing ideologues – who are in fact wrong about nearly everything, and know only too well what the science is saying but are determined to maximize the returns on their existing investments no matter what the impacts on everyone else.

I do not understand how we can choose investments in cleaner technology when the organizations chosen to represent them here are so incoherent about how to attract and retain capital. It is quite easy to disinvest in things like oil companies and banks. It is very much harder to provide for your retirement and at the same time help to make the world a better place.

There is no level playing field. The dice are loaded. Making nice to the cheats and bullies will not change their behaviour.

—————

I hate to claim prescience – but I wrote most of the above before breakfast – a couple of hours ago. It is now 10:57 and I have just finished reading this in Mother Jones

The fact that mitigation is relatively democratic—cutting private emissions helps everybody—but adaptation, which is more and more what we seem to be going toward, is not at all democratic. In fact, it is deeply unfair. I think everybody needs to understand that. We talk about climate change as this tragedy of the commons, which kind of takes some of the moral oomph out of it—like, we’re all doing this, we’re all screwing ourselves. But that’s not a very good frame for what climate change really is. It’s not even at all. It’s not even geographically. It’s not even economically. So for those of us who have the highest historic emissions—in North America and Europe and, increasingly, China—to be able to buy our way out of this problem or to profit off it is systemically dangerous. It really raises the moral stakes. I don’t want to villianize the individuals I met, because by and large they’re good people doing things they believe in. But I think we all need to step back and understand what the stakes are.

The second thing isn’t a moral point, but sort of a practical point: We can’t trust capitalism to just fix this. We can’t trust self-interest to fix this. If those who have the most to gain from climate change happen to be the ones who are emitting the most carbon—if I’m that person, am I really going to do too much about climate change, just to save myself?

That is from McKenzie Funk, author of “Windfall,” on climate change’s potential winners — and inevitable losers.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

“Beefing Up Population Density Won’t Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions”

with 4 comments

I have put the headline in quotation marks as it does not reflect  my opinion – nor does it seem to be based on a very reliable way of forecasting policy outcomes. The headline comes from Atlantic Cities but the research itself is published in Environmental Science and Technology. The title there is “Spatial Distribution of U.S. Household Carbon Footprints Reveals Suburbanization Undermines Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Urban Population Density” (citation shown at foot of this article). And of course you and I do not have the right credentials to actually read this on line unless you are willing to pay a very hefty fee. But at least Berkeley provides a longer item than Atlantic Cities does and this is where their quotes are lifted from

As you will note, other readers have already taken exception to the conclusions that are quoted by Atlantic Cities, so I am not alone at being troubled by the attention getting headline. Because it does not seem to be adequately supported. I also am troubled since I have been advocating and teaching the exact opposite for many years now. First as part of the Community Energy Planning activities of the BC Energy Aware Committee – now the Community Energy Association – and latterly as part of a program for  people wanting to become Sustainable Building Advisors under the the LEED program, sponsored by the Canada Green Building Council. The thrust of my message has been – and still is – the putting up the greenest building possible is not going to achieve emission reductions if you put it in the wrong place and everyone has to drive to get there. Sure the building itself may perform flawlessly but the trips the building’s activities generate will more than make up for the energy savings achieved over more conventional technologies.

Denser urban areas do indeed perform far better – in terms of energy consumption and hence reduce greenhouse gas emissions – than less dense ones, and that is exactly what the maps that accompany the article show.

carbon denver

This just happens to be Denver – and you can also see the smaller city of Colorado Springs off to the left (west) which shows the same doughnut ring pattern of carbon emissions. And they do observe “large metropolitan areas have a slightly higher average carbon footprint than smaller metro areas.” But that may just be that in the US (and the data they use only comes from there) the larger metro areas have proportionately more suburbs.

People who live in denser urban areas do not need to make as many trips by single occupant motor vehicles as those who live in less dense areas. People who work in city locations are much less likely to have drive during their work hours than those in suburban office parks. If you can get what you need within a short walk then you are less likely to need to drive. In places like downtown Vancouver, the vehicle most likely to be used for most trips is the electric elevator. Moreover building technologies and simple physics favour denser areas notably when the designers are thinking holistically. Community energy systems are more efficient than individual systems. The village on False Creek, for instance, gets some of the heat for its buildings from the sewers. Many buildings in city centres need more cooling than heating, so careful siting and interconnectedness produces a better overall outcome than locating them at greater distances where this is not efficient in economic or energy terms.

But there are also all sorts of other benefits from greater densities. Indeed density in and of itself may not be the answer. Better density – the right kind of density – is almost always going to have better results no matter what metric you use. We happen to be concerned in this case with reducing greenhouse gas emissions but exactly the same responses work if you are looking to create a happier human environment, or one that preserves land for food production or recreation, or reducing traffic congestion, or cutting public expenditures. The arguments made by Charles Marohn for Strong Towns are almost entirely financial.

Actually I think what is really at play here is Atlantic Cities looking for a headline rather than better understanding. What the researchers are actually saying is that there is no one size fits all solution and that increasing density does not of itself produce the best outcomes. But it is also clear that continuing with business as usual, widening freeways and building new ones, refusing to invest in transit, sticking with strategies that favour “drive until you qualify” suburbs and so on is a recipe for disaster. And increasing density is often going to be a significant part of the solution.

citation

Christopher Jones *† and Daniel M. Kammen *†‡§
†Energy and Resources Group, ‡Goldman School of Public Policy, and §Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, United States
Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/es4034364
Publication Date (Web): December 13, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society
*Phone: (510) 643-5048. E-mail: cmjones@berkeley.edu., *Address: Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050. Phone: (510) 642-1640. Fax: (510) 642-1085. E-mail: kammen@berkeley.edu.

Northern Gateway Pipeline

with one comment

It is of no surprise to me that the Joint Review Panel concluded that the project should proceed – with many conditions. Let us not forget that the JRP is a creature of the proponent – and the National Energy Board is a regulator that is entirely captive to the industry it is meant to regulate. The federal government has already made it very clear that is supports the pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta tarsands, and has gutted the environmental rules and regulations that would once have ensured a more scientific analysis. The JRP is also not a popularity contest so the number of opponents appearing before it at public hearings has no influence on the outcome. Of course opponents greatly outnumbered those in favour. That is because the people who are going to ensure that this project is pushed through no matter what do not need to concern themselves about this process. The oligarchy that now rules this country – and this province – only maintains processes like this as a public relations exercise. A bit like elections.

Watching the coverage on the CBC News last night I thought it was interesting that as the program progressed, so the coverage added a bit more balance. First time up at 5:00 there was no mention at all of climate change – by 6:00 that has been corrected. Enbridge’s mendacious map which eliminated the islands between Kitimat and the open sea was in evidence again – but by 6:00 retiring news anchor Tony Parsons at least mentioned the islands in his voice over.

I have not read the panel report – and last night the twitter feed was full of complaints about how slow the web site was.  I do not see much point, since the panel is not at all concerned about the major issue for me. The bitumen should remain in the ground. Rushing to develop the tar sands is a very foolish strategy indeed since it is dumping far too much oil on a market that is already saturated thanks to the discoveries of much lighter crudes under the Bakken field. This is the crude which exploded so fatally in Lac Megantic. Moreover, the Chinese are switching their attention to other fuels – not least due to their dreadful local air pollution. Even the oil companies themselves are beginning to anticipate that international rules are going to have to be introduced which will add to the price of carbon fuels. And the EU is being pressured to pass a law that will label fuels according to how much carbon they emit over their entire wells-to-wheels lifecycle – which could make Alberta tar sands output unsaleable.

The Green Party position set out by Andrew Weaver and Adam Olsen does not, in my view, give sufficient prominence to climate change. I regard it as the number one issue facing all of us.  Yes I understand the political necessity of focussing on the economy and jobs, and the shortcomings of the way the JRP treats dilbit spills. No-one knows what will happen to the dilbit if there is a spill. It is not even agreed on whether or not the stuff will float! But we also know for an absolute certainty that we cannot hope to keep the current rate of increase in carbon emissions going any longer. The idea that a 2℃ limit on global warming is now possible has been recognized  as unattainable! I oppose the Enbridge expansion for the same reason I oppose coal terminal expansions in our port. Local environmental impacts – which are likely severe – are actually the least problematic aspect of both cases.
Global Climate Change NSA graph

Andrew Weaver leaves the following as his parting shot. If the idea of living on  a planet that is going to be hotter than at any time in the past when life was present does not scare you, then perhaps you will take comfort from this

 building a future economy based solely on the exploitation of a depleting resource will not steer us towards the low-carbon pathway that so many other nations are choosing to follow. That’s why British Columbia should seize the opportunity of promoting the expansion of our clean technology (cleantech) industry.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2013 at 11:38 am

BC Highway Speed Limits Review

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Canadian speed limit sign

“A Canadian speed limit sign in British Columbia, taken on the 99 freeway just east of Ladner.” photo by David Herrera on flickr : creative commons license

I first saw something about this on twitter this morning. A journalist wanted me to comment (on tv, this evening) but we can’t make the timing work, though our telephone call did get my mind working. Then – also on Twitter – this page popped up which tells us more about what is intended. The Minister this morning was saying that it is only the limits that are going to be reviewed not enforcement. Which is a pity, in my view. And apparently it is not just about raising limits on newer rural highways

This review isn’t focused on increasing speed limits, rather making sure we have the right speed limits.

So in some cases speed limits might be reduced. Yeah, right.

There is a real problem with speed limits in BC, and that is not the level that they are set at The problem is that too many drivers believe that the speed limit does not apply to them. They have a car which is capable of much higher speeds, and, like all drivers, they know that they are of above average ability. Speed limits, according to this mind set, are merely suggestions for the elderly and those driving older, cheaper models. An even greater proportion of drivers view speed limits as the speed at which everybody ought to drive at, no matter what the conditions. Anyone driving slower than the posted speed is simply trying to get in everyone else’s way and needs to be taught a lesson. So tailgating, honking, light flashing and alarming manoeuvres  are mandated.

Ever since Gordon Campbell secured his personal popularity by abolishing photo radar, the respect for speed limits has diminished. I have written about that here quite often. I have also pointed to the simple facts of physics that when collisions do occur, severities increase with speed. What is a fender bender at 30 km/hr is fatal at 130.  If speed limits are widely ignored – and my experience suggests that is the case, and you can repeat that experimentally by observing the speed limit on any rural highway and count those who overtake you – then it probably does not make a great deal of difference what the posted speed is. The people who drive fast will continue to drive at whatever speed they feel like, because they do not have any need to consider the consequences.

We have, thanks to pressure from a very powerful lobby group (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reduced our tolerance for drinking and driving. Enforcement has been increased, to the point of actually infringing a number of important legal principles like due process, and stop without cause. Presumption of innocence has long been dead. Attitudes have shifted, and people worry when they drink and drive: not that they might cause a death or severe injury to themselves or others, but that they will be apprehended and have to pay a penalty. And that has affected enough people that places that serve alcohol have noticed an impact on their businesses. It was not enough, unfortunately, to ensure that Gordon Campbell was driven from office when found guilty of drunk driving in Hawaii.

I believe that caving to the loud protests against photo radar has had an equal and opposite effect. Firstly, when there was photo radar, the police announced a margin of tolerance. Ever since there has been a widespread popular belief, that a speed limit sign can have 10% added to it before running the risk of penalty. Not that that was the tolerance level on photo radar, and not that that is now significant. But secondly, the very idea that speed limits need to be enforced is now regarded as some quaint obsession. The police – runs this popular belief – would be better employed tracking down thieves or hooligans, not otherwise Good People who happen not to have noticed either their speedometer or the road side sign. Or that the sign was posted by people more concerned with political correctness than “real” road safety.

Raising speed limits will certainly appeal to a significant sector of the population. But I think those people are more than likely BC Liberal voters already. I suppose there are some Conservatives – and Libertarians – that might be won over. But the rural, car/truck driving longer distance types are already on side. This move will not do anything to win over those who have other concerns, but it does appeal to the BC Liberal base.

The other thing that needs to be noted is that no one is talking about fuel consumption. Higher speeds increase it, which means that emissions increase too: specifically greenhouse gas emissions. We are boiling the planet, and must reduce our emissions – and should have started doing that twenty years ago or more. The science of the impact of human activity on climate change is not in doubt. The need to reduce fossil fuel use is not negotiable. But that is not part of this review. Nowhere is it even mentioned. The only time I can recall that speed limits were generally reduced was the first oil shock. It had nothing to do with road safety – though that was its immediate effect. Every road in the US that had previously not had a posted limit, was now reduced to 55mph. That was designed with one end in view: reduce gasoline consumption. It did, but not by very much apparently, and the need to do that has not gone away. It is now even more important than it was then. But I do not expect that to be of much concern to this government, based on their current obsessions.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Adrian Dix Leaving Good News for Greens

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I must admit I was a bit surprised by the announcement yesterday that he was stepping down – as soon as they can find a new leader. I expected him to soldier on, especially since his caucus had been so quiet.  He is speaking at UBCM as I am writing this and the coincidence of a couple of tweets  inspired this post

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.10.05 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.09.35 AM

The link on the image won’t work so here it is in working condition Insight West Poll on Fracking 

He is also reported to be trying to distinguish NDP on LNG from BC Liberals on LNG, but the point is that LNG is a fossil fuel that has to stay in the ground. For one thing gas extraction always leads to leaks of methane, and that is a far more powerful gas than carbon dioxide. But secondly it is not a “transition fuel” as the industry claims. It is a fuel that locks in existing technologies and thus slows the introduction of renewable sources of energy and also slows the introduction of greater energy efficiency. But the really important linkage is that these LNG plants rely on fracked gas. There is no way that conventional gas wells can produce more – most are in decline, and the new resources being discovered are now nearly all “tight gas” requiring fracking. And the opposition to fracking is based on concerns about local environmental impacts – especially the effect on water supplies – rather than understanding the ghg implications of its development. The gas industry has been very clever to emphasize how “clean” gas is, without making clear what they are comparing it to. Probably coal.

The Green Party on the other hand has made its position clear “economic suicide”  and “a pipe dream“. While Dix and the NDP would like to present themselves as defenders of the environment, they cannot do that credibly while supporting expansion of fossil fuel extraction for export.

It has also caught my eye that Thomas Mulcair the leader of the NDP nationally is not in favour of increasing taxes on the super-rich.  Which suggests to me that he is really out of touch with the roots of the NDP and the need for far greater equality. Although other NDP members do not agree with him. It reminds me forcefully of the conversation I had with Geoff Meggs just before the provincial election, when he said the NDP if elected would not be raising provincial income tax rates for the wealthy. (Meggs bio on the Vancouver City web site does not mention his NDP link directly but does say “He served as Director of Communications in the Office of the Premier under Premier Glen Clark, and later served as Director of Communications and Executive Director of the BC Federation of Labour.”)

Just in case you have not read them here are our Ten Core Principles, which all Greens adhere to.  Sustainability and social justice are numbers 1 and 2 respectively.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.45.41 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.45.08 AM

One way to do that would be to abandon LNG entirely and embrace progressive taxation policies. I do not expect either – from Dix or the NDP. If you agree we need both then you should join the Green Party.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 19, 2013 at 9:48 am

You get the policy you pay for

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I breaking my own rule about linking to a paywalled story. I got it through a tweet – so maybe that is why their alarm bells didn’t ring. It is, in a way, a “no surprise there” story but it confirms why for the last ten years so much has been spent on roads and how little on transit.

The story is headlined “Corporations fill Liberal coffers“. The Sun has put together a database of corporate donors using Elections BC data. The number two donor is The New Car Dealers Association of B.C., giving $822,814.New Car Dealers Association of B.C. president and CEO Blair Qualey said dealerships have long been supporters of parties that have a free-enterprise approach.

“They are entrepreneurs at heart and like small government, few regulation and low taxes,” said Qualey of the association’s 350 auto dealers.

“They like to support democracy and make contributions locally to candidates in all the parties,” he added.

He noted that auto dealers have also made contributions to the NDP.

Individual dealers, you note, NOT their Association.

At that all party meeting I blogged the BC Road builders were handing out cards – to a fairly predictable response. Oh no, they replied, it’s about infrastructure. Yeah, right. If we simply made better use of the infrastructure we have we would not be building as many new roads – but there might be quite a lot more work for repairs and maintenance. Knocking down a huge bridge that had many years left in it does not make economic sense to me.

What strikes me is how obvious this all is. It is only because an Association makes a big donation to a party that this is getting noticed. What the Sun database needs to be used to do is to track how much money goes to candidates – and how much of that comes from what looks like individual small donations. Because these are not just new car dealers – they are  the people who have money to donate, from whatever business they happen to be in, and they all say they “like small government, few [sic] regulation and low taxes”. If someone who just happens to be a car dealer donates to the BC Liberal candidate in their riding, so what?  It has always been the case that the candidates with the most money do well. Those with little or no money hardly make a dent. It is only in places where majorities are thin that these candidates make a difference – which is why the two big ones get really worried about “vote splitting”. But that is all about first past the post, and is a distraction

Actually, roads are not at all “small government”. Road construction is a huge business and right now most of it is paid for from taxes. They are not too happy about those that are tolled but the policy – only new roads or bridges, not existing ones – means that toll revenues can only be used to increase road capacity, not reduce it. And the money so collected can only be used on that project, not diverted to other transportation policies. The BC Liberals have been very firmly attached to this policy – even though the last bit – ” and there is a free alternative” is looking a lot less credible on the issue of Fraser crossings.

Similarly, the people who fuel the cars favour less regulation and so on. But also rely very heavily indeed on subsidies. And in BC we seem to be only too willing to allow new fossil fuel extraction to be conducted without even demanding royalty payments. Alberta, of course, demands far less for its oil than, say, Norway. Encana, you note, is number three on the list.

De-regulation has been delivered, under the guise of making government more efficient. So processes like environmental assessments have become pretty much a foregone conclusion. And anyway, there is no-one left in the enforcement branches to see that there is compliance with any conditions that might have been imposed.  This doesn’t just apply to BC, of course, but Canada as a whole. Perhaps what is surprising is that all that this has created is growing public disquiet and unrest – and a few spectacular environmental disasters. Mostly, so far, elsewhere.

Perhaps what this article illustrates best is how far Christy Clark has fallen in the eyes of the very organizations that normally cheer for her. The mainstream media in general and whoever is pulling the strings at the Sun these days.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

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