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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Making the wrong choices

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“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

Stephen Harper (source: CBC)

This post is inspired by an email from David Suzuki “Here’s to a radical Canada Day!”

Stephen Harper’s statement is willfully misleading.

Many countries are taking actions to tackle climate change. The record to date is that they are performing better in terms of jobs and growth than the very few (like Canada and Australia) who have decided to destroy the environment on which all life depends. Countries like Germany, that have far less sunshine than we do but make half of their electricity from it now. Solar power is now cheaper than electricity made from fossil fuels.

The tar sands have long presented a possible source of energy, but for a very long time they remained untapped simply because there were so many other sources which were easier to extract. Usable fuel from tar sands was simply too expensive to make. What changed that was the willingness of the Canadian government to pour billions of tax dollars into its extraction and processing. The subsidies to the fossil fuel industries are unconscionable. If these were cut – in the same way that so many other public expenditures that Canadians actually need and care about have been cut – then other sources would have been much more competitive much sooner. We have been burning money mining a nonrenewable resource that is causing widespread carnage in terms of its impact on local water and air quality as well the long term effect of increasing carbon and methane emissions at a time when all sorts of tipping points in climate change were passing. The only reaction to the melting of the polar ice cap seems to be a willingness to immediately seize this as an opportunity to open up yet more oil and gas exploration.

Canada has huge untapped reserves of energy – sunlight, wind, waves, tides, geothermal – which are not going to be utilized in time to save life as we know it, because our governments are obsessed with oil and gas. Yet we get very little from oil and gas in terms of jobs, or revenues or even economic activity. Unless you are the sort of economist who seriously advances the notion that cleaning up oil spills is good for economic growth.

Norway continues to  extract oil from underneath the North Sea. This was also regarded as a very expensive, risky option at one time. Yet Norway did not respond with tax breaks and subsidies. On the contrary it has some of the highest royalty revenue stream per barrel of any oil economy. And the money did not go to income tax reductions for the rich but into a wealth building fund  that will continue to serve the best interests of Norwegians in general long after their oil reserves are exhausted. BC, of course, is currently pursuing a highly risky fracking and LNG export path based on reducing royalty payments that are already low.

The other day I was in Squamish. I once again heard that the name comes from the First Nations term for “place of the winds”. It is apparently a world class sailboarding destination due to the strength and reliability of the winds. I could just about hear what the guide was saying over the roar of the diesel generator. He was telling us about how the new Sea to Sky Gondola is taking care of the environment.

Of course, wind and solar are not “reliable” in the sense that power is not available all the time. But this energy storage problem is close to being resolved. There always has been the option of pumped hydraulic storage (used in North Wales to store otherwise useless electricity produced by a nuclear power station which cannot be shut off at times of low demand). Now there are promising new battery storage technologies like vanadium and sulphuric acid, readily scalable and with very long life, and ideal for solar and wind power storage.

We sit on huge reserves of geothermal energy – but the only use we make of them is for a few hot baths, here and there.

We could have already replaced thousands of gasoline powered passenger trips by existing electric transport technologies – trams, trolleybuses, trains – but we chose instead to invest in highways, despite evidence of declining car use! There are many more potential jobs operating public transport than there are in freeway maintenance!

When I first got into greenhouse gas action plans, I decided that we should not be concerned about climate change as a selling point. There was already a cognitive dissonance in the message: the planet is heating up, so you should check your tire pressures more often. We simply concentrated on the economic/financial message. Twenty years ago, when hydro was still cheap and even gas prices looked reasonable, basic energy efficiency measures were still attractive with two to three years payback on projects which had potentially much longer lives. I still adhere to the notion that it is utterly pointless to argue with climate change deniers. But even they cannot argue that something isn’t happening that is – increasing wildfires, floods, tornadoes – and that remediation and essential protection for the future is costing us a fortune. The basic cost benefit calculations can be assessed in real dollars – without getting into any arguments about the value of life or time. The economy and job effect of energy efficiency by itself is worth having. Switching to renewable energy is even better in terms of rate of return on capital employed.

The carbon tax is working. It would have worked even better if it had not been frittered away on being “revenue neutral” but invested in sensible activities like increasing transit supply where there is already excess demand. Better still if the amounts had continued to increase and not been foolishly frozen.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan, on the other hand, manifestly is NOT working. Throwing money at billionaires is a very silly idea indeed. It does not trickle down nor are they any more willing to pay low taxes than they were to pay high taxes. Employing people to chase fugitive income and capital gains is a lot more productive than attacking the poor for trivial sums.

The actions we need to take will not destroy jobs or growth. What they will do is heavily impact the fortunes of the fossil fuel companies and those who remain invested in them. Stephen Harper does not actually care very much about Canada, or Canadian values. He does care very much indeed about holding on to power. And to do that he needs a steady flow of cash from the oil companies. And he is very unlikely indeed to insist that they leave their reserves in the ground. But if we are to stay below the 2℃ target that is what has to happen. The costs of missing that target are horrendous, no matter how you count them.

Footnotes

In a comment below I am (quite properly) chided for the lack of data in this opinion piece. Here are some routes where those who are curious can follow up on my assertions

http://www.desmog.ca/2013/05/10/just-how-much-exactly-are-you-paying-subsidize-fossil-fuels – points to an IMF study

Tackling Climate Change while growing the economy http://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/44287948.pdf

http://www.europeanceo.com/business-and-management/2014/06/germany-breaks-solar-power-records/ – “Over 50 percent of the country’s energy was generated from photovoltaic panels” for a short period recently

But the there is also this: http://inhabitat.com/german-state-to-reach-100-renewable-power-this-year/

investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would create more jobs than the same amount of investment in fossil fuels. source: http://bluegreencanada.ca/node/175

https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/petro-path-not-taken - compares Norway to Canada and Alberta

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/06/vanadium-redox-batteries-could-balance.html

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/03/12/BCs-Carbon-Tax-Shift/

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

Search Engine Ecosia Awarded “B Corp” Status

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The following is a Press Release issued by Ecosia.org. I have been intrigued by the idea of B Corporations and have been looking for ways to invest in them instead of the conventional corporations who are bound by their commitment to increase profits at the cost of everything else. I had not heard of this search engine before – but I did try it and it found me. Google, of course, was supposed to “do no evil” which is not quite the same thing as looking for positive things to do, but many internet companies are trumpeting how they are switching to solar or other renewable power sources – which actually makes financial sense too. Here is the press release. I have no financial interest in Ecosia.

BERLIN – Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, has been awarded B Corp status, joining the growing movement of B Corporations certified by 2014 Skoll Award recipient B Lab.

A B Corporation is a new type of company, which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Nonprofit organization B Lab is the B Corp certification body.

“Our mission has always been to create a more sustainable world,” Ecosia Founder Christian Kroll said. “In 2009, we promised our users to focus on impact instead of profit – and now there is an entire movement for our philosophy.”

Ecosia lets users help plant trees when they search the web. By donating 80 percent of its ad revenue, the search engine has raised over $1.5 million for rainforest protection since its founding in December 2009. The company’s mission to cultivate a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable world has it working to plant one million new trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest with The Nature Conservancy by August 2014.

“Our users understand strength in numbers because they see its impact everyday,” Kroll said. “Ecosia’s B Corp certification expands that energy to a growing network of smart, accountable businesses who know that social, environmental and economic sustainability is the only true way forward.”

About B Corp
Certified B Corporations meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests, and build collective voice through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand. As of April 2014, there are more than 990 Certified B Corporations from over 60 industries and 32 countries, representing a diverse multi-billion dollar marketplace.

www.bcorporation.net/community/ecosia-gmbh

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2014 at 8:04 am

Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River has high environmental price

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Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

The story comes from Business in Vancouver and has a very even handed approach. I adapted their headline to be less even handed since I feel somewhat incensed by the behaviour of the Port Authority. As are the Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change. And it is also worth I think reframing this argument not so much about saving the planet as saving the place where we live from the inevitable consequences. It is not that dredging of the Fraser “may” reduce the protection provided by the wetlands. The mechanism described by Michael Church is readily apparent. The Port of course chooses to ignore it.

The problem is that the Port Authority has a very limited remit and no responsibility at all to the community within which it operates. The current Board’s view is that they only have to satisfy the “stakeholders” of whom the port businesses are about the only ones that get any attention. In exactly the same way the business in general is dealing with climate change – hoping it will go away or someone else will solve it cheaply and at public rather than business expense, all the while ensuring the greatest possible rate of return on capital employed for the shareholders rather than the stakeholders. It is this fundamental misconception – that the economy is somehow more important than the environment – that is the heart of the problem. A different kind of government in Ottawa could easily change this perception. We  - the people of Canada – are in fact the shareholders of the Port. But our government – at all levels – chooses to ignore that and places the interest of short term financial profits above all else. Including the impact of tidal surges on the population of Richmond, where urban development was allowed against all common sense and the regional plan.

This blog has often commented on the port and Richmond. When I lived there I felt personally threatened. No I no longer live there its a more academic exercise – but I still feel that we ought to have public agencies that are acutely conscious of their broader responsibilities. A business like approach is NOT appropriate in any Public Corporation. That is why it is in the public sector, not the private. If all that mattered was profit, then it could be privatized. But even our right wing governments realize that there are public interests in controlling the operations of ports – and all the other kinds of transportation and its associated infrastructure.

It is hardly surprising now that people here do not see the decision to downgrade the protection afforded to whales not as scientifically driven (when has the Harper Government ever paid any attention to science?) but as a spectacularly inept gift to the oil for export lobby. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics? On the other hand they have finally decided to something about DOT111 tank cars: what a shame it took the deaths of so many people fo force them into action. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? I would take that approach to dredging deeper in the Fraser. If for no other reason than every dredging operation I have been in touch with was always temporary – since each time you dredge a hole it fills up again. As any kid with a bucket and spade at the beach will tell you.

Choosing the happy city

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There is a storify based on the #happycity hashtag,which now features many more pictures thanks to the recent Twitter upgrade

At SFU Woodward’s on Wednesday March 26, 2014 the third in the Translink series.

Choosing the Happy City
Charles Montgomery

There were many empty seats even though SFU had “oversold”. If you reserve a seat at one of these events and then find you cannot attend, please remove your reservation as soon as you can. There were people who would have liked to be there. But at least there was also a live stream and the event will be added to the Youtube site in due course.

The introduction was made by one of Fraser Health’s public health officers. Happiness is fundamental to health. We need a system that promotes physical activity. Urban form and transportation determine how people choose to move around, and also affordability of housing and access to green space. People who live in the suburbs of Vancouver walk more than other places. We must improve and maintain choices especially for non urban places. She made the point that some policies which seek to deter car use can adversely affect the mobility of people who live in places where there is no other choice but to drive for many trip purposes. There is an inequity in adopting such deterrents before there are adequate choices fro everyone.

Charles Montgomery started his presentation with two “exercises” – the first to identify  Translink staff “the institution we love to hate”. He invited audience members to hug a member of Translink staff if they were near them. The second related to two images of dorms at Harvard University. One was a traditional building, the other a somewhat forbidding modern block. Most people indicated they preferred the traditional building, as did newly arrived students. But a study showed that there was no difference in the happiness of the students after three years. Many factors determine happiness not just the design of the buildings but social environment within them is important.

The idea of idea of increasing happiness is not new. Early economists called it maximizing utility. However often  “we get it wrong.I think pursuit of happiness is a good thing. We can measure it. … More pleasure than pain, healthy, in control, meaning, security but strong social connection underlies all of these. Both the GDP and creativity in a city depends on opportunities for social interaction. He showed a three dimensional graph of space time prisms, which showed the people who are more dispersed find it harder to connect. They spend much less time in the spaces and times when they can meet others. The edge of the urban agglomerations are the least likely to be socially active. If you live in the exurbs you do not have the time, energy or willingness to join things or even vote.

The shortness of the the commute time is the best indicator of satisfaction. “How we move is how we feel”, and even only five minutes of walking or cycling improves mood and regularly moving under our own power also  improves health. Equally driving a nice car on an open road also improves our mood. The trouble is that open roads are rare – and impossible to find at commute times. Driving even a nice car in a congested city is like piloting a fighter jet in terms of the stress experienced. People rate the experience of using transit lowest of all mostly due to the loss of control and that the trips on transit tend to be the longest.

In Greater Vancouver 40% of all trips could be done in 20 minute bike ride. In cities the design of the built environment determines both our behaviour and our bodies. If we build infrastructure for cycling – making it safer – more people will cycle. People will walk 800m to shop in a good urban environment but less than 200m in the typical suburban big box centre. The huge parking lots are a deterrent to walking even short distances.

He cited Larry Frank’s work in Atlanta showing maps of destinations available within a 10 minute walk of home. While there are many in the traditional city centre in the suburbs there are none. It is not surprising then that people who live in the suburbs on average have 10 pounds more in weight

Status interventions

- Equity
Having  low social status is bad for health. When transit viewed as a “hand out for the undeserving” – he used the notorious ads in the Georgia Strait some years ago for a GM car dealer which had a bus with the words “creeps & weirdos” as the destination sign – it is unsurprising that it is difficult to persuade people to change modes. Enrique Penalosa redesigned the city of Bogota and it was all about equity. He cancelled a new freeway but built the Transmilenio BRT based on the Curitiba example.

 - Freedom
This is represented by our having mastery of our movement. In one experiment they used skin conductance cuffs on people  in a mockup of a subway car. Even though this was staged at a party, as the space available to the group in the car became more restricted so their stress levels rose. He showed a picture of the Navigo card in Paris which is much more than a transit ticket. It also gives access to Velib bike sharing – and (he claimed) car sharing (which if so is a change since I was in Paris). “It also gets you cookies” But mostly it gives people the freedom to live with less stuff. they do not need to own a car or a bike [and can get around without worrying about either being stolen]

He then showed picture of the land the province has recently put up for sale in Coquitlam. This “swathe of Burke Mountain will not be well connected”. But families can save $10k a year by not owning a car. He cited Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” We are rightly fearful of house fires and build new suburbs to allow access to big fire trucks, with wide roads and sweeping curves – like a race track.  Streets aren’t safe enough for kids to play on – but we somehow think that we have made them “safer” and the areas they serve. There was a notorious experiment on children with Oreos. They could take one immediately or wait awhile and then get two. He says that the problems we require that we slow down and consider their complexity.

The challenge is the cost of congestion, but we attempt to solve it by designing disconnection. He illustrated this with a picture of the new Port Mann Bridge construction and remarked that we only realized that the new bridge was not needed until after it opened. All the traffic and people that now use it could have been accommodated if the old bridge had been tolled and a rapid bus service along Highway #1 introduced. [This was actually something that the Livable Region Coalition pointed out at the time, by the way. No-one believed us.]

“We did it before” He showed a slide of the Livable Region plan from the 1970s. And he also showed the “Leap Ahead” transit plan which its authors (Nathan Pachel and Paul Hillsdon) estimated would cost $6.5 bn but could be paid for with a $0.05 sales tax.

Referendum = fast brain disaster

“The best thing to do is cancel the referendum.” However since that is unlikely  we can save ourselves by adopting the recommendations that Roger Sherman used to win the second Denver referendum. Their program was called “Fast tracks” It was a clear plan and fully costed designed to appeal to the core values of the voters. Most of them drive so it has to show how improving transit improves life for drivers

It is not enough to present a clear picture – it has to have a champion, preferably a celebrity and since Brad Pitt is unlikely to be available he suggested Diane Watts

Bring it back to happiness

Working together is good for us build more resilient community

Q&A

The first question pointed out that the Leap Ahead plan did not seem to have much for the North Shore

“Now is not the time” to determine the details – though it does have a fast bus, and I suggested adding another SeaBus

The second noted that he used an illustration of Disneyland. Expectation of good time in built form

Tests in Disneyland show that architecture that speaks to us is good for well being

Technology in design of transportation

Vehicle sharing systems, driverless cars, use of Car2Go in East Vancouver shows that is a bedroom community. there are plenty of cars there overnight but none during the day. We have to have more activity in our residential areas – this is not a technology problem.

Eric Doherty pointed out that he had not mentioned climate change

“While it feels good to do the right thing but not everybody agrees on what that is. Trying to convince people to think like us does not work”. Gateway sucks did not work – it did nothing to convince people who had to drive that there was any concern over their needs.

How do we overcome this mindset of entitlement?

Golden (referring to the first presentation in this series) got all the players in the room and respecting others point of view. sophisticated comm??

Q from twitter on codes

Self reports on happiness higher in small towns

Rural areas

Everybody can benefit from a village

Codes for rural community Gordon Price commented  “The City is not shaped by market forces”

Nathan Woods (Unifor)  said: We need $3m and Brad Pitt. How do we get that?

Developers stand to benefit – they have the resources. The Surrey BoT strongly supports transit

Can you supply examples of success of postwar planning

Lewis Mumford
False Creek
New Urbanists
Seaside FL

Lean urbanism

Forest Hills Gardens NY (GP again)

Is a dense urban environment enough?

Towers are as bad for lack of trust as exurbs
Just pushing us together is not enough
“Lazy tower style in Vancouver”
Town houses, courtyards, green space

Example of Copenhagen – can we transfer that here?

The answer would be Long and complex. But in one word-  Experiment – just line Janette Sadik Kahn did with bike lanes in New York

Gordon Price pointed out how really emotional the fight over bike lanes here had become

Change is very difficult. Regarded as intrusive

One action for individuals?

Started out as a journalist feeling I had no right. We can all change a bit of the city. Those of us who live here have the right to change where we live

What has surprised you in the reactions since the book came out

Jarret Walker told me that on these examples its not the planners who are the problem. “We know that.  You have to convince the politicians … and the people.”
Try not to scare people

Someone from modo talked about Share Vancouver and its implication for resilience, during disasters for instance

Life changed in New York with Sandy. How can we create that sense of urgency?

Experiment Granville St what are we learning?

The questioner felt that all the changes we have seen have been controlled by the business community

Times Sq occurred with support from the BIA – who have benefitted as rents are now going up. The police closure of Granville St at weekends was a response to violence. It gave more space for people to move around and thus reduced conflicts

Councillor Susan Chappelle from Squamish said that they were trying to get  a regional transportation dialogue going – they are outside the Translink area with a small transit system provide by BC Transit.  They remain “disengaged”. The immense changes he talked about are not translated into budget of small town. In the current situation “Words are used, with no change happening.” Squamish is left disconnected

The measures are the same for reducing GHG and increasing happiness. Should we encourage commuting [between Squmish and Vancouver]? The industrial zoning is out of date.

Can design offset crime?  Social justice?

Some people assert “None of this is going to work until we overthrow the 1%” But his work shows that the way we design cities has an immediate impact. It’s an equity issue. Many people complain that they can’t afford to live here but then they oppose the density increase essential [to get reduced housing/transportation combination cost reduced]

Some who was arranging a summit of cultural planners pointed out how hard it was to get a large meeting to places which did not have good connections. Change the way transit works to support the summit

BC Transit should take cue from TransLink interagency approach We can crowd source all kinds of stuff

btw People actually talk on the #20 bus

Big issue is transit funding. A city has found solution?

Richmond is the only place where car ownership has fallen – obviously a response to the Canada Line
See the example of the Los Angeles referendum which was not just about transit – it paid for everything with something for everyone

REACTION

This was by far the best presentation in the series so far, in large part because it was not read from a script. He was speaking to the slides he was showing but clearly enjoyed interacting with the audience. It was indeed a performance – and a good one at that. On the other hand there did not seem to be a great deal that was new or remarkable in the content. Working in this field for forty years means that I have actually witnessed exactly the same set of prescriptions proffered for a what at the time seemed like different problems – congestion, growth, inequity, sustainability, bad air quality, global warming. And now happiness – or its absence.

I have got into a lot of trouble for stating unequivocally “transit sucks” to transit management. They of course would rather boast of their accomplishments, how well they do under difficult circumstances, and how resistant politicians are to pleas for more money. But the fact remains that despite increasing expenditures, the overall transit mode share is very difficult to change. We know what the solutions are – we always have done – but we seem reluctant to embrace the changes necessary. And he is probably right that we have an elite stuck in fast brain mode whenever they deal with these situations. He actually cited Kevin Falcon – more than once – and it seems to me he is right. The Jordon Batemans of course simply play to that preference. It is a lot easier than actually thinking clearly (slowly) and then acting.

 

 

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

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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

Concerned Citizens take Environmental Appeal Board to Court

Lakelse lake

Lakelse Lake near Terrace BC
Photo by Stephen Rees on flickr

January 9th 2014 (Terrace, B.C.) – A group of concerned citizens and local organizations are challenging in the BC Supreme Court the recent BC Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) decision to deny them standing in an appeal brought before the Board.

The appeal, launched with the EAB last spring, challenged the BC Ministry of Environment’s decision to allow Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) to increase sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from its aluminum smelter in Kitimat. The increase from 27 to 42 tonnes per day would enable the company to boost smelter production without requiring it to invest in emissions reduction technology.

“We believe the EAB made an error in denying us standing” stated appellant, asthma sufferer, and local food grower Charles Claus. “RTA’s own report shows increased hospital visits for people with asthma and other respiratory problems; it also shows acidification of local rivers, lakes, and soils will take place. We will be impacted and should have the right to appeal the Ministry of Environment’s decision to allow substantial increases in emissions”.

Two individuals who reside in Terrace and two local organizations, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Lakelse Watershed Society, launched the judicial review of the EAB’s standing decision. RTA challenged the standing of all of the appellants who filed the appeal. Two Kitimat residents were the only appellants granted standing by the EAB. Chris Tollefson of the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) at the University of Victoria and Richard Overstall of Buri Overstall in Smithers, are representing the Terrace appellants and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Lakelse Watershed Society on the matter of standing and their right to file the appeal.

“It is unfortunate that RTA and the EAB aren’t taking our concerns seriously; they have left us no option but to take them to court” said Greg Knox, executive director, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. “RTA’s own experts have told us scrubbers are safe, effective and can easily be installed at the new smelter – the company simply doesn’t want to spend the money; they would rather spend it on lawyers.”

SO2 has serious health and environmental impacts. The Northern Health Authority and the Northwest Regional Hospital District have expressed concerns regarding the health impacts of increased emissions. Both have sent letters to RTA and the BC Ministry of Environment recommending sulphur dioxide scrubbers be installed. Moreover, the World Health Organization has linked air pollution to an increased risk of lung cancer, respiratory and heart diseases.

The chemical also causes the acidification of soils, lakes and rivers. Local food growers have highlighted the potential impacts of soil acidification on food production in the area.

“RTA’s claim that it is safer to release SO2 into the air than to scrub it and put it into the ocean is absurd” said Lynda Gagne, Terrace homeowner and Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration.

“SO2 turns to sulfate when scrubbed with seawater. Sulfate is harmless and already occurs in high concentrations in the ocean. “This technology has been used safely around the world for several decades to limit the harm caused by releasing SO2 in the atmosphere. RTA simply wants to pass its production costs on to the population and to an already strained environment”.

While the costs of installing and operating scrubbers are not trivial, they would make up only a small portion of the company’s overall investment in the project.

—30—

Contacts:

Chris Tollefson – legal counsel, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre, 250-888-6074 (Victoria)

Greg Knox – SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, 250-615-1990 (Terrace)

Kelly Kline – Lakelse Lake Watershed Society, 250-798-2535 (Terrace)

Charles Claus – 250-638-8996 (Terrace)

Lynda Gagne – 250-590-2081 (Victoria)

Written by Stephen Rees

January 9, 2014 at 11:31 am

Posted in Environment

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