Archive for June 2014
“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.
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
This is a Press Release from the Worldwatch Institute that I got by email “for immediate release”. I wonder how much attention this will get in the Main Stream Media. Or environmental news outlets for that matter. [UPDATE After 24 hours Google News shows exactly two results for this story.] We have certainly seen a lot about how we have reached “peak car” in the US and Canada, but by no means in the rest of the world. What also seems to be missing from this release is how many new cars sit unsold in Europe and North America. By the way, when you drive past the Fraser Wharves car terminal in Richmond (Steveston Highway near Silver City) it is very noticeable how few cars there are now compared to recent years. There are space to lease signs, and containers stored there too.
New Worldwatch Institute study examines global motorization trends
Washington, D.C.—-Global production of automobiles keeps rising to new heights. London-based IHS Automotive puts light vehicle (passenger car and light-duty truck) production in 2013 at 84.7 million, up from 81.5 million in 2012. The world’s fleet of light-duty vehicles now surpasses 1 billion-one per seven people, writes Senior Researcher Michael Renner in the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend (www.worldwatch.org).
Five countries account for the production of 60 percent of all light vehicles worldwide. China produced a stunning 20.9 million vehicles in 2013. The United States (10.9 million), Japan (9 million), Germany (5.6 million), and South Korea (4.5 million) follow at a considerable distance.
The United States has long been the world leader in motorization. The number of all motor vehicles per 1,000 people there rose to a peak of 844 in 2007. If all countries had the same car density relative to population as the United States does, there would be 4.4 billion motor vehicles worldwide-more than four times the actual fleet.
There are signs, however, that motorization in the United States may finally have peaked. Almost one in ten U.S. households-9.2 percent in 2012-does not have a vehicle, up from 8.9 percent in 2005. In dense cities, the figure is much higher. In 2012, just over 56 percent of households in New York City, for example, did not own a vehicle. But many other U.S. cities lack the density, public transportation systems, walkability, and other factors necessary to make this a viable option.
Vehicle fleets have either stopped growing or are growing very slowly in countries like Germany, France, Japan, and Canada. In many emerging economies, however, fleets continue to expand rapidly. The number of cars on China’s roads skyrocketed from 3.8 million in 2000 to 43.2 million in 2011, and the country now has the third largest fleet in the world, after the United States and Japan. Russia’s fleet grew from 20.4 million to 36.4 million during the same period of time. Brazil’s fleet almost doubled, from 15.4 million to 27.4 million. India’s nearly tripled, from 5.2 million to 14.2 million.
Higher fuel efficiency is needed to limit automobiles’ contribution to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The current global average fuel consumption for all light-duty vehicles is 7.2 liters per 100 kilometers. The Global Fuel Economy Initiative aims for a 50 percent improvement by 2050, but current trends fall short of achieving this goal.
According to IHS Automotive, worldwide production of electric vehicles (battery electric and plug-in hybrids) has expanded from 13,866 in 2010 to 242,075 in 2013. The company forecasts production of slightly more than 403,000 vehicles in 2014, up 67 percent from 2013. The number of electric cars on the world’s roads has increased from nearly 100,000 at the beginning of 2012 to 405,000 units at the start of 2014. Most of the cars are in the United States (174,000), Japan (68,000), and China (45,000).
Alternative vehicles are slowly making inroads, but they are not yet significantly altering the resource and environmental impacts of automobiles. As electric vehicles become more numerous, a critical issue will be the source of the electricity that they run on-will it be generated from fossil fuels or from renewable energy?
Ever since I heard about this proposal I have been looking forward to riding this gondola. I had no sympathy at all for those who opposed it. This is the only way that most people can experience the alpine, and the impact on the regional park – and the Stawamus Chief in particular – is negligible. While a great deal of media coverage was devoted to “concerns” about the Provincial Park, the gondola actually is on land outside the park boundaries. What it does do is make it possible for ordinary people to enjoy the view over Howe Sound, and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings – as well as what is being done to them. I felt then – and still do – that much of the sentiment expressed was of the “after me, no more” principle. The young and super fit can climb mountains and they feel that should remain their exclusive domain. Most gondola installations have been to promote winter sports, especially skiing. There are many more recreational opportunities that the Sea to Sky gondola opens up – if you are in that small group of people capable of thriving in the back country. For people just looking for exercise, and a new place to do that, I am told that the Sea To Summit trail is “better than the Grouse Grind” – whatever that means. The cost of an adult day ticket ($34.95 plus tax) is only $9.95 for those wanting to hike up and ride down. There are also (small) discounts for booking on line
It opened while we were in Italy – and yesterday they had a summer solstice festival, which I hear was quite successful. So we tried to get there early on Sunday to beat the crowds. We also had lunch at the peak as they have Howe Sound Brewery ales on tap, including the quite spectacular Sky Pilot ale. Why they apologized that it was not called an IPA I have no idea. The view from the bar terrace is terrific.
The operators have built two easy trails: the Panorama Trail (1.6km) to the Chief Viewing Platform and the Spirit Trail (400m) – both gravel surfaced, gently graded and thus accessible to both wheelchairs and strollers. There is also a somewhat superfluous suspension bridge which adds to the appeal for many visitors. I quite like the view straight down into the tops of the trees, but there are many who are nervous of such structures. Of course the Capilano Bridge is a tourist attraction in its own right and one that has been financially successful despite the (in my view) superior and free alternative across Lynn Canyon.
To get there, you have to drive. The operator thinks that there is plenty of public transport and only operates its own shuttle bus between the base and the long term parking lot at weekends. What would have been far better, of course, is a regular passenger train service. The sale of BC Rail makes that a highly unlikely possibility. The only service now is the Whistler Mountaineer – a service owned by Peter Armstrong, and aimed squarely at wealthy visitors. It does not provide any service to the local communities along it route. Nor will it.
I am not going to simply write a promotional piece for a private sector developer (which includes Mountain Equipment Co-op) , but I will say that I was impressed, and I will bring visitors here in future. I have no doubt at all that there will be more development of this new destination. That’s actually a Good Thing. I have used a tourism oriented gondola in Charlotte Amelie, on St Thomas – one of the US Virgin Islands. It gives a nice view of the cruise ship terminal – and that’s all. I felt somewhat swindled. The Sea to Sky is expensive, and it is over an hour from Vancouver if you drive the speed limit (no-one else does) and there is the usual downtown traffic – Burrard Bridge rehabilitation and a partial closure of Howe Street for the Jazz festival just being the start of the summer festivities. But I felt it well worthwhile and I am happy to recommend it.
“…when it comes to building bike culture, North American cities tend to use their (chiefly ineffectual) neighbours as a yard stick, rather than measure themselves against far braver European cities like Paris, Seville, and Barcelona. Sadly, their myriad successes are seen as unattainable; their urban areas far more willing and able to embrace change. Quebec, meanwhile – with its own cultural heritage, identity, and language – is simply too “foreign” to figure into the daily consciousness of this continent, and somehow ends up lumped in with the rest of Europe.
Three years later, all of that is changing,.. people [are waking] up to what is undoubtedly North America’s cycling capital. Montréal now regularly tops lists of the most bicycle-friendly cities on the continent, and is often named one of the top twenty cycling cities on the planet. Their secret is (slowly) getting out; their compelling story is being told, and it is inspiring romantics, such as myself, to demand better than the half-baked policies, poorly-connected facilities, and dismal, single-digit mode shares officials and advocates have accepted for far too long.”
Chris Bruntlett does something very clever. He has been taking photographs of people cycling in smart clothes “cycle chic” – he may not have invented the term but that’s how it came to my attention. I tried to do something similar while in Italy: it is not as easy as it sounds. I was was going to write about what they do for cyclists in Rome and Florence – but that all came out too negative. Cycling is, of course, forbidden in Venice.
Quebec City has long been on our bucket list. Montréal I once visited for work purposes back in the early nineties: I was not impressed then. Obviously I need to go again now.
This is the third, and final, instalment on my trip to Italy. And, as is common to blogs, it’s backwards, in that Rome is where our trip began.
On the way from the gate where we got off the plane, to the baggage carousel, there were all kinds of the usual retail opportunities that airports offer, and, indeed, depend upon. One of them was for the mobile phone company TIM, that internet research had shown to offer the best value for what I wanted. I bought a SIM card for my smart phone. It cost me 30€ ($46.87) of which about half was prepaid for calls, and the rest for 2G of high speed data (and unlimited low speed thereafter) and unlimited texts for the month. I think. The clerk’s English was barely adequate and all the documentation is, of course, is Italian. I was given documents to sign, and I though I was saying I did NOT want adverts by text. But it was the reverse. I got a daily barrage of incomprehensible offers by text from TIM the whole month. But now I was not dependent on wifi, and could access the internet anywhere. My phone also has Word Lens that is supposed to translate signs and stuff, and was almost entirely useless. I needed something to translate the translations. More than once I was glad of the data link to access Google Maps and sort out not just where we were but what direction we ought to head off in. It also meant that when I booked our trip to Venice, all I had to do was show the conductor on the trains the automated text message the FS system had sent me.
We were picked up from the airport by prior arrangement, and the journey into Rome was one of the scariest experiences I have had in a motor vehicle short of actually being in a collision. Afterwards we solemnly abandoned any thought of renting a car in Italy.
This is on the street where we rented an apartment. This car is not pulling out of a side street. It is parked. It is not unusual to see cars parked on the corner. They more usually park at an angle. The corner is usually the only place where there is a space to park. As pedestrians, we found that we were always taking what in a Canadian context would be very risky activity. If you wait at the curb, cars do not stop. You have to step into the traffic to show you are serious about crossing. Even then, motorcycles and scooters will simply weave around you as you cross. Fortunately many roads are narrow and often parked up on both sides. Most urban areas have one way streets, which result in much faster speeds.
Testaccio used to be part of the ancient Roman port facilities. It was redeveloped at the end of the 19th century as an industrial area with workers’ housing, and hosted the city’s slaughterhouse.
The river was prone to flooding, and the embankment process greatly reduced access to the waterside. Look at the height of the embankment and imagine that imposed on the Richmond dykes: or the waterfronts of Vancouver. Rome had to face floods every spring as it is surrounded by mountains – as we are. The rich lived on the hills: the ghetto regularly got flooded. That changed at the end of the nineteenth century for them. I suspect that it will have to change for us too, and in much shorter order than we are currently contemplating.
Trastevere, on the other side of the Tiber, has this two way cycle and pedestrian trail. I was lucky to be able to catch a cyclist actually using it. The Lonely Planet Guide has this to say about cycling “The centre of Rome doesn’t lend itself to cycling: there are steep hills, treacherous cobbled roads and the traffic is terrible.”
We saw several of these stations, but never any bikes. The only information I can find on line is entirely negative. There were no bikes in 2011 either. Lonely Planet does not mention bikesharing.
Ancient Rome is still in the centre of the City and most is unrestored ruins. This is the Forum – a view taken from Il Vittoriano. What is very noticeable about this view of the Eternal City is the amount of tree canopy, and the absence of modern high rise buildings.
There is a connected network of these streets across the Centro Storico.
I would like to see greater use of these barriers to car use in more cities. Robson St might be a suitable candidate, with trolleybus activation of barriers/signals.
Our neighbourhood had seen some traffic calming with this protected bike lane, and bumpouts for pedestrian crossings. Though you will note the pedestrian taking the more direct, diagonal route across the intersection. I did not actually see anyone use the bike lane, but I admire the vertical stanchions along the curb to prevent any danger of dooring.
There are many famous public spaces in Rome. Below is Piazza Navona – which was at that time the subject of some dispute between the authorities and the artists who rely on the tourists for their living.
Others are very impressive spaces, but seem to serve very little actual purpose. Or perhaps had one once that has now been lost.
This is Piazza del Popolo, once the site of public executions. At least they managed to keep it clear of traffic unlike the similar Place de la Concorde in Paris.
We did use the two line underground Metro. There is a third line now under construction, but progress is slow possibly due to the huge haul of archaeological material uncovered whenever you dig anywhere in Rome. It was reliable in some of the worst traffic disruptions, but not actually pleasant to use due to the crowding and the persistent presence of piano accordion players – some very young children. Begging – and demanding money with menaces at railway stations – is a real problem. We prefer surface travel, but one trip on Tram Number 3 from Piramide (near our apartment) to the Modern Art Gallery at the other end of the line took all morning! Trams do have some exclusive rights of way – but they often have to share them with buses and taxis and seem to have no ability to affect traffic signals.
There are two “albums” on flickr of public transport in general and trams in particular. Rome used to have an extensive tram network, but unlike other cities never abandoned it completely and has upgraded some lines in recent years with modern low floor articulated cars and reserved rights of way. Route 8 through Trastevere is one the better efforts. Our local service, route 3B along Marmorata, was curtailed during our stay due to track maintenance. We did best by choosing some of the designated express bus routes, which simply stop less often than regular services, rather like the B Line. Bus stops in Rome have very detailed information on them about services – but rarely have real time information. And the sale of bus maps is a commercial activity, not a public service. In the event of service disruptions, having a smart phone was no help as no information was available in English.
We did a lot of walking in Rome. There are lots of parks – Villa Borghese for instance, which is no longer an actual villa just its gardens. And we were next to one of the nicer neighbourhoods, Aventino, sort of a Roman Shaughnessy. So we saw a lot of a relatively small area, and not very much of the rest of the city, apart from one trip out of town to Ostia Antica (fantastic) – and on a our return an overnight stay in Fiumicino, which is not really worth visiting if it were not for the airport. The biggest issue was the tourists. Many more people are travelling these days, especially those from Eastern Europe who were once forbidden to travel but can now afford to do so. They all want to go to the same places, so the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Mouth of Truth are beseiged all day. Rome of course still attracts pilgrims. If you are not one of those avoid the Vatican on Thursday mornings when the Pope addresses the faithful in St Peter’s Square and the Colosseum on Mondays when it is one of the few sites that is open. And if you have the guide book and it promises you “secrets” you can bet your life every other tourist has the same guidebook in their own language and is headed the same way. How else to explain the line up to peek through the keyhole of a locked door on a monastery – to get as glimpse of the dome of St Peters, more easily seen from a park a few metres away?
This blog is being assembled differently to my usual practice. I am going to start with one image, called to mind by a tweet by Taras Grescoe
Funny how people will cross oceans or drive for days for pleasure of being in a place without cars. (Venice, …
We were in Florence but decided to go to Venice on a whim. We could get there in two hours on a high speed train, but that’s too long for a day trip, I think. I booked on line and got a cheaper fare by extending the stay. So we stayed two nights, not one. And Venice is not cheap. (OK since you ask, round trip train fare $226, two 72 hour transit passes $110, hotel two nights $500 – but it was steps from San Marco, and included breakfast.)
Ponte della Constituzione is new bridge that links the Ferrovia to the port and the bus station. On one side Venice is as it has always been. A city where you walk or take a boat. On the other side is the “real world” – buses, cars, a people mover to the cruise ship terminal.
When we got to this point, on our last day, I did not want to go any further. There was plenty of time before our train would leave, but it was not going to be spent on the other side of this bridge. Below is what you see when you look the other way
In front of the ferrovia and one’s first view of the city when you get off the train. Immediately in front are the fermata for the vaporetti. The guide books warn of the need to be careful about checking route numbers and boat directions, but we quickly found that to be a mainlander’s obsession. The secret to enjoying Venice is to get a pass covering the whole time of your stay, and just get on the boat you see first. It really doesn’t matter all that much (as long as you avoid the extra fee for the airport runs) as wherever you get to will be just as interesting and attractive as wherever else you might have been thinking about. In fact the very first ride we took, the No 2 was not going up the Grand Canal to Rialto and thus reach San Marco, but through the port and then the much wider (and, as it happens, more direct) Canale della Giudecca. So we didn’t see the Grand Canal that trip – but would later – and landed a little further east. Where there was a very nice and not too expensive place for lunch, on the terrace, with a view of San Giorgio Maggiore. Yes it was a longer boat ride, but that was actually a benefit. I relaxed and enjoyed the ride and forgot about schedules and check in times.
In Venice we stopped trying to fit in the required “top sites” and art galleries. We just wandered until we felt like sitting down – or saw a boat going somewhere. We did not use water taxis or gondolas: they are far too expensive, and fit the needs of others, not us.
There is quite a new housing development at the outer end of Cannaregio. I got the impression the arch is simply decorative, whereas others clearly were needed to stop the buildings leaning towards each other. Note too the ramp down to the Fondamenta (wharf) there are very few concessions to wheeled traffic in Venice.
Venice may be mostly about walking, but the city is still dependent on fossil fuelled internal combustion engines. I think this arrangement is a lot neater than the Chevron barge moored in Coal Harbour, but no doubt the residents and seawall enthusiasts would disagree.
There is not, of course, a “typical” Venetian scene. This one of the minor canals through Cannaregio.
I took the title from one of the street signs on the side of the building. These use local dialect rather than more formal Italian which would render the same place Fundamenta delle Cappucine. If new signs go up that ignore local usage they are simply obliterated by locals who want to hang on to their identity rather than meet the needs of tourists, who rely on maps and worry about getting lost.
If Shylock had been real, this is where he would have lived. This now the location of the Museo Ebraico. That is a police box at the centre of the picture at the back of the square: our visit came just after the attack near the Paris synagogue and security was heightened. It was probably a good thing that I wasn’t, by now, paying much attention to the news.
A fairly representative example of the size of the passageways between buildings. I found GPS useless as the phone quickly lost any orientation because of the buidlings’ proximity.
One of the few bridges crossing the Grand Canal. The shops are pretty much devoted to tourist tchochkes. There are plenty of street signs at intersections that point towards Rialto or San Marco.
This is the more familiar view from the deck of the vaporetto.
Not far from the Rialto is this large open square. We had dinner one evening at Birra La Corte and watched boys playing football over to the right. Those are EU Election posters. I got the impression that there were extra points for hitting a politician with the ball. The local police intervened, as all ball games are forbidden in Venice except in designated playgrounds.
We came across this place on one of our first long walks. Originally my partner thought we should walk from the station to the hotel: it didn’t look that far to her. But I had visited the city once before and had a very clear memory of how confusing the passageways can be. It wasn’t like we were pulling rolling suitcases either, thank goodness, but I said we would be better off on the boat, when we could then drop off the carry-on bags. Well, I explained above how that went. So after lunch and then checking in, we took the direct boat back to the station and then started walking the route Google laid out for us. And after a while, just put the phone away and wandered in the approximate direction, finding the odd dead end and plenty of photo opportunities.
She likes to walk for exercise. And I must admit that the arthritis in my knee did not bother me all month – until I was stuck for nine hours in a seat on the plane back. But I have also persuaded her of the joys of loitering. Becoming a flaneur in Paris. Using the camera as an excuse to stop and look around. Venice is even better than Paris in that respect.
Flickr is being more than usually balky this morning, so I am going to end this here for now.