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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘energy’ Category

Divestment

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The Guardian is currently running a campaign to try to get the Bill Gates and Wellcome Foundations to divest from fossil fuels. This is running concurrently with other campaigns to try to get institutions to divest including Harvard University. Yesterday the Guardian’s campaign included a tweetstorm, and I got an email from Alan Rusbridger suggesting I write to one of the directors of the Wellcome Trust to explain why I thought divestment is a Good Idea. In fact this idea came from the people who had signed up to the Guardian’s petition who thought that individual letters might be more persuasive than just signatures.

The Guardian is, of course, owned by a Trust, which is why it can be independent. And they have already divested. As have I. Here is some of what I wrote to the Chair of the Wellcome Trust.

As a former non-executive member of the board of BP, I sure you recall when that organisation called itself “Beyond Petroleum”. I wonder if you share the great disappointment many of us felt when that approach was abandoned. In retirement, I have an investment portfolio, managed by professional brokers and owned by one of the big Canadian banks. I have been talking to them about the importance of divestment from fossil fuels. I was particularly concerned that my fund manager seemed completely unaware of the investment opportunities in renewable technologies such as wind and solar power generation. I have also been very much aware that many of the companies my funds were invested in were supporting climate change denial and through the activities of people like the Koch brothers, who are heavily invested in the Alberta tar sands, actively working to frustrate changes to cleaner technologies. I have divested my funds from pipelines and fossil fuel power generation  companies and instructed my brokers to buy stock in cleaner energy companies. I think that this has had the useful effect of changing my broker’s range of reading materials, and not focussing so closely on short term market fluctuations.

In Vancouver we are currently fighting against expansions of port facilities to allow for more export of diluted bitumen. Our provincial government is encouraging the expansion of LNG exports by reducing taxes and royalties in an attempt to make financially dubious investments look more attractive. A recent fuel oil spill in the harbour here has concentrated attention on how ill equipped we would be to deal with a dilbit spill on our coast, especially in view on ongoing cut backs by the Canadian government in our Coast Guard. I am sure your experience of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster must make you concerned too about the threat that increased oil exploration and exploitation poses to all life on earth. 

I am sure by now you will have read the following paragraph many times. Please take the time to read it again. 

“Your organisations have made a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects. Yet your investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions. Climate change poses a real threat to all of us, and it is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal. Many philanthropic organisations are divesting their endowments from fossil fuels. We ask you to do the same: to commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies.”

Thank you for reading my note. I hope the Wellcome Trust will divest from fossil fuels, as so many other academic organisations are doing.

I do not expect that he will change his mind just because he reads my letter. In fact I already have had a response which you can read here. I think it probably reflects the fact that this is an organisation based in the UK, where there is not quite the same direct influence of corporate funding of politics as there is now in the United States thanks to Citizens United. I also do not believe that Shell, BP and Koch Industries (and so on) are run by “fair minded people”. Quite the contrary. I think that they are using the funds invested in their companies to defeat any serious efforts to change the current trajectory of increasing fossil fuel consumption. The possibility of there being some significant shift at the upcoming Paris conference must be alarming them as they hold huge amounts of what will become stranded assets – essentially valueless – if there is a determined move to limit fossil fuel extraction.

I hope that as a reader of this blog you too will consider what you can do to help towards reducing the use of fossil fuels – transit expansion and better land use being two of the most effective. If you are an alumnus, and you get the steady stream of begging emails that I do from your alma mata, perhaps you too can add your voice, or sign up to the Guardian’s campaign. Individually we probably will have an infinitesimal impact: but collectively it will be a mighty roar, that will be hard to ignore. I hope so, for all our sakes.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm

How to become a Climate Reality Leader

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This turned up in my email today.

I was intrigued enough to do a bit of follow up. Iowa, Florida or Canada? Well no surprise when Canada turns out to mean Toronto. At this point my interest flagged.

I must admit I enjoy being retired. When I was at work, I used to sleep well, because I was able to fantasize about a life that did not include work. Now I am living that dream, my actual dreams are often of being back at work. Closer to nightmares really. But then I read this story about Hazel McCallion getting a new job. At 94!

Anyway, they asked me to share this email with a friend or two. That would be you.

JOIN THE CLIMATE REALITY LEADERSHIP CORPS IN 2015 >>

APPLICATIONS FOR OUR NEXT
THREE TRAININGS ARE NOW OPEN!

Dear Stephen,

In late November, world leaders will gather in Paris at the UN’s COP21 meeting to create the first-ever global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s truly a historic opportunity — and now it’s up to us to build the crucial planet-wide support necessary to ensure the strongest agreement possible.

With only months to go, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need your help.

If ever there was a moment when people from all walks of life and all corners of the world — teachers and taxi drivers, farmers and family doctors, parents and pastors, New Yorkers and nature lovers, and many, many more — could make a real difference in stopping climate change, this is that moment. If there was ever a time you wanted to stand up and change the world, this is the time to do it.

How? By becoming a Climate Reality Leader and helping build global support for a strong agreement in Paris. We’re hosting three Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings in North America for people like you who want a healthy and sustainable future for our planet — and registration is already open!

Already, nearly 7,000 Climate Reality Leaders are mobilizing communities everywhere to demand action from our leaders at this pivotal point in history. By joining this network of influencers, you can help build on this momentum and make our leaders act at COP21.

Training applications are now open and are reviewed as they are received – sodon’t wait. Your opportunity to make a difference in this crucial fight for a safe climate could be waiting in Cedar Rapids, Toronto, or Miami.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to climate action, and joining us on this critical mission.

Sincerely,
Ken Berlin
President and CEO, The Climate Reality Project
www.ClimateRealityTraining.org
PS: If you’re unable to attend, will you share this email with a friend or two who might be interested? Thanks!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

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Study: ‘It’s hard to beat gasoline’ on Air Quality

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I saw this on Planetizen and couldn’t resist the video

Now, we don’t have much ethanol around here, and the electricity we use is mostly  from existing hydro. So some of these results from the US don’t exactly translate here. So if you can afford a Tesla, go right ahead and don’t worry about those “electric cars are not so green” articles. The only time we use dirty, coal fired electricity is when our generating capacity is stretched at peak periods. Charge up your car overnight with a clear conscience.

The ethanol they refer to is E85 (85% of the fuel is ethanol): the most we use is 5 to 10%. At one time this was only true of so called premium fuels. Now it is not unusual to see ethanol in regular fuel and you may have to buy premium to avoid it. Most cars, of course, do not need premium fuel.

While hybrid cars do cut fuel consumption, this gets negated pretty quickly if you drive with a lead foot, or use a vehicle much bigger than you need. A smart car is going to use less gas than a giant SUV or truck, even if they are hybrids. And simple precautions like checking your tire pressures and not hauling a load of junk in your trunk will also cut your fuel consumption. Walking, cycling and transit (even if it is a diesel bus) are all better for the environment – and your own health.

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States

Authors: Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, and Julian D. Marshall

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.

Full text is openly available at: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.140685­3111

 

The Cost of Energy

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The recent IPCC report has been very clear about the need to get out of fossil fuels. They are also realistic in predicting that it is going to take a while to turn things around. What surprises me is the continued reluctance of the elite to absorb the message – but maybe there is an easier way to get across to them.

There has already been a significant change in energy markets, not just because the price of renewables (solar, wind and so on) has been dropping rapidly. The rush into fracking for oil and gas in North America has depressed oil prices.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.10.26 AMNow it may be argued that this is merely short term volatility and that OPEC could cut back its output to prop up prices. But equally, OPEC may be getting concerned about losing market share and needing to protect its revenue stream. Sales at lower prices being better than no sales at all.

I have already been arguing in other fora – such as twitter and facebook – that the dropping oil price ought to be a much bigger consideration for opponents of increasing fossil fuel dependence. The current crop of LNG projects in BC seem to me to be the most obvious candidates. British Gas has already pulled out of Prince Rupert: can Squamish be far behind? The provincial government has already dropped its revenue estimates, even though it was already willing to pretty much give away the resources through low royalties, it has recently cut the tax regime too. I do not understand why they continue to pursue projects which offer very little in terms of employment (relative to other energy opportunities) and now little revenue, especially in the near term. “British Columbia’s auditor general says doing business with the oil-and-gas industry has cost the province’s coffers about $1.25 billion in royalties even before most of the product has been pulled from the ground.” Vancouver Sun

But the pipeline projects that are essential to expanding the tar sands and getting diluted bitumen to oil refineries also  seem to be not only deservedly unpopular, but increasingly unnecessary. The tar sands are already heavily subsidized, but even so “ninety percent of future oil sands projects at risk from eroding oil price” according to a new report from Carbon Tracker.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.22.38 AM

I have long argued that the only thing to do with difficult to extract fossil fuels is to leave them in the ground. For one thing it is now clear that we have more than enough geothermal energy resources available to meet all our needs. While not strictly speaking “renewable” it is not likely that the earth’s core is going to cool down rapidly if we exploit these resources anymore than putting up solar panels to capture sunlight risks dimming the sun. The good thing about geothermal is its constant availability which makes it really useful to provide power when sunlight and winds are not available.

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The problematic thing is that transportation, especially in North America, is still heavily dependant on energy dense liquid fuel. Even though batteries are getting better, and energy efficiency improvements such as hybrids are helping reduce demand for gasoline, much more attention is being directed – quite properly – to the fall in car use. I think that is much more to do with the falling buying power of consumers than secular change in transport demand. The grab of the 1% has gone much too far, and the economic impacts of the impoverishment of the rest of the population are now becoming more apparent. So far the knock on effects into social unrest have been relatively weak, but that cannot continue indefinitely, absent a change in policy direction from most national governments. Obviously austerity is not working and cannot work. The changes in mode to walking and cycling can be achieved in some urban areas, but in most suburbs significant shifts in land use are needed to put origins and destinations in better proximity.  That is going to take some time to achieve.

Politicians Discussing Global Warming

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

Climate Heroes

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The intention of this post is to offset some of the gloom created by yesterday’s offering. Canada is not a good example to the rest of the world in tackling climate change, but that should not deter us from seeing what we could do, if we want to see change. And usually this blog bangs on about policy – because that is the field that I used to work in. So this is a departure, for this blog.

It also is due to the emergence in recent days of an alternative to facebook, which seems to have been sucking up a lot of my online time. I am not very happy about that, but the content that I find on facebook is what matters, more than the medium itself. If there can emerge another social medium that does not share some of Facebook’s characteristics, that would be a very good thing. I do not know if Ello will do that, but I hope so. This trailer for a new documentary was posted to Ello by Darren Barefoot – someone I met way back when I started blogging and went to Northern Voice to learn how to do that. He was involved in producing the trailer, and promoted it on Ello.

I did actually watch the whole thing and if you do nothing else I urge you to check out the making of bamboo bikes. The role of the Chinese government in the final segment also provides an interesting contrast to the way we do things here.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2014 at 9:42 am

Conservatives vote against helping Canadians save on home energy costs

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This is actually a Green Party of Canada Press Release. My expectation is that this topic is unlikely to get much coverage in the mainstream media.

I have to say as well that I did try to take advantage of the ecoEnergy Home Retrofit program, despite its somewhat cumbersome requirements. I did not get a penny from it. The simple reason being that while it was available it was almost impossible to get hold of tradespeople, who in any event at that time were also very much occupied on fitting out new build housing which was flooding the market. So when I bought an older townhouse in Richmond I got a new high efficiency gas furnace. I had to replace the hot water tank too and found there was no realistic alternative to like for like (tankless systems being only viable for larger households). I was then told by a City of Richmond gas inspector that if I installed a sealed system gas fire – to replace the negative efficiency open flame one – he would insist on the installation of a totally unnecessary air brick in an outside wall. This was because he did not understand the words  “coxial flue” and thought the new gas fire would need an additional supply of combustion air. At that point I gave up on a campaign with the strata council to speed up replacement of the windows and doors identified by the mandatory house inspection required by the ecoEnergy program which disqualified me from all rebates. And having replaced the extractor fans in both bathrooms I was not in a hurry to go back into the loft and add insulation up there.

Even so, and recognising that there is much more energy to be saved by cutting transportation emissions, I still think that retrofitting homes is a sensible thing to do, as the payback periods are shorten when energy costs rise. Of course the current glut of natural gas due to excessive fracking is not helping there either.


(Ottawa) September 25, 2014– In a House vote on September 24, 2014, Green Party Leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands Elizabeth May and Green Deputy Leader Bruce Hyer, MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, voted in favour of a motion to have the government establish a program to support energy efficient home renovation.  

Once again, the Harper Conservatives put partisanships ahead of good policy and voted it down.
“Canada wastes more than half the energy we use,” said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands. “Heating the outdoors in the winter and then cooling it in the summer just doesn’t make any sense. I am stunned that the ecoEnergy program was cancelled by the Conservatives in 2012, at a huge cost to homeowners.  This motion would have brought the program back – yet sadly, the Conservatives voted against saving Canadians thousands of dollars in energy costs.”

NDP MP François Choquette’s motion M-497 stated that an energy efficiency program would help to combat climate change while reducing Canadians’ energy bills and creating jobs.

“It was disappointing, if not unexpected, to watch almost every Conservative MP in the House stand against a proposal that could have restored the successful energy efficient home retrofit program,” Hyer said. “This motion was a no brainer. The Conservatives could have killed two birds with one stone – creating jobs while lowering carbon emissions. It’s beyond me why any government would oppose it.”

In 2012, the Conservatives cancelled their own ecoEnergy Home Retrofit program without warning. The ecoEnergy program gave out grants of up to $5,000 to homeowners to help pay for energy efficient upgrades like replacing furnaces, improving insulation and sealing windows and doors.

The program helped over 750,000 Canadians during its five years, saving users an average of 20% on their home energy bills every year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and adding up to $4 billion to the Canadian economy. It increased government revenue and created thousands of jobs.

“EcoEnergy brought huge benefits to the environment, the economy and the average Canadian.  It was particularly significant in Northwestern Ontario, where the cost of home heating is rising rapidly,” concluded Hyer.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 25, 2014 at 11:29 am

Batteries included: Network Rail begins on-track trials of prototype battery-powered train

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‘What’s this got to do with transit in Metro Vancouver?’ you might be asking. Well, it’s a trial of a new technology that does actually have potential impact here.

Network Rail and its partners believe battery-powered trains could be used to bridge gaps in otherwise electrified parts of the network or be used on branch lines where it would not be cost effective to install overhead electrification equipment,

You can read the entire press release, if you are interested. A couple of important bits of information are missing: the weight of batteries and what they do to the power consumption of the train when it is running under the wires. The second bit there is probably one of the key determinants of whether this project goes on to production. There are many prototype tests: many of them have short lives or look very different by the time they get into production.

The technology is the interesting bit, because it does not necessarily need to be confined to trains. Vancouver has an extensive network of electric trolleybuses, but the wires do not always extend to useful destinations. It is very expensive to construct the overhead (back in 2004 I used to use the figure of $1m per kilometre for plain track – more for “special works” like switches and diamonds). So to add enough wire to get trolleybuses from say 41st at Crown to UBC is cost prohibitive.

The “new” trolleybuses – actually entering service at the end of 2006 – have much better batteries than the previous generation, but even so can only run at low speed and limited distances. And someone has to be stationed at each end of the gap to do the pole pulling. So battery power is for short distances and for temporary disruptions. Routes like the #7 Dunbar – Nanaimo have been running diesel buses under wires most of the way for at least a year by my observation. This new technology could see faster, longer operation on battery power for longer distances. This would both reduce the use of diesel – a worthy aim in itself – and cut costs. As long as someone comes up with a automated pole puller. Routes like the #9 could actually terminate somewhere useful, like Brentwood Mall, instead of the traditional loop at the city boundary. The #41 could run out to UBC electrically and use the wires for most of the route.

This is probably more likely than seeing CMBC put poles on hybrid buses to achieve the same objectives.

Translink 2135 on wb 9 Broadway Vancouver BC 2007_0108

In other news

The draconian changes in drunk driving rules in BC have worked to reduce collisions and casualties. No mention is made of why this change in legislation was controversial in this UBC study, so it does not come across as an evenhanded or even objective assessment of the policy change. Were the fears of the restaurant/pub operators justified? Are there any civil liberties concerns about the presumption of innocence lost at the “sobriety checkpoint” or the absence of due process when the police impose penalties without judicial oversight? Or is the unspoken rule any life saved is worth any cost?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 am

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