Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
The headline comes from a disturbing story in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun (paywalled)
I think many of us had been under the impression that driving was probably declining, since that was widely reported from US sources. It now seems that in this region we are not only driving more but in larger vehicles.
The proportion of small cars in Metro Vancouver has declined, to roughly 32 per cent of all vehicles in 2013 from 38 per cent in 2007. In contrast, the proportion of SUVs has risen to 22 per cent from 15 per cent over the same period and the share of large cars has increased to 20 per cent from 18 per cent.
At the same time, the study found the average number of kilometres driven by passenger vehicles fell by almost five per cent from 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, but that number has risen just over two per cent between 2012 and 2014.
Some of that might be attributable to the shifting around of transit service, which saw low ridership routes lose out to overcrowded routes – which also hit the outer, more car dependent suburbs harder than the region’s core.
The report can be found at autostat.ca which belongs to Pacific Analytics Inc.
The report is twenty three pages and is available as a pdf to download. There are some very notable omissions. No authors are credited. While there are plenty of graphs there are no tables, and no sources of data are cited other than Pacific Analytics model. For example, there is a very detailed analysis of vehicle types and some interesting, and quite remarkable data on vehicle kilometres travelled. But no source is cited for either. By implication the vehicle analysis would seem to come from ICBC, but I have no idea who has the data on vehicle kilometres travelled in the region by quarter, for every year.
So I called Jim Johnson, who is the sole proprietor of Pacific Analytics. He has given me permission to host the report here (link at bottom of article). The source of the vehicle data is a combination of data from AirCare (which of course will no longer be available) and the autorepair industry. A full description of the dataset is available at autostat.ca
Sinoski’s article tries to paint a relationship to the way Translink has been adjusting service. It does seem likely that in areas where transit was not a very good option (with the exception of the #555 bus along Highway #1 which enables people to avoid the Port Mann toll, and West Coast Express) and service has been cut, that driving would increase. The drop in gas prices would also have both reduced that disincentive to drive and the deterrent to buying a bigger vehicle. But while the auto manufacturing industry may have been turning its mind to more fuel efficient models, consumers seem to be buying the cars/trucks they want rather than the those that might burn less fossil fuel.
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.
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.
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
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.
‘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.
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?
“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
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.