Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category
One of the benefits of having a blog – and one of its curses too – is that I get things in the email that other people want me to put on my blog. Or write about on my blog. This is one of those: it comes from The Nation which is a magazine whose web site operates behind a paywall. So I get a complimentary log in to see articles which they think I will direct you to. Many are worthy, and I understand why The Nation wants to stay in business and keep paying its journalists to provide content. But, as far as possible, I continue to try and find sources that are not paywalled.
Today the news is full of two things that everybody is writing about: the new Papal encyclical and the latest American shooting atrocity. The Nation has three, searing articles about that and how this church and this date were neither randomly picked. And a commencement speech by Naomi Klein to the College of the Atlantic on June 6, 2015.
Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker—as if this is their day or something? What’s next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?
So as it happens there’s a couple of things here that have resonance with me. Firstly the Atlantic has, very wisely, closed comments on the three articles about the Charleston massacre. After yesterday, I have been seriously thinking that might not be too bad of an idea here, but two comments from the Usual Suspects set me straight on that. We do have good discussions here, and one wingnut is not going to be allowed to upset that. Secondly, one of the topics that Naomi Klein addresses speaks to something I have been thinking about.
These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”
The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts.
Recently Jane Fonda visited Jericho Beach and spoke there about pipelines and coastal tankers and whatnot, and of course the commenters weighed in as usual, being snide about how Jane chose to travel here, and thus was some kind of hypocrite because that trip used fossil fuel. Just as the same cabal has chided Al Gore for his campaigning on the same topic.
Maybe the Pope is going to be different. Maybe his speech will start the moral shift that is needed in the corridors of power to finally address the issue. Of course the fact that someone inside the Vatican leaked the encyclical (not a usual turn of events) and that Jeb Bush was already out front of it seem to point in the direction that the pontiff will be going. A bit like the way the President has had to acknowledge on gun control.
But continuing the “fair use “privilege, here is how Naomi Klein sees it towards the end of her speech
….the weight of the world is not on any one person’s shoulders—not yours. Not Zoe’s. Not mine. It rests in the strength of the project of transformation that millions are already a part of.
That means we are free to follow our passions. To do the kind of work that will sustain us for the long run. It even means we can take breaks—in fact, we have a duty to take them. And to make sure our friends do too.
And, as it happens you can also watch – for free – what Naomi Klein said on YouTube
And also here is what she has to say about the Pope’s new message
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
The title comes from the CBC story, but the mainstream media are all over this today. Unfortunately to get the Minister’s response you have to go to the paywalled Sun – and this being the beginning of the month, you probably won’t have to pay. But if you do, don’t bother becuase it is all entirely predictable.
UPDATE – as you would expect the media are catching up and Jeff Nagel now has this piece summarizing the reactions including those of the minister. So you don’t have to worry about paywalls at the Sun and Globe.
It doesn’t matter how good these ideas are. Nor even how acceptable. Mary Polak isn’t going to make any decision.
“We’re nowhere near a decision that says whether it’s on or it’s off,” Polak said Wednesday. “There just isn’t enough information yet.”
Polak said mayors have made “good progress” in making the case for new funding sources for TransLink.
But she said she’d need greater detail, including how much new money in total mayors envision raising for TransLink and the timing of major rapid transit lines in Vancouver and through Surrey to White Rock and Langley.
“They’re referencing Broadway corridor SkyTrain as well as the Surrey one,” Polak said. “We need them to find consensus on what would come first.”
There is an election coming up, and the BC Liberals are already laying out their appeal in the adverts that you, the taxpayer, are funding. “Lowest income tax” and all that. Indeed as you would expect
Jordan Bateman with the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation doesn’t like any of the ideas. “I think it’s absolutely abysmal news for taxpayers,” he said. “I think taxpayers are going to be up in arms over this.”
The right wing frames the debate: characterizing all taxation as bad, and all government spending as wasteful and inefficient. They also like to create the illusion that we “can’t afford” any new public expenditures and we are taxed to the max. Nothing could be further from truth, of course.
But to return to the Minister – the reason she is not going to be making any announcement is she doesn’t have to, and anyway it won’t be her who makes the decision. That comes much later – and even in the very unlikely event of yet another BC Liberal government, is not likely to fall to her. It will, make no mistake, be a provincial decision.
Indeed, it is the height of chutzpah to maintain the fiction that the Mayors get to make any contribution to it. The reason that there is only a Mayor’s Council at all is that when they were on the Translink Board they did not understand that their opinion only counted when they agreed with provincial priorities. They dared question the Canada Line and insisted that the Evergreen Line proceed at the same time. It is exceedingly ridiculous that they are now being chided that they have not come up with a set of priorities for rapid transit – the Broadway versus Surrey debate. Obviously both are needed, for quite different reasons. But in any event, the tame “professional” board showed that they understood provincial priorities when they started to cut – sorry, reallocate – transit service – but protected spending on the newer, much wider Patullo Bridge.
The Province does not really care about transit – any more than it cares about greenhouse gas emissions. It just recognizes that at times it has to appear as though it does.
The only new item on the list is a regional addition to the soon to be reinstated provincial sales tax. Adding 0.5% within Metro is said to raise $250m a year – and presumably is thought small enough that it will not drive more cross boundary shopping. Sales tax is a frequently used funding device in the United States, but its use here would be innovative and would require legislation.
The vehicle levy is back on the table too – which also requires more provincial legislation. It has been one of the legally approved sources for Translink since its creation, but has never been implemented.
They would also like a slice of the carbon tax – and a look at road pricing for the future. Neither of those are going to happen as they are both contrary to current government policy. The carbon tax is only to be used to lower income tax (“revenue neutral” – the same phrase that stuck us with the hugely increased costs of UPass) and tolls are only permitted on new roads/bridges.
Again, the province does not have to look at any of the proposals in any objective fashion. It simply has to appeal to affordability for families (cue the CTF). Odd that Christy still seems wedded to the idea that somehow she can get women to vote for her if she says the word “family” often enough without actually doing anything to help them.
What we are seeing is a ritual dance. We simply keep going round in circles until the music stops. The Mayors play along because most of them are “free enterprise” voters – and mostly supporters of the BC Liberals. Though they would never admit the link. They wear labels like “non-partisan” – but easily cross over to provincial politics when the opportunity is presented.
The real argument ought to be why there is no money for transit when there is always money for roads. Why the province has foregone provincial revenues from royalties in order to promote yet more natural gas extraction at a time when that market is actually glutted and prices are dropping, and are now competitive with coal. Why the province has shifted from a progressive, general revenue source (income tax) to a regressive, dedicated source (Medical Service Premiums). Why is it that transit spending always has to be cast in the light of a purely local service that municipalities must pay for, when they do not have an adequate source of revenue?
This is not a new debate. It is the same one we have been having ever since operating streetcars ceased to be profitable for the private sector. And the province of BC has always been calling the shots – taking credit for the few successes and passing the blame along for the inevitable failures. Cutting the ribbon on the big projects – invisible when critical issues like “where’s my bus?” surface.
There is one additional source I have failed to mention: “a share of increased land value along transit corridors.” Isn’t that what property tax does? Or should do? Has not the land value around – to take one example – Marine Drive Station – shot up? It is no longer empty industrial land but a major mixed use development (mostly housing). Of course, much of that increase goes to the City – and as we know, incremental residential tax revenues are less than the incremental cost of services for the new residents. So we add some premium levy on the property value increment that the developer has to pay – “value capture”. You know what happens then? The developers go elsewhere: there are always other places where the premium will not apply. A similar scheme was mooted to pay for Toronto’s Sheppard Subway – which lasted as long as the first announcement from a developer that if he had to pay a levy to the TTC he would do his development in the suburbs where the levy would not apply and not help pay for the station beneath it.
It is part of the lesson that all should understand. That when you alter taxes you change the incentives. Raise the gas tax and people drive less. Raise the carbon tax – same response. Impose a land value increment levy and watch the development move to less transit oriented areas.
We do not need any of these five proposals. What we need is an end to the sweetheart deals on natural gas – indeed an end to all fossil fuel subsidies. We will need a congestion tax but there has to be a viable alternative in place for trip making first. A congestion tax – or road pricing – cannot reduce congestion if the only way to make the trip is driving. We will also need a lot of work on figuring out how to protect personal privacy. The smart meter fuss will appear trivial in comparison. So yes to road pricing but not yet – and we need new revenues right now.
In the meantime, we have to abandon MSP and go back to the sort of income tax levels we had twenty years ago. The rich must pay more tax, and their opportunities to evade and avoid have to be eliminated. And that cannot apply just to Metro Vancouver – or even just to BC. There has to be a National Transit Strategy – and a Ministry of Cities in Ottawa. We cannot continue to talk about transportation as though land use was some sort of exogenous variable. We cannot talk about paying for transit as though that can only fall on residents of areas that have good transit service now. We cannot talk about health as though only expenditures on building and running hospitals count. More walking, cycling and transit will improve health and also cut hospital costs, incidentally.
We have to stop the ritual dance, and start having a real conversation about what sort of urban society we want in a post carbon, sustainable future.
And I won’t be holding my breath until that happens.
The following is a Press Release from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change on the decision yesterday by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to approve plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.
I am copying it in full since it is well argued and referenced – and I somehow doubt that it will attract anything like the coverage it deserves in the mainstream media (which goes to the Vancouver Sun story. VTACC isn’t mentioned but the responsibility issue is. You might have to pay to read that.)
The contrast to the way that coal terminal expansion in our region is being dealt with stands on stark contrast to the ongoing battle just to the south of us.
Climate change not our problem: Port Authority approves Neptune coal export expansion
— shrugs off calls for broader consultation on climate, health impacts from climate scientists, mayors, Lung Association and others
For immediate release
January 24 2013
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced yesterday that it has approved plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver. In doing so it ignored appeals from the public, climate scientists, regional mayors, the BC Lung Association and leading NGO’s(1) to delay a decision until the broad public had been thoroughly consulted on the climate and potential health impacts of this proposal.
Approval means that coal exports from this facility will expand by as much as 13 million tonnes per year over 2011 levels.(2) At full output, Neptune Terminals could see 4 to 5 loaded coal trains arriving each day (up to 10 train trips per day total), based on current coal train capacities.(3)
The Port Authority has rejected arguments about climate change, potential health impacts, and broad public consultation in making its decision. We address each of these points in turn below.
Climate change is a real and urgent threat to our children’s future. The greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the burning of BC’s coal exports will hurt all global citizens, including British Columbians. The International Energy Agency reported last year that if we continue to blindly service increasing demand for fossil fuels, by 2050 the world will be locked into a devastating 6 degree increase in temperature.
Taking steps to avoid this outcome cannot be reconciled with increasing exports of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. “Business as usual” is no longer an option. We must all take responsibility to reduce emissions. The Port Authority does not get a free pass on this issue by choosing to narrowly interpret its federal mandate as the demand-driven facilitation of trade.
Coal exports from Metro Vancouver have increased considerably in recent years, and if the Neptune Terminals and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposals are both approved Metro Vancouver will be the biggest coal exporter in North America. Total emissions from this exported coal would be greater than those from the Northern Gateway pipeline. The public should not think that these will be the last proposals to increase coal exports out of our region.(4)
The Port Authority and its tenant, Neptune Terminals, have not explicitly acknowledged that metallurgical coal exported from Neptune Terminals, when used in steel making, produces as much global warming pollution as thermal coal used in power production. By ignoring the harm that these exports will do to our fragile climate, Neptune Terminals and the Port Authority do a disservice to the public.
Regional impacts from increased coal train traffic
The Port Authority has not acknowledged that developments on its own lands have impacts in communities far outside its jurisdiction. It has not addressed the fact that the Neptune Terminals expansion will result in increased train traffic through North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley and other municipalities further afield, resulting in increased exposure to diesel emissions and unknown amounts of coal dust.
The Port Authority indicates that Transport Canada has the power to regulate rail traffic, but it does not clarify that there are no regulations governing the release of coal dust from trains in Canada, and that any measures to control coal dust escapes are entirely voluntary on the part of railways. The Port Authority has ignored a call from the BC Lung Association, the Public Health Association of BC, Canadian Physicians for the Environment and individual health leaders to delay these decisions until unanswered questions about potential health impacts have been properly assessed. If the Port Authority truly aspires to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it would work to close these gaps in public oversight prior to approval of coal export expansion.
Port Authority decision making and consultation processes
We remind the Port Authority that their federal mandate includes a requirement that they act with broad public support in the best interests of Canadians. The Port Authority has ignored calls from the Mayors of Vancouver and New Westminster for broader public consultation on these decisions. They have ignored similar calls from leading public organizations and high profile individuals. Again, these actions call into question the Port Authority’s aspirations to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities.
In keeping with the Port Authority’s stated commitment to transparency, we call on the Port Authority to make public all comments received during their consultation over the Neptune Terminals decision, as was done during the scoping phase of the review of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal in Washington State.
More broadly, the conduct of the Port Authority during this review process calls into question how well it reflects the interests of the region within which it operates. Seven of eleven seats on the Port’s Board of Directors are nominated by port users. Only one seat is nominated by regional communities. There are no board members representing health concerns. There are no board members representing environmental concerns. Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) calls on the federal government to change the make up of the Port Authority board to better reflect the priorities of our region in Port decision making.
“The Port doesn’t lack the authority to consider climate change or broad health concerns in its decisions, it lacks the courage to do so,” said Kevin Washbrook, Director with VTACC. “We think the Port Authority shrugs off any responsibility for these issues because its board doesn’t reflect who we are as a region, our shared concern for a healthy future and our sense of a moral obligation to take action on climate change,” Washbrook said.
VTACC calls on the Port Authority to reconsider this decision, to open it to full public review, and to more broadly interpret their mandate to incorporate shared responsibility for our future. This is the transparent, fair and morally responsible thing to do.
“It is hypocritical to celebrate Vancouver as a Green City and British Columbia as a climate leader, while we continue to prosper from the export of coal and oil,” said VTACC Director, Kathryn Harrison “With each approval of new infrastructure for coal exports, the Port Authority further locks us into an economic path dependent on fossil fuels. They are sacrificing our children’s future for short-term gain.”
(1) Read the open letter from climate leaders here. Signatories included Bill McKibben, James Hansen, David Suzuki, Andrew Weaver, Mark Jaccard, Naomi Klein, Tzeporah Berman, William Rees, Greenpeace Canada, the Council of Canadians, the Islands Trust Council and a host of other individuals and organizations.
(2) Starting with the Port Authority’s overall figures for coal exports in 2011 (32.7 million tonnes in 2011) and subtracting Westshore’s self published figures (27.3 million tonnes) leaves approximately 5.2 million tonnes for Neptune in 2011. (Minor amounts of coal may have been shipped from other locations.) The proposals just approved will increase Neptune Terminals capacity to 18.5 million tonnes/yr.
(3) A rough estimate of the relationship between daily train traffic and annual export volumes can be derived from the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal. This indicates that 4 million tonnes/yr export results in 1 coal train per day (scroll down to point 8). Other sources confirm these numbers, assuming standard rail car volumes and 126 car trains. Applied to Neptune, this means that in 2011, with exports of approximately 5.2 million tonnes, there was likely 1 coal train per day to the terminal, and perhaps 2 on some days — or 2 to 4 one way trips in loaded and out empty.
Using the same calculations, exports of 18.5 million tonnes per year would mean 4 to 5 coal deliveries per day, and 8 to 10 total train trips (in loaded, out empty). Neptune indicates that it may begin using trains that are 152 cars in length. If that is the case it would decrease the total number of daily trips, assuming the rail cars were the same volume.
It’s worth noting that longer trains will also increase delays at rail crossings; a 152 car train is approximately 2.6 km in length
(4) Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated that it is seeking out other coal export customers in addition to BNSF. If the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham Washington (projected to generate 18 return coal train trips per day) is not approved, there will be increased pressure to export US coal through BC. Westshore Terminals general manager Denis Horgan has stated that currently proposed capacity increases will not be enough to meet expected demand:
“Between us, Neptune and Ridley right now, let’s say we’re close to 50 million tons capacity. All of us combined. With all of these projects going on in a couple years time we’ll be at 70 million. But even then it still isn’t enough,” said Denis Horgan, vice president and general manager, Westshore Terminal.”