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You can’t handle the truth

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There was a hard hitting article in the Globe and Mail, which I didn’t read because it is behind a paywall and the Grope and Wail is predictably right wing, especially where climate change is concerned. Then Pamela Zevit posted a link on facebook to an article on boereport which both provides a neat summary and some trenchant discussion.  I am not sure if the link provided in that article actually will get you to the original as it points to pressreader – which I don’t use either.

Anyway here is the summary

Four simple points are made that should be enough to derail the current monolithic environment industry and start a new revolution, but they will have a hard time because the media couldn’t have cared less.

The article’s four pertinent points are: that only a fraction of the population is motivated by the health of the planet; that more information does not lead to more action; that scare tactics don’t work; and that environmental products have to be desirable before they become adopted. Each point is supported by logical and balanced reasons that are hard to argue with, which explains why the article was pointedly ignored by even its owner.

The piece is a refreshingly clear statement about where the environmental debate should be going.

And at this point my thoughts turned in quite a different direction. I do not think that individual action is going to change anything very much, because the amount of difference that makes is tiny. Now, if you want to make changes in the way that you do things in order to save the planet, you go right ahead. But in the meantime there is a group of people – actually a tiny minority of the world’s population – who could indeed make a quite extraordinary  difference. They are the decision makers, the far less than 1% who control most of what happens in modern western societies, and who continue to seek out short term profits rather than long term security. And some of those people include politicians in our society who seem to be doing things that are simply contrarian to any scientific reality about this question. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau come top of my mind right now, but there are plenty of others.

The decisions behind the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to export dilbit from Alberta are driven by what they see as necessary economically. Meanwhile in other places, the move away from fossil fuels is gathering strength and is already making a measurable difference. The use of solar panels and wind turbines has increased much faster than anyone anticipated, with the result that the costs of these technologies has fallen and is now competitive with fossil fuels. Not only that but the places that are getting on with changing how they produce electricity are increasing employment, and economic activity as well as producing worthwhile improvements to other issues such as air and water quality.

It isn’t actually necessary that the other 80% of the population is motivated by the health of the planet, because they are motivated by buying better, cheaper solutions to meet their needs. The taxi drivers who decided to buy a Prius instead of a second hand full sized IC car were motivated by a financial case. And the biggest savings came not so much from buying less fuel as needing fewer brake jobs. The people installing solar panels do so because their hydro bills go down – or they can stop using diesel generators. People like Elon Musk are selling electric cars because they are better than the IC equivalent.

There is a petition that I have seen recently aimed at a cruise ship line to try and get them to switch from using bunker C (the really gross residual oil from refining crude that is used in marine diesel engines). I am not going to sign it. Because it is unreasonable to expect one ship owner to switch fuels when no other shipping line is being pressured to stop doing the same thing. But one day someone will come up with a way of powering these engines with a renewable, cleaner fuel – for instance there is one promising process to use sewage to produce liquid fuel. Which will also help to lessen their local environmental impact.

When I was part of the team that wrote BC’s first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, we did not expect anyone to change anything in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we were able to identify plenty of things that could be done that would reduce energy use, and hence expenses, that would pay for themselves in two to three years at most. Energy efficiency is worth investing in for its own sake!  And I was really quite pleased when I saw that my daughter’s school installed ground source heat pumps when it built its new extension, something that would have been prohibited by the previous policy framework. BC Hydro’s Conservation effort cost $1.5bn but saved double what Site C will produce – and will cost over $9bn. (Source: BCUC Revenue Requirement hearings 2017 via facebook BC Hydro Ratepayers Association)

It really doesn’t matter if environmental pressure groups have little impact on popular opinion. Though something must be pushing people to vote Green in larger numbers. There are already many other groups that are organising things better and helping us become more sustainable, and reducing emissions at the same time. Making it possible for people to ride their bikes in reasonable comfort and safety is probably helping to reduce the number of car trips they take. Selling cold water detergent doesn’t hurt either. Capturing methane from landfills to replace fossil fuel gas – and also increase plant growth  with the CO2 is also a good idea. Closing landfills altogether might be better but is ways off. And somehow other countries seem to manage to raise awareness – a Swiss referendum (they have lots of them) chose to end use of nuclear power.

In the meantime the demand for the fossil fuels some in Canada want to export is declining – and the price for LNG, for instance, simply doesn’t warrant any of the huge investments we are being asked to subsidize. China and India are backing off from coal faster than expected – and making the sort of contribution to CO2 reduction that was thought impossible in the earlier climate change talks. Again, neither of these countries are driven by altruism: both are looking at the cost of the health impacts of fossil fuel burning on air quality.

And Bernie Sanders agrees with me.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Death Spiral for Big Oil and Big Auto

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I have taken a chunk out of the title of the original article in the National Post.

All fossil-fuel vehicles will vanish in 8 years in twin ‘death spiral’ for big oil and big autos, says study that’s shocking the industries

That’s a pretty big title – but the article itself is long – and the Good News is that you can actually download the report in question and read it for yourself.

There are two things happening at the same time – the rise of the electric vehicle and the imminent prospect of cars that drive themselves. Put those two together, and people will give up owning an expensive internal combustion engine behemoth and take a ride in a shared autonomous vehicle – which may even have no cost to the user for the trip.

Obviously this kind of disruption is going to have huge knock on effects, and not surprisingly the report itself has plenty to read without getting into the details of what this does to cities that already experience traffic congestion and rely on public transit systems. One thing that I see is that if you can get a free ride in a self driving Uber then there is going to be a lot more vehicle trip kilometers than there are now. Our urban systems are already stressed at peak periods – and while these cars will have better occupancy and utilisation rates than the present fleet, they will still be competing for a finite amount of road space at peak periods and the simple geometry of traffic congestion will not have changed at all. So there will still need to be transit – and if there isn’t a need for a driver there may still need to be a chaperone!

Anyway for right now I have a report to read Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 PDF file.

And there’s this right up front

We invite you to join our community of thought leaders and experts to better inform this conversation. To learn more, please visit www.rethinkx.com.

One thing we seem to be getting quite wrong is the idea that we will need pipelines to export Alberta’s very expensive to produce bitumen. Building the Kinder Morgan expansion for a very limited life seems very wasteful to me. Much better to embrace the change and start getting ready for what’s coming anyway.

U.S. producers will be hit the hardest by the volume effect, as almost 15 million bpd of US oil — or 58% — will become uncommercial to produce at $25.4 cash cost. Likewise, more than half of oil production in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Angola and the U.K. will be stranded.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

Why we’re taking the Port to court

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From Kevin Washbrook via FraserVoices

After three years of preparation, Ecojustice goes to Court on behalf of VTACC and Communities and Coal this Wednesday to challenge Port Authority approval of a new coal terminal on the Fraser River. The cities of Surrey and New West will be there with us, making submissions in support of our arguments.

We’re fighting to stop US coal companies that want to run mile-long trains of open coal cars through our communities so they can ship the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from Metro Vancouver. Similar plans have been repeatedly rejected by communities in the US. A win here in federal court will be another nail in the coffin for west coast thermal coal exports.

This has already been hard fought litigation, with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority pushing back the entire time. That’s not surprising, as a federal Court decision in our favour could have serious implications for how the Port operates.

In Vancouver? Consider dropping into federal Court to follow some of the proceedings May 17-19, 701 W Georgia, starting at 9:30 a.m. each day.

Read more about the history of this challenge and our concerns about conflicts built into project permitting at the Port in this blog post.

Watch local youth talk about the impacts this project would have on their communities and the climate in this one minute video (at the top of this post).

Learn more about the case, see photos from the last four years and contribute to our legal defense fund here.

Thank you to everyone who has already donated to this challenge, and a huge note of gratitude to Ecojustice for taking on this case — without their tireless effort this work wouldn’t have been possible.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 15, 2017 at 11:41 am

History strikes again

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bike path 30s

After the Greater London Council was abolished (1985), I managed to secure new employment with the Department of Transport. I went through a competitive recruitment process and was appointed an Economic Adviser (Grade 7) and my first assignment was to the Traffic Policy Branch. I think a lot of that was due to the fact that in the run up to abolition there had been a hard hitting campaign which was pointing out some of the lacunae in the government’s assessment of the task in front of it. For instance the GLC had one man who wrote all the traffic orders for the metropolitan area. After abolition, it looked like there would have to be 32 – one in each borough. Not exactly the great boost to efficiency that was predicted. I also happen to think that someone had a sense of humour since the Under Secretary I reported to at Traffic Policy was called Neville Rees.

Most of my time as the economist of the unit was to try and make some sense out the mess that had become of parking in the capital. The politicians, of course, insisted that it was simply a matter of the market producing the optimum solution. There was no market where the hidden hand could work its magic. There had to be policy and there had to be regulation, but mostly there had to effective enforcement – that had collapsed under the weight of indifference to traffic policing at Scotland Yard.

This is a good story but it will have to wait, because now we turn to what was going on in a quiet corner of the office. There were two engineers who were trying to improve the dreadful numbers of collisions involving cyclists. The cycling lobby was pushing hard for the government to promote cycling. The policy at the time was to resist any promotion at all, since the more people who cycled, the worse the casualty statistics. The engineers were coming up with real, hard engineering solutions. Finding safe routes, better separation and better sight lines at intersections. Their mantra was to make cycling safer – and every time they did more people started to use their bikes. And just to make this perfectly clear, their remit was national, not just London. Two engineers, tiny budget for a small number of carefully selected projects. No actual program to promote anything.

My father had been an avid cyclist. Back in the 1930’s car ownership was low, public transport was plentiful and cheap, but young people used cycles – especially for recreation, sport and commuting. When my Dad was evacuated out to Egham with the Public Control Department of the LCC (1939) , he rode his cycle back to Manor Park every weekend. He could do that because when the great network of road improvements was built – mainly as a way to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression – cycle paths were always added to these new roads. For instance the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue and the East Ham ByPass all come to mind.

When the cycling engineers and I talked about what they were trying to do, I mentioned this history to them. They were pretty dismissive. So imagine my surprise when I came across this article in the Atlas Obscura.  I knew these roads and had tried to use some of them in my own youth. By the late 1960s much of them were being used by residents along these roads to park their cars.

In the years that followed the construction of the cycleways, though, cars became the predominant form of transportation, and the bike lanes fell out of use. Even the Ministry of Transport forgot that it had built them. “Within 40 years, it had been lost in their own department that they were doing this,” says Reid. He read the ministry’s minutes going through the 1960s and found records of ministers saying that they’d never built anything like a bike highway before.

So once again, just like bringing back the trams, or re-opening the railway lines closed by Dr Beeching, Britain is now rediscovering what it lost in the rush to motordom. They could have done it thirty years earlier.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

“Smaller, lighter, greener: are micro EVs the future of city transport?”

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“Imagine a city street filled with two-seater electric vehicles (EVs) zipping around. A Swedish startup claims these smaller, lighter EVs could help cut congestion and toxic levels of air pollution.”siemens micro ev

The picture and the somewhat breathless quote comes from a recent Guardian article. Yes a small light EV will take up less road space and produce less air pollution than a hulking great SUV. But it is unlikely to do much if anything to cure traffic congestion – even if it is widely adopted (which seems unlikely) – any more than self driving cars will, or even shared cars. The problem is that they are all cars. The challenges we face are that we need to move more people – not more vehicles. And with the decline of conventional retailing we also need more and better delivery systems – but I will leave that for another occasion.

I know that I have seen another version of this graphic

29187-m4oqnr

which adds a couple more pictures – one of evs, one of self driving cars – which hammers home the point. It is one that needs to be repeated because a lot of people still do not seem to understand that the solutions lie in policy not technology. The changes in technology are already here – and the policy needs to adapt to that – but we still have politicians, in this city as elsewhere, who think that taking road space away from cars to make movement better for people – walking, riding bikes, in wheelchairs, pushing strollers or walkers, taking the bus – is some kind of heresy. George Affleck cannot stand the idea that people who are not in cars have any rights at all. Of course he is not about to actually say that so he turns it into a question of staff versus elected councillors. He opposes wider side walks, protected bike lanes on principle. The principle being that only the undeserving poor ride bikes or buses.

I am a bit reluctant to endorse what seems to be a neo-conservative paeon to pricing but the economics cited in this article are sound.  Self driving cars won’t cure congestion any more than micro EVs will.

In my version of the solution, we have allocated the space available based on people carrying capacity – when looking at roads. But when we look at streets, and places,  we are not trying to build a sewer to flush the waste through as fast as possible. We want people to linger. Loitering should not be an offence – it should be positively encouraged. People who spend time in one place add life, interest (people watching is everyone’s favourite pastime) and (God help me) profit. If you drive through my neighbourhood, you add danger. If you stop, and look around, you might even buy something – or maybe take a picture and post it on social media. You cease to be a traveller and become a visitor – and we need visitors. We welcome visitors, we want them to stay and come back, and tell their friends.

Actually we would rather you don’t bring your own car – it adds cost (demands a ridiculous amount of space for one person, and security).

Actually the comments under the Guardian article are more intelligent: they enthuse about the electric bike and what that is going to achieve. I will have more to say on that in a short while. Once my new powered front wheel arrives.

But city transport isn’t the issue we need to focus on. If it were, the answer is simple. Build more transit. Provide more transit options. Make transit the best way to get around. Physically protect cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic. Nothing to do with how to provide a single occupant vehicle with motive power.

The best transport plan is a land use plan. Make a better place and people won’t want to get through it as fast as possible. Get away from it as quickly as they can. Ignore it as it flashes by their window. If the only way they can get to work, or to get the goods and services they need, or to meet other people is to drive a car you, as a city planner, have failed dismally. But only as dismally as most suburban planners have failed in the last half century. By thinking that the critical feature – the one thing we must not get wrong – is the turning circle of the fire truck.

AFTERWORD

In case you think I am being unfair to George Affleck, he’s at it again in the Sun today (May 15)

Even the smallest changes can damage business interests and greatly impact motorists trying to get to and from work. Indeed these days many motorists, undertaking necessary commutes, feel their needs are being forsaken in the interests of those who pedal to their destinations. And business owners are rightly riled when disruptions stemming from road improvements disrupt the running of their businesses.

Never mind that even Charles Gauthier now acknowledges that protected bike lanes have actually increased business in Downtown. And of course no motorist has ever taken an unnecessary trip, have they.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 5.58.48 PM

Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2017 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Transportation

The unbearable experience of flight

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Air Transat A330 at YVR

This post has been inspired by Stephen Dowle, one of my contacts on flickr, in response to something he wrote under one of his pictures recently. The Pleasures of Travel seem to be a thing of the past:

Has there ever been a more horrible means of getting from one place to another than air travel? I am resolved in future to avoid it whenever possible.

I have been avoiding travel to the United States since inauguration of the present President. The people who work in airport security, and those employed by Customs and Border Patrol, have often seemed to me needlessly officious and unpleasant. The arrival of Trump on the scene seems to have encouraged them to ever greater incursions into personal liberties. I am not willing to allow CPB – or indeed Canada’s equivalent – access to my passwords and information on my cell phone, tablet or laptop. Nor am I willing to travel without them to avoid an unwarranted search. I am also tired of being picked “at random” for pat-downs at airports every time I fly.

Airline travel has also become far worse, as a result of the pressures on airlines to cut costs, to make fares seem cheaper, but provide far less in the way of service. I have not at first hand experienced the sort of indignities offered to passengers in recently highly publicised incidents, but I have to say I am not surprised by any of them.

Our most recent trip seemed to parallel Mr Dowle’s. The flight from Vancouver to Cuba was scheduled to leave at 6am Air Transat TS188 to Varadero calling at Santa Clara. We were expected to be at the airport three hours in advance as is common for international flights. This is actually one of the first departures – and there is not very much activity in security, so the necessity for all this prematurity is not readily apparent

We did not take the precaution of prebooking our seats or a meal. There is not much open in YVR between 3am and 5am. In any event, I do not want to eat when I ought to be sleeping. But I did get quite decent coffee.

By the time the food cart on the plane got to row 41 there were no breakfast sandwiches left – which I would think must happen on this flight every week. It is about two thirds of the way down the cabin. So every time this happens the cabin service crew must be aware of it but have not managed to get anything done to change it. That tells you a lot about how seriously Air Transat treats customer service.  All I got to eat all day was one muffin, which was not good for my blood sugar levels. The fact that it was my birthday is entirely irrelevant.

Yutong airport bus

This service ran one hour early due to favourable winds – and thus when it got to Santa Clara there was no gate ready. After the passengers who were going to resorts locally disembarked, the rest of us were told to get off too, so that the plane could be cleaned. We were also told that anything left on board would be regarded as fair game by the cleaners and taken as being abandoned.

We were obliged to stand on the apron as there was nowhere else where we could be accommodated.  The few people at the front of the line were apparently treated to the usual search and interrogation procedures for arriving passengers, even though they were going on to Varadero, and were not going to be allowed beyond the airport terminal “quarantine” zone. One small benefit from standing on the apron, wearing clothing suitable for a Canadian winter, in 31º C is a nice clear shot of this bus.  There must have been a shortage of security staff since most of us were simply reloaded onto the bus and taken back to our plane.

When we got to Varadero, there was also an arrival of another service from Germany. There were three carousels for the baggage – and no indication of which one was allocated to which flight. So there was an almost comical shuttling backwards and forwards of people searching for their bags as batches of them randomly arrived on one of the three belts. The only people who actually knew where to get their bags from were the German flight crew – who obviously go through this palaver every time they land there.

I did manage to buy a can of cold beer once we got out of the terminal. The vendor was clearly used to taking foreign currency from people who had had no opportunity to get Cuban convertible pesos. In fact on the return trip through the same airport we were asked multiple times by all sorts of people if we would change their Canadian dollars into pesos we would no longer be needing. The terminal itself being “free” of currency controls: they will take anything including your Cuban currency of you still have any. I even got change in Canadian coins!

The bus from Varadero to Havana made drop offs at all the resorts and hotels on the way, and we were among the last to get delivered. Our 5 star hotel did have many restaurants, bars and a café.  Most food service was closed at 10 pm – shortly after we got there.

I think if you are going to take flight TS188 you ought to bring your own breakfast and lunch. Unless you are willing to pay extra for those nicer seats at the front of the plane. Which of course is the whole point. Airlines make travelling in the cheap seats as nasty as possible, so that you will consider paying a lot more next time.

UPDATE

On May 16 the Canadian government announced that (at long last) it was going to introduce legislation to give Canadians the consumer protections airline passengers have had in the U.S. since 2002 and in Europe since 2005. Though I think the legislation is necessary, it will not be enough: there needs to be a change in corporate culture in Air Canada (and other airlines) to change how airlines treat passengers in cases like this one. Gabor Lukacs says the Bill is just smoke and mirrors – what is needed is enforcement of existing rules – the CTA is another captive regulator. (Taken from the 4pm CBC TV News Vancouver. At time of writing that is not available but Global is )

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

May 6, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Transportation

That $3bn Bridge will be $12bn

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new-bridge
The following is the text of an NDP Press Release dated May 5

Documents show Clark’s Massey Bridge boondoggle will cost $12 billion

Construction costs for Christy Clark’s Massey toll bridge are mounting. After first claiming the bridge would cost $3 billion to build, estimates have already risen to $3.5 billion. And with reports that they are having difficulty finding bedrock, these costs are expected to climb further.

Because Christy Clark is pushing the bridge with no financial support from the federal or municipal governments, BC taxpayers will be left footing the whole bill.

Several months ago, the BC NDP filed a freedom of information request to find out the full cost of the project, including financing. The request came back with all financial details blanked out. (FOI documents).

But leaked internal documents (available here) reveal that financing costs for the bridge will add another $8 billion in costs that British Columbians will be paying for the next 50 years – bringing the total bill to nearly $12 billion.

We’ve already seen the frustration and traffic chaos caused by tolling the Port Mann Bridge. Christy Clark’s Massey scheme would cause similar problems on the Oak Street Bridge and area roads.

Why are the BC Liberals asking British Columbians to pay nearly $12 billion for a new toll bridge scheme that nobody wants?

Written by Stephen Rees

May 5, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Transportation

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