Stephen Rees's blog

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

“What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?”

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Greenpeace Shell BC

Illustration taken from GreenPeace

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

We don’t need no consultation!

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It is not often I find myself in complete agreement with a spokesperson of the BC NDP. But this evening I heard an interview with B.C. NDP Justice Critic Mike Farnworth on CBC  

“I expected more than a hashtag consultation. I was expecting some leadership shown and some action taken,” he said.

“We know what the problem is. Distracted driving — people texting, people using cell phones while driving — kills people. There’s nothing to consult on.”

BC’s penalties for distracted driving are the lowest in Canada. The BC government thinks it ought to consult on the problem: distracted driving here is now the second leading cause of death due to vehicle collisions, exceeding alcohol but still less than speed.

If you feel so inclined you can be part of the process. That is if you think the paucity of the penalty is the problem.

No doubt after all this song and dance the penalty will increase but nothing much else will actually change. Because the problem is not the perception of the size of the penalty but the perception of the probability of being caught. Most people using hand held electronic devices in their cars while driving know they are breaking the law, but they don’t see it as dangerous. Anymore than they see speeding as dangerous. Or queue jumping, running stale amber lights, parking in bike lanes … and so on. And they know for an absolute certainty that the probability of being caught is about as low as winning the lottery. They still buy lottery tickets of course.

If you could actually catch speeders when they commit the offence you could reduce speeding. Well, we all know what happened to that don’t we. It was unpopular with speeders – so it was dropped like a hot brick. Do you think that the BC Liberals are actually serious about upsetting all those people who continue to take important calls and those crucial text messages they must send? There will be consultation and those angry with other people they see texting will be vociferous. But behaviour will change little if at all. And there will be media events and other hoopla about periodic crackdowns – especially after some well documented collision. Expect a crackdown whenever something newsworthy happens. That probably doesn’t mean your Granny having a near miss on a marked crosswalk.

I suppose I ought to be able to condense that to 140 characters. But I can’t so its a blog post.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2015 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Road safety

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TransLink pushes out senior transportation planning veterans Tamim Raad and Brian Mills

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The headline comes from the Georgia Straight but I got there from Frances Bula’s blog. The remarkable thing of course is that Translink sheds staff all the time, but usually it is only changes at the top that become news stories. And, what pushes me to write about it, is that the commenters all feel free to pile on. Some of the Straight’s being much worse.

Of course I know Brian and Tamim from when I worked at Translink. No one commented on my departure and I still feel constrained by the document that I was required to sign in order to get my severance package to not say any more about that. The truth, of course, is that we will never know why they were let go. It is probably quite likely that neither of them got more than a sanitised version of the reasoning, and no doubt they will be told to keep even that to themselves.

Not that that stops the commenters. Shielded by the anonymity of the comment process they can opine freely, even though there is not a shred of credibility in what they say. They are immune from the normal sanctions, and I doubt it is worth anyone’s while to try to launch a case of libel, even though some of what is written is clearly libellous. Both were highly competent at what they did. Tamim used to work in my section and I tried to do what I could both to give him as much delegated responsibility as possible and to ensure that he got the credit and rewards that would help Translink retain him. Neither he, nor Brian, were promoted on the basis of “Buggin’s turn”. They both earned their promotions. I find the idea that the person who is hiding behind the anonymity of Straight’s system is a fellow employee even more revolting, but I suppose every office has its rivalries. The work atmosphere of the planning department ought to have improved with the departure of Glen Leicester, who was generally disliked and clearly had been the beneficiary of the Peter Principle. He mostly took the credit for any successes of his staff but made sure the blame always fell far below him.

I think it is much more likely that the person who states  “If you really knew them you would know they do not have the skills or ability to manage at their level” really has no idea at all of what they are talking about. They are very unlikely indeed to have the education, training or knowledge either to be effective transportation planners or managers themselves. But they relish the opportunity to denigrate those who do. Unfortunately, there are many who thinks that they have great expertise in transit – or transportation in general – simply because they have used more than one system, or have read a few books aimed at enthusiasts. They find it hard to get employment at any more than operative levels – and sometimes not even then – simply because they lack the necessary skills and abilities. And every so often reveal that by the ignorance that underlies their comments.

It is also untrue that Translink must be held responsible for the technical failures of Compass. They had a Cubic system, and they wrote the specifications for how they needed that to be adapted. When the original system was bought the undertaking that it would be upgradeable was built into the contract. The major failing is due to Cubic’s inability to produce an adequately reliable touch pad reader on a bus – and they are not alone in that. The internal divisions within Translink may have been shifted around since my day, but one of the big changes that was brought in with the move away from BC Transit was significant shift of resources to “Capital Projects” (previously Engineering) for project management. Neither Tamim nor Brian would have had much influence except for pointing out what the policies (expressed by the fare tariff and transportation plan) required of the system.

Everyone is entitled to have and express their own opinions. But they are not entitled to their own facts. They are not entitled to denigrate anyone, and they are also not exempted from the normal requirements of society by the facility of information technology which they apparently think shields them from the consequences of their actions. I am publishing this on my blog so that I do not get into a profitless exchange on the Straight’s site: but I would like the editors there to take a stronger line  in moderation. I think it is also possible for the Straight as a publication to be held liable for comments that they do not moderate effectively – but then I am not a lawyer either. I do moderate here, and comments like that do not appear here.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 11, 2015 at 11:28 am

Posted in transit

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Equity, Opportunity and Good Health

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A free public lecture from SFU Continuing Studies and The City Program

How Transportation Affects the Essential Qualities of Life In Metro Vancouver
Thursday, 30 April 2015 7:30 PM at SFU Segal School of Business

Transportation connects us to our community, our place of work and our friends and family. The way transportation infrastructure is designed and the modes of transportation that we have access to impact our lifestyle and our health.
The lecture reviewed some of the evidence from other jurisdictions, but focused primarily on the findings from the My Health My Community project that surveyed 28,000 Metro Vancouver residents in 2013/14.
While there are clear dividends in health for active transportation users, current transit infrastructure does not equally benefit all communities in Metro Vancouver. Access to transportation widens opportunity and is a significant equity issue in Metro Vancouver.

This lecture was in collaboration with the 2015 ITE QUAD Conference, May 1-2 at the Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver.

It is fortunate that the text and illustrations that were used for this lecture are all available on line. I noticed that several people were trying to photograph the illustrations used, but that turns out to unnecessary too.

The talk was preceded by a presentation by Dale Bracewell, the Manager of Active Transportation at the City of Vancouver. He started by stating that Vancouver now designs its active transportation projects to meet the needs of all ages and abilities. The overarching goals are set by Transportation 2040 but that includes the interim goal of 50% of trips by walk, cycle and transit by 2020. The City has set itself objectives in the fields of Economy, People and Environment. The active transportation program fits within the People category and the Healthy City Strategy, which has a four year Action Plan. Walking and cycling are now the fastest growing transportation mode which reflects Vancouver’s high Walk Score. A panel survey is conducted annually with the City’s Health Partners.

Walking has increased by 19% while the collision rate has fallen by 20%. The collision data also needs to be seen within the context of the City’s Vision Zero. Cycling has increased by 41% while collisions have fallen by 17%. It is clear that the safety in numbers effect is working. Vancouver has installed a series of automated bike counters. He had a set of graphics which I have yet to find but the data is available as a large pdf spreadsheet.

This is the counter at Science World which now has the biggest count – even greater than the Burrard Bridge

Bike Counter

The counters show cycle use growing between 7 and 15% over the last year. The Lion’s Gate Bridge now equals Hornby and Dunsmuir, even before the new safety measures for cyclists have been introduced.

hornby-beforeafter

Hornby Street still moves as many vehicle now as it did before, simply because the  two way separated bike lane replaced on street parking. There are still 14,000 cars a day, but cycle traffic has increased 50% to 2,700 per day. At the same time there are 5,000 people on the sidewalk, with pedestrians showing a clear preference for the side with the cyclists rather than the parked cars. The street is now moving more people overall.

He also added a plug for an upcoming conference in Vancouver next year pro walk pro bike pro place  September 12 – 15, 2016

Dr. Jat Sandhu is the regional director of the public health surveillance unit at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. He stressed that his remarks are his own personal views.

He started by contrasting the experience of driving a car in congested traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway with that of riding a bike on a path next to the North Arm of the Fraser River – the stress of the former versus the relaxation of the latter. He grew up in Hong Kong and described his boyhood commute to school from Stanley to Kowloon: and one and half hour combination of buses and ferry to cover the same distance as the Canada Line from Richmond Brighouse to Waterfront.

He cited the work of Larry Frank at UBC who has published the all embracing literature review on health and transportation, looking at physical activity, air quality, mental health, injuries and equity. “Urban Sprawl and Public Health”. He also pointed to USC study of the Los Angeles to Culver City Exposition LRT which reduced daily vehicle travel by households of between 10 to 12 miles a day which a 30% reduction of CO2 emissions.

It is known that daily physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk of chronic disease and grants a 40% reduction in the risk of premature mortality.  Yet only 40% of the population meet the recommended activity levels. Obesity is now overtaking smoking in the mortality race. Physical inactivity is a large part of the problem as shown by a study of commute time against obesity in Atlanta GA (Am J Prev Med 2004). He also pointed to the lack of transit equity citing the Next Stop Health study in Toronto.

The My Health My Community survey covers the entire area covered by Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health. What makes Canadians sick? 50% of the time “your life”.

The study asked respondents 90 questions about their socio-economic status, health, lifestyle, healthcare access, built environment and community.

The transportation report on Metro Vancouver released last week is the first of a series of reports from this data, intended to inform the discussion of the transportation plebiscite in this region. It draws from the survey responses from residents of the region – which is a subset of the survey mostly conducted on line, but with supplementary paper surveys to ensure adequate coverage of ethnic minorities. It covers only those over 18 years of age. Its target was a 2% sample which may seem small but is much better than the 0.5% sample of the typical transportation survey. Census data to neighborhood level was used to ensure a representative sample. It was a one year process, and results have been weighted to correct for age, gender, education and geography. Of 34,000 respondents, 28,000 live in Metro Vancouver: 80% of those make daily trips for work or education.

55% car driver or passenger

29% transit

10% walk

4% bike

2% other

Only Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby and the City of North Vancouver have over the Metro Vancouver average for active transportation modes.

Page 1 Key Messages Graphic

Page 1 Mode of Commute Graphic

I think the two maps are perhaps the most useful representations I have seen especially since they also map the Mayors’ Council’s proposals. What I think would be immensely more useful is a map of the non-active modes with the road projects that have been built in this region in the last ten years or so. While Dr Sandhu points to the goodness of fit of the proposals to correct some of the grosser transit inequities of this region, I think a map of “motordom” showing how the widening of Highway #1 (ongoing) the increase of traffic speeds on the Sea to SkyHighway, the impact of the South Fraser Perimeter road and the increase of capacity along Highway #10 through South Surrey, as well as all the various interchange improvements financed by development (200 St and Highway #1 for instance) as well as the Golden Ears Bridge and the new bridge over the CP yards in Port Coquitlam vastly overshadow anything that might happen as a result of the Mayor’s plan. I do not have the technical competence to produce such a map overlay myself, but I do hope one of you does.

By the way, the originals of these maps are huge: click on them to enlarge and see the details.

Page 4 Active Transport MAP

Page 5 Car use MAP2

Among some of the other results he quoted:

The median commute time is 30 minutes: for car users it is 25 minutes and for transit 45 minutes. He said that reducing travel time for transit users should be a target, though absent the data on distance I am not sure that actually tells us much. To some extent, people choose how long they are willing to travel – and for some, such as West Coast Express users – the travel time will be viewed in a positive light. However, as a selling point for the Yes side in the plebiscite “Less time in your car, more time in your community” works well.

The determinants of transit use include age: the two biggest groups are 18 to 29 and those over 70. In both cases there is often a financial incentive for transit use (UPass, concession fares). 14% of transit users have a chronic health condition which he said points to the need for more HandyDART, which is included in the plan. There is a 50% higher transit usage by ethnic minorities – except for South Asians – with the highest usage among recent immigrants  – who of course are not eligible to vote. Neither, come to that is Dr Sandhu. Only 75% of respondents are Canadian citizens. Transit use decreases with increases in income.

He also produced a graph showing municipalities by commute mode and the incidence of obesity. He said the correlation coefficient (r²) was 0.99 [which as far as I am concerned is unheard of].

He also showed the WalkScore map of the region – which I wish I could find on line. The web page I link to is not exactly what I was looking for!

The current transit infrastructure does not equitably benefit all communities. This is a social justice issue as it impacts access to education and employment. The proposed investments will be positive in this regard. The greatest health legacy of the Olympic Games was [not the creation of his position] the Canada Line. Metro Vancouver is 4th in transit use in North America, only behind the very much larger populations of New York, Montreal and Toronto. We have a relatively small population of 2.5 million and thus “do not have the same tax base”.

Q & A

1.  A question about the aboriginal use of transit which seemed to be explained by lower income and the availability

2.  Some people use different modes for the same trip on different days: walking or cycling in good weather for instance. Or more than one mode during one trip. The reply was that the choice of mode had been “collapsed down” and respondents were asked to pick their primary mode

3.  A technical discussion of the sample compared to household survey which replaced the long form censu  s

4. A question about income which produced the response that the City of Vancouver saw similar levels of active transportation across the city, but immigrants were more economically active than the population in general – a reflection of federal immigration policies.

5. Do people realize how walkable their neighborhood really is? Don’t we need more education?

The study helps the Health Authorities feed information into the OCP and community partners, as well as their interactions with nonprofits and school boards

6. “I have not heard the word Translink used. Is there going to be more bus service?”

7. Eric Doherty pointed out that just increasing bus service shows diminishing returns without a greater commitment to bus priority. He also mentioned feelings of superiority when he rode on a bus to the ferry and passed all those car users stuck in congestion.

I responded that bus priority measures are one of the most cost effective ways of improving the attractiveness of transit, but requires a level of enforcement not so far seen here.

REACTION

Gordon Price was really impressed by the cycling data. There’s nothing like a few good figures to destroy some long held misbeliefs.

The health study simply confirms what we have long known, but seem reluctant to act on. My own views on this were set out in a post in published earlier this year. I want to acknowledge the recent promotion of that post on Twitter by Brent Toderian which has had a very significant impact on my WordPress statistics.

The talk was in a larger room than usual, and was linked to the ITE Quad conference, but was poorly attended. The discussion was really rather muted.

BC CLIMATE RESEARCHERS TACKLE LNG, ENERGY EFFICIENCY, TRANSPORT AND MORE

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Sorry about the shouty headline: the UVic Press Release uses all caps and my WP editor lacks a ‘change case’ key. This actually came to me from a tweet. You do follow me on twitter don’t you? There’s now a handy widget over there on the top right if you need it. Some of the tweets do get repeated by facebook, but not many of the retweets. And quite a lot of stuff that I see does not get blogged these days, especially since Twitter changed the way retweets are done that now can include commentary. Today, for the first time, I was able to retweet something with the terse comment “Horseshit!” – something, I now realize, I have wanted to do for a long time.

Climate research – and the long list of projects – is all very worthy, but I am afraid I am very much unimpressed. And I am also a bit inspired by a post in the Tyee which sets out the progressive manifesto 0f what needs to be done once we have got rid of Stephen Harper. So while the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) is doing its five year research project here are some things that we need to be doing right away. That is because action on climate change is now urgent. Like The Man said “We don’t have time for a meeting with the Flat Earth Society“. We do actually know what needs to be done and, sadly, these things seem to have slipped through the PICS net.

First note that they are hung up on gee whiz technology. We don’t actually need any of that. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that we know about, familiar technologies and techniques that are held back simply by a combination of out of date policies and inertia. BC Transit was forced to waste money on hydrogen buses (whatever happened to them? I asked BCT but they have yet to reply) when we knew plenty about trolleybuses and extended range hybrid dual powered buses too. Nothing was learned from that five year demonstration project other than it is possible to truck hydrogen across the continent and convince yourself that you are helping the environment.

Transportation and the Built Environment are treated in the research list as two separate programmes. I wonder if the researchers will talk to each other over lunch sometimes? Because we all know that land use and transportation are two sides of the same coin. The best transportation plan is a good land use plan. The best way to save energy from transportation is to cut the need to make motorised trips. Community Energy Planning should have become mandatory fifteen years ago, but Glen Clark shut down the Energy Efficiency Branch of MEMPR – and forgot all about the BC Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program. Most of the advances that we are going to see in the field of transportation will come from a combination of information technology and deregulation. (See Bridj below) There’s a great deal we can do to make better use of what we have but the rules and regs get in the way. Like bike helmets, for instance. By the way did you know that the researchers who did the study that supports BC’s current helmet law have themselves repudiated that study? Protected bike lanes work better to both save lives and encourage bike use – and they are amazingly simple to introduce. As The Lady said, if you want to see change, do it quickly. The Burrard Bridge case is as convincing as any that chaos will not ensue.

Most of the change we need will start happening once we stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Indeed it is quite remarkable how much change is already under way, despite billions of dollars propping up what will soon be a dying industry. The tar sands are already uneconomic, and unnecessary, just as LNG export is a really stupid proposition in the present market. So stop throwing money at oil and gas, and you not only free up some fiscal headroom for sensible policies, but you also give the market the sort of signals it would have got if you had stuck to your guns over carbon tax. Ditch revenue neutral as a policy objective there, keep jacking up the carbon price and spend the proceeds on public transportation – local transit and high speed electric trains for longer distances. Electrify the main corridors straight away (Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal, Edmonton – Calgary) and then start building new high speed railways as cancelling freeway expansions permit. Maybe by then the Americans will have started to catch up with the rest of the world, and we can talk about Vancouver – Seattle – Portland.

What I do see as problematic is that we will probably be better at civilizing the suburbs than getting real change in urban areas, where many more people live in multifamily buildings. It’s pretty easy to put up your own solar panel, and put both a Tesla car and a home battery in your own garage. If you can afford it. It is going to be much harder to get equivalent changes in condos, though co-ops seem to be doing better with things like bike storage. Public housing, of course, has to go back on the agenda. It is not enough to make the existing housing stock more efficient when so much of it is out of range of the middle class, let alone the people who struggle on unlivable wages and such welfare assistance as survives. I do not see any work being done by PICS on environmental justice. But make no mistake, we do have to tackle the issue of the lack of jobs in range of affordable housing in transit deprived areas. We do need to think about how our energy policies can be used to create better employment prospects for our own population rather than simply looking to exploit export markets for barely transformed raw materials. “Researchers will also identify opportunities to substitute timber products for carbon-intensive steel, concrete or plastics used in many sectors, including the building industry.” Start first by banning the export of raw logs to ensure that there will be some local industry to produce these wonderful things.

I am really against spending so much on building technologies – where the potential savings in fossil fuels in BC are limited – when you have no plan to tackle the major user of liquid fuels – personal transportation. Again, we know that old fashioned ideas like trolleybuses, trams and interurbans – even diesel buses, for goodness sake – produce far less ghg per passenger kilometre than single occupant internal combustion engine cars and trucks. So we really do not need any more research on  “the distribution potential of alternative fuels including compressed (CNG), liquefied (LNG) and renewable (RNG) natural gas.” Even if every car could be electric, zero emission at a wave of a magic wand we would still have all the present problems of traffic, road deaths and urban sprawl. There is even less saving in ghg in having a carbon zero or even positive reduction in CO2 building if it is stuck out in the middle of nowhere – and everybody is driving to and from it! On the other hand, increasing bus service frequency and reliability – mostly by paint on the streets – is a well established technique for increasing transit use – and it doesn’t all come from cannibalising walking and cycling. Much of it comes from unpaid chauffeuring.

The article on Bridj really got me thinking. First note that this service is actually delivering something slower in downtown DC than can be achieved on a bike. But then this guy is also wasting time “20 minutes to shower and change” after his ride. Imagine someone from Copenhagen or Amsterdam writing that. Bridj could be a serious challenge to transit – much more than Uber and Lyft which are aimed at the taxi market. Or it could be a very useful supplement, and work much better than Community Shuttle service does in the suburbs. Indeed, when you look at how it works, isn’t that a good description of what HandyDART was supposed to do? And how about we simply abandon (once again) the old “separate but equal” philosophy, and instead of having a segregated service for people with disabilities – which actually does not work very well at all – but have a service which anyone can use. But is cheaper to deliver because you separate out the paying for it from using it. $5 for a ride on a profit making service? If the math is right, that is cheaper than most Community Shuttles, and much less than HandyDART. The driver, of course, would continue to help those who need assistance for door to door movement. As I have always said, in the low density areas (which includes most of Vancouver south of 12th Avenue) we need something better than a bus but cheaper than a taxi. Bridj isn’t going to attract people who can use really good transit. But then we don’t actually have that in much of the region, and it is not at all clear that we will turn out to be ready to pay for more of that yet. Oh, and before I forget, we would also need to sort out a much more equitable transit tariff, based on ability to pay, but that is a subject for another day.

The West Coast Tar Sands Invasion

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I am reproducing below the text of a press release received this morning from The Natural Resources Defense Council and Forest Ethics. It seems to me to be written for the US market, but no doubt there will also be a version seen on Canadian media. The Press Release contains a link to the NRDC web page and from there to 21 page PDF report with 216 citations.   This illustrates what they are concerned about.

West Coast Tar Sands Threat

West Coast Tar Sands Threat

I did not draw this map of course. I would have included the BC/Alaska border, the Chevron refinery in Burnaby and labelled the TransMountain pipeline as a proposed expansion.  

The local opposition is currently being concentrated on the risks of spills in the marine environment, due to recent events in English Bay. The report looks at broader implications. And the list of endorsements includes many familiar logos

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 1.29.34 PM

NEW STUDY: TAR SANDS TO SKYROCKET WEST COAST’S CLIMATE AND AIR POLLUTION

New Tar Sands Industry Plans Threaten Millions, Putting Hundreds of Communities, Waterways, and Natural Landmarks at Risk

SACRAMENTO (April 28, 2015) – The Pacific coast faces a looming health, climate, and environmental crisis posed by an influx of tar sands fuel from oil interests in Alberta, Canada, according to new analysis released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), NextGen Climate America, ForestEthics, and a coalition of 27 partner organizations. The tar sands industry’s long term goal to triple production will require flooding both Gulf and West Coast heavy crude refineries with tar sands crude in coming decades. The increased transport of tar sands by rail, pipeline, barge, and ocean tankers will threaten the water and air quality of hundreds of communities, heighten the risk of tar sands oil spills and explosions, and reverse decades of public health, energy, and climate successes from California to British Columbia.

“The West Coast is about to fall victim to a tar sands invasion, unless our leaders choose to protect the health and safety of our communities and say no to Big Oil,” said Anthony Swift, Deputy-Director of NRDC’s Canada Project. “New tar sands proposals on the West Coast would increase the region’s carbon emissions and create more than two and a half times the carbon emissions of San Francisco. At a time when the nation is moving toward a clean energy future, there is no reason to welcome the dirtiest oil on the planet into our communities.”

The report, West Coast Tar Sands Invasion (http://www.nrdc.org/land/west-coast-tar-sands-threat.asp), examines the spike in oil infrastructure, climate pollution, and public health risks that will result from oil industry proposals to expand tar sands refining and export capacity on the West Coast. The report finds that new oil industry proposals would result in the following:

* A greater than tenfold increase the amount of tar sands moving into and through the North American west coast by more than 1.7 million barrels per day

* Increase the region’s carbon pollution by up to 26 million metric tons – the equivalent of adding 5.5 million cars to the road

* Create1,500 miles of new pipelines in British Columbia

* Increase tanker and barge traffic twenty-five fold, from 80 to over 2,000 vessels along the Pacific west coast, on the Salish Sea, and down the Columbia River

* Increase tar sands at West Coast refineries by eight-fold, from 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 800,000 bpd by 2040

* Create a dozen new rail terminals that would significantly increase the region’s crude-by-rail traffic

* Place hundreds of communities, critical waterways and other environmentally-sensitive areas at risk of a tar sands oil spill

* Put fenceline communities and millions of West Coast residents at greater risk than ever to increased toxic air pollution, derailments, explosions, and other accidents that harm public health along with air and water quality

“Across North America people are saying no to the oil industry’s plans to move the world’s dirtiest, most explosive crude to the West Coast,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics executive director. “Tar sands threaten the safety of millions of Americans who live in the oil train blast zone, our drinking water supplies, and our coastlines. For oil companies with razor thin margins on this expensive oil, it’s safety last. But we are organized to fight and stop the oil trains, pipelines, and tankers that carry this explosive, toxic, unnecessary crude oil.”

The report also finds the proposed tar sands expansion puts iconic places such as Washington’s San Juan Islands, the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Sacramento Watershed, and the San Francisco Bay at risk to spills and accidents. Tar sands spills have proven to be more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it even more difficult to contain or recover should a spill occur in one of the hundreds of rivers, streams and critical watersheds across the West Coast vulnerable to expanded tar sands pipeline and rail traffic. A spill could devastate local economies, harm human health, kill critical species, damage First Nation territories, devastate pristine wilderness, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup.

The study had clear recommendations for decision-makers: States should aggressively pursue clean energy strategies that discourage dirty fuels like tar sands while decreasing the region’s dependence on oil, including policies that spur low carbon transportation and energy solutions such as broadened electric vehicle use and the development of clean fuels.

“As a nation we are at a critical juncture. We do not have to expose hard-working Americans to the health and safety risks of oil trains running through the heart of our communities,” said Tom Steyer, President of NextGen Climate America. “Instead, we can choose to support forward-thinking climate policies, like those being proposed by Governor Brown and the legislature here in California. Together we can build a safer, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous energy future – one that does not depend on tar sands and other dirty fossil fuels.”

Additionally, decision-makers must reject new major tar sands infrastructure projects and ensure all proposed fossil fuel infrastructure go through a thorough public health and environmental review process. State and federal regulators should enact safety, spill response, and air pollution standards that ensure the risk of a tar sands spills is eliminated, the public is safeguarded from derailments, and communities are protected from toxic refinery emissions.

“Dirty crude needs to stay in the ground, and we need to protect our communities and our planet from increases in carbon emissions and from these dangerous projects that are being proposed by the oil industry,” said Nile Malloy, Northern California Program Director at Communities for a Better Environment. “Environmental justice communities from Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area to Wilmington in Los Angeles have been put in harm’s way for too long, and we are united to fight against this injustice towards creating meaningful and lasting solutions. We need a just transition away from fossil fuels and aggressive investments in a new thriving inclusive clean energy economy.”

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with

The Dangers of Fracking

with 7 comments

And come to that the dangers of commenting on press articles on line. Recently I posted something using Disqus: it was in response to an article in a Squamish newspaper about the proposed LNG plant. Oddly, nothing in the article, or in the response to that time spoke to the source of the gas. That will come from an expansion of fracking – the practice of releasing hydrocarbons from “tight formations” which has been expanded very rapidly in North America in recent years. The process creates fractures in the oil and gas bearing rocks by injecting water and mix of chemicals under high pressure.

To be clear, I oppose any expansion of fossil fuel use. There is only one way that we are going to be able to slow down our current headlong rush to global catastrophe and that is to Leave It In The Ground. Most of the reserves of oil, gas and coil must not be extracted and burned. Fortunately, the alternative renewable resources are both economically and environmentally attractive – and are getting cheaper. There is much more employment potential in renewables too, so the previously perceived “choice” between the environment or the economy is now a false dichotomy.

Expansion of LNG export terminals in BC seems increasingly unlikely based on any realistic analysis of the finances but Christy Clark has yet to concede this, and is perfectly capable of continuing to increase the public subsidy of this folly. We are actually paying foreign corporations to exploit this resource, which would otherwise be unmarketable. So if the GHG use of fossil fuels is not persuasive enough, the record of fracking needs to be examined. There are two points I made – the first is that methane is released by fracking in a manner which makes it difficult to capture – or even measure. Since methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 that is cause for caution in itself. But there is also the effect of putting injecting water into the ground. Poisoning wells is the least of it (though the youtube videos of setting kitchen faucets alight seem entertaining). We live in a seismically unstable region. There will be a huge earthquake out underneath the ocean, probably south of Haida Gwai. (I wrote that last sentence on April 23 at 10:45. This morning there was an M6.2 in exactly that location but without a tsunami.) With huge a tsunami and lots of damage. But there is plenty of risk of on shore activity too: it will be smaller but also destructive in nature.

Now of course as soon as my post appeared the on line trolls leapt on it. At least some of them are going to be in the pay of the gas drillers or the proponents of LNG expansion. They are spending a fortune on PR efforts around pipeline and terminal expansion – and no contrary opinions must be allowed to go unchallenged. A Google search for “fracking in bc” turns up nearly a million hits.

I want to draw your attention to Oklahoma. There have been a lot of earthquakes recently in Oklahoma, and the spin doctors have been doing their best to deflect responsibility away from fracking. The state government seemed to have been persuaded. Up until now. The state is now admitting that fracking causes the earthquakes. There is also more coverage of the wider impact from the New York Times.

If you do not want to admit that global warming is a problem that is caused by burning fossil fuels, then I think you are unreachable by reason or argument. But then that process of proof by belief in a political doctrine appears to have taken hold with the Conservative faithful here as it has in the US. You can probably also cheerfully ignore the impact of poisoning the water supply: after all it is unlikely to affect us here and we have been seemingly unconcerned about the state of the water on reserves – especially those impacted by the tar sands. But the risk of increasing earthquakes ought to be something you take seriously here. Even though our present government seems to be quite content to leave schools in Vancouver vulnerable to the inevitable.

POSTSCRIPT Bloomberg is now forecasting that Half of U.S. Fracking Companies Will Be Dead or Sold This Year

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2015 at 10:56 am

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