Stephen Rees's blog

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

British Water

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This morning I got an email from The Guardian, a British newspaper that I subscribe to. This is a lightly edited extract from their newsletter – about how they get “scoops”.

<blockquote>… reporter Sandra Laville came across something rather curious that made her think ‘that’s funny’. In her case, it was a statistic. 

“I came across this figure that only 14 percent of waters in English rivers were of good ecological standard,” she recalls. “I thought ‘that’s really low’.”

She started asking questions – of officials, scientists at the Environment Agency, and crucially of campaigners determined to improve the quality of their local environment. 

The big breakthrough came when she secured data from water companies on when and where sewage had been released into rivers. When she totted up the answers it came to a total of 1.5m hours of dumping in a single year

“I remember swimming in the sea 25 years ago when there was a big scandal about sewage being poured into the ocean,” Sandra tells me. “I couldn’t believe this was happening in rivers too.” 

The revelations have put pressure on the authorities to come clean on the locations and instances of sewage discharge; on the water companies to take action and invest; and on the regulator to ensure that everyone improves their game. “Nothing will change overnight – this is a massive underinvestment in infrastructure,” Sandra says. “But this has really exposed what they have been doing.” 

</blockquote>

One of the leading reasons why I came to Canada was that I no longer wanted to be an Economic Adviser to the British Government. We were shared between the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment, and I was going to be moved from looking at London Underground investments to Water Privatisation. And I did not want any part of it. In 1988 water in the UK was controlled by a network of Regional Water Authorities. They were very effective and a distinct improvement over the earlier patchwork quilt of Water Boards. In fact the reorganisation of those was also a significant factor in my earlier career at British Waterways Board in the early 1970s but that isn’t relevant.

Mostly I wanted to work on public transport issues. There did not seem to me to any justification for the privatisation of water. Indeed, it seemed to me that the only way it could be justified was that it would reduce “public spending” (i.e. using taxation revenues) and rely of private funding. For the private sector to make money they would need to find a way to create a profit margin in what was, at the time, absent as it was not needed by the public sector. It simply did not occur to me then that new water companies would seek to cut costs by dumping untreated wastewater in rivers and the sea – but that is what they have been doing.

One of the remarkable shifts in recent years has been the steady rejection of Hayek’s philosophy pursued by Margaret Thatcher and other right wing ideologues. Nearly every policy change introduced in the name conservatism has been shown to be fallacious. The claimed outcomes of better services at lower cost are never achieved in reality – though there has always been quite a bit of “clever” bookkeeping to make it look good. But it also seems that no matter how strong the evidence, when ostensibly left leaning, “progressive” parties get into power they fall into the same mire. Both BC NDP and federal Liberals are pursuing policies that are obviously designed to benefit the few over the broader public interest. This is most clearly true in the case of energy policies. Instead of picking the cleaner, more economically affordable renewable options, our governments are still choosing to support fossils – coal, oil and fracked gas. In transportation we still opt for more freeways and road expansions even though it is clear that this has never ever cured traffic congestion and can’t due to simple geometry. That we still have a mid twentieth century commitment to extending urban sprawl indefinitely which experience shows simply increases costs in general and “externalities” that we mostly try to ignore.

Today we heard the Throne Speech from Ottawa. What we needed to hear was that as a country we are going to change direction in view of the clear and present danger now posed by the climate crisis. For a long time governments at all levels have refused to face up to this challenge and pretend that business as usual can continue. We saw exactly that at COP26 in Glasgow. We got more of the same today from Justin Trudeau. The CG did not announce the end of fossil fuel subsidies and the cancellation of TMX. There was no mention of the export of US thermal coal through Canadian ports – which only happens because no local port community in the US will allow it. Canadian ports are only lightly managed – and that is a federal jurisdiction where local concerns account for nothing. There is a lot about cleaning up the most recent messes – but not very much about what needs to be done to cope with future issues which will inevitably be even worse, as the greenhouse gases that cause these disasters have already been emitted. Too many tipping points have already passed. Too little has been achieved through carbon capture and storage – except increasing the production of oil and gas. There are no offshore wind farms around here, very little geothermal power generation (despite huge potential) and not much in the way of energy storage or improvements to the grid to accommodate renewables. And there won’t be any time soon.

How bad does it have to get to see changes in policy? It has taken Britain 50 years to acknowledge that shutting down railway branch lines was short sighted and ineffective. The mess of water privatisation has also taken a similar amount of time to be acknowledged. In Canada our governments seem even more determined to refuse to change. But then we are still digging up asbestos to export – even though its use here is banned. We know what we are doing is not working. There was no major announcement about reductions of oil and gas extraction so now we know that big business is still calling the shots and humanity is doomed.

As Seth Klein just tweeted: “This #ThroneSpeech was an opportunity post-election, post-COP, post-floods to announce additional climate emergency initiatives & measures. The government took a pass. An exceptionally boring speech.”

Charity Launches Emergency Flood Response and Appeal

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I just received this press release from the Salvation Army. You may well have seen the news about the disaster that has befallen British Columbia. I am fortunate not to live in one of the hard hit areas. I am also an atheist but the Salvation Army has taken lots of stuff from us that we needed to dispose of over the years, some of which must have been sold and the funds used for their services.

No doubt there will be other appeals – and BC is getting help from the Canadian government. But if you were looking for some way to help we do know that the Sally Annes are on the ground Doing Good now.

POSTSCRIPT

This was posted to Twitter by the CBC shortly after this post was published

“Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) is now available for eligible British Columbians in southwest, central and southeast areas of the province and Vancouver Island who were affected by flooding and landslides from Nov. 14-16. DFA is available to homeowners, residential tenants, business owners, local governments, Indigenous communities, farmers and charitable organizations that were unable to obtain insurance to cover disaster-related losses.”

Lots of pictures of the damage – and the work being done to repair it

And Air Canada just tweeted “in response to #BCStorm, Air Canada is adding cargo capacity by upgauging 14 flights to #A330 & #Dreamliner aircraft to @yvrairport from @yulaeroport, @TorontoPearson & @FlyYYC to help maintain important economic supply links to/from BC. We continue to monitor this situation.”

The Provincial Emergency Coordination Center has been activated. Those who wish to donate funds, supplies, or services to support the flood recovery effort can e-mail donations@gov.bc.ca or contact the Canadian Red Cross at WeCare@redcross.ca or 1-800-418-1111.

Vancouver, B.C. (Nov. 18) — The Salvation Army has launched a massive emergency response effort to help victims of the worst flood in a century in British Columbia. Emergency Units are on the ground in six of the hardest hit communities across the province providing food, hydration, shelter, clothing, and blankets to first responders, evacuees, and flood victims.

“We have been on the ground since day one in the hardest hit communities,” says Mike Leland spokesperson for The Salvation Army in B.C. “We have several of our trained emergency response units actively supporting the impacted communities. Our feeding trucks are there, we have been airlifting in meals, and we have set up evacuation centres in communities to receive victims of the floods.”

With six emergency response vehicles in the field and evacuation centres open, The Salvation Army is on the front lines in Kelowna, Kamloops, Chilliwack, and Abbotsford, while locations in Maple Ridge and Abbotsford have been working around the clock to supply communities with food, hydration, and blankets. To date, the Army has provided close to 10,000 meals to those being impacted, as well as those first responders who are on the ground. They also mobilized two more Emergency Vehicles on standby in case the weather begins to change once again.

“Several of our locations outside of the impacted areas mobilized their communities immediately to assist in the effort,” says Leland. “This is a tragedy unfolding and we are here for those people and communities day and night and we will be here to end, and see this through into the recovery phase… this is what we do, but we don’t do it alone.”

The Salvation Army has also launched an Emergency Flood Relief Appeal. People can help by going to salvationarmy.ca/BCFlood or call 1.800.SAL.ARMY to make a safe and secure donation.

“We need people to help,” says Leland. “This is going to take everyone coming together, not only to assist right now, but to help these communities recover in the weeks and months ahead. Every dollar donated will go directly towards helping these communities today with essential services and then into the aftermath of these floods to help them recover.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 18, 2021 at 10:54 am

Posted in Emergency

Dongles

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Not having been anywhere very much since the pandemic started, and my pensions continuing to arrive and there not being much to spend them on, when Apple announced the new MacBook Pro I was quite interested. Especially since the old Mac was not going to be upgraded to OS 12 Monterey as it was too old. It worked just fine, except for the touchpad which seemed reluctant to “click” on anything. I use a Logitech mouse because I think a scroll wheel and a right click button is essential, and I no longer have the capacity to remember a whole bunch of keypad “shortcuts”.

While I am adapting to the new machine, I am noting that the issue of external connections is more pressing than I thought it would be. I did buy a couple of USB – C cables but what I did not appreciate is that Thunderbolt 4 is not backwards compatible to earlier versions. So while I have gone out and got another USB to USB – C connector I now how two useless connections.

Thunderbolt to Projector and to Gigabit Ethernet adapters
Connectors

I am not sure if there is a market for such things, but then it occurred to me that there are deserving causes out there. For example, people like you who actually read this blog. And if you have read this far, and you have an old Macbook Pro that you are not about to trade in for a new one, you may find these connectors useful. On the About page of this blog is an email address that works. Do not add a comment below, because anyone can read that. Send me an email and be sure to include your snail mail shipping address, and I will send either or both to you. Do not offer me anything in return, but if you wish to pay it forward please feel free to make a donation to one of the many worthy organisations that have doubtless been asking you for a donation recently. I don’t need to know how much or who to, and you could always try thoughts and prayers, since many appear to think those work too.

Old Thunderbolts with new USB – C

I will also reply to every email I get but the first one that expresses an interest can have the one of their choice – or both. And actually what I have only now just noticed is the a USB C connector will fill nicely into the old Thunderbird socket. I no longer use a projector but that ethernet thing …. hmmm.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Posted in computers

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Building Bastille

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The Tangled and Improbable Story of the Opera Bastille

This is a documentary that was broadcast last night on Knowledge Network. We got it by streaming but it may well be available elsewhere.

And once again instead of my opinions and typos here is what I got from Zoot Pictures

_______________

In 1982 the new socialist French president Mitterrand opens  a blind competition, to build an opera at the  site of the notorious Bastille prison. The jury seems to have found the best design, by prominent American architect Richard Meier. Or so they thought.

Until the Minister of Culture blanches and stumbles through the name Carlos Ott, Canadian. No one has heard of him and he has never built anything.

Hastily informed, Carlos flies to Paris with an expired passport and is tossed into an airport holding cell for immediate deportment. Official panic ensues. Things get worse from there.

When right wing Jacques Chirac is elected Prime Minister, he hates socialist Mitterrand and works to stop the Opera. Carlos Ott receives Chirac`s stop work order with threats of prison, then the money is cut off. It seems all the sacrifice was for naught.

But, like French politics, nothing is what it appears.


Building Bastille is a feature length documentary that tells the comic, dramatic and tangled story of modern history’s greatest case of mistaken identity and seized opportunity, combining current footage with archival images, and original 16MM film.

Building Bastille is produced by Zoot Pictures Inc. in association with Knowledge Network, TVO, RDI, SRC and with the participation of the Canadian Media Fund, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, and the Manitoba Film and Video Production Tax Credit. Produced with the participation of the Rogers Documentary Fund.

Building Bastille was developed in association with Knowledge Network, the Canadian Media Fund and Manitoba Film and Music

Distributed Worldwide by:   Ampersand

—————————

The reason I am doing this is that when I published my picture of the Opera Bastille on flickr I wrote a slab of text that I have now come to regret. I feel the need to make amends. Not that my tastes in architecture have changed, but I wrote in ignorance. In Paris we had visited Opera Garnier, and greatly enjoyed walking around the auditorium and some of the building that was open to visitors. They were even polite enough to listen to our request for any tickets that might have been available. We ought to have known that they are as rare as hen’s teeth. In fact that was one reason why Mitterand wanted to build a new, bigger opera house in Paris. Opera was – and is – very popular but the existing building was just too small. Mitterand wanted not just a monument to his presidency – though it is that – but for somewhere ordinary people could go to enjoy the opera. Even ignorant tourists. When we got to the Opera Bastille there was some kind of demo going on for legalising pot. The doors were almost certainly locked against invasion. Anyway, we didn’t go back or even try to find out what was on, and what ticketing availability was like. I now think we ought to have done. And of course while I was aware that the new opera was a controversial project in the early eighties, I had my own concerns back then and had not yet decamped to Canada. So I did not know this engrossing story nor did I feel any kind of connection to the place. In fact while this was the site of the notorious prison it was also later the site of a large railway station. That had been closed and the viaduct converted into a delightful linear park the Passage Plantée. If anything I was a bit sad that the railway had closed: I have always had the feeling that we should hang on to railways and not turn them so readily into trails. In Paris they have been a bit more imaginative – and they have won much more convenience and service value by their skill at insertion of tramways into boulevards. So I am afraid that I was a bit prejudiced against the project from the start.

Do try and see this movie. It is well worth your time.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 26, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Posted in architecture

Rigged

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I do get a lot of press releases. It had not occurred to me that at one time such things were rare, and that someone had to invent them. It turns out that was Ivy Ledbetter Lee – someone I had never heard of – early in the twentieth century.

“Before Lee, companies had a pretty adversarial relationship with the press and vice versa. Lee thought businesses would do better to tell journalists more of their story themselves. It was so unusual that when he first began sending press releases to The New York Times, the paper printed them verbatim.”

So I had better not do that then. Except that I really do not know much more about this new web site other than what I read in the Press Release and what I found when I went to that link to find out that was there.

I do think that misinformation is a problem. It is not confined to one country, although this one commits itself to “the history of disinformation in America” by which I take it to be the United States. Having just read “Cuba“, I am more than usually alert to this misleading name given to just one part of a very large continent. Or Two. America includes Canada, Mexico and everywhere else all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Misinformation bedevils all of that and most other places too. We call it Public Relations but its true name is propaganda. There really is not much of a distinction anymore between “spin” and flat out lies. Anyway, it seems to me that this web site will be a useful resource, and it is also unlikely to get a great deal of coverage from the sort of media outlets that rely on PR for so much of their content because they have gotten rid of most their real journalists.

So everything from this point onwards is indeed from the Press Release, but I do urge my readers to go check out rigged.media

__________________________

Today, just ahead of Congress’s Big Oil disinformation hearings this Thursday, independent investigative climate journalist Amy Westervelt launches Rigged, a new web project and companion podcast focused on the history and functionality of disinformation. It’s a rich archive of rare or never-seen disinformation material that Amy has dug up over years of research. 

“I started Rigged because I realized I had hundreds of documents on my desk that weren’t doing any good there, and that could be useful to other reporters working on stories about disinformation, ranging from climate denial and Covid hoaxers to the Big Lie around the election,” Westervelt explains. “There’s a general sense out there that disinformation is a relatively new thing, and I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s more than a century old, that American corporations invented many of the techniques we’re still seeing today, and that it was created largely to help American industry circumvent democracy when it needed to.” 

The website offers a rich archive of documents, many rarely or never-before seen, which Westervelt organizes and puts into context. Through her original reporting and writing, she demonstrates that disinformation is not only not a new phenomenon from Russia or Facebook, but it even predates Big Oil and Big Tobacco’s adoption of science denial. Westervelt also introduces readers to some of the key figures in the rise of disinformation, like Standard Oil publicist Ivy Lee, the self-proclaimed “father of public relations” Edward Bernays, corporate exec-whisperer Earl Newsom, tobacco spinmaster Daniel Edelman, and many more. A companion podcast, also called Rigged, will tell some of their stories in vivid detail. The first episode, “Fake Experts and Real Bacon,” explores how Beech-Nut food company publicist Edward Bernays convinced doctors to tell Americans that a heavier breakfast was healthier, thus giving birth to the “classic American breakfast” and sending bacon sales soaring. Rigged is available now on all podcast platforms.

Amy Westervelt is the founder of the Critical Frequency podcast network, and an award-winning print and audio journalist. She contributes to The Guardian, The Nation, and Rolling Stone, and has previously contributed to The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, KQED, The California Report, Capital Public Radio, and many other outlets. In 2007, she won a Folio for her feature on the potential of algae as a feedstock for biofuel. In 2015 she was awarded a Rachel Carson award for “women greening journalism”, in 2016 she won an Edward R. Murrow award for her series on the impacts of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, in 2019 she won the Online News Association award for “Excellence in Audio Storytelling,” and in 2021 she won Covering Climate Now’s audio award. As the head of Critical Frequency, she has executive produced more than a dozen podcasts, including projects with Stitcher’s Witness Docs and Crooked Media. Her book “Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood, and How to Fix It” was published in November 2018 by Seal Press.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 26, 2021 at 11:31 am

Posted in Misinformation

Tagged with , ,

Book Review: Cuba An American History

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By Ada Ferrer Published by Scribner September 2021 ISBN 978-1-5011-5455-3

I do like getting new hardback books to read. The tactile pleasure of a well produced book does however come at a price but fortunately there is the Vancouver Public Library, whose service is second to none.

It would have been really useful to have been able to read this book before I visited Cuba – about which I did write here – but of course that was not possible. But having read it now, I feel that a lot of what I failed to understand has now been explained. And in writing that was wholly engaging. In fact a couple of weeks ago I had two new books – and read the first chapter of each to see which one I should tackle first. As the jacket blurb on this one states “A page turning masterpiece … rarely is a good history this kind of literary performance”.

Ada Ferrer is not only well read she was also born in Cuba, lives in the US but has been “travelling to and conducting research on the the island since 1990”. She and her family also make appearances in the book.

I first was made aware of Cuba by the missile crisis in 1962. I was 13, and thought that the world was about to end. It didn’t, but that did not stop me from worrying about the very real possibility – and also trying to understand why. One of the things that seemed to escape much notice at the time was that there were US nuclear armed missiles in Turkey and Italy. Apparently that was alright, but somehow Cuba having Soviet missiles at a similar distance from Washington DC wasn’t. As a student I noted the popularity of Che Guevara – and read his motorcycle diary – but as more of an icon than an example. More recently I read “The Girl in The Picture” which is was written by the woman who, as a child that was burnt by napalm dropped by the US in Viet Nam but had to travel to Cuba for treatment as an adult. There were also the visits by Ry Cooder in the 1990s which resulted in the Buena Vista Social Club CD – which I still play every so often.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cubans turned to tourism as way of earning hard currency, since they no longer had access to overseas markets for their sugar, which had been for many years their main export and source of earnings. It is also the case that while Barack Obama attempted a form of reconciliation that was reversed by Trump and has yet to be tackled by Joe Biden. There are no more Castros in charge, but the regime continues. Much remains to be resolved but at least countries like Canada remain engaged. US hostility towards Cuba remains intense largely as a result of the expatriate Cuban community in the US and concentrated in Miami, which remains a significant force in US politics.

I would definitely put this book on your reading list if you intend to visit Cuba and if your understanding of it has been shaped by mainstream media. Cuba has never been treated well by the US and has also been a focus of much distorted reporting – and not just by Citizen Kane. If you still think the Spanish blew up the USS Maine, or that Castro started out as a card carrying Communist then you really do need a better source – and this book is good way to address that bias. It is also the case that real life is never simply black and white. Cuba and the US have a very complex relationship, and it is one that needs to be greatly improved. Understanding the realities of what happened and why is the only place to start. You also need to know that the book has 470 pages of text – in a rather small typeface – plus 62 pages of notes and a comprehensive index.

You might also enjoy this post about my experience of travelling to Cuba as a tourist

Postscript: Ada Ferrer published an article in the New Yorker “My Brother’s Keeper” on February 22 2021. It examines, in rather painful detail, her family history. Also highly recommended reading.

I have also recently found this article in The Atavist Magazine “The Butcher of Havana“. Not a pleasant story at all but a quite revealing account of the underside of the revolution. How a drifter from Milwaukee became the chief executioner of the Cuban Revolution—and a test case for U.S. civil rights.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 20, 2021 at 11:54 am

Posted in tourism

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 CONFRONT THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY

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The following is the text of an open letter sent to to the Government of British Columbia

I read about it in the National Observer. They provided a link to the letter but did not publish its actual content. And the link led to a pdf file. I used their web page to send out a Tweet. I then decided that it was worth a bit of cut and paste to create a post here that will, I trust, reach a different audience than Twitter.

AN URGENT CALL TO THE BC GOVERNMENT

September 2021 

Dear Premier Horgan and the Government of BC,

We write on behalf of diverse environmental, Indigenous, labour, health, business, local government, academic, youth, and faith communities who collectively represent well over one million British Columbians.

We call on the BC government to recognize the urgency and alarm that people all over the province are feeling as the climate crisis directly impacts our communities and our health: deadly heat waves, wildfires, drought, floods, crop failure, fisheries collapse, and costly evacuations and infrastructure damage. These climate-related impacts are unprecedented and intensifying. Indigenous peoples stand to be disproportionately impacted by climate events despite successfully taking care of the land since time immemorial.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a ‘code red’ for humanity. The International Energy Agency has called on world governments to immediately stop investments in and approvals of new oil and gas projects. 

The provincial government’s CleanBC climate action plan is insufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C and will not keep British Columbians safe from the worst impacts of climate change. 

We therefore urge the BC government to develop and implement a transformative climate emergency plan that recognizes the interconnected climate, ecological, and social crises; embeds equity, anti-racism, and social justice at its core; and upholds Indigenous Title and Rights, and Treaty Rights.

To implement the rapid systemic change that is required, we call on the provincial government to demonstrate the leadership necessary to confront the climate emergency, and immediately undertake the following ten actions:

1

Set binding climate targets based on science and justice

Reduce BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by ~7.5% per year below 2007 levels. Set binding reduction targets of 15% by 2023; 30% by 2025; 60% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 (below 2007 levels). Review and update targets regularly as climate science evolves.

2

Invest in a thriving, regenerative, zero emissions economyInvest 2% of BC’s GDP ($6 billion dollars per year) to advance the zero emissions economy and create tens of thousands of good jobs. Spend what it takes to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new economic institutions to get the job done. Ensure that the economic component of Aboriginal Title is recognized through the sharing of benefits and revenues that result.

3

Rapidly wind down all fossil fuel production and use

Immediately stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure including fracking, oil and gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and fossil fuel-derived hydrogen. Rapidly phase out and decommission all existing fossil fuel production and exports.

4

End fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay

End all fossil fuel subsidies and financial incentives by 2022. Ensure that those industries that profit from fossil fuel pollution pay their fair share of the resulting climate damage.

5

Leave no-one behind 

Ensure a just transition for fossil fuel workers, resource-dependent communities, and Indigenous and remote communities impacted by fossil fuel production. It will be critical to collaborate in true partnership with Indigenous peoples in climate action. Prepare our communities for the impacts of the climate crisis to minimize human suffering and infrastructure damage. Support those most vulnerable to climate change impact.

6

Protect and restore nature 

Protect 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030; support and invest in Indigenous-led conservation initiatives; restore natural ecosystems to enhance ecosystem functions and services, preserve biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration, and improve human and ecosystem resilience to climate impacts. Impose an immediate moratorium on the industrial logging of all old growth forests which are critical carbon sinks. 

7

Invest in local, organic, regenerative agriculture and food systems 

Incentivize carbon storage in soil, restore biodiversity, and ensure food sovereignty and food security across the province. Increase consumption of plant-based foods, and reduce food waste. Support Indigenous communities that wish to maintain traditional food systems and enhance their food security. 

8

Accelerate the transition to zero emission transportation 

Invest in affordable, accessible, and convenient public transit within and between all communities. Reallocate infrastructure funds from highway expansion to transit and active transportation (cycling, rolling, and walking). Mandate zero emissions for all new light vehicles by 2027, and all medium and heavy duty vehicles by 2030. 

Accelerate the transition to zero emission buildings 

Ban new natural gas connections to all new and existing buildings by end of 2022. Create a Crown Corporation to mobilize the workforce to retrofit all existing buildings and eliminate fossil fuel heating by 2035, and to build new affordable zero emissions buildings. 

10 

Track and report progress on these actions every year 

Embed all of these actions in legislation to ensure accountability, transparency, and inclusion. Establish rolling 5-year carbon budgets that decline over time towards zero emissions by 2040 or sooner 

A VISION FOR OUR FUTURE

The climate emergency offers an unprecedented opportunity to generate new, vibrant economic and social wealth as we transform where our energy comes from and how it is used. It offers an opportunity to achieve energy security, ensure food security, develop more sustainable local economies and jobs, transform our buildings, redesign transportation, reduce pollution, improve human health and wellbeing, and enhance our quality of life. The transition from fossil fuels to a zero emissions economy has clear benefits for people and natural ecosystems, and is an opportunity to create a more prosperous, just, and equitable society.

Every person, every business, every industry, and every government has a role to play as we coordinate individual and collective actions to create a thriving, resilient, and regenerative society that respects its interdependence with healthy ecosystems and a safe climate.

British Columbia is positioned to become a visionary world leader and demonstrate that innovative and rapid change is possible as we transition to a zero emissions economy.

We urge you to seize these opportunities, and demonstrate to British Columbians that our government is indeed a true climate leader by implementing the 10 climate emergency actions set out in this letter.

We must act now.

SIGNATORIES

Indigenous

British Columbia Assembly of First Nations

First Nations Summit

Gidimt’en Checkpoint

RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs)

Union of BC Indian Chiefs

Arts / Culture

Brackendale Art Gallery

Canadian Media Producers Association (BC Branch)

Claymates Ceramics Studio Inc.

Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice

Hummingbird Music Studio

Indian Summer Arts Society

Neworld Theatre

South Cariboo Arts and Culture Society

Spring Magazine

Women in Film and Television Vancouver

Business

1st Knowledge Bank Ltd

Audiopile Records

Barnacle Strategies Consulting

Bydand Wealth Management

Calmura Natural Walls Inc.

Climb On Equipment Ltd

Cool.World

Crowned Vitta LLC

Curio Research Ltd.

Drinkfill Beverages LTD

Earnest Ice Cream

Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society

Goldilocks Goods

Harvey McKinnon Associates

Hollyhock

KWENCH

Lush Cosmetics North America 

Nada

New/Mode

OMC Inc.

Patagonia 

Persephone Brewing Company

Rain or Shine Ice Cream

Redroof Enterprizes

Renewal Funds

Rethink2gether

Salish Soils Inc.

Sea To Sky Cable Cam Inc.

Squamish ReBuild Society

Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD)

Tegan McMartin Photography

TREE WORLD Plant Care Products, Inc.

Vedalia Biological Inc.

Viridian Energy Coop

Visual Science

Community group

Alliance4Democracy (Sunshine Coast)

BC Hydro Ratepayers Association

Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.

Council of Canadians (Campbell River Chapter)

Council of Canadians (Comox Valley Chapter )

Council of Canadians (Nelson Chapter)

Council of Canadians (Terrace Chapter)

Council of Canadians (Victoria Chapter)]

Courage Coalition

Food Stash Foundation

Friends of Tilbury Working Group

Global Peace Alliance BC Society

Kaslo Community Action Team

Language Partners BC

Out Here Ski & Board Club

Philosophers Anonymous

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD)

South Park Family School

Tree of Life Nature Playschool 

UNBC Outdoors Club

Health

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Canadian Health Association for Sustainability & Equity (CHASE)

Doctors for Planetary Health (West Coast)

Inner Light Healing Arts

Mental Health and Climate Change Alliance

Public Health Association of BC

Faith

Anglican Diocese of New Westminster

Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice

First Unitarian Church of Victoria

Holy Cross and Saint Patricks RC Parishes 

KAIROS (BC-Yukon Region)

Naramata Community Church 

North Shore Unitarian Church Environmental Action Team

Salt Spring Island Unitarian Fellowship

Squamish United Church

Vancouver Unitarians

Yasodhara Ashram Society

Labour

Douglas College Faculty Association

Federation of Post-Secondary Educators

North Island College Faculty Association 

Public Service Alliance of Canada (BC Region)

Worker Solidarity Network 

Seniors

Canadian Senior Cohousing Society

Pacific Park Place Housing Cooperative

Squamish Seniors Society

Suzuki Elders

Youth

Douglas Students’ Union

My Sea to Sky Youth Council

Quest Student Environmental Committee 

Reel Youth

Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG)

Students for Mining Justice

Sustainabiliteens

Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation

Environment / Climate action

350 Vancouver

Against Port Expansion in the Fraser Estuary

Alberni Climate Action

Alberni Valley Transition Town Society

Armstrong/Spallumcheen Climate Action

Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards

Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment 

Babies for Climate Action (New Westminster)

Babies for Climate Action (Vancouver)

BC Climate Alliance

BC Nature

BC Sea Wolves

Below2C

Better Transit Alliance of Greater Victoria

Bowen Island Conservancy

British Columbia Cycling Coalition

Burnaby Climate Hub 

Burnaby Residents Against Kinder MorganExpansion (BROKE)

Canadian Freshwater Alliance

Chase Environmental Action Group

Chemainus Climate Solutions

Citizen’s Climate Lobby (Okanagan Chapter)

Citizen’s Oil & Gas Council

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Nelson-West Kootenay Chapter)

Climate Action Now!

Climate Caucus

Climate Emergency Unit

Climate Justice Victoria

Concerned Citizens Bowen

Cowichan Valley Naturalists

Creatively United for the Planet

David Suzuki Foundation

Denman Island Climate Action Network

Dogwood

First Things First Okanagan

For Our Kids (North Shore)

For Our Kids (Sunshine Coast)

For Our Kids (Vancouver)

Force of Nature (North Shore Community Action Team)

Georgia Strait Alliance

GOAL12 Sustainable Consumption and Production Society

Green Teams of Canada

HUB Cycling

Lawyers For Climate Justice

Leadnow

Living Forest Institute Society

Living Oceans Society

Mount Work Coalition

My Sea to Sky

Nanaimo Climate Action Hub

Net0world 

North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club

OneEarth

Parents 4 Climate

Planetary Resilience Council of BC

Protect Our Winters Canada

Roots on the Roof

Saanich Eco Advocates

Salish Sea Renewable Energy Cooperative

Salt Spring Island Stream and Salmon Enhancement Society

Sea Smart

Shuswap Climate Action

Sierra Club BC

Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition

Squamish Climate Action Network (Squamish CAN)

Squamish Environment Society

Squamish Food Policy Council (SFPC)

Stand.earth

Sunshine Coast Conservation Association

Sunshine Coast Streamkeepers Society

Sustainability Action Group for the Environment

Synergia Institute

Transition Kamloops

Transition Salt Spring

Transition Sooke

Victoria Climate Hub

Victoria Transport Policy Institute

Watershed Watch Salmon Society

West Coast Climate Action Network (WE-CAN)

West Coast Environmental Law Association

West Kootenay EcoSociety

Wilderness Committee

Wildsight

Yellow Point Ecological Society

Zero Waste BC

Written by Stephen Rees

September 29, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with

The Eyes Have It

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Canada has a public health system – but it has some strange gaps. This may be because we are so close to the US, which has a completely broken “free market” system. We can see a doctor for free, and if we go to a hospital and need treatment there that is free too. But if we need medication and don’t need hospitalization then we have to pay for the treatment. Many people get additional coverage through health insurance for things like drugs, dentistry and spectacles (eyeglasses) that are not covered by the public system. We also have to pay for anything that the eye doctor might prescribe – and my particular plan does not cover things like eye drops.

The last time I went to see the opthamologist she suggested that I get eye drops for Dry Eye. In fact she gave me a sheet of recommended products – not just eye drops but a hot compress and even an Omega 3 supplement. Now that did surprise me. Because one of the things that we keep track of in this household is the effectiveness of nutritional supplements. Most of them have not been tested in the same way that medicines are, to show that they are both safe and effective. And frankly a lot of the nutritional supplements are not necessary, if you have a balanced diet. But I do have to report that since taking Vitamin B 100 once daily the irritating rash on my legs has cleared up completely.

But is it also the case that you can find out for yourself if the nutritional supplement actually has any benefits at all. It is claimed, on the document from my eye doctor, that Omega 3 “helps decrease inflammation, promotes good health and helps dry eyes”. I find that surprising since the National Institutes of Health said “Omega-3s from fish oil supplements are no better than placebo for dry eye. NIH-funded study finds omega-3 fails to yield beneficial results in the clinic.”

“The trial provides the most reliable and generalizable evidence thus far on omega-3 supplementation for dry eye disease,” said Maryann Redford, D.D.S., M.P.H., program officer for clinical research at NEI. Despite insufficient evidence establishing the effectiveness of omega-3s, clinicians and their patients have been inclined to try the supplements for a variety of conditions with inflammatory components, including dry eye. “This well-controlled investigation conducted by the independently-led Dry Eye Assessment and Management (DREAM) Research Group shows that omega-3 supplements are no better than placebo for typical patients who suffer from dry eye.”

This was published on line in the New England Journal of Medicine, April 13, 2018.

In the current Canadian Election campaign the New Democrats are suggesting that if they become the government they will include eyes and teeth in “Medicare” (which is actually the name of the US system, not ours) – but only for households with incomes under $90,000 a year, which indicates for me that they do not understand the meaning of free universal healthcare for all which is what we were supposed to be getting … in due course, I suppose.

I think is says a lot about North America when a country like Cuba has a better healthcare – and education come to that – than either Canada or the US.

Charging people $55 for Omega 3 which is no better than placebo is a pretty sharp practice, I think. But it seems to be common. After all, the optometrist who did my most recent eye test also said that I should take Omega 3 – but at least he didn’t try to sell me anything.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Posted in health

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Testing

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I have just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s “The Code Breaker” (Simon & Schuster 2021 ISBN 978-1-9821-1585-2) It is about Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race. I highly recommend it. I think it ought to have been called The Code Breakers since there were – and are – a lot more people involved. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

One of the chapters in the book describes how CRISPR was used to create tests. The important thing to note that though there were several teams all working at once they were coöperating as much as competing and all the findings and methodologies were placed in the public domain. One of the teams under Feng Zhang used a SHERLOCK process that by the end of 2020 produced “a small machine that could be used to get results in less than an hour”

“The CRISPR based tests developed by Mammoth and Sherlock are cheaper and faster than conventional PCR tests. They also have an advantage over antigen tests … can detect the presence of the RNA of the virus as soon as the person has been infected”

There are also at home tests including one that can be reprogrammed to detect “any new virus that comes along”.

The reason I want to bring this information to your attention is that once again our MOH in BC has not been keeping up. Since the beginning of the pandemic only people with symptoms have been allowed to be tested. Since many people now need a clear test result in order to go to work or travel the only way to get that has been to lie convincingly about the right sort of symptoms. And of course quite a few people who are asymptomatic will know that they have been exposed and that people in their circles have been infected. They are supposed to simply self isolate until they develop symptoms and then get a test. Of course by that time they are shedding virus copiously.

In part the reluctance to test was due to Bonnie Henry casting doubts on the veracity of tests – especially fast ones. I am not any sort of scientist or a medical professional but I think I have learned enough from just this one book to understand that the policy of restricting tests was as misguided as the early reluctance to endorse masks and the more recent foolish gesture of “opening up” by ending the indoor mask mandate far too soon and then have to reintroduce it as the numbers of infected persons rose dramatically again. Phase three need not have happened at all, but our system has never tried to achieve zero COVID and continues to put the unvaccinated (these days mostly young children) at risk.

Free tests distributed by the feds largely go unused in BC

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Posted in health

Tagged with ,

High-performance rail service is a solid intercity solution for Canada

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by Tony Turrittin. Originally published on Policy Options
August 16, 2021

Canada can have a network of modern, swift, affordable and efficient passenger trains, like virtually every other industrialized nation. Yet it doesn’t.

In the 1970s, both the American and Canadian passenger train systems were taken over by their federal governments. Since then, Canada has slowly dismantled most of the VIA Rail system while Amtrak, the U.S. national train system, has been improved and stabilized. Amtrak’s growing network of regional rail corridors has been especially remarkable.

Greg Gormick, an analyst and policy adviser, has suggested that high-performance rail (HPR) is the best means to improve and expand our skeletal network of deteriorating rail service. Canadian politicians and advocates at both federal and provincial levels have made calls for high-speed rail (HSR) like France’s TGV and Japan’s bullet trains.

TGV 4409
French TGV at Paris, Gare de l’Est in 2012 Stephen Rees photo on flickr

High-speed rail operates on all-new electrified lines built from scratch at a very high cost because it operates on tracks with no grade-crossings and must be separated from freight. High-performance rail, in contrast, incrementally improves all aspects of the existing service and builds on what little public funds have already been invested in it. Operating at progressively higher speeds with modern trains on tracks shared with freight trains, high-performance rail offers increased frequency, reduced travel times, better on-time performance, all-weather reliability and enhanced comfort and onboard amenities.

High-performance rail delivers improvements each step along a phased pathway to vastly improved service. Because it isn’t a “big bang” approach that takes years to deliver any benefits, high-performance rail is a practical and affordable “higher speed” option for today that may lead the way to building the more costly high-speed rail in the future.

Canada has not participated in the global move to high-performance rail. This failure is largely due to government interference and lack of political will. Passenger rail the world over requires subsidies for operating costs and capital improvements, but Canadian governments have cut back VIA since its founding in 1977. The Mulroney cuts of 1989 eliminated most trains in Western Canada and Atlantic Canada, and removed passenger service from the historic and well-used transcontinental route over the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). These cuts were decided in the Privy Council Office, not by VIA. In other countries, it was government commitment as much as technology and funding that helped to develop the high-performance rail networks.

In the U.S., high-performance rail is now at work on 15 corridors (see Table 1). Extensions are underway on several of these routes, and more are under construction or being planned.

https://infogram.com/turrittin-table-1-1hd12yxn0vxwx6k

The opportunities for high-performance rail in Canada are illustrated in Table 2, demonstrating its potential from coast to coast. High-performance rail trip times assume substantially upgraded track and signaling. Given its positive attributes, high-performance rail as solid conventional railroading should be a major form of interurban mobility in Canada.

https://infogram.com/turrittin-table-2-1h7g6k09300go2o

Ironically, the first wave of equipment to implement a Canadian high-performance rail solution is on order for a wildly improbable scheme cooked up by a politically manipulated VIA. In 2011, the later-defrocked Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro proposed to return trains between Toronto and Peterborough. The plan morphed into using a long-abandoned CPR backwoods line and extending it to Smiths Falls and to Ottawa, which bypasses the heavily populated Lake Ontario shoreline. The plan changed again when a former VIA Rail CEO made this impractical route the centrepiece of what VIA calls 160-km/hour high-frequency rail (HFR) for the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle. To increase its political attractiveness, VIA extended the HFR plan to Quebec City without increasing its cost estimate.

The stated objective of VIA’s proposal is separating passenger and freight traffic to eliminate conflicts that arise because of competition for track time and capacity, as well as differences in operating speeds. This is good in theory; however, implementing this would be expensive, time consuming and largely unnecessary. The key is to add capacity to existing lines incrementally and economically for both types of traffic. On high-performance rail routes around the world, freight and passenger trains share tracks at speeds of more than 200-km/hour.

Given constantly evolving estimates for California’s all-electric high-speed rail project and another linking Vancouver with Seattle, Portland and Eugene, and taking the lowest cost-estimates, a new passenger-only route for the Quebec-Windsor Corridor alone would cost more than $135 billion. Even applying VIA’s proposal to build only a single-track line with passing sidings instead of a double-track line that is standard for these types of projects, the cost wouldn’t decrease by much.

VIA wisely placed an order in 2018 with Germany’s Siemens Mobility for 32 five-car Venture trains each powered by a state-of-the-art Siemens Charger locomotive. Delivery starts in 2022. This $1.5 billion contract is part of a wave of North American orders for these 200-km/hour diesel-electric trains, 10 of which are already operating between Miami and West Palm Beach. Amtrak will use these train sets for high-performance rail routes in California, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siemens_Venture#/media/File:Venture_test_train_at_Oakland_Maintenance_Facility_(2),_July_2020.JPG

In the end, it’s governance, not hardware or software, that’s the roadblock to improved high-performance rail service in Canada. Here, too, the proven approach is on display in daily service in the U.S., particularly California. Using a combination of federal and state funding to fuel locally managed, cross-jurisdictional projects, the joint powers authorities (JPAs) employed on three routes in the Golden State are incrementally revolutionizing rail transportation in one of the most car-centric regions of America.

The Capitol Corridor JPA describes this governance structure’s application on the San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento route as “a partnership among the six local transit agencies in the eight-county service area, which shares the administration and management of the Capitol Corridor.” The Capitol Corridor offers hourly daytime trains serving all stops on its 213-km route. This allows for convenient travel between all city pairs. The route has a high concentration of universities and colleges. Amtrak operates the trains on Union Pacific track that also carries numerous freights.

It’s time for Canadians to cease being taken in by rail schemes politicians dangle in front of voters and then drop. In its top-down, politically dominated form, VIA hasn’t worked out and never will. New JPA-style governance, new equipment, a new high-performance rail approach and political will are required to give Canada a network of modern, efficient and effective rail passenger services.

How likely is this to occur?

The Trudeau government’s 2020 speech from the throne announced that “to further link our communities together, the Government will work with partners to support regional routes for airlines. It is essential that Canadians have access to reliable and affordable regional air services. This is an issue of equity, of jobs, and of economic development. The Government will work to support this.”

On the subject of rail passenger service – high-performance rail or otherwise – there was not a word.

Meanwhile, high-performance rail investment and growth strategy continues south of the border. One month after Ottawa was mute about rail’s role in a post-pandemic Canada, the U.S. Federal Transit Administration awarded the Michigan Department of Transportation funding for further improvements to its diesel-powered, 176-km/hour Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago Wolverine Corridor.

The upgrade for faster more frequent train service is now approaching completion.

Amtrak’s 15-year growth proposal unveiled early this year would expand its regional routes substantially, adding about 160 communities to its system. Gormick has suggested that high-performance rail can be applied to an Ontario region with very poor public transportation as well. Given an approaching federal election, expect government announcements of more rail projects to come, but they will still be missing the mark.

This article first appeared on Policy Options and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Tony Turrittin is a retired York University sociology professor. His research centred on social inequality, social mobility and their links to education. For four decades he has actively participated in national, regional and local citizen groups advocating for public transportation.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 21, 2021 at 1:23 pm