Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 20th, 2008

The global cooling fallacy

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The oft-cited ice age scare of the 1970s can’t be compared to the great volume of research that supports today’s understanding of climate change
Andrew Weaver, Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, February 18, 2008

Like many of you, I have heard it said that in the 1970s, scientists were saying the world was heading into a new ice age. This has always bothered me because in my 20 years as an active climate researcher, I have never come across a peer-reviewed scientific study that has actually made this claim. Fortunately, today we have the searchable database ISI Web of Science, containing information from more than 6,000 scientific journals, so getting to the bottom of this is an easy task.

It turns out that there is not a single peer-reviewed original scientific study that argued this to be the case.

This caught my eye today, because of something I read yesterday and decided to ignore. It was a vicious personal attack on David Suzuki published on the opinion page of the Vancouver Sun. It followed the unpleasant norm of “if you can’t win the argument, attack the man” pattern. And it repeated the canard that Andrew Weaver demolishes today in the Ottawa paper from the same stable.

While there was only one peer reviewed paper that raised the possibility of a new Ice Age (which was quickly debunked) it did catch on with the popular press. And was repeated, but without the balance of the caveat “it’s utter nonsense”.

In 1975 Wally Broecker, an eminent scholar from the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, wrote an important article in the journal Science, noting that: “… the natural climatic cooling which, since 1940, has more than compensated for the carbon dioxide effect, will soon bottom out. Once this happens, the exponential rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide content will tend to become a significant factor and by early in the next century will have driven the mean planetary temperature beyond the limits experienced during the last 1,000 years.”

Broecker was right.

Andrew Weaver is a Canada research chair in climate modelling and analysis at the University of Victoria. He was a lead author on the IPCC 2nd, 3rd and 4th scientific assessments. He is chief editor of the Journal of Climate and his book Keeping our Cool: Canada in a Warming World, will be published by Penguin Canada later this year.

Now can someone explain to me why this article is not in the Sun?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 20, 2008 at 12:37 pm

It’s a lack of “joined up thinking”

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One of the images that often comes up in discussions of policy changes is the problem of turning a supertanker around once it is underway. The carbon tax is a bit like that.

The “joined up thinking” phrase was coined by the New Labour spin doctors working for Tony Blair – and all too often that administration showed it couldn’t do it either.

The BC Liberals are supposed to be heading off in a new direction. It is, they claim, no longer “business as usual”, but it takes a while for the message to get from the bridge to the engine room. BC has had a car rental tax for a while. The idea is that it is a lot easier to hit visitors than locals – and more visitors rent cars than locals do. Like hotel room taxes, they tend to be popular with voters – who generally don’ t have to pay them. People who rent cars tend to be business travellers on expenses – so they don’t really care how much they pay, it is just a cost of doing business, which is either recovered from customers, or written off against other taxes. (And if you doubt that, just look at what the big car rental companies charge for weekday rentals at airports compared to the weekend offers aimed at the leisure markets.)

The car rental tax was dreamt up before car co-ops appeared on the scene. Now this serves a very different market to the car rental companies. The idea is if you live somewhere where you do not need to own a car for everyday travel, you might join a group that allowed you to use a vehicle when transit or a bike is not going to meet your needs. A trip to IKEA, for example. In fact some downtown condos were allowed to cut back on the number of parking spaces they had to build (which reduced their costs of development) in return for buying car coop memberships for the new residents. People who do not own cars, but belong to car co-ops use cars much less. And use transit, walking and cycling much more than the car owning majority. So car co-ops are good for reducing ghg emissions.

But that idea has yet to penetrate the deeper recesses of the Ministry of Finance. The spinmeisters saw the value of not trying to collect back taxes, but could not seem to get their heads around the need to exempt car co-ops from future passenger vehicle rental tax — a fee of $1.50 every time a member takes a car. It is not like we are talking huge amounts in terms of lost government revenues. Its just the “optics” as usual.

I expect they will let it sit a while, and then take the opportunity for another announcement, when they need to be seen to be doing the right thing. For now, there’s enough green glow from the budget.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 20, 2008 at 11:35 am

Road building mega project

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The Vancouver Sun print edition has the following statistics from a “departmental newsletter” on the Gateway

MoT employees on Gateway 150

Number of person years of construction employment 17,000

Value of construction over the next six to seven years $2.0 billion

New lane construction 280 km

Major new high level long span bridges 2

Tonnes of asphalt pavement 1.0 million

Tonnes of granular fill 6.0 million

Missing from the table

Millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions released from construction activities

Expected volume of induced traffic by 2021

Increase in vehicle kilometres travelled over alternate transit scenario

Increase in greenhouse gas and common air contaminants due to additional traffic on the freeway (expressed in terms of SE2 equivalents – how many power stations in Sumas would have had to be built to produce the same impact on the Fraser Valley)

Acres of land lost to highway oriented development by 2021

Anticipated private sector gain from P3 program over conventional public sector financing

Number of SkyTrain cars that could be bought for $2bn:   460

Number of buses that could be bought for $2bn:   4,000

Written by Stephen Rees

February 20, 2008 at 10:01 am

Posted in Gateway