Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for October 21st, 2008

Climate Change – A Humanity Threatening Non-Issue

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The following op ed was offered to the mainsteam media but they declined it. Its author is Bill Henderson, a reader of this blog and a supporter of the BCEN LW list which I am so glad I was able to get onto.

Thanks Bill for your consent to me putting your thoughts on my blog


Canadians have simply no idea how serious climate change is because they have been and continue to be profoundly mis-educated about climate change – the danger is a slow overall rise in temperature effecting weather and subsequently resources such as water in each differing Canadian region; Canadians have until mid-century to lower emissions and this is possible within our presently configured socio-economy if we all just finally start making smart choices, maybe aided by government incentives.

This convenient conventional wisdom begins with what’s most important – our pre-occupations in this socio-economy – and then selects a climate change conceptualization from climate change science that will fit into this business as usual.

The best selling HOT AIR: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge by Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, climate change policy specialist Mark Jaccard and researcher Nic Rivers is a perfect example. Published in 2007 by informed Canadian climate change policy insiders, there is no mention of tipping points or latent positive feedbacks, carbon cycle time lags, sinks turning into sources or abrupt, whipsawing climate history.

HOT AIR contains no acknowledgement at all of non-linear climate change. There is no warning education of the increasing probability and immediate danger of runaway, no longer controllable, climate change which is a far greater danger to Canadians than bad weather, drought and bugs from gradual warming. No mention at all. No Hansen. Nothing about methane bubbling up from permafrost. Strictly a long term gradual problem that we can solve within business as usual beginning with thin edge of the wedge mitigation strategies such as the puny BC carbon tax Jaccard and Co turnkeyed for the BC Liberal government.

(This carbon tax debacle itself contributed to wrongfooting Joe Public – if  climate change is a crisis how come the tax is just a few pennies a liter,  much less then the rise in gas prices by oil companies making billions, and then why give the money back to spend instead of investing in renewable energy or efficiency? If climate change is a crisis? Are Canuck or Olympic tickets a smart choice for my rebate if climate change is a crisis?)

Each of the leaders of the parties in this past Federal election understand the increasing probability of humanity threatening danger from non-linear climate change – although some have investments that keep them much more in denial – but not one of them could or did try to inform and educate Canadians about this real climate change danger in the election.

Why? What do the HOT AIR authors and Canada’s political leaders share that rules out  acknowledging climate change’s real, immediate danger? Search out  Thomas Friedman’s ‘golden straightjacket’. Ask yourself just what degree of emission reduction is possible within our service sector dominated Canadian

The emerging literature about mitigation strategies by those who do take climate change seriously – who recognize the melting Arctic as a tipping point, 350 ppm as the precautionary ceiling necessary, 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2020 as the mitigation target necessary – importantly educate that there is no possibility of emission reduction of  a scale needed within political and economic business as usual. No possibility of needed socio-economic reconfiguration in order to reduce emissions within BAU.

80% by 2020 is the bottom line and is still possible, but it requires profound systemic change in what must be emergency innovated politics and economics. Sutton /Spratt, Lester Brown and Britain’s New Green Deal –
Hundred Months group advocate an update of already tested wartime-style mobilization as the governance innovation needed first to unblock for change.

But this is heresy. None of the party leaders could endanger their team’s electability this election by actually advocating such a needed, precautionary, climate change mitigation strategy. Climate change might be an emergency;  with time lags we might be near if not slipping over a tipping point to an extinction event too terrifying for us to even fully comprehend, but there is no taking climate change seriously in our present

Elizabeth May, Jack Layton, Gilles Doucette, and Stephane Dion know the science, know the increasing probability of danger, know the mitigation time frames necessary. Harper is PM because he united the right – you’d think that climate change should have been the emergency issue uniting the greens, but that would entail taking climate change seriously.

That would have meant leadership in making climate change the issue, sublimating all other issues, all trivialities and tribalisms, and we’re obviously not there yet. There was no leadership voice explaining the danger and the need to unite.

Alone Dion tried to advance a weak Green Shift but it was political suicide because the mis-educated public isn’t there yet and confused and afraid they didn’t vote or voted for Harper’s safe BAU. And so it goes: lack of leadership, more mis-education, a dumber public, more time wasted …

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Environment, politics

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Don’t kill the planet in the name of saving the economy

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Johann Hari : The Independent (UK)

A fine, if long, opinion piece which continues the discussion on how the current finance meltdown seems to be diverting attention to the very much bigger problem facing us.

By the summer of 2013, the Arctic will be free of ice. How big an event it this?

The Wall Street Crash hadn’t happened for 80 years. The Arctic Crash hasn’t happened for three million years: that’s the last time there was watery emptiness at the top of the world. The Arctic is often described as the canary in the coal mine. As one Arctic researcher put it to me this week: the canary is dead. It’s time to clear the mine, and run.

It is written from a European persepctive, becuase it actually seems likely that something positive is likely to happen there. If Mr Obama is elected President things might happen there. But in Canada and BC I am far less optimistic. The oil sands will no doubt continue to ramp up, Campbell is now pushing for coastal drilling and no doubt before too long we will be hauling up the gas hydrates too.

Then, as the climatologist Professor Marty Hoffert says: “Somebody will visit in a few hundred million years and find there were some intelligent beings who lived here for a while, but just couldn’t handle the transition from being hunter-gatherers to high technology.”

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

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A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes

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Professor Patrick M. Condon is the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments at the University of British Columbia. He has recently produced (in conjuction with Kari Dow) a paper which examines the sustainability of our public transport choices. In this region we have chosen grade separated rapid transit which is designed to favour faster longer distance commuting. Many people who understand this business have been dubious about the wisdom of this choice, and the main point of that argument was the very high initial capital cost. However, there are other factors that need to be considered too. The most important is the effect on greenhouse gas emissions but also the longer term cost efficiency. “Long term capital, operating, maintenance and replacement costs need to be considered and evaluated to find the most efficient transportation mode.” His department has been working on the Sustainability by Design initiative, and that has provided the sustainability principles used in this paper.

Rather than summarize the paper I will simply provide the link to a pdf file you can download but I have copied from it the conclusions

Based on the three sustainability criteria, reducing trip length, greenhouse
gas reduction, and lifecycle cost, trams represent the best investment. This
investment is entirely dependent, however, on a long term commitment to
balancing jobs and housing and a gradual reduction in the per capita demand
for daily transportation of any kind. If most trips in the region are short then
the rationale for investment in trams is overwhelming. If all trips are long
then the rationale for the very expensive Skytrain system may still hold sway.
Currently our region is at a tipping point between the two. Decisions made
now about which mode to invest in could precipitate very different land use
consequences, consequences lasting for decades. These arguments apply to
every North American metropolitan area. All are struggling with these same
questions. This bulletin does not provide a definitive answer to which path to
take, but attempts to illuminate the significance of the choice. This generation of
citizens and decision makers will determine, by its choices, what the Vancouver
region, presently home for two million residents, will be like when it contains
four million. Hopefully it will be much more sustainable than it is now. How we
spend the billions proposed for investment in transit this decade will likely be

Cost is not the only concern of course. There are a number of other factors that will come into play. Sadly, in this region, we have taken the vierw that as 80% of the trips are made by car, that this “majority” should determine how the rest of us live. Grade separation is not about producing the best transit system for transit users but rather the one that has least impact on car drivers. Other cities long ago decided that cars in and of themselves were the problem. In urban areas the desire to drive imposes huge externalities on the community. People who bring tons of metal with them everywhere they go make huge demands on space -both for moving and parking. The vehicles currently are somewhat better than they once were in terms of local air pollution, but there are so many of them that they still produce air which is not healthy to breathe. They also keep their occupants safer but have a dramatic effect on unprotected humans, and the rate of deaths and injuries would not be acceptable in any other mode of transportation. Mostly, cars defeat the way cities have always worked to bring people together in an environment where all kinds of formal and informal interactions occur. Vibrant city centres have been created in many places where cars have been kept out completely – or at the every least significantly constrained. European cities that tried grade separation for their trams – putting them in tunnels in preparationm for later metro conversion – quickly reversed that policy. Trams now stay on the streets, which are closed to other vehicle traffic, and the economy and sociability of the city centre blossoms.

The reason that I opposed the Canada Line was that it would bring more car traffic to Cambie Street in Vancouver and along No 3 Road in Richmond. The landscape effect of the overhead right of way is also a visual blight on No 3 Road and the damage of cut and cover construction on Cambie Village is well documented. We seem to be about to make the same mistake along Broadway – although as before the province is promising to use bored tube not cut and cover. Why anyone would believe them when they broke the same promise before I do not know. I do know that Broadway could accomodate a lot more people moving capacity than it does now. Good design would make it both safer and pleasanter for residents, shoppers and people who just like to be around other people.  Patrick has already demonstrated that the proposed budget for the Broadway tube would pay foir the re-establishment of the Vancouvber streetcar system – and more. Of course some car moving and parking capacity would be lost – but in my view that is a positive not a neagtive outcome. There are much better things that can be achieved in our public realm than the ability to drive fast and park easily.

I am very pleased that he has allowed me to give you all a sneak peak at his paper before its formal publication. I suggest you not only download it but save it somewhere on your computer for ease of reference. It is going to be very useful I think.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2008 at 9:42 am

Posted in Economics, transit, Urban Planning

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