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

Archive for November 20th, 2008

Harper breaks first election promise

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Feds end sewage prosecution despite claim to be ‘tough on environmental crime’

VANCOUVER – Just one month after re-election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already broken an election promise, as his government today shut down a sewage prosecution in the same city where he vowed to crack down on environmental crime. The prosecution had alleged that the Iona sewage plant in Richmond, operated by Metro Vancouver and sanctioned by the Province of BC, was violating the federal Fisheries Act by sending toxic sewage into salmon-bearing coastal waters.

In 2006, environmental investigator Douglas Chapman, represented by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), tried to put an end to the pollution by launching a private prosecution against the Province of BC and Metro Vancouver on behalf of three environmental groups: T-Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union and Georgia Strait Alliance.

But today, the federal government ordered the Provincial Court to end the prosecution. The federal lawyer declined to give any reasons for the order. The government’s order stands in stark contrast to Prime Minister Harper’s election campaign promise to crack down on environmental offenders, which he declared in Vancouver on September 24, 2008. At that time, Harper said “If you want a government that is tough on environmental crime, then you should re-elect a government that is tough on crime generally.”

Environmental groups say the federal government is being hypocritical. “I am disgusted that the federal government has ended this prosecution. What’s the point of the law? Polluters get off scot-free,” said Chapman.

Ecojustice staff lawyer Lara Tessaro explained that “the federal government should justify why it is shielding these big polluters from the Court.  Instead, it has refused to give the public any reasons.”

The primary treatment used at the Iona sewage treatment plant removes only 30 to 40 per cent of suspended solids and oxygen-depleting substances, and fails to remove the majority of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants – like PCBs.  These heavy metals and chemicals bioaccumulate as they move up the food chain, harming salmon, killer whales and a myriad of other vulnerable coastal species.

“At a time when we’ve lost seven more of our Southern resident orcas, I’m appalled that the federal government isn’t willing to stop the pollution of their habitat” said Christianne Wilhelmson of Georgia Strait Alliance. “Sewage is one source of toxic contamination we can fix, but governments aren’t doing enough.”

“The Iona sewage plant spews toxins straight into the path of a billion juvenile salmon heading out to sea,” said David Lane, executive director of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. “Metro Vancouver must implement advanced, modern sewage treatment at Iona immediately.”

The four organizations now plan to focus their efforts on the upcoming public consultation on Metro Vancouver’s new Liquid Waste Management Plan, and continue to urge that it be strengthened.

And, of course, the sewage works at the south end of Lulu Island is also tipping only partially treated sewage into the South Arm of the Fraser, which is seeing record low salmon returns this year. And I still have to point out the “beach unsafe for swimming” signs to people who persist in wanting to paddle and swim at Garry Point.

Astronauts get given a piece of equipment that allows them to recycle their own urine as drinking water. Why we still think that dilution is the solution to pollution here defeats me

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 11:36 am

Another view of the 100 mile diet

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This neat little animation was passed along to me by Des Bliek, one of the newer readers of this blog.

The similarities of this place and Japan are actually very close. We too live in a mountainous area, with little land suitable for farming, much of which is in the hands of people who no longer wish to farm. We also have a very unhealthy diet that needs lots of fossil fuels to produce and ship here.

The Japanese Government at least seems to be aware of the issues, and also expects the people to change their behaviour. To that extent BC and Japan seem to have a lot in common. It worries me that one reference suggests it is not only what the consumer wants but what is in the interests of the food industry. But then maybe something gets lost in translation.

So far as I can tell, we do not seem to be doing very much to protect our agricultural land. We also seem to want to encourage more imports – why else would port and highway expansion be so high on the agenda? Certainly I do not see very much evidence of our government trying to make our province more self sufficient. As long as we can find someone to take our raw logs and our dwindling mineral resources we will keep on with business as usual.

As James Howard Kunstler points out on his blog

I mean how we are going to grow the food we eat without massive quantities of diesel fuel and petroleum-based “inputs” and also how we are going to make any of the useful products we need in an energy scarcer time.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

Posted in Transportation

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The markets have put an end to the oilsands boom

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Gary Lamphier in an opinion piece in the Sun about the way the market has at last put a stop to some of the excesses of the Alberta oil boom.

But he is very determined to give no credit to concerns for the environment

That’s just one reason why the noisy “green” lobby has been so successful in demonizing the oilsands, which generate less than 10 per cent of Canada’s carbon emissions, and a fraction of one per cent of global emissions.

The Sun does not tell us who he is but obviously he is not someone who actually understands why environmentalists are concerned. “Demonizing” is actually not all necessary. Just look at the pictures of what the place looks like, or listen to what the First Nations who have to live with the devastation have to say. The reason the oil sands are a real problem for environmentalists is that this method of getting fuel for motor vehicles is incredibly expensive, not just in monetary terms, but in every other respect as well. It produces much more carbon dioxide than any other production method – and despite what he writes

The Stelmach government’s $2-billion plan to develop an integrated carbon capture and storage network — while laudable — came late in the game, and has been largely ignored outside Alberta.

There actually is no credible carbon capture technology available yet on the sort of scale the oil sands need, nor any viable method of storing the captured carbon. Yes there are some promising experimental techniques but the plan has been ignored because it was mostly window dressing – green wash in the face of threatened consumer revolt. There comes a point when it takes the equivalent of a barrel of oil to get a barrel of oil out of the tar sands when the exercise is completely uneconomic. But long before that happens, if the oil companies had to bear all of the costs of bitumen extraction and processing and not just off load them onto the community in general, then they would not have started. It is only because they can destroy the boreal forest and pollute the the water and fill the air with toxins aided by all sorts of tax breaks and public assistance that they have proceeded so precipitously. Simple greed explains most of the rational for the Alberta oil patch. Wiser heads would have advised leaving it in the ground until some of the environmental impacts are not only understood but truly mitigated, and not just side lined for a while. It seems the lessons of the Love Canal and the Sydney Tar Ponds have still not sunk in to the corporate or political conciounsness.

I think we are going to be in desperate need of petrochemicals in future far more than cheap fuel for our cars. I suspect that a combination of both new technologies (plug in cars) and the old tried and true (trams, electric trains, sailing ships, airships, canal barges) will come to the rescue of transportation, just as LEED and TOD and the rest will sort out the mess of land use and building technology. I do not see  much on the horizon for all the things that we make from oil – unless those green algae are even more versatile than so far doscovered

And for a welcome contrary view to the Aspers’ organ why not come out next week to

BC Wide Speaking Tour on the Impacts of the Tar Sands on Communities in Alberta and BC.

Speakers on the Panel include:

>> MIKE MERCREDI – Member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will be speaking about the front line struggles of the indigenous community in Fort Chipewyan against the tar sands industry, including a plague of tar sands related cancer.

>> JESSIE KALMAN – Tar Sands Campaigner with the Polaris Institute will speak on the social & environmental impacts of the tar sands.

>> WILL HORTER – Executive Director of Dogwood Initiative will speak about the little known support that infrastructure based and proposed in BC provides to current and future tar-sands development. (Speaking in Vancouver, Victoria, Comox and Nanaimo)

Please join us for a very important panel about the largest industrial project in history that has been devastating the environment and communities in Alberta and is now extending to communities within BC.

This Tour is being organized, endorsed and supported by the Council of Canadians, the Polaris Institute, Canadian Union of Public Employees BC, the Seirra Club, the Dogwood Initiative, Greenpeace, Check-Your Head, Institute for Citizen Journalism, Tar Sands Free BC, North Coast Enviro Watch, Western Wilderness Committee.

Vancouver – Tuesday, November 25th
Heritage Hall, 3102 Main St. Vancouver, BC
Event to start 7 pm

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 10:29 am

Posted in energy, Environment

A Sea of Unwanted Imports

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Jamie Rector for The New York Times  A lot at the Port of Long Beach may be used to park cars

Jamie Rector for The New York Times A lot at the Port of Long Beach may be used to park cars

That is one of those pictures worth a thousand words. The lot is one of the unused container facilities I have have referred to more than once. The New York Times is concerned about the cars Americans are not buying and the recycled cardboard that is now unsaleable.   But they are merely the most recent symptoms of a systemic problem, and one that the Government of British Columbia and the Port of Vancouver are very slow to learn. Long Beach has space to store this stuff because it over expanded in anticipation of the continued growth of imports from China. That never happened – and the port has been watching traffic decline steadily

Roughly 20 percent of the nation’s container imports last year came through Long Beach, putting it close behind the largest container port, Los Angeles. This year, shipping volume at Long Beach is down 10 percent from 2007, and nearly all major ports around the country have seen similar declines. Veteran port workers say the slowdown since mid-October is like nothing they have ever seen. And it is having a cascading impact on other businesses and workers.

Yet here the construction of the new terminal at Roberts Bank is only being held up temporarily  because the dredgers have been told to stop exceeding their permitted limits for spoil dumping. That in itself will probably become a severe problem soon too, as the river will continue to shift material from the mountains to the delta as it always has done. Of course since we have confined the river to its present channels, there is nowhere for the silt to go – so it just piles up and has to be moved around to allow ships to move and to reduce the risk of flooding. Although again the single minded commercial focus of the Port means they have been steadfastly neglecting that latter aspect much to the concern of the low lying communities on the river’s banks.

So far all the official pronouncements from both federal and provincial governments have been that the current infrastructure programmes will not only continue but will be accelerated. No one, it seems, is allowed to ask the question “Why are we buiding this port expansion and its associated freeways?” Because not only did we not need them before, as the recession deepens, even the temporary use of terminals to store unwanted goods will lessen. The port expansion is a white elephant now – and while the freeways will help to soak up a lot of cheap, dumped cars running on temporarily cheap gasoline, that is not a good long term solution to anything.

Incidentally if you want to get into the reasons why this is all going sideways, George Monbiot explains that it is not the fault of John Maynard Keynes. If his proposals in 1944 had been accepted, we would not be in this mess. But as always, the United States exempts itself from all international oversight.

Because both Gordon Campbell and Stephen Harper are locked into an ideology that says only business and money really matter, and the environment is simply a talking point not an action item, I do not expect either of them to use this as the opportunity to change direction. The typical response is for them to think the reasons things are going wrong is we did not do enough to apply their misguided policies hard enough. Our electoral system federally failed us: we got the government fewest people wanted. We at least now have the chance to change the provincial government. Not that that will save humanity, but it may allow us to, at long last, start taking care of “the best place on earth” instead of systematically trashing it.

(The hat tip as usual goes to Bill Henderson)

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 8:26 am