Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for December 9th, 2008

Written by Stephen Rees

December 9, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Posted in cars

Last Metro glacier is vanishing

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Did you know that there is a glacier in Metro Vancouver? Well I didn’t. But not surprisingly, because its part of the closed watershed. And also becuase it won’t be there for much longer.

Thanks to Jeff  Nagel on Twitter I now have a link to a BC Local News story by Glen Bohn

Coquitlam Glacier

Coquitlam Glacier

Two centuries ago, when the West Coast had a cooler climate during the Little Ice Age, there were about 10 glaciers in the mountains north of Metro Vancouver.

Now, only the Coquitlam Glacier remains.

It’s the only mass of land ice in Metro’s three watersheds – the snow-blanketed mountains, forested valleys and vast reservoirs that encompass almost 600 square kilometres of land and fresh water. And the Coquitlam Glacier is thinning and shrinking, like other so-called “permanent glaciers” in North America and around the planet, as average annual temperatures climb.

There’s also a slide show and the following information

Glenn Bohn is a Metro Vancouver communications specialist and former newspaper reporter.

The Coquitlam glacier is featured in an episode of The Sustainable Region airing this month on community television channels. It can also be seen, along with other archived episodes, at

Written by Stephen Rees

December 9, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Do you like voting?

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I must admit I am always surprised when the media tell me we are tired of elections. There was stuff on the tv recently that said the Quebecois were more interested in the US election than the Canadian one and thus would not bother to turn out for their provincial poll due to “poll fatigue”.

I have always liked the idea of direct democracy. I think we do not get asked enough what we think, and too often an elite makes up our mind for us. I tned to participate a lot in polls and opinion surveys. And I was quite pleased to find

Direct Democracy Depends on Your Perpetual Participation:

is a non-partisan, non-profit perpetual polling system which enables you, with your individual password, to register your opinions on relevant political issues,

empowers you to change your vote when you change your mind, anytime. This is what perpetual democracy is all about. You are welcome to view the questions and results without having to register. However, the success of this democratic exercise depends on your participation

I have registered but I was a little dismayed by the low number of votes being cast. One really good feature is that is if you do not see an option you want to vote for, you can add one that you like.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 9, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Posted in politics

It is now too late – expect the worst

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I turned from depressing news in Canada to my favourite paper, The Guardian, too find even worse news. And that is not their headline. They put in a question mark – and the weasel words “scientists say”.

The body of the story has no such reluctance to face reality

carbon emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than anyone thought possible, driven mainly by the coal-fuelled economic boom in the developing world.

The CO2 level is currently over 380ppm, up from 280ppm at the time of the industrial revolution, and it rises by more than 2ppm each year. The government’s official position is that the world should aim to cap this rise at 450ppm.

That’s the UK government, of course. 350ppm is what is actually needed to prevent further warming. But much of the rest of the article talks about how difficult it is going to be to hit targets higher (worse) than  both those levels. And also about how the process of climate change has started accelerating. The oceans and the forests are less able to soak up CO2 and the peat bogs of Siberia once gripped by permafrost are now melting.

And at the current talks in Poznan that are supposed to be dealing with the problem “Support for renewable energy technology to fight global warming is weakening in the face of worldwide economic problems and the true scale of the carbon reductions required”.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

Commission gives conditional okay to farmland loss for Delta highway

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Vancouver Sun

Harold Steves suggestion some time ago was that “the fix was in”. And he was right. The ALC is no more use at protecting farmland than the EAO is at protecting the environment.

The ALC says “deeply regrets that suitable highway alignment alternatives to the use of prime agricultural land were found not to be acceptable from transportation and environment perspectives….” Nonsense. NO alternatives were seriously considered. The entire process has been a sham. And from a transportation perspective, the SFPR is not necessary at all.  The only perspective that has ever mattered has been the opportunity to turn low cost land into high priced development. That is the only thing that has ever mattered.

Farmland loss is just the start. Ecosystem loss will be irreparable – not that any attempt is being made to do that (repair the damage) either. Homes have already been destroyed. Neighbourhoods disrupted. And for what? The trade that we were supposed to grab a bigger share of has been declining – and that decline will continue. The port expansion is going to be a white elephant – like much of the port expansion that has already occurred up and down the coast.

As long as decisions like this are made, the hope for this region to have a sustainable future recedes. The boards and commissions and independent review agencies are all hopelessly compromised. None have the ability to make a decision that tells the current provincial government that its priorities are out of date. We do indeed have an elected dictatorship. And unbelievably roughly half of the population still think they are doing a good job – and the safer pair of hands during a recession.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 9, 2008 at 10:33 am

Posted in Gateway

Emissions by individuals on the rise: StatsCan

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Vancouver Sun

This is another of those stories which demonstrate how we steer by staring at the wake.

The data being cited covers the period 1990 to 2004. And the reason household emissions rose in that period?

Motor fuel use increased by 29 per cent, from 55,800 kilotonnes to 71,900 kilotonnes during this 14-year period, while residential fuel usage showed no significant change, the study said.

There were two distinct trends which occurred in vehicle use in Canada at that time. Firstly, because of the way that motor vehicle manufacturers were avoiding Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards, many more trucks were sold as personal transport. And while engines were becoming more efficient – largely as a result of regulations meant to reduce emissions of common air contaminants – most of that efficiency was lost by the vehicles getting bigger and more powerful. Instead of getting fewer litres consumed per 100 kilometres travelled we got more power!

Secondly, both trip length and frequency of trips increased as suburbs sprawled. Most Canadians live in metropolitan areas that have spread out. These areas require car use for nearly every trip purpose. And most new service provision by both public and private sectors assumed that people would drive to get their services. This applies as much to schools and hospitals as it does to big box retailers, multiplexes and theme parks.

It is disingenuous to blame individuals and households for these decisions. It is deceptive to claim that all that was being provided was “what people want”. Because they actually had very little choice.  Provision of denser, walkable, mixed use neighbourhoods was the exception, and therefore newsworthy. Places with adequate transit were even rarer. Corporate and political decision making – and in our society that has increasingly been the same thing – was driven by accounting. This was the period when no-one seemed to look any further than the bottom line, even though it was becoming apparent that such a process was unsustainable.

In recent years, the automobile makers have suddenly found that people no longer want the products they have been making. And even though gas prices are now lower than they were last summer, that is not being translated into people buying gas guzzlers. The big three American automakers are being told that they have to change their ways if the US taxpayer is going to help them. The property market here has also, finally, tipped over. That means developers are stuck with condos they cannot sell.

What we need to be thinking about now is not what will happen if we can get back to business as usual, but what we can now do to make the best of the current opportunity. And the touchstone of that can be greenhouse gas emissions – which we know must be reduced to 350ppm if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Because that test also satisfies a whole range of other indicators that point to a healthier and more sustainable living arrangement.

Obviously, if we continue to widen freeways and encourage more low density sudivisions greenhouse gas emissions from the household sector will start to rise again.  And the really odd thing is that most people in positions of decision making responsibility are now recognising that things have to change. But somehow, here in Canada, the Prime Minister doesn’t get it. And in BC the Premier – who says he does – doesn’t get it either. And we have a chance to do something about both of them. Happy New Year indeed.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 9, 2008 at 9:25 am