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

Archive for July 2020

The Airport Lounge

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I tweeted today in response to a Tweet from YVR Airport who are celebrating their 89th birthday.

“Every time I travel through YVR airport I compare it to all the other airports I have used. YVR sets a standard which most fail to equal, and none exceeds. We recently had a complimentary pass for a lounge. In YVR we didn’t need it. Where we had a layover it wasn’t open!”

The tweet limit still means it does not really tell what I think is a story worth expanding. Elsewhere I have written about our trip in January to New Orleans. We did not manage to get a direct flight but had to switch from WestJet to Delta at Los Angeles.

VanCity had recently persuaded me to upgrade my VISA card and one of the sweeteners offered was airport lounge access. It turned out to be complimentary for the first occasion only. Since you have to get to the airport early for the lengthy (and completely unnecessary) “security” check there is usually at least an hour to waste once through the interrogations and interference. At YVR the US departures area is spacious, well laid out and actually quite interesting. I usually enjoy just wandering around and taking pictures. Since we had an early morning departure we would have stopped at Starbucks for coffee and either bran muffins or oatmeal or something equally “healthy”.

But since we had this voucher we went to the lounge. The breakfast on offer looked very much like the standard US hotel complimentary in the lobby type of thing. And in a very similar atmosphere. The wifi is free all over YVR anyway, so the lounge is not any different. You are just a bit further away from the gates and with only a view into the terminal. And a rather intrusive tv with the morning news – again just like the gate area. The fee I would now have to pay for subsequent visits would not be much different to what I would pay at Starbucks – or the restaurant at other times of day.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_rees/49461276967/

The connection at LAX to the flight to MSY (as NOLA is rendered in airport code) meant changing terminals by bus across the apron. Delta’s terminal is way too small and too darn crowded, but there was a lunch counter right next to our gate and they served craft beer. We had just enough time to eat lunch before our flight was called to start boarding.

On the way back, the story was different. The lounge we might have used was in the wrong terminal i.e. the one we arrived in not the one we left from. And anyway was closed to people with my kind of pass except in the early morning. The terminal used by WestJet was even nastier than that for Delta – and the choice of eating places was fast food or nothing. The noise level was atrocious. I was feeling a little under the weather – it turned out to be the ‘flu (not COVID19) – and I really wanted somewhere peaceful. At Amsterdam they have an art gallery and a library, both with comfy chairs. LAX was more like McDonalds on a midterm break. And were were there for three hours.

Worst of all, there was no working free wifi, and even the departure screens were hidden away behind a staircase. The well placed screens were only for commercials – the same ones for hours on a short rotation.

To be fair the Delta terminal is being enlarged and physically connected so that the need for a bus ride will be eliminated. I do not know what they plan for lounges and right now it seems to be unlikely we will be needing them in any foreseeable future. But at that time I would have been very much happier if my imposed wait could have been in YVR or an airport built to that standard than LAX. It was somewhat better than Kansas City, where Frontier had once required me to spend all day. But that isn’t saying much.

On the whole I have not felt especially constrained by the current travel restrictions and I am in no hurry to go very far again.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 22, 2020 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Air Travel

An Expected Disappointment

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Today I signed two petitions. One to divest the Canada Pension Plan from fossil fuels, the other a letter to the Environment Minister to require an environmental assessment of a massive coal mine expansion proposed for Alberta.

Then a news release arrived which I am copying in full below from Environmental Defence Canada which deplores the latest shortfall in the Trudeau government’s lacklustre efforts to meet the challenges of climate change and recovery from the Covid shut down. There has already been a reckoning of how little has been done for a Green New Deal type recovery here and how much thrown at the fossil fuel corporations, (“Canada has funnelled at least $11.86 BILLION to fossils in recent months, while directing only $222.78 million to clean energy”) so this latest failure to perform comes as no surprise. But it still makes me angry.

Environment and Climate Change Canada released their much-anticipated Strategic Assessment of Climate Change today. Copied below (and linked here) is our press release with our reaction. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for further clarification or questions. 


For Immediate Release: July 16, 2020

NEWS RELEASE: Federal government fails to deliver on promise to align infrastructure reviews with climate commitments

Just months after surprising withdrawal of Teck’s tar sands mine application, government wastes best chance to reconcile project decisions with commitment to become net-zero by 2050

Ottawa, Ont. – Today, the government missed the opportunity to implement a critical tool to achieving our climate targets: a climate test on new infrastructure. Public policy experts had hoped that with the introduction of the new Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69), which requires that project reviews consider whether the impacts help or hinder Canada in achieving its climate commitments, Canada could get on track to doing its part to ensure a climate-safe future. The policy announced today falls short of ensuring this will happen

“The government has just made it harder for Canada to get on the right pathway to reach our target of becoming net-neutral by 2050,” said Julia Levin, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “It is inconsistent to commit to a green recovery and serious climate action while simultaneously failing to put into place a mechanism to ensure that only projects that are consistent with those goals are built. When it comes to addressing the climate emergency – especially when we’re not on track to meet our targets – we need to be using every tool in the toolbox.”

Environmental assessments in Canada have long failed to ensure that project approvals are consistent with a climate-safe future. Global fossil fuel companies are planning to produce about 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with keeping warming to less than 1.5 degree Celsius – and 85% of that expansion is slated to come from the United States and Canada. The announced policy, known formally as the  , won’t curtail this emissions growth.

“The point of conducting thorough environmental assessments is to ensure we have the best information available to make decisions that are good for people in Canada,” said Levin. “Instead, the government has created a policy full of loopholes that polluters can exploit. How can we make responsible decisions as a country if we’re not even willing to ensure we have all the right information?”

As advanced by Environmental Defence and allies, a strong climate test would:

  • ensure that Canada’s new infrastructure be compatible with a low carbon future;
  • discourage investment in projects that would become stranded assets as world markets increasingly move away from oil and gas;
  • provide a clear and accountable set of climate guidelines for companies, communities, review panels and the public;
  • account for the significant downstream emissions from oil, natural gas and coal that is mined in Canada but exported to other countries, thereby recognizing the global nature of climate change and Canada’s contribution to it. Research shows that the total amount of greenhouse emissions from Canada’s exports of fossil fuels is greater than all emissions that occur within Canada

Though an improvement from the draft version of the policy – now project proponents will need to submit net-zero emission plans for projects that go beyond 2050 – the policy released today does not ensure any of the above goals. It punts requirements for emissions reductions well into the future rather than ensuring Canada is on the right path to do its fair share over the next decade to avoid catastrophic climate change.

As a result, Canadians should not expect that future assessments will do a better job of ensuring new projects are consistent with international climate commitments. Projects currently being considered include a proposed LNG pipeline in Quebec (Gazoduq) – which in conjunction with the Énergie Saguenay LNG plant would produce 7.8 million tons of greenhouse gas annually – and the huge expansion of a tar sands mine by Suncor Energy which would produce another 3 million tons of carbon pollution each year.

“Just a few months ago, Teck Resources made the surprising decision to withdraw their own application for a new tar sands mine. Their reason? A lack of a framework that reconciles oil and gas development decisions with climate action,” added Levin. “And yet the government seems not to have learned its lesson and has declined to show bold leadership. Canadians needed this policy to guide industry towards projects that are compatible with a safe and healthy future. Instead, communities will be forced to continue fighting to ensure that life cycle greenhouse gas emissions are adequately included in the impact reviews of new projects.”

Canada continues to lag behind on real climate leadership. The plan unveiled in the United States by the Biden-Bernie Sanders Unity Task Force includes a commitment to implementing a climate test.

Julia Levin 

Climate & Energy Program Manager 

Pronouns: she/her

Written by Stephen Rees

July 16, 2020 at 5:03 pm

Tlaamin Elder’s Beautiful Digital Gift

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In today’s Tyee is an article that I want to quote

“Paul declined to be interviewed for this article, simply because she felt she had already said enough. That’s hard to argue with given how filled the book is with her knowledge. And the wisdom of an Elder is something to be respected, too. Knowing when to start talking and when to stop is a teaching a lot of us could use.”

I had hoped that I had learned that. In so far as this blog is concerned, there is much less new being added as I feel that I have covered the ground I originally intended adequately already. The “Paul” who declined to be interviewed is the author of As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, is Elsie Paul, – which is a book I got from Vancouver Public Library in part because of our trip to the Sunshine Coast. The article is actually about a web site based on the material in that book – go read it to find the link to that!

The other thing that I think also bears your attention right now is “Covid, Twitter, and Critique” which is published in American Anthropologist and deals with what we needed to have been learning from the pandemic.

The anthropologist is Carlo Caduff of King’s College, London who says

“I had not been using Twitter much before the pandemic. During this period, I have turned to it as a kind of public notebook, where I could write down thoughts and then publish them and have a record for myself. The tweets were either orientations, diagnostic, or suggestions for another politics of life.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic there was hardly any political voice, because people were overwhelmed, and then stuck. Many were busy with homeschooling. And then lots of people were scared, so the first responses were either people not saying much, or they were repeating what everyone else was saying, or it was just silence.

Now, I think that has definitely changed. There are more political voices. The views are more diverse. People have gained a better sense of the complexity and the seriousness of the pandemic response and its consequences.”

“The lockdown was presented as if there were no alternatives. And that’s simply not true. First of all, you need to understand the history of the idea of the lockdown. Lockdowns only figured in infectious disease modeling. They were basically a theoretical idea that disease modelers used in simulations: What happens if you do this? What happens if you do that? Can you reduce the number of deaths if you do x, y, z? A complete shutdown was never an option that public health professionals considered in their preparedness plans for a pandemic like this.”

The parallel is the Perfect Competition market – which economists always knew did not exist either but was also a theoretical idea – a simplified abstraction meant to help explain how markets in general would work if viewed without the inescapable complexities of real life. It was never supposed to normative or prescriptive. Unfortunately most politicians never got beyond Economics 101 even if they did study it academically. A bit like putting a new graduate from high school with an A in physics in charge of a nuclear reactor.

I have been keeping a journal during the pandemic but it does not cover anything that can be found in the on line universe. It exists only as some paper notebooks – three so far – written with a fountain pen. Because an archivist that I knew from Facebook said that in the future our electronic ruminations may well not be readable. The technology will certainly have moved on – or maybe be even eliminated – whereas physical marks with permanent ink on good quality acid free paper lasts quite a while in the right circumstances. One thing I do know is that I was completely unaware at the time that lockdowns were only theoretical until now. So we truly are living through an experiment, so maybe my recording first person experience will have value freed from the certainties that seem to infest both social and mainstream media.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2020 at 3:43 pm

The Notebook

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A while ago now, I used to teach adults about energy efficiency. One such venture was concerned with buildings. The students were learning to qualify for a national program, based in the United States, and I travelled to Bellingham as a guest speaker. Nearly everyone else they heard would have been talking about building issues – insulation and so on. Hardware mostly, but also management. I talked about the bigger picture. How a building’s use and location was actually much more significant in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint than the energy used by its HVAC system.

The consulting company that ran the course gave me a nice little memento. The notebook, which was part of the kit given to the students. It is a monument to the principles that were being taught. The cover is made from recycled tyres. The paper, of course, was recycled too – every page has a pale grey logo printed on it.

The pages are all punched and the binding is by four small openable rings. Towards the end of the book there is page printed with the contact information of the maker. So that users can order a refill. Today I contacted them by email as, when I went to their web page, I could not find a refill that would fit this format.

Their reply. “Yes, this is a long discontinued item and we do not carry these refills anymore.
I am sorry about it.”

I won’t embarrass them by publishing their name. It is just a sad reality that business is business, and clearly this product, designed to be reusable for much longer than any one pad of paper might be, was not a commercial success. Which says more about us than them.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 1, 2020 at 11:52 am

Posted in Recycling