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

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delta

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Mouth of the Fraser aerial 2007_0710_105838AA

“This week, share a photograph that signifies transitions and change to you.”

This is an aerial shot from a plane leaving Vancouver on its way to Toronto in July 2007. I had to do quite a bit of work to edit the original – removing the mist that bedevils aerial photos, and correcting the colour, as well as adjusting the frame. Note that I have left the horizon tilted. I usually straighten that but in this case the plane is climbing steeply and turning eastwards. The plane leaving Vancouver took off over the Strait of Georgia, westwards, into the prevailing wind then turned towards the east.

The delta of the Fraser River is under threat from industrialisation. It is some of the most fertile soil in British Columbia, and one of the few places where vegetables can be grown. The river is still one of the most important ecosystems in the province with the remaining salmon runs threatened both by urban sprawl and climate change. Add to that the determination of the port to expand its activities – especially for the export of fossil fuels – and the storage of containers, which mostly come into the port loaded but have very much less utility for our exports, and we face a huge challenge.

I was very surprised to read in the original challenge “the current growing louder and faster before it spilled into the sea” which is exactly the opposite of what happens in this river delta – and almost certainly every other. The river’s current is much faster inland, where it rushes through the Fraser Canyon. The restriction of Hell’s Gate was one of the greatest challenges facing the Europeans when they started to exploit this part of the world. In building the Canadian National Railway they succeeded in blocking the river with their explosives, and the indigenous people carried the salmon upstream in baskets to help ensure the continuation of the species. The river turns westward at Hope and, as the valley widens, slows and begins to meander. The amount of silt that the water can carry drops as it slows, building the gravel beds that the gold prospectors pounced on, and the rich soils of what became farmland. In its natural state as the valley bottom opens up and flattens out the river would constantly move north and south seeking the sea between the mud banks and silt layers. We have of course put a stop to that with dykes and embankments to prevent flooding – that is actually the natural state – and constant dredging of the shipping channel to keep it open and, contentiously, to allow for larger ships.

This “photograph that signifies transitions and change to you” is one that I have used a lot on this blog as part of the campaign that challenges the present plans to expand the port and build a new, huge bridge at the leftmost edge of this picture, where the soil of the river banks is 2,000m or more of silts and sands, prone to liquefaction in the case of earthquakes (another imminent threat in this region) let alone the damage to Pacific flyway, the eelgrass beds, the habitat of many sensitive life forms and, of course, Burns Bog. You can read more about these issues in both this blog and at Fraser Voices.

And, by the way, the name of the municipality in most of this picture is Delta.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 28, 2017 at 10:36 am

“It’s our environment and our economy”

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A guest post by Andy Shadrack

If Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau think that they can dictate to British Columbians on the basis of whose economy and environment is more important, then they need to think again.

We have an important sport and commercial salmon fishery, and a coastline that is the envy of every tourism operator in the country. And yet Ms Notley and Mr Trudeau think we should sacrifice our economic interests for theirs.

First, no amount of money could fix a crude oil spill. Just ask the Alaskan fishermen and First Nations people impacted by the Exxon Valdez spill. So we are not talking about exporting twinkies, lumber, natural gas or even coal. We are talking about a substance that could severely damage or destroy our marine ecosystem.

BC has only one marine ecosystem and no amount of money could help rebuild it. Question: why are Alberta and Ottawa not supporting refining tar sands crude where it is being mined?

That way we could all benefit from purchasing Canadian refined oil products and end the importation of foreign oil. The answer I keep getting is that it is too expensive and not a viable economic solution.

Well, guess what, exporting crude oil through BC’s fragile marine ecosystem is not a viable economic alternative either. Nor do we want to be held hostage to Alberta’s economic needs.

We in BC have as much right to protect our environment and economy as Albertans. So, Ms Notley, a little less of “it’s our right” and “the federal government has made adecision”, as Mr Trudeau also promised us that the impacts of resource extraction would be balanced against the needs of protecting the environment.

It’s our environment and our economy that’s at stake here, so please start by respecting us and that fact. After that, we can negotiate as equal partners in confederation and not from some subservient position of just because you mined it, you have a right to export it.

Andy is someone I met when I joined the Green Party of BC. He posted this on his facebook page today. I decided to copy and paste it here.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 13, 2017 at 5:25 pm

You can’t handle the truth

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There was a hard hitting article in the Globe and Mail, which I didn’t read because it is behind a paywall and the Grope and Wail is predictably right wing, especially where climate change is concerned. Then Pamela Zevit posted a link on facebook to an article on boereport which both provides a neat summary and some trenchant discussion.  I am not sure if the link provided in that article actually will get you to the original as it points to pressreader – which I don’t use either.

Anyway here is the summary

Four simple points are made that should be enough to derail the current monolithic environment industry and start a new revolution, but they will have a hard time because the media couldn’t have cared less.

The article’s four pertinent points are: that only a fraction of the population is motivated by the health of the planet; that more information does not lead to more action; that scare tactics don’t work; and that environmental products have to be desirable before they become adopted. Each point is supported by logical and balanced reasons that are hard to argue with, which explains why the article was pointedly ignored by even its owner.

The piece is a refreshingly clear statement about where the environmental debate should be going.

And at this point my thoughts turned in quite a different direction. I do not think that individual action is going to change anything very much, because the amount of difference that makes is tiny. Now, if you want to make changes in the way that you do things in order to save the planet, you go right ahead. But in the meantime there is a group of people – actually a tiny minority of the world’s population – who could indeed make a quite extraordinary  difference. They are the decision makers, the far less than 1% who control most of what happens in modern western societies, and who continue to seek out short term profits rather than long term security. And some of those people include politicians in our society who seem to be doing things that are simply contrarian to any scientific reality about this question. Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau come top of my mind right now, but there are plenty of others.

The decisions behind the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to export dilbit from Alberta are driven by what they see as necessary economically. Meanwhile in other places, the move away from fossil fuels is gathering strength and is already making a measurable difference. The use of solar panels and wind turbines has increased much faster than anyone anticipated, with the result that the costs of these technologies has fallen and is now competitive with fossil fuels. Not only that but the places that are getting on with changing how they produce electricity are increasing employment, and economic activity as well as producing worthwhile improvements to other issues such as air and water quality.

It isn’t actually necessary that the other 80% of the population is motivated by the health of the planet, because they are motivated by buying better, cheaper solutions to meet their needs. The taxi drivers who decided to buy a Prius instead of a second hand full sized IC car were motivated by a financial case. And the biggest savings came not so much from buying less fuel as needing fewer brake jobs. The people installing solar panels do so because their hydro bills go down – or they can stop using diesel generators. People like Elon Musk are selling electric cars because they are better than the IC equivalent.

There is a petition that I have seen recently aimed at a cruise ship line to try and get them to switch from using bunker C (the really gross residual oil from refining crude that is used in marine diesel engines). I am not going to sign it. Because it is unreasonable to expect one ship owner to switch fuels when no other shipping line is being pressured to stop doing the same thing. But one day someone will come up with a way of powering these engines with a renewable, cleaner fuel – for instance there is one promising process to use sewage to produce liquid fuel. Which will also help to lessen their local environmental impact.

When I was part of the team that wrote BC’s first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, we did not expect anyone to change anything in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we were able to identify plenty of things that could be done that would reduce energy use, and hence expenses, that would pay for themselves in two to three years at most. Energy efficiency is worth investing in for its own sake!  And I was really quite pleased when I saw that my daughter’s school installed ground source heat pumps when it built its new extension, something that would have been prohibited by the previous policy framework. BC Hydro’s Conservation effort cost $1.5bn but saved double what Site C will produce – and will cost over $9bn. (Source: BCUC Revenue Requirement hearings 2017 via facebook BC Hydro Ratepayers Association)

Actually energy efficiency is a much bigger productivity resource than is generally understood.

Energy_Efficiency_a_Bigger_Resource_May_2017

It really doesn’t matter if environmental pressure groups have little impact on popular opinion. Though something must be pushing people to vote Green in larger numbers. There are already many other groups that are organising things better and helping us become more sustainable, and reducing emissions at the same time. Making it possible for people to ride their bikes in reasonable comfort and safety is probably helping to reduce the number of car trips they take. Selling cold water detergent doesn’t hurt either. Capturing methane from landfills to replace fossil fuel gas – and also increase plant growth  with the CO2 is also a good idea. Closing landfills altogether might be better but is ways off. And somehow other countries seem to manage to raise awareness – a Swiss referendum (they have lots of them) chose to end use of nuclear power.

In the meantime the demand for the fossil fuels some in Canada want to export is declining – and the price for LNG, for instance, simply doesn’t warrant any of the huge investments we are being asked to subsidize. China and India are backing off from coal faster than expected – and making the sort of contribution to CO2 reduction that was thought impossible in the earlier climate change talks. Again, neither of these countries are driven by altruism: both are looking at the cost of the health impacts of fossil fuel burning on air quality.

And Bernie Sanders agrees with me.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Greenpeace launches worldwide campaign for free speech

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I am putting this here just to see how many mainstream media outlets actually give this coverage.  I will add links to their stories here as I find them.

Three so far

Winnipeg Free Press

Yahoo

Outside Magazine

PR Newswire doesn’t count

Globe and Mail (paywall)

Vancouver Sun

OK yes the mainstream media did follow up: the list will not be updated

I have kept the links visible at the foot of this press release so that you can read the full report. I would have liked to have included some of the illustrative materials but that requires registration and also formal permission from Greenpeace.

The following image is on flickr, posted by Boris Mann with a Creative Commons license. It illustrates a clearcut on Vancouver Island near Lake Cowichan taken on October 9, 2006. Its use here is simply to draw attention to unsustainable practices and does not imply that it has anything to do with Resolute Forest Products.

Clearcut

Montreal, 16 May, 2017 — Greenpeace has launched a new worldwide campaign for free speech today to stand up to Canadian logging giant Resolute Forest Products’ massive legal attacks on its critics, which threaten the existence of this global environmental movement. These meritless lawsuits are just the tip of the iceberg and part of a global trend of SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) litigation which aims to throttle civic advocacy.

Instead of focusing on fully adopting sustainable forestry, investing in healthy forests, and creating jobs, Resolute is trying to intimidate critics like Greenpeace with two massive multimillion dollar lawsuits that threaten free speech.Today, Greenpeace US is launching a new report, “Clearcutting Free Speech: How Resolute Forest Products is going to extremes to silence critics of its controversial logging practices”[1], presenting the implications of logging company Resolute Forest Products massive legal attack on its critics, which aims to redefine activism as criminal activity.

“Greenpeace has gained international recognition as an independent environmental watchdog because we raise our voices without fear. That is public interest advocacy, not a criminal activity. The voices of our supporters will not be shut down now because a logging company like Resolute wants to get away with logging in intact forests,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid.

If Resolute’s lawsuits succeed, the cases could set a dangerous precedent of shutting down advocacy groups and corporate watchdogs and embolden companies around the world to use similar tactics against their own critics.

In May 2016, Resolute filed a CAD$300 million lawsuit for racketeering and other claims in the United States against several Greenpeace entities, Stand.earth and individual activists. Prior to that, Resolute filed a CAD$7 million lawsuit for defamation and other claims against Greenpeace Canada and two of its staff in 2013, that is still ongoing. The company has also used intimidating legal and public relations tactics against other organisations including the Rainforest Alliance, an independent environmental auditor.

Greenpeace is calling on support from free speech advocates around the world, including    major international publishers such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette — who purchase paper from Resolute. Greenpeace is inviting them to join the call to protect freedom of speech and the collective rights to organise on issues of public concern, like forest conservation.

Greenpeace Canada Forest campaigner, Shane Moffatt, a defendant in the Canadian lawsuit, said:

“We want a healthy forest where Indigenous Peoples rights are respected, jobs are secured for communities and fragile ecosystems are protected. The only way to get there is with open dialogue and free speech so all parties can work together to make these solutions a reality.”

Greenpeace US Senior Forest Campaigner, Amy Moas, a defendant in the US lawsuit, said:

“If Resolute wins these lawsuits, not only could it mean a world without Greenpeace and the 45 year record of a movement to protect the environment, but a world where free speech becomes more restricted for advocacy groups, individuals, artists, journalists and publishers.

“Resolute aims to label environmental advocacy work as criminal activity in the United States and to set a precedent to silence rightful dissent across the board. Resolute Forest Products is not counting on the millions of people that make the environmental movement so strong. Together, our voices are vital for protecting our rights, our communities and the planet,” concluded Moas.

Despite the ongoing lawsuits, Greenpeace continues to have an open door for Resolute, to work together for lasting solutions in the boreal forest for all stakeholders involved.

 

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Notes to editors:

[1] Click here to access the full “Clearcutting Free Speech: How Resolute Forest Products is going to extremes to silence critics of its controversial logging practices” report or copy the following URL in your browser: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/clearcutting-free-speech

[2] Click here to obtain images, videos and other materials related to this release or copy the following URL in your browser: http://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJJU3322

[3] SLAPP suits are a growing trend which corporations and anyone with enough resources to create legal claims without merit use as a way to silence any type of criticism, labelling advocacy organizations and their workers as ‘criminal enterprises’ and intimidating them through multi-million dollar lawsuits. Most damagingly, such SLAPP suits suck up time and energy that should be spent campaigning for important causes, such as protecting the environment. Only corporations with deep pockets benefit from launching such lawsuits, society and public interest suffers. Anti-SLAPP legislation exists in many provinces and states. Although Resolute is based in Québec, its lawsuit was filed in Ontario, which, unlike Québec, did not have anti-SLAPP legislation at the time of filing.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 16, 2017 at 9:29 am

Why we’re taking the Port to court

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From Kevin Washbrook via FraserVoices

After three years of preparation, Ecojustice goes to Court on behalf of VTACC and Communities and Coal this Wednesday to challenge Port Authority approval of a new coal terminal on the Fraser River. The cities of Surrey and New West will be there with us, making submissions in support of our arguments.

We’re fighting to stop US coal companies that want to run mile-long trains of open coal cars through our communities so they can ship the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from Metro Vancouver. Similar plans have been repeatedly rejected by communities in the US. A win here in federal court will be another nail in the coffin for west coast thermal coal exports.

This has already been hard fought litigation, with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority pushing back the entire time. That’s not surprising, as a federal Court decision in our favour could have serious implications for how the Port operates.

In Vancouver? Consider dropping into federal Court to follow some of the proceedings May 17-19, 701 W Georgia, starting at 9:30 a.m. each day.

Read more about the history of this challenge and our concerns about conflicts built into project permitting at the Port in this blog post.

Watch local youth talk about the impacts this project would have on their communities and the climate in this one minute video (at the top of this post).

Learn more about the case, see photos from the last four years and contribute to our legal defense fund here.

Thank you to everyone who has already donated to this challenge, and a huge note of gratitude to Ecojustice for taking on this case — without their tireless effort this work wouldn’t have been possible.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 15, 2017 at 11:41 am

Killing the Fraser

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Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2017 at 11:51 am

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

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When I first saw the challenge for this week I was thinking of looking for one of my gigantic panoramas. But then as I was scrolling through Photos on my MacBook I saw this little snapshot. We were walking around the Cleveland Dam and Capilano park, when I saw this skunk cabbage emerging from the earth. That does look like a particularly fecund bit of ground – lots of naturally composting plants and detritus from the forest. And that fern is really artistic, don’t you think?

We have had almost continuous rain here for months – and the chance to get outside during the brief dry spells is eagerly grasped. Spring has been late, but all around things are emerging and blooming as the warmth returns – if not much actual direct sunshine.

We need to keep in mind how much we depend on earth. The fact that we have anything to eat at all depends on a few inches of topsoil and dependable rain. But humans seem to be very bad at understanding that this is very fragile and easily broken. There might be water on a moon of Saturn, but that does not give us any realistic alternative to taking better care of the Earth we inherited and are so lucky to have survived our ill treatment thus far.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2017 at 12:44 pm