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Archive for the ‘Impact of Climate Change’ Category

“Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs”

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Yesterday evening we attended this free City program lecture by Larry Beasley and Jonathan Barnett. The large room was full and in his introduction Gordon Price said that bookings had filled up over the weekend after it had been posted late one Friday afternoon, something that had never before happened.

The event was video recorded is now available on YouTube

Here are two extracts from the SFU City Programme site announcement

A couple of North America’s best urban designers have distilled two careers’ worth of knowledge into a new book:Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs. The SFU City Program is pleased to host both Larry Beasley and Jonathan Barnett for a lecture that will explore the important themes from their book and their experience.

Come learn how cities can reshape themselves to limit global warming, re-energize suburban commercial corridors with bus rapid transit, reclaim wasteful transportation infrastructure for public amenities, and make cities more attractive for family living.

Specifically, Larry and Jonathan’s talk  covers the following:

  • Solutions for a city’s environmental compatibility
  • Diversifying movement choices
  • Urban consumers’ aspirations for quality livability
  • The pros and cons of community amenity contributions

About the Speakers

Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus professor of practice in city and regional planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He has extensive experience as an urban design consultant as well as an educator, and he is the author of numerous books and articles on the theory and practice of city design. Along with his PennDesign colleagues Gary Hack and Stefan Al, he teaches an online course called Designing Cities, available on Coursera.

Larry Beasley is the “distinguished practice” professor of planning at the University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning. Along with Ann McAfee, he was the long-serving co-director of planning in Vancouver during the transformative years for the core city. He now teaches and advises cities around the world through his consultant firm, Beasley and Associates. He has been recognized with an outstanding alumni award and an honorary doctorate degree from SFU. He is also a member of the Order of Canada.

The event was a book promotion but was sponsored by Concord Pacific. There were copies of the book for sale at the back of the room and most of the illustrations used in the presentation were taken from the book. I was somewhat surprised to hear that the two authors had not physically been together during the book’s writing. I was also expecting – given the title and indeed the predominance of the design community in the room – that the content would be mainly about design. The term “ecodesign” was apparently coined by Kim Yang an architect from Singapore applied to buildings. The authors stated that they were applying it to cities. There was almost no reference to design thereafter.

Most of the talk from both presenters was about policy and implementation – and much of it concerned transportation. Very little of what I heard was either new or even very remarkable. Much of it would be very familiar to readers of this blog, and I feel that it would be pointless for me to type out the extensive handwritten notes I made during the presentation, which would be my normal mode of operation. As noted above for those who could not get in last night, there is the youtube video which is both more accurate and less coloured by my opinions.

I was also very surprised that both presenters read slabs of text from their book to top and tail their presentation, and while they did so the screen displayed what they were reading. Larry Beasley did not appear to have noticed too that there were slides to go with his opening introduction. Given that he is an educator, Jonathan Barrett’s presentation style was not exactly sparkling either.

In the section on mitigating the impact of climate change they concentrated on sea level rise – or rather the way that storm surges amplify that issue. They used New Orleans as one example. There is indeed a design issue here – as the US Army Corps of Engineers has now admitted. They also referred to the Thames Barrier in London, which was installed in the 1980s, long before sea level rise due to climate change was in the political cross hairs, but was said at the time to be a response to the south east of England slowly sinking. At least, as an employee of the Greater London Council at the time, that is what we in the Department of Planning and Transportation were told. It has apparently been raised far more often than was originally intended and will be inadequate by 2030.

I was also somewhat taken aback by a slide which showed a “regional solution” – which was not actually described in detail but shown on a map as red lines across the Juan de Fuca Strait and the outlet of the Salish Sea at Port Hardy. It was said that this would require international co-operation. Quite how the ports of Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma would continue to operate was not revealed.

Larry Beasley’s section on how to get buy in from the suburbs was all about “experiential planning and urban design” by showing examples of what has worked in other places. By that he meant that people “spontaneously and of their own accord buy in to sustainable and more interesting practices” (as though the High Line had not been skillfully promoted for years). The book starts with examples and then tries to extrapolate common themes rather than starting from a theoretical construct. All the examples were familiar and a lot of them I have my own pictures to illustrate. Not Cheonggyecheon or Boston’s Big Dig, I’m afraid.

Promenade Plantee in Paris

Walkers and runners

Highline New York

More people
Times Square


Herald Square

Herald Square

False Creek North (Yaletown)

#1 Public space in Canada

The big challenge will be the suburbs, and change there will of necessity be incremental simply because the area they cover is so large. Cars will continue to predominate travel for a long time even though traffic congestion is a symptom of “suburban dysfunction”. Growth boundaries are essential and work but behind them is business as usual. Tysons Corner VA was cited as a good example where an extension of the Washington Metro will facilitate TOD, but for others places Bus Rapid Transit was actually referred to as a “silver bullet”. But not a B Line as we know it.

I must admit I was a bit taken aback at this assertion. The 98 B Line was actually quite close to BRT standards on part of No 3 Road and might have been convertible to LRT had the province listened to what Richmond actually wanted. Within Vancouver, of course, the City’s Transportation engineers insisted that no bus priority of any kind was acceptable. And Linda Meinhardt ensured that parking along the curb lanes and access for her deliveries would never be compromised.

So the solution to our problems is – they said – adopting more generally the regulatory and management techniques pioneered by Ray Spaxman, the collaboration and public engagement as practised by Anne McAfee and regulatory reform which would expect rather less from Community Amenity Contributions than the current practice here.

I did not stay for the Questions and Answers. Sorry.


Rachel Notley’s Speech to Investors

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Like many people sick of conservatism, I was greatly encouraged by the recent change in the government of Alberta. The victory there of the NDP after so many years of right wing domination seemed like a breath of fresh air.

The disappointment I am currently experiencing is visceral. Premier Rachel Notley spoke to the Stampede Investor Forum on Tuesday “her first major (private) speech to an industry crowd, two months after her New Democrats won.”

…it’s the oil sands that have really emerged as our international showpiece.

For more than half a century, Albertans have been coming up with unconventional solutions for an unconventional resource so we can extract, handle and ship it responsibly, to the very best of our abilities.

This attitude of pushing the limits of what’s possible influences every aspect of the oil sands, from research and development to environmental management to the service and support fields.

It’s a tremendous asset which has transformed Alberta into one of the world’s leading oil producers.

And I’m here today to emphasize that the province has a government determined to defend this advantage, by being constructive at home, and by building relationships around the world.

…Alberta will continue to be a healthy place for private investment under our government.

This definitely applies to energy.

Expanding existing oil sands projects, establishing new ones and pioneering advanced technologies — all this requires spending on a large scale.
Under our leadership, Alberta’s abundant oil and gas reserves will remain wide open to investment.

MacLeans has “the premier’s prepared text at the forum cosponsored by her government, Calgary Economic Development and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s main megaphone.”

I have been regularly berated by NDP supporters who claim that the Green Party is “splitting the progressive vote”. I will now quote this speech to anyone who dares to claim that the NDP and the Green Party share the same values.

Humanity is rapidly approaching  an existential crisis. If we are to have some impact on the increase in greenhouse gas emissions we have seen in recent years, then it is essential that fossil fuel consumption starts to decrease. It is not enough that some renewable energy sources have been increasing. These sources have to replace fossil fuels, not supplement them. We have to reduce our carbon footprint. In Canada that means the tar sands – one of the dirtiest forms of energy – must be left in the ground. We simply cannot follow a path that sees exports of diluted bitumen as a way to make short term profits at the expense of a habitable planet. We cannot plan to increase exports of coal or LNG either. Which, by the way is nothing like the clean fuel that Christy Clark likes to pretend (see: Methane Emissions in Texas Fracking Region 50% Higher Than EPA Estimates)

Of course I want to see Stephen Harper unseated at the upcoming election. If the NDP is really serious about its intentions to lead the next federal government, it would be making overtures to the Liberals to create an anti Conservative electoral pact. It is simply not good enough to hope that a coalition can be formed after the election. But that seems to be their current strategy. I do not think that the Liberals can be seen as “progressive” given the way that Paul Martin ran a more conservative than the conservatives economic strategy. And Trudeau Junior does not seem to me to be nearly as committed as his father – to anything at all! But he sure would like to be elected. And will say anything at all to make that possible.

And to those that still think that somehow the economy trumps the environment I can only say that they are just not paying attention. Renewable energy is showing itself to be a significantly better investment in terms of local employment – even if you disregard the huge environmental benefits. You also need to be blind to the current impacts of less than 2C of warming that we are currently experiencing. If you think long hot summers with droughts and forest fires are bad now,  I feel certain that what we are seeing now will seem mild in comparison to what is coming. The loss of the bees and the salmon seems to be getting some attention too. About time.

Notley again

“the energy sector needs stability to keep Albertans employed and to innovate as it confronts climate change.”

Which seems as usual to be pinning her hopes on the elusive carbon capture and storage which has always been  just around the corner – and always will be. At least Alberta is also a leader in wind energy – the Calgary LRT already runs exclusively on wind power. They will probably be beating us in solar panels and geothermal too, given the miniscule attempts being made in BC and our foolish commitments to Site C and run of the river.

Calgary Transit C Train

Pincher Creek

Afterword: and the BC NDP is no better.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 11.24.27 AM

The LNG in question would be produced from fracking. Fugitive methane from fracking makes it worse from the GHG perspective than coal. BC LNG is unlikely to be cost competitive for the export markets it is aimed at: the Chinese, for example, have already signed a deal for Russian gas at a price BC could never match let alone beat. But if the BC NDP wants to claim it cares about the environment it cannot at the same time support more fracking for gas here.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

“What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?”

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Greenpeace Shell BC

Illustration taken from GreenPeace

One of the benefits of having a blog – and one of its curses too – is that I get things in the email that other people want me to put on my blog. Or write about on my blog. This is one of those: it comes from The Nation which is a magazine whose web site operates behind a paywall. So I get a complimentary log in to see articles which they think I will direct you to. Many are worthy, and I understand why The Nation wants to stay in business and keep paying its journalists to provide content. But, as far as possible, I continue to try and find sources that are not paywalled.

Today the news is full of two things that everybody is writing about: the new Papal encyclical and the latest American shooting atrocity. The Nation has three, searing articles about that and how this church and this date were neither randomly picked. And a commencement speech by Naomi Klein to the College of the Atlantic on June 6, 2015.

Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker—as if this is their day or something? What’s next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?

So as it happens there’s a couple of things here that have resonance with me. Firstly the Atlantic has, very wisely, closed comments on the three articles about the Charleston massacre. After yesterday, I have been seriously thinking that might not be too bad of an idea here, but two comments from the Usual Suspects set me straight on that. We do have good discussions here, and one wingnut is not going to be allowed to upset that. Secondly, one of the topics that Naomi Klein addresses speaks to something I have been thinking about.

These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts.

Recently Jane Fonda visited Jericho Beach and spoke there about pipelines and coastal tankers and whatnot, and of course the commenters weighed in as usual, being snide about how Jane chose to travel here, and thus was some kind of hypocrite because that trip used fossil fuel. Just as the same cabal has chided Al Gore for his campaigning on the same topic.

Maybe the Pope is going to be different. Maybe his speech will start the moral shift that is needed in the corridors of power to finally address the issue. Of course the fact that someone inside the Vatican leaked the encyclical (not a usual turn of events) and that Jeb Bush was already out front of it seem to point in the direction that the pontiff will be going. A bit like the way the President has had to acknowledge on gun control.

But continuing the “fair use “privilege, here is how Naomi Klein sees it towards the end of her speech

….the weight of the world is not on any one person’s shoulders—not yours. Not Zoe’s. Not mine. It rests in the strength of the project of transformation that millions are already a part of.

That means we are free to follow our passions. To do the kind of work that will sustain us for the long run. It even means we can take breaks—in fact, we have a duty to take them. And to make sure our friends do too.

And, as it happens you can also watch – for free –  what Naomi Klein said on YouTube

And also here is what she has to say about the Pope’s new message

The Cost of Energy

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The recent IPCC report has been very clear about the need to get out of fossil fuels. They are also realistic in predicting that it is going to take a while to turn things around. What surprises me is the continued reluctance of the elite to absorb the message – but maybe there is an easier way to get across to them.

There has already been a significant change in energy markets, not just because the price of renewables (solar, wind and so on) has been dropping rapidly. The rush into fracking for oil and gas in North America has depressed oil prices.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.10.26 AMNow it may be argued that this is merely short term volatility and that OPEC could cut back its output to prop up prices. But equally, OPEC may be getting concerned about losing market share and needing to protect its revenue stream. Sales at lower prices being better than no sales at all.

I have already been arguing in other fora – such as twitter and facebook – that the dropping oil price ought to be a much bigger consideration for opponents of increasing fossil fuel dependence. The current crop of LNG projects in BC seem to me to be the most obvious candidates. British Gas has already pulled out of Prince Rupert: can Squamish be far behind? The provincial government has already dropped its revenue estimates, even though it was already willing to pretty much give away the resources through low royalties, it has recently cut the tax regime too. I do not understand why they continue to pursue projects which offer very little in terms of employment (relative to other energy opportunities) and now little revenue, especially in the near term. “British Columbia’s auditor general says doing business with the oil-and-gas industry has cost the province’s coffers about $1.25 billion in royalties even before most of the product has been pulled from the ground.” Vancouver Sun

But the pipeline projects that are essential to expanding the tar sands and getting diluted bitumen to oil refineries also  seem to be not only deservedly unpopular, but increasingly unnecessary. The tar sands are already heavily subsidized, but even so “ninety percent of future oil sands projects at risk from eroding oil price” according to a new report from Carbon Tracker.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.22.38 AM

I have long argued that the only thing to do with difficult to extract fossil fuels is to leave them in the ground. For one thing it is now clear that we have more than enough geothermal energy resources available to meet all our needs. While not strictly speaking “renewable” it is not likely that the earth’s core is going to cool down rapidly if we exploit these resources anymore than putting up solar panels to capture sunlight risks dimming the sun. The good thing about geothermal is its constant availability which makes it really useful to provide power when sunlight and winds are not available.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.51.40 AM

The problematic thing is that transportation, especially in North America, is still heavily dependant on energy dense liquid fuel. Even though batteries are getting better, and energy efficiency improvements such as hybrids are helping reduce demand for gasoline, much more attention is being directed – quite properly – to the fall in car use. I think that is much more to do with the falling buying power of consumers than secular change in transport demand. The grab of the 1% has gone much too far, and the economic impacts of the impoverishment of the rest of the population are now becoming more apparent. So far the knock on effects into social unrest have been relatively weak, but that cannot continue indefinitely, absent a change in policy direction from most national governments. Obviously austerity is not working and cannot work. The changes in mode to walking and cycling can be achieved in some urban areas, but in most suburbs significant shifts in land use are needed to put origins and destinations in better proximity.  That is going to take some time to achieve.

Politicians Discussing Global Warming

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

Climate Heroes

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The intention of this post is to offset some of the gloom created by yesterday’s offering. Canada is not a good example to the rest of the world in tackling climate change, but that should not deter us from seeing what we could do, if we want to see change. And usually this blog bangs on about policy – because that is the field that I used to work in. So this is a departure, for this blog.

It also is due to the emergence in recent days of an alternative to facebook, which seems to have been sucking up a lot of my online time. I am not very happy about that, but the content that I find on facebook is what matters, more than the medium itself. If there can emerge another social medium that does not share some of Facebook’s characteristics, that would be a very good thing. I do not know if Ello will do that, but I hope so. This trailer for a new documentary was posted to Ello by Darren Barefoot – someone I met way back when I started blogging and went to Northern Voice to learn how to do that. He was involved in producing the trailer, and promoted it on Ello.

I did actually watch the whole thing and if you do nothing else I urge you to check out the making of bamboo bikes. The role of the Chinese government in the final segment also provides an interesting contrast to the way we do things here.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2014 at 9:42 am

Making the wrong choices

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“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

Stephen Harper (source: CBC)

This post is inspired by an email from David Suzuki “Here’s to a radical Canada Day!”

Stephen Harper’s statement is willfully misleading.

Many countries are taking actions to tackle climate change. The record to date is that they are performing better in terms of jobs and growth than the very few (like Canada and Australia) who have decided to destroy the environment on which all life depends. Countries like Germany, that have far less sunshine than we do but make half of their electricity from it now. Solar power is now cheaper than electricity made from fossil fuels.

The tar sands have long presented a possible source of energy, but for a very long time they remained untapped simply because there were so many other sources which were easier to extract. Usable fuel from tar sands was simply too expensive to make. What changed that was the willingness of the Canadian government to pour billions of tax dollars into its extraction and processing. The subsidies to the fossil fuel industries are unconscionable. If these were cut – in the same way that so many other public expenditures that Canadians actually need and care about have been cut – then other sources would have been much more competitive much sooner. We have been burning money mining a nonrenewable resource that is causing widespread carnage in terms of its impact on local water and air quality as well the long term effect of increasing carbon and methane emissions at a time when all sorts of tipping points in climate change were passing. The only reaction to the melting of the polar ice cap seems to be a willingness to immediately seize this as an opportunity to open up yet more oil and gas exploration.

Canada has huge untapped reserves of energy – sunlight, wind, waves, tides, geothermal – which are not going to be utilized in time to save life as we know it, because our governments are obsessed with oil and gas. Yet we get very little from oil and gas in terms of jobs, or revenues or even economic activity. Unless you are the sort of economist who seriously advances the notion that cleaning up oil spills is good for economic growth.

Norway continues to  extract oil from underneath the North Sea. This was also regarded as a very expensive, risky option at one time. Yet Norway did not respond with tax breaks and subsidies. On the contrary it has some of the highest royalty revenue stream per barrel of any oil economy. And the money did not go to income tax reductions for the rich but into a wealth building fund  that will continue to serve the best interests of Norwegians in general long after their oil reserves are exhausted. BC, of course, is currently pursuing a highly risky fracking and LNG export path based on reducing royalty payments that are already low.

The other day I was in Squamish. I once again heard that the name comes from the First Nations term for “place of the winds”. It is apparently a world class sailboarding destination due to the strength and reliability of the winds. I could just about hear what the guide was saying over the roar of the diesel generator. He was telling us about how the new Sea to Sky Gondola is taking care of the environment.

Of course, wind and solar are not “reliable” in the sense that power is not available all the time. But this energy storage problem is close to being resolved. There always has been the option of pumped hydraulic storage (used in North Wales to store otherwise useless electricity produced by a nuclear power station which cannot be shut off at times of low demand). Now there are promising new battery storage technologies like vanadium and sulphuric acid, readily scalable and with very long life, and ideal for solar and wind power storage.

We sit on huge reserves of geothermal energy – but the only use we make of them is for a few hot baths, here and there.

We could have already replaced thousands of gasoline powered passenger trips by existing electric transport technologies – trams, trolleybuses, trains – but we chose instead to invest in highways, despite evidence of declining car use! There are many more potential jobs operating public transport than there are in freeway maintenance!

When I first got into greenhouse gas action plans, I decided that we should not be concerned about climate change as a selling point. There was already a cognitive dissonance in the message: the planet is heating up, so you should check your tire pressures more often. We simply concentrated on the economic/financial message. Twenty years ago, when hydro was still cheap and even gas prices looked reasonable, basic energy efficiency measures were still attractive with two to three years payback on projects which had potentially much longer lives. I still adhere to the notion that it is utterly pointless to argue with climate change deniers. But even they cannot argue that something isn’t happening that is – increasing wildfires, floods, tornadoes – and that remediation and essential protection for the future is costing us a fortune. The basic cost benefit calculations can be assessed in real dollars – without getting into any arguments about the value of life or time. The economy and job effect of energy efficiency by itself is worth having. Switching to renewable energy is even better in terms of rate of return on capital employed.

The carbon tax is working. It would have worked even better if it had not been frittered away on being “revenue neutral” but invested in sensible activities like increasing transit supply where there is already excess demand. Better still if the amounts had continued to increase and not been foolishly frozen.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan, on the other hand, manifestly is NOT working. Throwing money at billionaires is a very silly idea indeed. It does not trickle down nor are they any more willing to pay low taxes than they were to pay high taxes. Employing people to chase fugitive income and capital gains is a lot more productive than attacking the poor for trivial sums.

The actions we need to take will not destroy jobs or growth. What they will do is heavily impact the fortunes of the fossil fuel companies and those who remain invested in them. Stephen Harper does not actually care very much about Canada, or Canadian values. He does care very much indeed about holding on to power. And to do that he needs a steady flow of cash from the oil companies. And he is very unlikely indeed to insist that they leave their reserves in the ground. But if we are to stay below the 2℃ target that is what has to happen. The costs of missing that target are horrendous, no matter how you count them.


In a comment below I am (quite properly) chided for the lack of data in this opinion piece. Here are some routes where those who are curious can follow up on my assertions – points to an IMF study

Tackling Climate Change while growing the economy – “Over 50 percent of the country’s energy was generated from photovoltaic panels” for a short period recently

But the there is also this:

investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would create more jobs than the same amount of investment in fossil fuels. source: – compares Norway to Canada and Alberta

See also

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

Andrew Coyne at SFU

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There is already a post on this blog announcing the talk this evening and with my initial reactions. I have have attached my notes below. I have also assembled a storify from the tweets that used the #movingthefuture hashtag

The evening was remarkably short, ending at 20:15. Usually these things go on until 21:00. Was Translink paying him by the minute? I also have the strong suspicion that he was reading a prepared talk, so it seems quite possible that a transcript may appear sooner than the SFU video which is promised “within weeks”. I would have thought a talk like this, which used no visual presentation materials at all could have been distributed as a podcast much faster.

My reaction then is what I am going to write first. He opened by disclaiming expertise – in this field or any other. Experts, he said, know very much more about much less. He knows less about very much more. He also has seemed to me, from his opinion columns, a convert to right wing politics, and in particular their love affair with markets and less government. For such people economics is delightfully simple and straightforward, for they only have familiarity with the basic concepts as set out in Economics 101. They seem not to have been listening when told that the market conceived of under Perfect Competition is an abstraction. It is an entirely theoretical construct used for didactic purposes: to explain what would happen under a set of highly unrealistic assumptions. You have to grasp that in in order to understand what comes in the later courses – which deal with the complexities and difficulties of the Real World.

I have been an advocate of Road Pricing myself – and covered that here. (There are 69 results if you do a search on this blog for “road pricing” (without the quotes). It would be a better way of allocating a scarce resource (road space at peak periods) than the one we currently use – queueing. But that is not to say that such a solution can be implemented easily or quickly. Road pricing might be a better way to deal with congestion – but that does not mean we can implement it here and now. Andrew Coyne did not deal with either here or now. He did not reference the provincial fiat: they are the only ones who can price provincial assets including the designated provincial highways. So the Mayors have been told that Road Pricing is effectively off the table at present. Indeed they themselves have said that while they recognize its potential usefulness they do not actually want it for at least five years in the the future. Like St Augustine is supposed to have prayed: Give me Chastity but Not Yet.

UPDATE Breaking News – according to a paywalled story in the Globe and Mail this morning Todd Stone is now willing to consider tolls and regional road pricing in the upcoming referendum (Posted at 09:08 Feb 26)

Secondly he was very selective in some of the evidence he cited. And in some cases I feel that he rather mislead the audience. For example he asserted that London Transport had halved the cost of providing bus service since it adopted contracting out. What he did not say was that this was imposed by a Conservative government at the national level with a stated objective of breaking the power of the trade unions. Most if not all of the savings came at the expense of the wages of those actually performing the service. The profits of the bus operating companies have been quite remarkable. Indeed that is also true of the railways. There the cost to the public purse has tripled. A franchise to run trains – such as that owned by Virgin – is a bit like a license to print money. It has been a lot tougher for the people who build trains. Only one UK manufacturer remains. The users also now complain of very expensive tickets and gross overcrowding due to underinvestment in very necessary additional rolling stock. Outside London Andrew Coyne conceded experience had been “mixed”. He failed to mention the complete absence of service in many rural areas, the dearth of off peak services everywhere and the consequential huge problem of social isolation.

He did concede that introducing prices on services now provided “free” like road space, hit poor people hardest, but that he said was simply an income problem. Easily solved by a commitment to give poor people more money. If anyone has ever come across a conservative politician who is actually willing to embrace this notion, please let me know. As far as I am aware the idea of the guaranteed income is anathema to every conservative and is no more likely to be introduced into Canada or BC than I am to be given a seat in the Senate.

UPDATE Todd Litman has posted to Planetizen that road tolls are fair and benefit the poor – with lots of references. He does not address region wide road pricing in this piece. He argues as follows

While it is true that a given fee is regressive (a dollar represents a greater portion of income for a poor than a wealthy person), road tolls are generally less regressive than other highway funding options because poor people drive relatively little on such highways: many poor people are retired or unemployed, lower-income workers often have local jobs that do not require highway commutes, and if they do commute on major travel corridors they are more likely to use alternative modes, or travel off-peak because they often have off-peak work schedules.

Saying “eliminate the subsidies” is easy: getting that to happen requires the enthusiastic cooperation of Stephen Harper and Christy Clark. They would also both have to support income supplementation for the poor. Does that seem at all likely?


I happen to be reading Sacré Blues by Taras Grescoe (it’s about Quebec) where I came across his assessment of Andrew Coyne – “the knee jerk conservatism of power worship”


Easing congestion in Metro Vancouver: Pricing without subsidies.

Traffic is strangling our cities – he produced a bunch of statistics which I am not a fast enough hunt and peck tapper to record. He did not note that driving in the US has been declining – something which is also evident here.

The costs of congestion are massive and growing

Commuting by car 85% of total nationally unchanged in twenty years

We use the most perverse system to ration road space – time
Building more roads also doesn’t work it induces traffic
Reduction in capacity produces less demand
Induced traffic also results from other measures. To the extent that they have been successful in improving traffic volume/delay that space is quickly absorbed by new induced traffic

Incentive requires rational mechanism – tolls
Smeed Report (UK 1964)
Roads represent a tragedy of the commons – people leave early to try to beat the traffic just as farmers drove their sheep onto the common to crop its loser before their neighbours got there.

Sprawl creates congestion

Many will object “I paid for those roads already”  but you haven’t paid for the space you occupy at peak periods. Each extra vehicle that joins a congested traffic stream has an exponentially worse impact.  Congestion exists on some roads and some times, so the toll that is needed is a congestion price. Willingness to pay for uncontested roads is demonstrated by the success of express highway lanes in California, HOT lanes in Minnesota and tolled autoroutes in France. Toronto has Highway 407 an express toll route that parallels a section of Highway 401 but offers a faster alternative to those willing and able to pay. The prices imposed on these roads are set at a level to deter enough new traffic to keep the flow moving smoothly. 

Do we need new roads? Can’t we toll existing ones? It a toll had been applied to Highway 401 maybe the 407 would not have been needed.

Cordon tolls are used in  London and Stockholm which were initially very successful but
have induced traffic within the cordon. Singapore had its cordon set up much earlier and now also applies tolls within the cordon on arterial roads

Why not toll every road all the time?
UK 2004 white paper for just such a system (summarized on wikipedia)
the netherlans and Oregon are both considering such schemes and trucks already pay this way in Germany and Austria

Many are concerned about the impact of specific road pricing by location and time on privacy. However that is already the case with the use cell phones. (It seems to me that the general reaction to the relevations by Philip Snowden on the use of this metadata by the NSA shows this asserted faith in cell phone companies is misplaced).

The biggest objection  is that prices are unfair to the poor. This is an income problem not a price problem. We do not in general try to fix the  price of food which would help rich and poor alike. (This seems to ignore US and European food agricultural policies) Equity issues can be dealt with through tax credits and other transfer payments

Buses would move better as a result of less traffic on the road. He felt that this improvement alone would be enough to create a beneficent cycle of growth of bus use without diverting revenue from tolls to transit. He felt a better use of the revenue would be to distribute the surplus as a dividend to all

Not same to use revenue to subsidize transit
There is no virtue in transit use
Unnecessary rolling roads produces better transit levelling the playing field

Transit use is still subsidizing sprawl

Not a good way to get to use transit. Better passenger experience, subsidies insulate operators. Value to society exceeds cost of provision. Thicket of overlapping subsidies.

Transit is not a natural monopoly
Experience in UK mixed

People make better choices when they know the true cost

Even a modest rp scheme would have some benefits
No free lunch or no free road

Q & A

1 After a impromptu poll of the audience which I think was supposed to show more people drive than used transit (it didn’t) Test of political bravery. (I think the questioner should have stuck to the track record of politicians unwillingness to try road pricing – there are plenty of examples)

We are at least now talking about this, which was not the case a few years ago. There is a lot of  spadework needed but “the answer is staring us in the face”
Cash grab objection

Political leadership Mayors council says 5 years out

Partial scheme like only tolling one bridge real problems

Eric Doherty:  climate change costs wide range of damage costs of GHG makes congestion cost look trivial

Carbon tax is a separate instrument
Road Pricing (RP) benefits car users

ED: In Zurich all surface transit has exclusive lanes. There even bankers use transit as driving is so slow by comparison

The best thing for transit is take the subsidy out of driving

Clive Rock: we only have a  weak regional entity, and provinces don’t do cities well. We need a
champion for RP who has to have stature. We have to review our institutional structures – municipalities were compared to warring tribes

AC admires the GVRD model and called it  “civic federalism”. He also warned of the penalties of amalgamation and the possibility of getting a Rob Ford instead of an RP champon

The Centre for Dialogue at SFU has been consulting on this issue and found that citizens want fairness and choice. They also preferred that RP be distance based. She also observed that the
capital cost of rapid transit can’t come from the firebox [By the way you can get a pdf file of the report from the SFU Centre for Dialogue]

People will have options and choices
Give poor people more money
Don’t need to subsidize transit
Can borrow or raise on equity markets for private sector transit investment
Transit is only really “needed” if it can be financed commercially

Externalities … Is there a societal benefit from transit use?

Q There are very few places where transit is profitable

By pricing roads you change the options

We are subsidizing sprawl not good public policy

Dense cities built before transit

Make transit better self reinforcing cycle

Affordability guaranteed income without that inequalities

Fixing prices does not target help

Trying do social justice on the cheap

Collective responsibility on the tax and transfer system

Fuel tax does not address congestion

Q BC had a huge amount of trouble getting changes eg carbon tax

This is a local fix and an easier sell than carbon tax
Achievable with a phase in period but there will be life investment upheaval

Richard Campbell: In this region there has been over optimism in tolls on bridges

Which shows the danger of partial solutions It also demonstrates that you can’t be sure of how much revenue you will get, so that is another reason not to rely on RP to fund transit expansion

20: 15 close

How is Climate Change Reshaping Our Future?

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SFU Woodwards, January 22

I went to an event last night organized by The Tyee and the Stonehouse Institute. It will save me a lot of typing if you click one of those links to see what Geoff Dembicki had to say about it before it happened. By the way, the title used in the article is different from what was on the screen at the start of the event (shown above). It is not clear to me how much of the content of last night’s presentations will appear in The Tyee later. I did take some notes. There was not the same link to social media that would make a storify possible. And the way that they had set up the Q&A at the end – people were supposed to text questions through one of three media – did not seem to work very well. There certainly was no real audience engagement – and despite the suggestion that this would occur afterwards in the foyer it did happen, but in the room itself in front of the stage and was chaotic.

It also seemed to me that it failed to actually address the topic title. One far out presentation by Keith Gillard of Pangaea Ventures showed a series of illustrations from some of the more extreme projects being proposed. None were realistic – nor were they supposed to be. I did not bother to note the names of the projects. They looked horrific to me.
Jim Hoggan, Chair and co-founder of The Stonehouse Institute, and DeSmogBlog
Keith Gillard, Pangaea Ventures
Christie Stephenson, NEI Investment
Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh

Geoff Dembicki opened by saying that climate change is much bigger than other environment issues. As profound a change as the internet which impacts everything.

Jim Hoggan 
Actually promoting a book The Polluted Public Square and not presenting the views of the Suzuki Foundation of which he is Chair

There should be a more civil public discourse. He is optimistic due to people he interviewed for the purpose of writing this book

Why are we doing so little? Why aren’t we listening to the evidence.

You can pollute conversation. “Ethical oil” is a term used to make the tar sands look like fair trade coffee. Environmentalists are painted by our  opponents as extremists paid by US businesses! The PMO refers to those opposing tar sands as “foreign funded extremists”

Neil Young painted as a hypocrite by the main stream media because he uses a private jet .

Improbable terms like “ethical oil” are a  linguistic strategy to silence others.
Just as Fox TV is neither  “fair” or “balanced” – claims it makes for its “news” coverage

If there is a ruckus outside your home, you will be curious about it. But if the ruckus occurs every night it will be ignored.

How to clean up the public square? Our minds are designed for “groupish righteousness”.
Speak out against injustice in a way that does not create more hatred. “Speak the truth but not to punish” Tich Naat Han

Keith Gillard, Pangaea Ventures

Said that he had been asked by the organizers to describe the future as if all the problems had been solved [by technology]. His company uses the physical sciences to identify new solutions to problems without the environmental impacts currently being experienced

“Natural gas is cheap forever and we are not going to run out of it”. It can be a very cheap source of  hydrogen.  Renewables will continue to be a small part of energy provision for a long time. Rectenna appears to be capable of producing 90% efficient solar energy compared to the 10% of existing systems. Canada is very inefficient in energy use because energy is so cheap and plentiful.

Electricity storage – battery technologies are emerging rapidly to help cope with the intermittent nature of renewable sources like wind

MC 10 tattoo (he actually used the illustration above) shows how technology is going – your “gadgets” (tablets, phones, laptops) will be gone which is just as well since “silicon etching is nasty chemistry”.

A new insecticide developed from spider venom is completely harmless to other life forms so can be sprayed at any time without affecting humans, animals or plants. There is now a better understanding of the role of micro bacteria that co-evolved with plants and is essential to their growth. They will in future have a big role in replacing chemical fertilizers.

Algae will have a role in creating fuels, desalination of water and even sugar production [which I am not at all convinced is a Good Idea. Do we really need more sugar?] But perhaps the most important innovation will be in water cleaning.

Christie Stephenson, NEI Investments
Used only one illustration – a jagged arrow pointing upwards to the right. She said that there is a  shared assumption that growth is good for shareholders but what about the rest of us?Investors not the only stakeholders – and we need to create incentives to get executives to consider more than just short term profits. The present obsession with quarterly results and their impact on share prices is what is killing us. She said they we should expect to hear a lot about  “materiality” – which before I added that link I knew nothing about – “Reward leaders to do the right thing” Strategies and tactics for Socially Responsible Investors to deal with the “Enormity of climate change”.

Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh

Her concern was to address the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion which will impact the Burrard Inlet (the name of her FN means “the people of the inlet”). Their response is simply


They have created a “Sacred Trust Initiative”, of which she is the Project Manager, to try to protect what is left of the ecosystem of the inlet.

“We try to be as inclusive as we can not just for us here and now but for future generations”

“You have to understand what your truth is.”

She learned much from her grandmothers, but was not aware of how much until she became a grandmother herself and started to pass that knowledge along to her granddaughters.

“We are installing wind and solar power”

“I have no choice but to be hopeful.”

“Protect the land and the water. That is what connects us to each other and all other life forms.”

“We have to thank Harper for bringing us together.”

“We must find a way to coexist”

We have seen the harvest from the inlet vanish. The kelp (which was used to cover the calms at the clam bake) has gone. The water is now polluted – and the red tide is more frequent. But the red tide is nature cleaning herself. “If we give space to mother earth she can heal herself.”

“Take only what you need”

They recently held new ceremonies on the water including one which involved other First Nations outside the Kinder Morgan terminal. Two helicopters circled over the water ceremony which she said made her feel that they were trying to make the ceremony seem somehow a threat to the terminal.


I wanted to participate in the question and answer ceremony so I stopped taking notes to submit a question – which, of course, did not appear on the screen at all. I wanted to ask the financial people how I was supposed to convince my investment adviser to consider renewable energy and other clean tech projects which he currently rejects as too risky. Putting money in a savings account earns 1% interest – and the Bank says it will not raise rates – but an investment in solar power last year would have seen a 25% increase in share prices.

I felt that Christie Stephenson had been far too vague. Her employer is owned by the credit unions. I have been very unimpressed by the investment advice I have had from Coast Capital (which seems ever more like any other bank to me) and I wanted to know how I could put money into better things than pipelines. I think she needed to have been much more specific in her recommendations.

I did talk to Keith Gillard. The problem that I see is that natural gas is still seen by the drillers as a waste product. At least half the well output is simply flared. Not only that but our governments give the resources away for free. There are no royalties collected on many new projects. The oil sands projects only exist because of subsidies and tax breaks. It is now estimated that overall the subsidies to the oil and gas industry worldwide can be counted in trillions of dollars. Moreover they get the water for fracking for free, can put whatever they choose into it and just leave it behind afterwards. If the externalities they create for others showed up on their balance sheets, their activities would cease. I am in favour of market prices when they reflect externalities: mostly of course they don’t. If fossil fuels had to bear the cost of externalities there would be no longer any restraints on the switch to renewables.

I do not understand how we are supposed to have a dialogue when the entire process is undermined quite deliberately by a small number of very rich right wing ideologues – who are in fact wrong about nearly everything, and know only too well what the science is saying but are determined to maximize the returns on their existing investments no matter what the impacts on everyone else.

I do not understand how we can choose investments in cleaner technology when the organizations chosen to represent them here are so incoherent about how to attract and retain capital. It is quite easy to disinvest in things like oil companies and banks. It is very much harder to provide for your retirement and at the same time help to make the world a better place.

There is no level playing field. The dice are loaded. Making nice to the cheats and bullies will not change their behaviour.


I hate to claim prescience – but I wrote most of the above before breakfast – a couple of hours ago. It is now 10:57 and I have just finished reading this in Mother Jones

The fact that mitigation is relatively democratic—cutting private emissions helps everybody—but adaptation, which is more and more what we seem to be going toward, is not at all democratic. In fact, it is deeply unfair. I think everybody needs to understand that. We talk about climate change as this tragedy of the commons, which kind of takes some of the moral oomph out of it—like, we’re all doing this, we’re all screwing ourselves. But that’s not a very good frame for what climate change really is. It’s not even at all. It’s not even geographically. It’s not even economically. So for those of us who have the highest historic emissions—in North America and Europe and, increasingly, China—to be able to buy our way out of this problem or to profit off it is systemically dangerous. It really raises the moral stakes. I don’t want to villianize the individuals I met, because by and large they’re good people doing things they believe in. But I think we all need to step back and understand what the stakes are.

The second thing isn’t a moral point, but sort of a practical point: We can’t trust capitalism to just fix this. We can’t trust self-interest to fix this. If those who have the most to gain from climate change happen to be the ones who are emitting the most carbon—if I’m that person, am I really going to do too much about climate change, just to save myself?

That is from McKenzie Funk, author of “Windfall,” on climate change’s potential winners — and inevitable losers.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

Northern Gateway Pipeline

with one comment

It is of no surprise to me that the Joint Review Panel concluded that the project should proceed – with many conditions. Let us not forget that the JRP is a creature of the proponent – and the National Energy Board is a regulator that is entirely captive to the industry it is meant to regulate. The federal government has already made it very clear that is supports the pipeline and the expansion of the Alberta tarsands, and has gutted the environmental rules and regulations that would once have ensured a more scientific analysis. The JRP is also not a popularity contest so the number of opponents appearing before it at public hearings has no influence on the outcome. Of course opponents greatly outnumbered those in favour. That is because the people who are going to ensure that this project is pushed through no matter what do not need to concern themselves about this process. The oligarchy that now rules this country – and this province – only maintains processes like this as a public relations exercise. A bit like elections.

Watching the coverage on the CBC News last night I thought it was interesting that as the program progressed, so the coverage added a bit more balance. First time up at 5:00 there was no mention at all of climate change – by 6:00 that has been corrected. Enbridge’s mendacious map which eliminated the islands between Kitimat and the open sea was in evidence again – but by 6:00 retiring news anchor Tony Parsons at least mentioned the islands in his voice over.

I have not read the panel report – and last night the twitter feed was full of complaints about how slow the web site was.  I do not see much point, since the panel is not at all concerned about the major issue for me. The bitumen should remain in the ground. Rushing to develop the tar sands is a very foolish strategy indeed since it is dumping far too much oil on a market that is already saturated thanks to the discoveries of much lighter crudes under the Bakken field. This is the crude which exploded so fatally in Lac Megantic. Moreover, the Chinese are switching their attention to other fuels – not least due to their dreadful local air pollution. Even the oil companies themselves are beginning to anticipate that international rules are going to have to be introduced which will add to the price of carbon fuels. And the EU is being pressured to pass a law that will label fuels according to how much carbon they emit over their entire wells-to-wheels lifecycle – which could make Alberta tar sands output unsaleable.

The Green Party position set out by Andrew Weaver and Adam Olsen does not, in my view, give sufficient prominence to climate change. I regard it as the number one issue facing all of us.  Yes I understand the political necessity of focussing on the economy and jobs, and the shortcomings of the way the JRP treats dilbit spills. No-one knows what will happen to the dilbit if there is a spill. It is not even agreed on whether or not the stuff will float! But we also know for an absolute certainty that we cannot hope to keep the current rate of increase in carbon emissions going any longer. The idea that a 2℃ limit on global warming is now possible has been recognized  as unattainable! I oppose the Enbridge expansion for the same reason I oppose coal terminal expansions in our port. Local environmental impacts – which are likely severe – are actually the least problematic aspect of both cases.
Global Climate Change NSA graph

Andrew Weaver leaves the following as his parting shot. If the idea of living on  a planet that is going to be hotter than at any time in the past when life was present does not scare you, then perhaps you will take comfort from this

 building a future economy based solely on the exploitation of a depleting resource will not steer us towards the low-carbon pathway that so many other nations are choosing to follow. That’s why British Columbia should seize the opportunity of promoting the expansion of our clean technology (cleantech) industry.



Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2013 at 11:38 am

Elections in Washington doom Vancouver, and the planet

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There is much celebration to the south of us. In their state and local elections, despite huge expenditures, the coal merchants were unable to get the result they wanted. “Bad news for Big Coal in Whatcom County” is the headline in the Seattle PI.

In a nationally watched county election, a slate of four Whatcom County Council candidates, backed by conservation groups and the Democratic Party, took the lead over pro-development, Republican-aligned opponents. The county is a key battleground over whether Western Washington will become home to a huge coal-export terminal.

And this got tweeted as “Big coal can’t even buy an election these days”. This also got picked up by the Sierra Daily in a piece headed “Coal Train to Nowhere

Understandably given local concerns over coal dust and its health impacts it seems likely that the export of more coal to China through Cherry Point is not going to happen.

“The coal industry is in a death spiral,” Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute said to Connelly. “They cannot even buy an election right now.”

I think he is being a bit short sighted. While this is a triumph for people over corporations – if the votes continue to go this way – Big Coal is not going to give up. It simply takes the trains from the Powder River a little bit further. Over border to Port Metro Vancouver. There are no concerns about local accountability here. No-one who has to run for an election here has any ability to stop the coal trains. And the Port only has to meet the needs of shippers. It has no obligations at all to the local community. Indeed Prairie provinces have more influence than the Mayor of Surrey, say. So while her council objects to coal trains that has no effect at all.

The additional costs of a slightly longer train journey to Surrey Fraser Docks are unlikely to deter Warren Buffet. He doesn’t need to buy any politicians here. The Port is positively salivating at the extra business. They will do his bidding happily and ignore whatever protests there might be as the Directors are secure in their positions. The federal government has abandoned any pretence at trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and anyway these count against the country where the coal is burned. It matters not at all to Stephen Harper that we are headed for a 2℃ increase in global temperatures – because his only concern is his own re-election. Coal trains through White Rock will have no measurable impact on that.