Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘climate change

A Conversation with BC’s Minister of the Enviroment

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SFU Carbon talks just sent me this:

Two weeks ago, Renewable Cities invited you to “A Conversation with B.C.’s Minister of Environment.” Due to exceptional demand, capacity was exceeded within 24 hours. Renewable Cities is pleased to announce that a larger venue has been secured. Clearly, there is an enormous appetite to discuss B.C.’s climate plan and the urban opportunity.

Please join Renewable Cities on Friday, February 9 from 12:30-1:30 pm at the Asia Pacific Hall at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at 580 West Hastings Street in Vancouver, BC.

The public dialogue requires prior registration. If you have already signed up, no further action is required. Individuals on the wait list will now be able to join the event.

Otherwise, register to attend the event or watch the online stream here.

Please share the event with your network:

So I am doing that, but I won’t be going. BC has decided to go forward with Site C which makes very little sense, but also is based on the idea that there will be a market for LNG exported from BC to Asia. Economically, LNG exports are nonsense on stilts. They require huge amounts of subsidies from us. We already collect next to nothing in terms tax and royalties from gas frackers, and this will only get worse if any one of these plants actually gets built. But in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, this plan is a disaster. GHG emissions in BC have been rising and the idea that we will hit any of our self imposed targets is unlikely. The LNG export boondoggle ensures that we won’t.

I see very little point in listening to a discussion about a “climate plan” that has already been undermined. I hope that the reason for the exceptional demand is that the people who are going will be making some very forceful comments about the recent NDP flip over its GHG commitments.

From Vaughan Palmer in the Vancouver Sun

“If B.C. starts to focus again on trying to land an LNG industry given all that has happened, I can tell you I am voting government down,” the Green leader vowed in a Dec. 31 interview with Carol Linnitt of DeSmog Canada, the online news service.

He repeated his line in the sand this week on Twitter: “If the B.C. NDP caucus continue their generational sellout embodied in the LNG folly of the B.C. Liberals, their government will fall.”

What about it? Horgan was asked Tuesday. The premier confirmed that during the coming trade mission, he has every intention of exploring support for the LNG Canada export terminal that Shell and its Asian partners are proposing for Kitimat.

I’ll be meeting with partners of LNG Canada just to let them know that we’re OK with LNG development, provided that there are benefits to British Columbians through jobs, there’s a fair return for the resource, our climate action objectives can be realized, and that First Nations are partners.

“You’ve heard this from me before, and you’ll hear it from me again,” Horgan added and he’s right about that.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2018 at 1:49 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

Canada (and BC) can grow GDP and cut GHG at the same time

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I came across this story by clicking on link bait “Something else Donald Trump is wrong about” on Vox. But I decided not to simply retweet that, firstly because we have all seen far too much about that fake tan monster and secondly this is important in both a Canadian and a BC context. (And I thought the people I wanted to reach might be less interested in that attention grabbing headline – “here’s some good news about the planet” seemed better to me!)

The Sarah Palin of BC politics currently occupying the premier’s chair is convinced that LNG is both an economic saviour and a way to reduce GHG emissions. It is, of course, neither.

Our newly elected  Liberal government in Ottawa – elected on promises to reduce GHG and committing in Paris to hold global warming below 1.5℃ – is now wavering. Not only because they allowed the Woodfibre LNG plant to go ahead, despite the very obvious shortcomings of the current (i.e. previous Conservative, Harper driven) EA process. But also because of the re-election of Brad Wall, which was obviously what Catherine McKenna must have been worried about when she started talking about national unity as being more important than the survival of life on earth.

So what Vox did was reprint a table from the World Resources Institute which shows that 21 countries have managed to reduce their GHG since 2000 while at the same time as increasing their GDP.

Decoupling_sparkline_graphic_v2

By the way, the stated reduction in US emissions is has been shown to be wrong, mostly because of the way they have counted methane.

You will notice, of course, that Canada is not among them. BC, of course, had been following a somewhat different track thanks to its adoption of the carbon tax. But that progress has been slowing, as the carbon tax has been stalled, and so much attention is now devoted to exporting fracked gas. Not only is the market for LNG now swamped, so that finding a customer for BC LNG will not be easy despite our generous tax and royalty regimes, but the way that methane leakage from fracking and LNG processing is measured has been updated with better data to show that it has little advantage over coal in reducing GHG.

There is no one answer to how this decoupling has been achieved – but there are some useful pointers in the article you just have to scroll down below that big table. But also there is, in BC, at present, a really good analysis of just how BC can improve its performance. And if you suppose that it might just be possible that none of the proposed LNG plants actually get built, and we elect a government in BC that is actually serious about reducing both CO2 and CH4 emissions – as opposed to just taking credit for past success – then progress does actually seem possible. Although if we try to do both, it’s very unlikely.

At the time of writing, there is still time to make yourself heard as part of the consultation on the BC Climate Leadership Plan. But even so, the table above ought to enough to silence the people who keep talking about growing the economy and saving the environment as though they were at odds with each other.

UPDATE From The Tyee interview with Nancy Oreskes, Harvard climate professor and co-author of Merchants of Doubt

Oreskes said Canada cannot seriously address climate change while also building more giant pipelines to deliver Alberta’s oil sands bitumen or British Columbia’s fracked natural gas to proposed export terminals on both coasts.

“If Trudeau can say we’re going to do all these things,” she said, “that says to me that they have not truly assimilated what is at stake here.”

Trudeau raised eyebrows when he told a Vancouver sustainable business summit last month that “the choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one. We need both to reach our [climate] goal.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark similarly promotes liquefied natural gas as a climate solution: a “bridge fuel” to help China get off dirty coal power.

Oreskes called their positions dangerously “wishful thinking.”

Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2016 at 4:58 pm

How to become a Climate Reality Leader

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This turned up in my email today.

I was intrigued enough to do a bit of follow up. Iowa, Florida or Canada? Well no surprise when Canada turns out to mean Toronto. At this point my interest flagged.

I must admit I enjoy being retired. When I was at work, I used to sleep well, because I was able to fantasize about a life that did not include work. Now I am living that dream, my actual dreams are often of being back at work. Closer to nightmares really. But then I read this story about Hazel McCallion getting a new job. At 94!

Anyway, they asked me to share this email with a friend or two. That would be you.

JOIN THE CLIMATE REALITY LEADERSHIP CORPS IN 2015 >>

APPLICATIONS FOR OUR NEXT
THREE TRAININGS ARE NOW OPEN!

Dear Stephen,

In late November, world leaders will gather in Paris at the UN’s COP21 meeting to create the first-ever global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s truly a historic opportunity — and now it’s up to us to build the crucial planet-wide support necessary to ensure the strongest agreement possible.

With only months to go, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need your help.

If ever there was a moment when people from all walks of life and all corners of the world — teachers and taxi drivers, farmers and family doctors, parents and pastors, New Yorkers and nature lovers, and many, many more — could make a real difference in stopping climate change, this is that moment. If there was ever a time you wanted to stand up and change the world, this is the time to do it.

How? By becoming a Climate Reality Leader and helping build global support for a strong agreement in Paris. We’re hosting three Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings in North America for people like you who want a healthy and sustainable future for our planet — and registration is already open!

Already, nearly 7,000 Climate Reality Leaders are mobilizing communities everywhere to demand action from our leaders at this pivotal point in history. By joining this network of influencers, you can help build on this momentum and make our leaders act at COP21.

Training applications are now open and are reviewed as they are received – sodon’t wait. Your opportunity to make a difference in this crucial fight for a safe climate could be waiting in Cedar Rapids, Toronto, or Miami.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to climate action, and joining us on this critical mission.

Sincerely,
Ken Berlin
President and CEO, The Climate Reality Project
www.ClimateRealityTraining.org
PS: If you’re unable to attend, will you share this email with a friend or two who might be interested? Thanks!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Tagged with ,

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

with 11 comments

“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.

Footnotes

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

http://www.desmog.ca/2013/05/10/just-how-much-exactly-are-you-paying-subsidize-fossil-fuels – points to an IMF study

Tackling Climate Change while growing the economy http://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/44287948.pdf

http://www.europeanceo.com/business-and-management/2014/06/germany-breaks-solar-power-records/ – “Over 50 percent of the country’s energy was generated from photovoltaic panels” for a short period recently

But the there is also this: http://inhabitat.com/german-state-to-reach-100-renewable-power-this-year/

investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would create more jobs than the same amount of investment in fossil fuels. source: http://bluegreencanada.ca/node/175

https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/petro-path-not-taken – compares Norway to Canada and Alberta

See also http://www.progressivepress.net/us-fiscal-debate-could-learn-from-norway/

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/06/vanadium-redox-batteries-could-balance.html

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/03/12/BCs-Carbon-Tax-Shift/

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River has high environmental price

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Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

The story comes from Business in Vancouver and has a very even handed approach. I adapted their headline to be less even handed since I feel somewhat incensed by the behaviour of the Port Authority. As are the Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change. And it is also worth I think reframing this argument not so much about saving the planet as saving the place where we live from the inevitable consequences. It is not that dredging of the Fraser “may” reduce the protection provided by the wetlands. The mechanism described by Michael Church is readily apparent. The Port of course chooses to ignore it.

The problem is that the Port Authority has a very limited remit and no responsibility at all to the community within which it operates. The current Board’s view is that they only have to satisfy the “stakeholders” of whom the port businesses are about the only ones that get any attention. In exactly the same way the business in general is dealing with climate change – hoping it will go away or someone else will solve it cheaply and at public rather than business expense, all the while ensuring the greatest possible rate of return on capital employed for the shareholders rather than the stakeholders. It is this fundamental misconception – that the economy is somehow more important than the environment – that is the heart of the problem. A different kind of government in Ottawa could easily change this perception. We  – the people of Canada – are in fact the shareholders of the Port. But our government – at all levels – chooses to ignore that and places the interest of short term financial profits above all else. Including the impact of tidal surges on the population of Richmond, where urban development was allowed against all common sense and the regional plan.

This blog has often commented on the port and Richmond. When I lived there I felt personally threatened. No I no longer live there its a more academic exercise – but I still feel that we ought to have public agencies that are acutely conscious of their broader responsibilities. A business like approach is NOT appropriate in any Public Corporation. That is why it is in the public sector, not the private. If all that mattered was profit, then it could be privatized. But even our right wing governments realize that there are public interests in controlling the operations of ports – and all the other kinds of transportation and its associated infrastructure.

It is hardly surprising now that people here do not see the decision to downgrade the protection afforded to whales not as scientifically driven (when has the Harper Government ever paid any attention to science?) but as a spectacularly inept gift to the oil for export lobby. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics? On the other hand they have finally decided to something about DOT111 tank cars: what a shame it took the deaths of so many people fo force them into action. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? I would take that approach to dredging deeper in the Fraser. If for no other reason than every dredging operation I have been in touch with was always temporary – since each time you dredge a hole it fills up again. As any kid with a bucket and spade at the beach will tell you.