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

Posts Tagged ‘Copenhagen

Light rail touted as cure for city’s congestion

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The city in question is actually Copenhagen. Which is why it piqued my interest. You mean Copenhagen has a congestion problem? I thought they were the model we were supposed to be following. It has all those bicycles – and the space between the buildings is dealt with properly. People can not only walk they can also sit outside if they want to. But they still have congestion?

Partly the answer is of course they do because congestion is not so much a problem  as evidence of success. Detroit does not have congestion any more. Moreover, in a flourishing city, traffic expands to fill the space available and congestion occurs at the times when most people want to travel. That is why traffic engineers and transport economists spend so much effort on peak hours and the journey to work. Indeed if congestion is just the banal observation that it takes longer to drive when everyone else does than when the roads are empty, it is a pretty pointless pursuit trying to “cure” it at all. Something Todd Littman has dealt with far more effectively than I could.

There is no magic bullet, but there is a set of approaches which can be adapted to the needs and geography of places – which are all different. No single solution or technology solves every problem – and not all “problems” are going to be completely resolved. We can, however, aim for better solutions and compromises which dissatisfy everybody to the least extent possible.

So what this article identifies is a set of schemes to serve areas which do not have the sort of public transport mode share as the rest of the city region. In fact it is the same problem we have. Copenhagen has a metro and all day, every day, bidirectional passenger rail services. I have to use that awkward phrase in case any of my readers still think “commuter rail” exists outside of a few North American cities. The reason they get 25% of the trips made by the population living near stations on trains is that there is a service all day and every day – and it goes to more than one destination.

Actually that in itself is a significant figure. What do you think they do for the other 75% of the trips? Yes bikes will take care of some of it, as will walking but most will be in cars. And these light rail lines are proposed for the areas that only get a 5% mode share for transit – just like most of our region.

I think it is also significant that the entire article has not a single money figure in it anywhere. If you tried to write a newspaper piece about transit here, someone is bound to ask “How much is this going to cost?” and “Who is going to pay for that?” (which actually means “not me!”) What it does stress is the importance of the network – and of selecting the ” best value corridors that the city ought to prioritise” – which sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “political opposition and questionable profitability could derail these and other proposed light rail lines” – is that Copenhagen or Surrey vs Vancouver? Except here no-one would use the words “profitability” and “transit” in the same sentence.

It also points out the silliness of thinking in terms of some future point when the present set of schemes have all been realized as an end state. It isn’t, and never will be, because there is always going to be more to do. The important thing is chose the right direction to go in. That was something we had done once – the Livable Region Strategy – which was not perfect by any means but did make the priorities clear. And then the provincial government simply ignored it and went on doing what it has always done – built more and bigger freeways. If those resources had been devoted to transit network expansion, we would be looking at a different set of problems – but we would not have solved them all. Let alone “cured congestion”. But then we weren’t trying to. We were just aiming at “increased transportation choice” – which was expressed as a target transit mode share at various dates into the future. Except that the mode share target was always 17% of all trips and the years just kept being put off into the future.

I understand that the Mayors and the Minster are now sitting down and trying to come up with some funding proposal for Translink. Presumably something that she can flourish on the eve of election day. Yawn.

“When free enterprisers have something worth fighting for, we win,” Christy Clark last night

“Win” meaning “win elections”. Free enterprise has also brought us ocean gyres full of plastic waste, global warming trending well beyond 2°C, unaffordable housing and persistent homelessness, the crash of 2008 … the list is endless. When they “win” everybody else loses.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 9, 2013 at 10:37 am

Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen

with 5 comments

SFU downtown noon February 2

This was the most disappointing SFU City program session I have reported to date. This was the expected event as notified by email from the City Program.

Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen? What was it like being in Copenhagen as the world focused on climate change and the convoluted negotiations among the parties. What now? Join a panel of those who were on the ground as they share their impressions and discuss the consequences. This session is jointly sponsored by the SFU Public Policy Program and SFU City Program. Panelists include: David Cadman ; Jason Mogus, Communicopia Internet Inc.; Heidi Hartman, Hollyhock.

Of these, only Jason Mogus was on the platform today. David Cadman was in an in camera Council meeting. Tzeporah Berman was apparently also expected but was thought to be held up by security in Nanaimo float place terminal. So instead Professor John Richards was asked to share the platform:  this is the first time that the City Program and his Public Policy program have jointly sponsored one of these events. The meeting was held in a smaller room than usual but even so was lass than half full, and many of those were Professor Richards’ students.

Professor Richards did not attend Copenhagen. He did not deliver a formal presentation but offered to be a sort of sparring partner to Jason Mogus. In the front row of the audience was Kris Krug a local photographer and social media guru, who had been with Mogus at the conference and whose images were displayed as a slide show both before and during the presentation and are also used here by permission.

Jason Mogus - Communicopia

Jason Mogus - Communicopia

Jason is based in Vancouver where his company builds web sites for social change. He was hired by a coalition of NGOs to create a web strategy that would build support for a strong agreement at Copenhagen.   This movement came together specifically for this single meeting and was, he said “the most together and vibrant group with a great diversity of organisations across all  age groups, locations and purposes.” He ran a digital campaign with a twelve person team in Copenhagen. 220 NGOs formed the coalition and nearly 16m global citizens signed on to the tcktcktck web site

He started by calling for questions from the floor – which are listed below in the order they were asked. My impression is that not all were answered.

  1. What happened – why is it no longer on the agenda?
  2. Is this a platform for something better?
  3. How was Canada perceived?
  4. Tell us about the decision making process
  5. List any positive things that came out of it
  6. Is this a legacy web site? Is anything new emerging?
  7. Given the political failure to reach agreement, is this to be a guide to individual or community actions like Transition Towns?

How it started

“Make Poverty History” was the  inspiration for the climate movement even though it was a failure too.  They wanted to avoid a repeat of the Gleneagles G8 conference. The  Gleneagles agreement was not nearly good enough: it provided a  “We Saved Africa” media moment but that was premature. It was a major announcement but no action followed.  The tck group had its own theory of change and decided that it had to “own the outcome”. But then 160 world leaders turned up and took over, excluding the NGOs.

The brand created by tck is edgy and youth oriented and is based on psychographics and values. Their research showed that the environmentalists’ anger does not resonate with people. It lacks hedonism, excitement and fun sought by youth or the security and safety values of the older generation. The groups asked ‘how do you align all these groups to “energise the base” and expand on “the usual suspects”‘. Governments are used to hearing about how upset these groups are, and to some extent they have tuned out. The intention was to recruit from a much wider population of “ordinary people” not just environmental activists, in the belief that would change the impact on the decision makers.

At this point Professor Richards intervened pointing out that Africa is still as bas as ever. (Perhaps he did not hear Jason’s initial point about Gleneagles being a failure.)

Kris Krug responded from the floor “but we learned about how to communicate. Since then citizen media has emerged. And there was no recipe” for coordinating all these disparate  groups

Delegate assaulted by police

Delegate assaulted by police

Jason Mogus continued that tck became a platform for connecting people. The objective is not to influence policy makers but to build community, that will have resilience and interconnection. The idea was to bring more people into the movement. They may not influence politicians but they might get NGOs to work together. Since goverments are going to do nothing anyway, adaptation is already happening from local groups (see question 7) but it is  distributed and small scale. He pointed out that there are “big dumb NGOs stuck in the 20th century” i.e. not web savvy or social media literate.

Professor Richards intervened again, suggesting that the transformation of status of women may offer a model of how, when pressure isn’t enough, society can still change. He went on to point out that  Stephane Dion’s effort to put climate change on the political agenda produced the Liberal’s worst result in Canadian history.

Jason continued that the intention was to “creating a space for decision making” He cited groups like Avaaz and who operate to a different paradigm. They are people driven: they listen and poll to direct activity. They are not run from the top down but are community driven. It is important to note the groups did collaborate,  shifted perspectives – “by the end we got quite functional – if we can’t do it, how do we get expect the politicians to do it?”

There was he said the possibility of greenwash announcement: the deal would be crap, unfair and not binding, and the hope was that through pressure of all the NGOs using the same message a stronger deal would be possible. In the event  Obama announced a weak deal – and said so. The  joint messaging campaign providing the same response from a wide range of groups i.e. “there is a lot more to do” for the first 10 days worked “until we got locked out.”

There is, he said, an angry constituency – which includes the low lying states, India and China (although he conceded they are a bot of a wild card) These countries are dealing with climate change.

Professor Richards intervened: “Bangladesh one of the most vulnerable countries but it is still not doing much. There is a corrupt government, but there has been a little bit of adaptation such as cyclone shelters. The way to deal with climate change has to include millions of small decisions not to burn hydrocarbon fuel. The NGOs need to make taxes popular”.

Jason: we knew there would be a drop off in energy  after the conference: the NGOs are “now recircling the wagons”. One of the main lessons has been how the outreach lead to “new groups” joining the movement such as the Boy Scouts. Tck never had major celebrities involved, or lots of money.

Professor Richards: Canada and US have both grown 25-30% in ghg per capita since 1990. We need really quite wrenching lifestyle changes – are we going to do any of this?

At this point one of his (female) students pointed out  the fallacy of his supposed model of the rise of feminism “The reason they didn’t hire women was NOT that they were too expensive. So maybe the key to climate change may not be economics either.”

He conceded that policy and viability are both essential.

banner - United Nations Climate Change Conference

banner - United Nations Climate Change Conference

Kris Krug said that there were three groups at odds at Copenhagen: the demonstrators, the NGOs, and the government negotiators. And they did not talk to each other. The NGOs did not even want him to photograph the demonstrators since that was not the image they wished to convey.  Jason commented that Kris should have added in businesses. Kris replied that they too had own agenda (“selling Coke”) “Someday there could be a movement.  There isn’t yet.  Identifying that lack is a start.”  There is also the beginning of people doing positive things, without waiting for governments or for agreements between them

Jason: It is hard not to get upset and depressed.Many feel paralyzed by how bad it is. They are overwhelmed. We are also working in a system that is slow. But on the other hand there has never been a meeting like that, which set out to include youth and the NGOs and he felt we should applaud the UN for trying.

Perception of Canada

The perception of Canada can be seen from the fossil a day award and the fossil of the year award. We are trying to stop progress and the world knows it. The impacts are happening and accelerating. We will have to atone for that. We have seen a lot more stuff on the tar sands and the NGOs are targeting it because it’s the biggest project. On a positive note Canadians showed up a lot in the activist movement.

Kris Krug also pointed to the Yes men who a faked press conference, where Canada appeared to change its policies, and then they also faked a later retraction.

Professor Richards: Gordon Campbell has to get some credit. We need politicians like him and Arnold Schwarzenegger inside the coalition. At this point I spoke up, and pointed out that the increase in oil, gas and coal extraction under Campbell far exceeds any benefit due to the carbon tax – as does the promotion of the Gateway program. The response was that any coalition has to be with people one disagrees with.

He continued by discussing Europe’s policy versus that of North America, in response to another comment from the floor. He noted that Europeans have to live in smaller spaces, and have always taxed fuel heavily. He also praised France for prescience in opting for nuclear energy.

Jason then talked about behaviour change marketing and the importance of group values and norms. The success of some weight loss programs depends on the role of community to keep people up to their commitments.  “People do not change because of logic”

He then diverted to recommending a recent Rolling Stone article “You Idiots” on the 17 people who are wrecking the climate.  He said that it showed how hard it is: “how do you fight the machine” of corporate interests that control the main stream media.

One member of the audience then spoke up “We have to talk about the much larger number of good guys”

Another audience member, referring to a recent gathering in North Vancouver said “Most people just don’t get what is at stake.”

Professor Richards: perhaps I was wrong to invoke feminism but there was, at about the same time in the US a significant change in civil rights. That occurred  not just due to the legislation but also the policy and actions of people,  and not just the activists or the lawyers. “There was 50 years of policy wonks’ work . I want Jason’s crowd to popularize the carbon tax.”

One audience member asked if capitalism could be a positive force?

Professor Richards: Yes. See Denmark’s green businesses– solar panels, windfarms – enough of a force now to have political influence too.

Jason agreed that sustainable business is growing but “the White House needs to hear from you more”. He pointed also to the number of leading companies that have left the US Chamber of Commerce in disgust at their strong opposition to climate change policies.

Candle lit vigil at Copenhagen

Candle lit vigil at Copenhagen


As far as I can I have tried to report the discussion fairly. There are some bits I missed, mainly because many of the people who did not use the microphone were inaudible. I have provided links to the web sites that were mentioned, but it would appear that tcktcktck is now just in a holding pattern. I am not at all sure what might emerge – because it seems no-one is ready yet to commit to a long term strategy, post Copenhagen.

As I have said here before, I do think that Canadians who care about the issue have pretty much given up trying to influence the governments of BC and Canada – who are clearly not in the least concerned about effective action. I include Gordon Campbell in this. I am not impressed by the carbon tax – BC was the only province to actually increase ghg production in the first year of the economic slump – and last year will have increased even faster even if only the efforts of the Ministry of Energy to expand fossil fuel production are counted.  Campbell is the prince of spin and sleight of hand. Gestures like buying hydrogen buses for Whistler – when Translink is deliberately starved of operating and expansion funds  – are typical of the man. I am appalled that Campbell got an award at Copenhagen from Tzeporah Berman – who seems to be blinded by the expansion of run of the river hydro as a “solution” to fossil fuel dependency when it is in reality simply a way to capitalize on California’s seemingly insatiable demand for electricity at any price. We cannot possibly include a charlatan like Campbell in a coalition that seeks to reduce our ghg emissions – if only for his declared commitment to economic growth.

Copenhagen was, in my view a failure and a wake up call. We do have to name and shame the group of 17 and those who work for them. They do have to be shown for the rogues and liars they are. We also have to embrace positive changes – as individuals and of course as communities. One person can only do so much for so long. As groups – even if they are small and local – we can be effective. And we will also alter the political climate as the movement grows in popularity and effectiveness. The only doubt I have is that we can  do it fast enough.

I think it was Gordon Price who pointed out at the end that nature will respond to our lack of activity – and those responses will be beyond denial.

Nature Doesn't Compromise

Nature Doesn't Compromise

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm


with 9 comments

I think most people in the environmental movement expected a lot from Copenhagen. The outcome certainly disappointed  nearly every commentator. But what is baffling this morning is the blame game being played out in the pages of the Guardian. On the one hand George Monbiot squarely placed the blame on Barack Obama, the US Senate and the vested interests who pay for senators – and the rest of us who did not protest enough. On the other hand Mark Lynas gives a blow by blow account from inside the room, and points the finger at the Chinese.

In the Monbiot analysis,

Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal that outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation: either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

The British and US governments have blamed the Chinese governmentfor the failure of the talks. It’s true that the Chinese worked hard to mess them up, but Obama also put Beijing in an impossible position.

Lynas bases his report on what he saw in the room and some very specific details such as

The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.

But, if Monbiot is right and there was a back room deal that was untenable for the Chinese, that response seems understandable. Lynas also seems to pin a lot on the Chinese “lack of civil society” which meant they faced less criticism of their actions at home. Equally plausible, however is that the Chinese in general are less concerned about the planet than they are about their own economic well being. After all, that applies equally to many Canadians – at least those who can be bothered to vote.

Interestingly the Chinese also see economic opportunity – and are rapidly expanding both in solar and wind powered generation.

And then there was the bizarre sight of Gordon Campbell being given an award in Copenhagen by Tzeporah Berman – which I doubt anyone outside of BC noticed or cared about.

It does seem that for all of us, the buck has definitely been passed. We can no longer rely on the politicians – any politicians – to do anything effective. So it is now up to the rest of us to start making changes – in our own lives first, and then in the communities around us. If we want to see change, we have to be the change. They might have built superhighways, but that doesn’t mean we have to drive on them all day and everyday. We can indeed influence markets by our choices, and one of the most effective ways is to simply reduce our consumption. We can close our bank accounts and move our funds to local credit unions – where we can also influence policy discussions, if we are so minded. If we are fortunate enough to have savings we can invest in ethical ventures that support sustainable living rather than just buying a mutual fund that could be invested in anything – but will inevitably include companies like Shell or the big banks unless we make more effort at finding better choices. Getting out of debt will be a very good place to be for nearly everyone, and should be an objective rather than striving for the unattainable, illusory consumer heaven we are proffered every day. But above all we need to look around us at the positive things that are happening all around, that we can join in and support. “Civil society” may have to acknowledge that our efforts to influence public policy are going to be ignored unless we can mount a much more effective mobilisation. There have been small victories – the power plant in the park being the one that comes to mind – so I am not suggesting giving up. But I do think we need some positive reinforcement, as the only satisfaction to be gained from banging one’s head against a brisk wall is that it is so nice when it stops.

Afterthought: thanks to Celia Brauer, there is a much better account of why the conference went wrong on the BBC which looks at a whole range of issues. While it is easy for a columnist to point fingers at a person or country, reality is, as always, much more complex.

And finally: Naomi Klein blames it on Obama for whom no opportunity is too big to blow

Written by Stephen Rees

December 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Environment

Tagged with

‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’

The following editorial appears in many newspapers around the world. It would appear that the Toronto Star is the only Canadian paper to carry it. I have therefore decided to reprint it in full here.


Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Likethe Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Impact of Climate Change

Tagged with