Category Archives: Climate Change

Rafe: Christy Clark’s LNG promises are nothing but hot air

Premier Christy Clark at her government’s LNG conference (Province of BC/Flickr)

We have all been screwed, blued and tattooed in the riding of West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky, and let me tell you how this affects every British Columbian in every region of the province.

Just as Kinder Morgan would use the Salish Sea as the  sewage disposal and latrine for Tar Sands bitumen; just as the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal for an export terminal on Lelu Island would kill BC fish; just as all proposed LNG plants in BC are ecological disgraces, Woodfibre LNG is in clear violation of Canada’s agreement on Climate in Paris in November, 2015. I’ll speak of other problems with Woodfibre LNG in a moment.

Christy’s LNG lies

Christy Clark, who seems pathologically incapable of telling the truth, constantly trills the mantra “the greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is to export LNG.  This excessive verbal crap is so typical of this woman as you will see in this quote from a well known and mighty respected geologist and shale gas expert, David Hughes in an interview with the Squamish Chief last year. Dr. Hughes was asked this, point blank question:

[quote]Q: One argument is we are not being fair to the people in China who are suffering from coal production and that liquefied natural gas from here will save them from that.  [/quote]

Here was his answer:

[quote]A: “On a full-cycle emissions basis, the planet would be better off if China built state-of-the-art coal plants rather than burning B.C. LNG for at least the next 50 years. It is true that at the burner tip gas produces about half the CO2 of coal. But you have to consider full cycle emissions from the wellhead to the burner tip for gas. The hydraulic fracturing process and the supply chain – pipelines, processing plants – emit considerable amounts of methane, which is 73 times as potent as CO2 on a 20-year timeframe and 25 times as potent on a 100-year time frame (because methane leaves the atmosphere more quickly than CO2). Plus, about 20 per cent of the gas must be burned to provide power for the liquefaction and shipping process. [emphasis mine -RM]

If you compare full-cycle emissions from B.C. LNG burned in China to a state-of-the-art Chinese coal plant, which runs at 46 per cent efficiency (compared to 33 per cent efficiency for an old coal plant), B.C. LNG is 27 per cent worse than burning coal over a 20-year timeframe and seven per cent better on a 100-year timeframe. So, you’d need to wait more than 50 years until you break even, while suffering from the effects of increased greenhouse gases in the meantime.[/quote]

Christy Clark, I should explain, has a rule: never read on once the word “however” appears.

Trudeau’s no better

If, like me, you have wondered why Trudeau has steadily and, one might say, violently swerved away from the commitments Canada made re: Climate change at Paris in 2015, here is a multiple choice: 1.  Sunspots;  2. A mickey slipped into his ginger ale; 3. It was in French, an alien tongue; 4. The oil industry had him by the balls and started to squeeze.

This story of April 21 last in the National Observer may be used to help you answer:

[quote]The Trudeau government and the oil patch are in agreement: Canada needs to delay plans to reduce the heat-trapping pollution that causes climate change because those actions will cost too much.

It’s a stunning retreat from key promises and statements made by the government since its election in 2015. And it has left some environmentalists wondering whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is following the Trump administration’s race to the bottom on climate policy.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna confirmed the news on Thursday during a conference call with reporters. She said that Canada would introduce plans that would delay tackling emissions of methane — a powerful heat-trapping gas — from the oil patch by two years, the CBC reported.[/quote]

Compare this with an earlier story by the National Observer noting:

• The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere continues to accelerate upwards despite global efforts

• The last two years had “unprecedented” increases

• Canadian CO2 extraction is playing an oversized role

The primary driver of global warming, disruptive climate changes and ocean acidification is the ever-increasing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

In the pocket of the oil lobby

The plain fact, shorn of the political double talk and statements of lofty motives is this: The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), who control the Postmedia newspapers with their notorious “mutual masturbation” agreement, needs only to whisper “jump” and Trudeau and Clark, in perfect harmony, cry back “how high, sir, and when?”

You may believe BC’s Premier Prevaricator, Christy Clark, that Woodfibre LNG is all about BC just trying to help China and the world solve climate change difficulties, but as the Duke of Wellington, at the height of his fame, said to the man who hailed him as “Mr. Robinson, I believe”, “Sir, if you believe that, you’ll believe anything”.

Howe Sound too dangerous for LNG tankers: leading scientist

Howe Sound is British Columbia’s most southern fjord and one of its justly famed beauty spots. Once polluted by a Squamish pulp mill and Britannia Mines, the treasures of my boyhood – the whales, salmon runs, the seals, sea lions, dolphins and porpoises had mostly left. The sea flora and shellfish were disappearing. It looked as if Howe Sound had lost much of its distinctiveness forever.

But ordinary people joined government with hard work and their own money and we know what happened! The herring returned and the salmon runs with them. Killer whales, humpback whales, seals, sea lions, dolphins and porpoises returned. Divers told of rejuvenated plants and the revived shellfish populations.

Courtesy of Eoin Finn

Before May 9, I and others will tell you more about the phoney environmental assessment which missed more than it covered. We’re left with unacceptable emissions in the atmosphere and ground level, hot, polluted emissions into the Sound into the habitat of the recovered sea life and dangerous LNG tankers which will be ever-increasing. And guess what folks? Howe Sound is too narrow for LNG tankers! And who says so is pretty interesting.

The leading global expert, Dr. Michael Hightower, of world-renowned Sandia Laboratories of New Mexico, the United States government and – get this – the tanker industry’s own professional organization, The Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO). They all say too narrow and disagreeing with them are Sukanto Tanoto, the Indonesian jungle burner, bully landlord and convicted crook who owns WFLNG, Justin Trudeau, Christy Clark, John Horgan and to round out that gathering of experts, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

And how are we all being screwed, blued and tattooed? 

Both parties with a chance of forming a government favour WFLNG and while Dr. Weaver, leader of the Greens, has spoken critically about WFLNG, worry beads are being fingered at the possibility of the Greens, holding a balance of power, might join Christy in coalition with WFLNG approval being a bargaining chip.

With uncertainty about Greens prevalent at the moment, that leaves an unknown Independent – a chap named Tristan Andrew Galbraith who owns “Critter Get Ritter,” a pest-control service in Whistler…and, who knows, a pest control expert may be just what voters will be looking for.

You’ll know more about him I suspect in the days to come.


Rafe: With LNG approval, Trudeau govt shows true colours…but we shouldn’t be suprised

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing her government's approval of PNWLNG (Province of BC/Flickr)
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna with Industry Minister Jim Carr (left) and BC Premier Christy Clark (right) announcing the federal government’s approval of PNWLNG (Province of BC/Flickr)
[quote]Developing a climate plan to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments is a challenging but achievable task for the federal government. Doing so while meeting Alberta’s and BC’s oil and gas production growth aspirations, however, will be virtually impossible.
The oil and gas industry is certainly not going away any time soon, but if Canada is serious about meeting its climate commitments it is time for the prime minister and premiers to do the math and stop telling us we can have it all. – David Hughes, geoscientist, shale gas expert and 32-year retired veteran the Geological Survey of Canada.[/quote]
British Columbians have every reason to be fighting mad at Trudeau’s decision to approve the Pacific Northwest LNG project. Yes, every reason to be fighting mad but absolutely no reason to be surprised.
Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” and we just had that jammed up…er, shoved in our face.
Already early this year, people like Dr. David Suzuki, Norman Farrell of In-Sights and myself and colleagues at this publication were raising the issue that Trudeau’s emerging Liberal environmental policy was inconsistent with the commitments he had made at Paris.
Well, you will never find a clearer example of the dissembling and hypocrisy of this two-faced Trudeau bunch than in my constituency of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

Woodfibre LNG approval was first clue

Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (Flickr/CreativeMornings Vancouver/Matthew Smith)
Liberal MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (Flickr/CreativeMornings Vancouver/Matthew Smith)

It’s no exaggeration to say that the only substantive issue in the 2015 election was the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant at Squamish (WLNG). People were enraged at the Harper government and MP John Weston on this issue, wanted to see the end of them, looked for a considerable period as if they would vote Green, panicked at the thought of a split vote and the Tories returned to ruin Howe Sound with WLNG, and so switched to the Liberal candidate – former West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones – who’d pledged she would support the wishes of her constituents.

In an election where the only substantive issue was WLNG, it was not surprising that Goldsmith-Jones won by a landslide. Having been assured that there would be consultation with them, voters felt confident that at worst they would have a fair opportunity to be heard.
Ha! Silly buggers trusted this new, attractive and sweet-talking Prime Minister and had forgotten Santayana entirely. Completely out of the blue, on March 18 last, environment minister Catherine McKenna quietly announced the Trudeau government approval of WLNG.

Environmental assessments still broken

Apart from all else, the so-called environmental assessment process was flawed unto fraudulent, such that Trudeau promises a review and fixes during the election. We’re not talking technicalities here but very substantial concerns about deadly, poisonous discharges – both into the atmosphere and directly into Howe Sound, putting all sea life at serious risk, including recently restored salmon and herring runs. There was no consideration given to the width of Howe Sound, considered grossly unsafe for LNG tanker traffic both by international rules and the industry’s own standards.
Not only were the people of the area not consulted, they were deliberately misled. Sandbagged is the better word. The esteemed, former mayor of West Vancouver, now Trudeau’s MP and parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister, was not even advised that this decision was pending, much less given notice that it had been made.
After it was released in such a shocking, high-handed manner, she clearly lacked the guts to speak out and hasn’t done so to this day.
In fact, the deception and hypocrisy didn’t end there by any means. On the orders of her government, Goldsmith-Jones held two sets of public hearings, after the decision,  neither of which dealt with the wisdom of the decision. Indeed, the second group was classic Liberal cynicism that should have been as familiar to us as Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
These meetings were held so that the government (the same one that had just approved WLNG) could explain it to the rabble, all aspects of climate change and how we could prevent it. There was just one niggling detail – we weren’t permitted to raise the issue of pollution from LNG, the most significant contributor to climate change! Nothing, of course, to do with the fact that the same Trudeau government had just approved the LNG plant in Squamish which would contribute dramatically to climate change!

Fox put in charge of the hen house

By now you must be begging for mercy, but there’s one more dollop of pure Liberal party policy, so typical that you can evaluate the rest of the process by it.
Now the damage has been done, Trudeau, to the accompanying of sucking from our MP,  has set up an  environmental review process.
Guess who the chair of this process will be?
Doug Horswill - LNG lobbyist and Trudeau-appointee to review environmental assessments
Doug Horswill – LNG lobbyist and Trudeau-appointee to review environmental assessments

Doug Horswill, Founding Chair of Resource Works, an industry advocacy group founded for the sole purpose of doing everything possible to get government approval for Woodfibre LNG!

My comment at the time was that this was the worst example of cynicism since Caligula made his horse a Consul. DeSmog Blog was bang on when they declared “the overarching message of Resource Works is that continued extraction of natural resources is essential to B.C.’s prosperity and anything that stands in the way of extraction — local opposition, regulations, taxes — is a threat to that prosperity. It’s a message they repeat over and over and over.”

What’s good for the Liberal Party

So now we have it. The tinpot dictator with the boyish smile arbitrarily approving a legally-contentious project, not approved by the First Nations involved, clearly a substantial threat to fish, a traditional part of First Nations existence, and without any concern whatever for the environmental and social consequences.
Will we ever learn the one fundamental principle that has always guided the Liberal party? “What’s Good For The Liberal Party Is Good For The Nation.”
I leave you with one question: Aren’t you glad we got rid of that soulless dictator Stephen Harper and his pals, the oil industry, so bent on destroying our natural resources, atmosphere, and principles of fair play?

Opinion: Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card
Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (Mike Gifford/Flickr cc licence)

The following is an op-ed by Dr. Eoin Finn – B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA

In October 2015, SFU Energy and Materials Research Group  Professor Mark Jaccard published a report titled “Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015”. In part, it is a damning critique of the (Harper) Conservative Government’s climate action record, though it documents over three decades of inaction by Governments of all stripes.  Its Executive Summary concludes that:

[quote]Over the past three decades, governments in developed countries have made many commitments to reduce a specific quantity or percentage of greenhouse gases by a specific date, but often they have failed to implement effective climate policies that would achieve their commitment. Fortunately, energy-economy analysts can determine well in advance of the target date if a government is keeping its promise. In this 2015 climate policy report card, I evaluate the Canadian government’s emission commitments and policy actions. I find that in the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no polices that would materially reduce emissions. The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy. And this may also be the case for the 2050 target, this latter requiring an almost complete transformation of the Canadian energy system in the remaining 35 years after almost a decade of inaction.[/quote]

This summary even-handedly describes a similar era of inaction under the (Chrétien /Martin) Liberal governments. After all, it was a Liberal government that signed the 1997 Kyoto agreement, and then lollygagged along to their 2006 ejection without taking a single significant action to ensure its ambitious targets could be met.

Real Change?

Trudeau and McKenna (Photo: Environment & Climate Change Canada/Flickr)
Trudeau and McKenna (Photo: Environment & Climate Change Canada/Flickr)

Justin Trudeau’s October 2015 electoral elevation to power came with a Liberal policy book promising “Real Change” on this file. It started well. A new National Energy Board Environmental Review process was promised. November’s COP21 in Paris saw Canada espousing lofty climate goals to the theme of “Canada is back”. February meetings in Vancouver with provincial Premiers urged setting a price on carbon. A climate change test was added to environmental assessments, and promises to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies and promote sustainable technologies were trumpeted.

However, of late, the decisions of the Government, and this Ministry in particular, evoke a creeping sense of déjà vu and backsliding on the climate file and the instructions in Minister McKenna’s mandate letter. Cogent examples of these decisions include:

  • Failure to clarify what, exactly, Canada’s GHG emissions target should be if we are to play our part in meeting the COP21 goal of limiting climate change to an increase of less than 20C.  There is a looming gap between Environment Canada’s 2030 GHG emissions estimate of 817 megatonnes and the Copenhagen target of 524 millions. Nobody in McKenna’s remit (or Energy Minister Carr’s) seems to wants to grasp that 300 megatonne nettle, nor venture an estimate of what further reductions will be needed to meet COP21 commitments
  • Maintaining the Harper Government’s unambitious and inadequate GHG emission targets of 17% reduction by 2030, which, without swift action, we have no hope of meeting
  • Bowing to the desires of a few Premiers to kick the carbon-tax proposal down the road and (they hope) out of sight
  • Inaction on the review of the Oil & Gas industry emissions that successive Environment Ministers in the Harper Government had promised year after year. This industry contributes over 26% of Canada’s GHG emissions. Singling it out for inaction suggests that this Government is also a “captive regulator”
  • A decision to continue the 30% accelerated capital cost allowance for LNG facilities – a fossil-fuel subsidy granted by the Harper Government in 2014
  • Approval of the Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound, despite its almost 1 million tonnes of annual GHG emissions. This puzzling and highly-unpopular decision also belied another Trudeau promise – that of “politicians may issue permits, but only communities can grant permission”
  • Cabinet’s approval of NEB’s decision to approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline extension, LNG Canada’s 40-year license extension for its Kitimat plant and Steelhead LNG’s 5 export licenses – each of which represents a vast expansion of Canada’s GHG emissions
  • Publicly supporting the Keystone XL and Energy East pipeline proposals
  • Silence and inaction on repealing any of the Harper Government’s egregious environmental legislation – particularly the omnibus Bill C-38, which shredded environmental protections in the Species at Risk Act, Navigable Waters Act, NEB Act and 60+ others
  • Promises to reform the National Energy Board and its farcical review process replaced with nominating yet another dubious set of second-guessers. This is hardly the stuff of meaningful reform to “restore public confidence” in the NEB;
  • Not one concrete legislative or regulatory action on Liberal energy efficiency promises – boosting renewable alternatives, setting tighter automobile emission standards, elevating building insulation standards, promoting public transit initiatives, and inaction on the PM’s lofty promise to the U.N. that “Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion and our will. But we are equal to that challenge. I encourage other signatories to move swiftly to follow through on their commitments”. Since then – nothing, nada, zilch.

Blowing hot air

Recent interviews with Minister McKenna have deteriorated into the avoidance, obfuscation and outright nonsense many had come to regard as par for the Harper Government course. Even allowing that this Ministry deteriorated hugely in the 10 years of Harperite neglect, this about-face and foot-dragging is deeply disappointing to scientists and NGO’s, many of whom worked hard on the election that put the LPC in power. Remembering the counsel that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, this trend is highly discouraging to those who thought October’s election result would herald sunnier ways on the climate front.

Kinder Morgan, PNWLNG will tell the tale

Lelu Island and Flora Bank - site of Petronas's controversial, proposed LNG terminal near Prince Rupert (submitted)
Lelu Island and Flora Bank – site of Petronas’s proposed PNWLNG terminal near Prince Rupert (submitted)

The Minister’s (and Government’s) grade on its climate report card: a big fat “F”. As they say in the North – big sled, no dogs. 

Two litmus tests for her and the Liberal Government loom large – decisions on the Kinder-Morgan/TME pipeline expansion and Pacific NorthWest LNG.  Approving either would undermine policies for “Real Change”, return Canada’s international reputation to the doghouse, consign to the dumpster the promises of a better First Nations relationship and severely dent chances of re-electing Federal Liberals in BC in 2019.

On this form, if Professor Jaccard is to write a 2020 update to his report, it won’t arrive at any different conclusion.


Dr. Eoin Finn is Director of Research for My Sea to Sky, an NGO concerned about proposals to re-industrialize iconic Howe Sound, BC.


Longtime Lions Bay Mayor: LNG is plain dirty, violates Canada’s climate commitments

Christy Clark promotes "Clean LNG" at Vancouver conference last year (David P. Ball)
Christy Clark promotes “Clean LNG” at Vancouver conference last year (David P. Ball)
By Brenda Broughton
It is vital to oppose the previous government’s disregard and denial of science.
However, this new government appears to be cherry-picking the science it uses and then hiding behind the science against the interests of citizens and against the science needing review to meet COP 21 commitments.
Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr CC)
Both Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark are ignoring the climate science on LNG (Province of BC/Flickr CC)

No part of the word ‘clean’ should be used in association with LNG, as LNG is NOT clean energy. This is very clearly stated by the oil and gas industry. It is very curious that the Provincial and Federal governments are refusing to acknowledge this clear fact-based science that LNG is NOT clean energy. It is only government, not industry, that is attempting to erroneously and wrongly market LNG as clean or cleaner energy.

Governments are failing COP 21.

Courageous leadership is essential. Canadians were promised intelligent leadership and we are receiving dogmatic decisions not based upon intelligent leadership. This now must become a public discussion.

Woodfibre LNG is wrong, science and scientists report that it is wrong for the environment and acts against COP 21 goals.

The CEAA called for public  comment on the GHG emissions and upstream impacts on February 9th, 2016 without notice, and ending March 1st, 2016, thus providing only 3 weeks for public comment.

Squamish Council faces legal action from both sides in LNG pipeline dispute
Citizens line the Sea to Sky Highway to protest Woodfibre LNG (My Sea to Sky)

In this brief period the CEAA received 9, 980 public comments. In analyzing the comments including the just short of 100 verbal presentations, there were 11 neutral, 83 written letters of support, with only a handful addressing the science, and 99.1% opposed, that is, approximately 9,800 comments of opposition with most comments addressing the GHG emissions and the upstream impacts.

At the Liberal Convention ‘People, People, People’ was said to be important by several including the Prime Minister, and yet the Minister of Environment appears to not have even reviewed these CEAA responses and stated that they relied on the BCEAO analysis, which was not based upon science and was concluded prior to COP 21. Science and sustainability also includes people.

Woodfibre LNG will not produce any revenue for the following reasons:

1. PST forgiveness negotiated for LNG export in BC;
2. NEB allowance for an offshore Woodfibre company for retail sales;
3. Provincial carbon tax forgiveness of 5 million tonnes;
4. Total of 32 jobs which after payroll tax paid. Province of BC will pay net to Woodfibre LNG between $200,000 to $600,000 dollars annually;
5. No tax revenue will be realized and our economy, environment, fisheries, marine and human safety will be seriously compromised as Howe Sound and its beauty are an economic driver for Canada.

The Squamish First Nation has no jurisdiction over most of Howe Sound. The peoples of Howe Sound are very concerned, as their opposition is not being heard. The Minister of Environment appears to have not reviewed the science and also to be turning her back on, or avoiding speaking or meeting with the people expressing real and serious concerns.

 Supertanker Shipping does not meet the International SIGTTO Shipping lane standards, thus in the United States, Howe Sound would have automatically been rejected as a possible LNG Supertanker Shipping lane as it is too dangerous, with pre-existing population and pre-existing commerce.
Last day for public comments on Woodfibre LNG proposal
Rendering of proposed Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish, BC

Woodfibre LNG is the only single cycle water exchange design among the BC LNG proposals. This is outlawed in the United States and any LNG plants with the single cycle have changed them or are on notice for change. The single cycle water exchange will damage herring roe, and thus harm the health of Howe Sound. The herring roe is drawing dolphins, who are drawing whales to Howe Sound.

Howe Sound has been in an active recovery for decades and had a significant pink salmon catch of 300,000 recently. This renewal of the fish has taken decades to accomplish following a decades-long and amazing clean up. The single cycle will also warm the water further harming spawning grounds and potentially attracting warm water primitive sea life, such as sharks. Howe Sound is a regular swimming location at Lions Bay, Porteau Cove, Bowen Island, Gambier Island, Anvil Island, Camp Potlach and is the home of many children’s camps for the Metro Vancouver region.

Brenda Broughton (Twitter)
Brenda Broughton (Twitter)

I implore you to reverse the Woodfibre LNG decision, with the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Fisheries advisedly and unequivocally denying permits.

The growing addiction to minimization of the environmental damage that will occur if Woodfibre LNG goes ahead, must stop. Ministers who continue to minimize rather than make courageous leadership decisions on behalf of the environment and Canada’s COP 21 goals, for the economy now and in the future, should step aside from their Cabinet posts immediately.

Brenda Broughton, MA, RCC is the former 5 term mayor of the Village of Lions Bay and Envisioner and former Charter Chair of the Howe Sound Community Forum.


90% of world’s new electricity coming from renewables: Welcome to the end of the fossil fuel era

Solar installation class (Haggerston Community College/Flickr CC licence)
Solar installation class (Haggerston Community College/Flickr CC licence)

According to the International Energy Agency, a staggering 90% of all new electrical capacity brought online around the world in 2015 came in the form of renewable energy. That same year, China invested a record $110 Billion in clean tech – virtually 100% of its electrical capital – and in 2016, it’s set to close 1,000 coal mines. While Canada is shedding fossil fuel jobs like they’re going out of style, the world’s current economic powerhouses – China, the US, Germany, Brazil, Korea – are generating millions of new green jobs.

In other words, the bust we’re witnessing in Fort McMurray and North Dakota is no mere blip – no typical, “cyclical” downturn. Common Sense Canadian contributor and retired federal government energy innovation expert Will Dubitsky, who has been tracking and publishing these figures here for several years now and whom I draw on extensively for this article, put it to me in the following terms:

[quote]We don’t expect a return in the blacksmith business. At some point, it was simply replaced by more modern tools and trades.[/quote]

Statistics don’t have feelings

Bank of England's Carney- Most fossil fuel reserves shouldn't be burned
Mark Carney in Davos, Switzerland, 2010 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Even if you dismiss the extraordinary economic opportunities emerging in the clean tech sector, the mounting costs and existential threat of climate change are proving impossible for global leaders to ignore, as Paris demonstrated. People at the very core of the so-called “establishment” – from Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England to BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale, now acknowledge that most fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground.

Based on all the available research today – and we have reams of it in our Renewable Energy section – the fossil fuel era is rapidly drawing to a close.

And here’s the cold, hard truth: Statistics and facts don’t care whether you’re a bleeding-heart tree-hugger or dyed-in-the-wool Alberta conservative. They don’t care how badly you need your old job or whether you feel persecuted or unappreciated by the rest of the country. They don’t care about your stock portfolio, your values, your moral compass, your grandchildren, vanishing caribou herds, wild salmon or spotted owls. And we, as a nation – as citizens, employers, employees, parents, youth, pensioners, taxpayers and voters must decide whether we wish to embrace these new realities or bury our heads in the sand – a particular bitumen-laden variety.

Leaping in circles

Canada’s political parties, provincial and federal, are all grappling with these realities in their own, interesting ways – a spectacle now on display from coast to coast to coast.

The NDP’s gong show of a recent federal convention is a prime example. Following his election failure last Fall, Thomas Mulcair absorbed two final nails in his coffin – both over the same issue but from completely opposite ends of the party’s political spectrum. He was too centrist for the party’s left wing, while his openness to the Lewis/Klein faction’s anti-pipeline “Leap Manifesto” angered the Rachel Notley-led provincial party in Alberta, (not to mention working the usual pundits into a tizzy over its sheer audacity, pronouncing the NDP dead upon the manifesto’s arrival). Why on earth Mulcair let the convention happen on Notley’s turf is anyone’s guess.

But Notley fully merits recrimination for her recent ultimatum on pipelines. She won’t get them through BC – even Kinder Morgan is a non-starter, which, apparently no one but we British Columbians, in the “West beyond the West”, realize. The particular blend of First Nations, court challenges, municipal government opposition, powerful coastal activists, widespread public condemnation and complete lack of economic or “jobs” case for the project means that it simply will not happen. I’m taking bets for anyone foolish enough to lay one against me. I’m already collecting on my Enbridge wagers from 5 years ago. Notley will learn soon enough.

BC or Quebec – take your pick

New Quebec government choosing fossil fuels over green jobs
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard (Photo: facebook)

As for Energy East, well, Notley’s got another fiercely “distinct” Canadian province to contend with in the form of Quebec. Good luck with that one.

But the bigger issue is the whole “getting bitumen to tidewater” argument – i.e. that Canadian bitumen producers are getting shafted on the price for their product because of a lack of pipeline capacity and shipping opportunities. While it sounds credible enough on the surface to people who don’t know better, and it may have been true a few years ago, it no longer holds water today. Moreover, the global growth in demand for fossil fuels is flattening out, while, according to this blog from the World Economic Forum:

[quote]Petroleum consumption in the US was lower in 2014 than it was in 1997, despite the fact that the economy grew almost 50% over this period.[/quote]

In this energy climate, there simply is no argument for expanding export capacity.

Trudeau singing same tune

You can lump the Trudeau government in with Notley on this one, as it continues to advocate for many of the same projects and backs BC’s LNG pipe dream. One of these days, Justin may learn that he can’t have his cake and eat it too – but we appear to be a long way away from that today. In the meantime, he would do a lot to assuage British Columbians, First Nations and the environmental community if his cabinet declined to issue the permit now before it for the controversial Lelu Island/Petronas-led LNG project near Prince Rupert.

BC NDP flip-flops on LNG

LNG, fracking and BC's Energy future- Multi-media discussion in Victoria
BC’s LNG ship may never come in

This project and many others are the brainchild of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark, who evidently has not received the memo on all the above realities (though we at the CSC have sent her many!). Up until recently, the John Horgan-led provincial NDP was fully on board with fracking and LNG, then it showed signs of changing its tune – a welcome development that would have gone a long way to helping it get elected in May 2017, for the first time in 16 years.

That was, alas, before Horgan flip-flopped back to the pro-LNG side, kow-towing to union pressure. Besides the obvious political, moral and scientific problems my colleague Rafe Mair addressed with this catastrophic error in judgement by Horgan, even the labour justification is plain wrong-headed. Horgan and BC Building Trades boss Tom Sigurdson clearly don’t understand that there are no jobs to be had for British Columbians in LNG. Even if a single project of 21 proposed gets built – which is looking increasingly unlikely given global crash in LNG prices and steady withdrawal of capital – the BC Liberal government has already promised many of these jobs away to China, Malaysia and India in the form of cheap, foreign temporary workers!

I laid out in these pages precisely how the NDP could successfully re-brand itself, incorporating all these insights. In short, the key to their success is the following slogan and all that goes with it: “New Democrats, New Economy.” But the chances of them getting with the program are diminishing by the day.

Notley’s dilemma

Rafe- Notley should change electoral system following Alberta NDP win
Alberta Premier Elect Rachel Notley rode to victory on a wave of progressive policies she’s now steadily abandoning (Alberta NDP facebook page)

The same logic and opportunities apply in Alberta, though it’s an even steeper hill to climb there. I appreciate the bind Ms. Notley finds herself in – which explains her backpedaling on a number of more progressive energy policies she ran on last year. Her pollsters must be telling her she’s got to make these grandiose declarations on pipelines and undercut the federal party if she has any hope of getting re-elected.

She faces an electorate that is understandably anxious about its future –  that only wants things to go back to the way they were in the good old days of $100-150 oil. It’s a scary thing not knowing how you’re going to feed your family. But things in Alberta aren’t going back to the way they were before, no matter how uncomfortable that reality is. And giving people false assurances will only make the problem worse. The only thing that can rescue the Alberta economy and bring jobs back is creating new ones – and there are real ways that can happen (more on that in a moment). Alas, for the moment. it’s easy to see how that may yet seem politically impossible to Ms. Notley.

Not all wine and roses

OK, to the skeptics who’ve gotten this far in the article, first of all, thank you for hearing me out. Second of all, you’re right about a lot of things.

You’re correct that we won’t suddenly replace fossil fuels with renewables across the board. There will necessarily be a transition period and quite possibly a place for fossil fuels in the mix for some time to come. We also won’t be able to sustain the level of growth, materialism and waste in our economy that relatively cheap, abundant fossil fuels have enabled over the past century. Some tough adjustments will need to be made there.

BC sitting on enough geothermal to power whole province, say new maps
Steam rising from the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station in Iceland (Photo: Gretar Ívarsson / Wikipedia)

Moreover, not all renewables are created equally – and they all have their problems. Most are not “baseload”, meaning they’re only available intermittently. The exceptions are geothermal (a huge untapped opportunity for places like BC), and large hydro dams, which aren’t clean or green for a whole host of reasons.

The solution to the intermittency issue is multi-fold. It requires building a grid with overlapping sources which fill in each other’s gaps at different times. In places like BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and a number of US states, those large dams we already have can underpin newer, non-baseload renewables. Geothermal can do the same and has for decades in San Francisco. Iceland gets more than half its electricity from it.

There are other problems with renewables though. Aggressive incentives for renewables like feed-in-tariffs have led to soaring electrical costs and energy poverty in places like Germany and Ontario, while in BC, our disastrous private “run-of-river” sham has ravaged watersheds and put BC Hydro on the brink of bankruptcy. The renewable energy sector is no more immune to greed, corruption, foolishness, and government mismanagement than the fossil fuel sector is. Anything we choose to build must be done carefully and with the public interest in mind.

Conservation is the key

The most important piece of the puzzle is conservation – the only form of energy that carries zero environmental impact or cost. The good news is we’re already doing a great job at this. Americans are using roughly the same amount of electricity in their homes today as they did at the beginning of the millennium – despite population increases, more elaborate gadgetry, and the arrival of electric cars. It’s the same story here in BC.

Things are looking up

Now for the really good news! Once we get past the denial and difficulty of letting go of everything we’ve come to take for granted, there are huge upsides to the end of the fossil fuel era. As columnist Will Dubistsky put it in these pages recently, the above developments have resulted in “an amazing decline in energy-related CO2 in both China and the US and global emissions remaining flat since 2013! What’s more, for the first time in history emissions have declined during a period of economic growth.” 

Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)
Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)

The message we so often get from the media and our elected leaders, particularly in Canada, is, “Sure climate change is a problem and we have to act, but we’ll get to it in 20 years.” Well, the world is already getting to it. Reducing emissions is very much achievable. So is transitioning to renewable energy, and while Canada has remained on the sidelines of the green jobs revolution thus far, there are signs that’s beginning to change.

Suncor recently announced plans to build multiple wind projects in Alberta. Meanwhile, a group of oil sands workers calling themselves Iron & Earth is pushing for resources to retool their skills for clean tech. These welders, electricians, boilermakers, pipe-fitters, carpenters, etc. are well positioned to transfer their considerable abilities towards wind, solar and geothermal. They’re calling on Rachel Notley to expand Alberta’s solar training programs to include retraining of existing electricians for solar installations. And that’s no big leap.

So, we have two choices as Canadians: 1. Accept that the end of the fossil fuel era is nigh and get on with building a new economy that puts Canadians to work in sustainable, longterm jobs; 2. Remain in denial, chasing a vanishing sector, ensuring Canadians remain out of work…and then accept that the end of the fossil fuel era.

The statistics don’t care. It will happen either way.


May calls Paris deal “a masterful balancing act” between ideal and practical

Yann Toma's "Human Energy" art project at the Eiffel Tower during COP21 (Flickr CC licence / Yann Caradec)
Yann Toma’s “Human Energy” art project at the Eiffel Tower during COP21 (Flickr CC licence / Yann Caradec)

The environmental news of the year — if not the decade — is the United Nations COP21 Climate Agreement reached in Paris on December 12, 2015. The 195 nations of the world reached an understanding in principle to hold global warming “well below 2°C” and to strive to limit the rise to 1.5°C. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party and a long-time attendee at such climate talks, called it “a masterful balancing act” between the ideal and practical. It may not be perfect but it’s something that can be accomplished.

Key parts of the agreement include a contribution from developed nations of $100 billion per year, beginning in 2020, to help developing and undeveloped nations adapt to a low-carbon future. These billions will translate into trillions in private investments in clean and renewable energies. Further, all nations are expected to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible”, so that by 2050 carbon emissions will not exceed those being captured by “sinks” — essentially creating a carbon neutral planet. And finally, 5-year reviews will examine the progress of all nations toward their committed objectives.

This COP21 agreement couples with a November 2014 unilateral deal between China and the United States to cut their emissions. And adding to the shift in consciousness was a June decision by the G7 nations, the world’s largest economies, to become carbon-free by 2100. Also in June came Laudato Si, the encyclical by Pope Francis which gave profound moral authority to humanity’s obligation to cut carbon emissions.

In Canada, a change in government from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals has literally revolutionized this country’s response to environmental issues generally and to climate change particularly. Instead of being negative and even obstructionist in international COP meetings, Canada has taken a position that is positive and helpful — even being asked to assume a facilitating role in negotiations. Unlike past COP conferences when delegates criticized and ridiculed Canada’s contributions — even suggesting it would be better for everyone if we had not come — we are now being welcomed with smiles and applause.

All these changes will reverberate throughout Canada. The new Liberal government will henceforth include carbon emissions as a considered element in all environmental assessments, including such projects as coal facilities, oil pipelines and LNG plants, thereby reducing the likelihood that such fossil fuel enterprises will proceed. The use and export of these carbon-rich resources will be seriously constrained by ambitious emission targets, periodic monitoring by the United Nations, and international censure for unmet commitments.

The international pressure to reverse global climate change is now immense. This pressure will be passed from the COP21 agreement to individual nations who will, in turn, pass it to their lower echelons of government. In Canada, the initiative taken by provinces, cities and municipalities to reduce emissions will now be met with encouragement instead of indifference. A spirit of co-operation will help Vancouver reach its goal of becoming the world’s greenest city. Alberta’s carbon tax and the cap-and-trade regulations of other provinces will be sanctioned. A moratorium on oil tankers plying BC’s coast and doubts about the province’s LNG projects now fit within a larger and wiser logic.

The world changed on December 12, 2015.

Large hydro dams aren't green - they actually drive climate change

Let’s quit pretending dams like Site C are good for the climate

Large hydro dams aren't green - they actually drive climate change
BC’s WAC Bennett Dam (Photo: Damien Gillis)

There are many good reasons not to build Site C Dam: destruction of farmland and wildlife habitat, the violation of First Nations’ rights, the likely $15 Billion tab for taxpayers, and the fact that we simply don’t need the power. But you can add one very important item to the list: CLIMATE.

Hydro full of hot air

I raise this now because we have climate on the brain with the Paris talks and because it’s the final fig leaf clung to by defenders of this bogus project. People like BC Hydro’s Siobhan Jackson – Environmental and Community Mitigation Manager for Site C – perpetuate the myth that hydro dams, while ecologically devastating, are somehow “clean”. In a recent op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, Jackson acknowledged, then quickly downplayed the GHGs that would be produced by the project.

“Site C, after an initial burst of expenditure, would lock in low rates for many decades, and would produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy than any source save nuclear,” she says. From a strictly GHG perspective dams may be better than coal. But there are two big problems with this argument.

Inflating demand to justify Site C

First, it’s a false dichotomy. Hydro’s own numbers, recently submitted to the BC Utilities Commission, show we won’t need the electricity from Site C until at least 2029 – unless we use it to power the cooling of gas into LNG, in which case the climate rationale just went right out the window, since even a few LNG plants would require a massive ramping up of fracked natural gas in northeast BC, which is a huge climate problem. Jackson contradicts her own people, repeating the old saw that we will simply need more power – 40% in 20 years – a figure pulled straight from between her butt cheeks.

The truth is Hydro has always and severely overestimated future power demands, as we have repeatedly demonstrated in these pages. The fact is we’re using essentially the same amount of electricity today in BC as we did at the turn of the millennium, despite population increases and new gadgetry (which is increasingly efficient).

So the choice between flooding another 80 km of the Peace Valley for a third hydro dam and relying on coal-fired energy is an absolutely false one. Here’s what is true: Site C is a lot worse for the environment than the very real alternative of continued conservation.

Ignoring the latest science

The other big problem with Jackson’s argument is it soft-pedals the serious climate impacts of Hydro dams. She claims the research and methodology relied on by Hydro to measure Site C’s GHG footprint is top-notch. I beg to differ. New research is showing that dams produce far more greenhouse gases than previously thought.

For instance, this peer-reviewed study in Science Daily notes:

[quote]Researchers have documented an underappreciated suite of players in global warming: dams, the water reservoirs behind them, and surges of greenhouse gases as water levels go up and down. In separate studies, researchers saw methane levels jump 20- and 36-fold during drawdowns.[/quote]

Methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2 – 86 times worse, in fact, over a 20-year period, according to Dr. Robert Howarth from Cornell University, a globally acknowledged expert on the subject. This is the same reason fracking is so bad for the climate – pure “natural gas” is methane and far more of it leaks into the atmosphere during the extraction, treatment and piping processes than we once thought. We call these “fugitive methane emissions”. The unnatural water bodies we call dam reservoirs accumulate dead biomass from all those trees cut down and hillsides unearthed, which in turn rots and emits the same methane into the atmosphere, producing serious GHGs over the entire life of a project.

This explains why a study in the journal Water, Air and Soil Pollution determined that “one Amazonian dam, Tucurui, was once calculated to have greater emissions than Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and among the 10 most populous in the world,” as this 2013 story on Brazil’s exploding carbon footprint explains.

A whole lot of concrete

This is, of course, on top of the enormous emissions associated with construction, from all that concrete poured and heavy machinery operating for a decade. Ms. Jackson acknowledges this as an “initial burst of expenditure” (if you can call ten years of construction “initial”, that is). In a particularly insightful article on the subject in EcoWatch, author Gary Wocker notes:

[quote]For one medium-sized dam project proposed for the Cache la Poudre River in Colorado, it is estimated that the construction would emit 218,000 metric tons CO2-equivalents which equals the emissions from almost 46,000 automobiles on the road for one year. Larger dams, such as Hoover Dam which contains 4.36 million cubic yards of concrete, would have exponentially higher climate change impacts from construction. The largest hydro-electric dam on the planet—the Three Gorges Dam in China—contains 27.15 million cubic meters of cement.[/quote]

Lesser of two evils

So Jackson and co. breeze by the ten-year construction phase, instead landing on the argument that Site C will have a smaller reservoir than the existing Williston, therefore fewer GHGs from dead biomass by comparison. Okay – but that’s a lesser of two evils argument. The important question is not how many GHGs Site C will produce compared to larger reservoirs, but rather how it would fare compared with other renewable technologies; and, even more importantly, do we even need it at all? Since the answer to that is “no”, the whole conversation is moot.

Even if we did need more power in 30 years, the technologies available will be exponentially better and cheaper, so what’s the rush to plunk down $15 billion of your scarce tax dollars now and destroy a whole valley in the process? Moreover, the climate crisis is such that adding a comparatively small degree of new emissions to existing ones is no longer an acceptable argument. We need to be going in the opposite direction – i.e. cutting emissions and total energy consumption. These are things that our new Prime Minister – as he jostles with provinces like ours over their climate plans and the loopholes they build into them – would do well to bear in mind as he’s petitioned to reconsider federal permits for the project issued by his predecessor. Site C has no place in Mr. Trudeau’s federal energy strategy.

Nothing “Clean” about Site C

Calling an 80 km-long dam that will flood or disturb 30,000 acres of some of the best farmland we have left in Canada, contaminate fish with absolutely toxic levels of mercury for decades to come, destroy some of the best remaining wildlife habitat in an already industrially-devastated region and produce massive greenhouse gas emissions hardly qualifies this as a “clean energy project.”

Make what arguments you will for Site C, Ms. Jackson, Premier Clark. Tell us it will produce construction jobs (many of which are already going to Albertans). Try to convince us that awarding mega-contracts to your construction pals and political backers will be good for the whole BC economy. But don’t try to dupe British Columbians into believing that Site C Dam is somehow a “climate solution”.

That’s just a whole lot of hot air.


Canada Election 2015: Where do the parties stand on climate change?


Canada Election 2015- Where do the parties stand on climate change

With only a couple of weeks left in the Canadian federal election, voters are starting to ask fundamental questions about where the major parties stand on important issues like climate change. Canadians already rank climate and environment as a top issue both during and between election cycles.

But with both the federal election on the horizon and international climate talks scheduled in Paris for late November, Canadians have a real opportunity for their votes to translate into substantial climate action on the global stage.

Pressure is mounting for Canada to play a leadership role at these negotiations, with major trading partners like China and the United States already jointly announcing their emission reduction goals and commitments in advance of the talks.  

And Canadians are showing a desire for strong climate leadership. Even provinces like Alberta are defying stereotypes by showing a broad public desire for climate action. A recent poll by EKOS found that 53 per cent of Albertans support stronger climate policies and about the same support an economy-wide carbon tax to help solve the problem.

Environmental group Environmental Defence recently issued a new report that outlines where each of the major parties stand on climate. Here DeSmog Canada breaks those climate positions down with further analysis of each party’s election platform: 

Liberal Party and Trudeau on Climate Change

When it comes to actual carbon emission reduction targets the Liberal Party has been rather vague so far in this election, making a promise that they will “provide national leadership and join with the provinces and territories to take action on climate change, put a price on carbon, and reduce carbon pollution.”

In their election platform, Trudeau and the Liberals have committed to a $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Trust that will fund projects that help reduce carbon emissions.

On the international policy side, the Liberals say they will attend the Paris climate summit and within 90 days “establish a pan-Canadian framework for combatting climate change.”

The Liberals also state in their election platform that they support the G20 commitment to phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels in the medium-term and that they will work with the U.S. and Mexico to develop a long-term North American clean energy and environmental agreement.

NDP and Mulcair on Climate Change

The NDP has committed to a nation-wide cap-and-trade system that includes a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major sources like the Alberta oilsands. According to the Environmental Defence report, the NDP’s plan puts Canada on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2025, with a baseline measure of 1990. By 2050, the NDP plan on climate change would see Canada’s emissions drop by 80 per cent. These targets and commitments would be legislated making them much more difficult to reverse by future governments.

The NDP also commits to establishing “Green Bonds” which would allow Canadians to “invest up to $4.5 billion over four years in ‘clean energy, climate resilient infrastructure, commercial and industrial energy retrofits, and other sustainable development projects.'”

A further $1.5 billion would be spent over the next four years in “green programs” like retrofitting homes to be more energy efficient and local clean energy projects for northern and remote communities.

Conservative Party and Harper on Climate Change

As the incumbent party, it is fair to judge the Conservative party’s performance on their record to date, even more so than their election promises. While Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have been mildly better on climate change in the last couple years (by, for example, agreeing with other G7 nations to phase out fossil fuels by 2100), the bar has been set rather low. This isn’t help by the fact that members of the Conservative party still consider climate change a theory consisting of “alarmist claims.”

Under the Harper government, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada have ever so slightly dropped, but as the CBC points out in a recent analysis of claims on climate change made by Stephen Harper, those slight reductions had nothing to do with policy actions by the Conservatives and were instead a result of the major economic recession in 2008 and 2009.

As for Harper’s commitment in this federal election on climate change, his party highlights the commitment they put forward for the Paris negotiations that would see Canada reduce its emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 measured on a baseline of 2005. However, the Conservatives have made this commitment on a sector-by-sector basis and one of the sectors left out of this commitment is the Alberta oilsands, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Emissions from the oilsands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions have increased 79 per cent since 2005. They currently account for nine per cent of Canada’s total emissions and that portion is expected to jump to 14 per cent by 2020.

In a recent analysis the Conservative Party’s commitment was found to be the weakest of all the G7 countries.

The Conservatives have announced some funding for green projects, like a Public Transit Fund, but say funding for that program would not start until 2017.

Green Party and May on Climate Change

No surprisingly, the Green Party offers a very ambitious set of commitments on climate change, proposing emission reductions that are more than double those of Conservative Party of Canada. The Green Party plan would see Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced by at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Green Party also commits to a “fee-and-dividend” system, which is similar to a cap-and-trade system and would set an initial price on carbon of $50 per tonne across all sectors, including the Alberta oilsands.

As for investing in green programs, Elizabeth May and the Greens would commit $500 million a year to a “Green Climate Fund” that would assist developing nations in addressing climate change, an additional $180 million a year in clean energy research and development and $1 billion a year for a “Green Technology Commercialization Grants.”

The Green Party would also reintroduce tax credits for homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient, create a national plan for public transportation and provide tax incentives for renewable energy storage facilities and for the manufacturing and purchase of electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

If climate change is an important issue to you, there is one big thing you can do. Bigger, I would argue than changing your lightbulbs or buying a hybrid car and the like. The single biggest thing you can do to help fight climate change in Canada is to vote for the party you think is going to make the biggest difference.

Check out each party’s platform for more details. While you’re at it make sure you’re registered to vote and don’t forget to put October 19th in your calendar!

Suzuki- Volkswagen cheated climate, people's health

Suzuki: Volkswagen cheated climate, people’s health

Suzuki- Volkswagen's cheating has serious climate, human health consequences
Photo: Ben Harrington / Flickr CC licence

Volkswagen was caught cheating on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests by installing “defeat devices,” which allowed its diesel vehicles to pass nitrogen oxide emissions checks but spew up to 40 times allowable pollutants once they were completed. The scandal has resulted in plummeting share prices, CEO Martin Winterkorn’s resignation and up to $18 billion in fines, as well as recalls, stop-sale orders, impending lawsuits and possible criminal charges.

A million tonnes a year of hidden pollution

Beyond the betrayal and legal and financial issues, the effect on global pollution is massive. Volkswagen is the world’s largest automaker by sales, and as many as 11 million of its diesel vehicles are implicated. According to the Guardian:

[quote]The rigging of emissions tests may have added nearly a million tonnes of air pollution by VW cars annually — roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture.[/quote]

Nitrogen oxide pollution creates particulate matter that causes respiratory problems and is linked to millions of premature deaths every year worldwide. It’s also a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide and so contributes to global warming.

VW’s cheating takes human toll

By Christopher Dombres / Flcikr CC licence
By Christopher Dombres / Flcikr CC licence

The Volkswagen debacle is bad enough in itself, but it also raises questions about automaker practices, pollution, emissions standards and testing and the implications of our rampant car culture.

Volkswagen cheated on regulations designed to protect human health and the environment, and the consequences are increased rates of asthma, lung disease, cancer and death. But it’s not just diesel cars and it’s not just vehicles from one company. Cars kill and harm millions of people every year, with accidents, pollution, climate change and other environmental damage. And car-makers have in the past resisted safety improvements such as seatbelts and air bags.

Loopholes big enough to drive a truck through

Illegally rigging vehicles to pass emissions tests hurts everyone, but legal loopholes create similar problems. Just look at SUVs. I did a quick count of the many passing my office during the afternoon, and almost all contained a single driver — no passengers or even pets! Under emissions laws in Canada, the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, SUVs are classified as “light-duty trucks” and are subject to less strict emissions standards than cars. Yet, most people treat them the same as cars.

This creates incentives for manufacturers to produce more heavy vehicles or even to design cars as trucks, such as Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. According to the Economist, “As vehicles above 3.8 tonnes were long exempted from the American regulation, manufacturers started producing enormous vehicles such as the Hummer to avoid any fuel-economy rules.”

Vehicle emissions double

Even with fuel-efficiency improvements, vehicle emissions have more than doubled since 1970 and will increase as demand rises in countries like China, India and Brazil, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Studies show that because fuel efficiency makes it less expensive to drive, people drive more. Clearly, we need better solutions.

It’s easy to say it starts with individuals. We can all find ways to reduce private automobile use. But individuals aren’t entirely to blame for our fossil-fuelled lifestyles. Incentives, regulations, policies and infrastructure are needed to create the necessary shift away from reliance on wasteful, inefficient transportation and fuel options.

Revving up solutions

We’ve seen many positive developments in recent years. In my hometown, Vancouver, and many other cities, car-sharing programs and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure are expanding rapidly. Hybrid and electric vehicle technologies are making great inroads. Recognition of the need for efficient public transit is also spreading around the world. And fuel taxes and carbon pricing have been proven effective at reducing reliance on private automobiles.

Taxing fossil fuel consumption may be more efficient than emissions standards because, as the Economist points out, fuel taxes encourage people, especially those who drive a lot, to buy more efficient cars and to drive less. And, “A fuel tax does not rely on dubious testing nor does it create distortive loopholes.” Revenue from taxes can be invested in cleaner transportation alternatives or, as with B.C.’s carbon tax, used to reduce income taxes or provide rebates to people with lower incomes.

It’s outrageous that a car manufacturer like Volkswagen would stoop to devious practices to get around laws designed to benefit all people, but in our car-driven culture, it’s not entirely surprising — just another signal that it’s time to rethink the way we move ourselves around.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Burning: A summer of fire, smoke, ash and change

Burning: A summer of fire, smoke, ash and change

Burning: A summer of fire, smoke, ash and change
Photo: Province of British Columbia/Flickr CC licence

Wildfires are ripping across California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska during this summer of 2015, the result of unprecedented droughts and record temperatures. Millions of hectares are being burned along with hundreds of homes. Fire-fighting costs are multiplying, the economic damage is soaring and the environmental consequences are foreboding.

The old ecologies of the Pacific Northwest are being reshaped as climate change begins the long and disruptive process of altering the weather and remaking the biological structure of the region.

Washington fires claim lives, threaten BC

Countless statistics tumble out of news reports as uncontrolled fires scorch California and dozens of active fires burn in Oregon and Washington. Bushfires explode because of unprecedented heat and wind, igniting whole neighbourhoods and even parts of downtowns, as was the case at the end of June in Wenatchee. Sometimes firefighters are the casualties.

Grass becomes tinder in the Pacific Northwest, waiting for any spark to set off a conflagration. Washington stopped counting and even fighting some its fires during parts of August, letting them burn to exhaustion, whenever that may occur. At least one has spread northward toward British Columbia.

BC’s firefighting costs exceed budget by 4 times

BC’s fire situation is similar to that in the American states to the south. Over 1,734 have been counted in the province since April and firefighting costs of more than $224 million have dwarfed a budget of $63 million. The focus of media attention shifts quickly from place to place depending on the size of the fire, the loss of property and the extent of human tragedy. Some people have barely escaped with their lives as walls of flames have roared toward them. The charred bodies of dead wildlife are commonly found in the ashen remains of the blackened landscapes. The danger in BC is exacerbated by the 18 million hectares of interior forest attacked by the mountain pine beetle.

Baked Alaska

Alaska, like BC, has undergone an average temperature increase of about 1.4°C, mostly during the last 50 years, and is at least as vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures, droughts and wildfires. Record areas of the state have burned in 2015, 183 more than the 216 fires that burned during the scorching season of 2004.

From a climate perspective, Alaska’s fires are particularly serious because they burn off the deep layers of organic insulation that are protecting the permafrost from further melting and the subsequent release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. “Everything is connected,” notes Bob Bolton, a University of Alaska hydrologist.

[quote]The climate, the permafrost, the water, the fires. You can’t look at one without looking at the other. Changes in one changes everything. It’s a really, really sensitive system.[/quote]

A scary forecast

Complex ecologies such as the Pacific Northwest are similarly sensitive. Increased levels of atmospheric of carbon dioxide from human sources are raising temperatures, changing weather and forcing the region into a protracted and traumatic transition. Altered precipitation patterns are lowering crucially important snowpacks, degrading the vitality of watersheds and transforming the character of West Coast forests as California’s climate shifts northward.

The summer fires are just part of a difficult and disruptive climate revolution we have set in motion. This change may be welcomed by those who like California’s climate, but the process is going to leave many others badly burned.