No. 134 - Serving the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver Island -
KYOTO: TIME TO WALK THE TALK
So – are you ready? Are you ready to step up to
the plate, acknowledge that we are all part of this enormous crisis
called global climate change, and start reducing your emissions?
Environment Canada is about to present us with
its One Tonne Challenge, which will call on each of us to reduce
our personal greenhouse gas emissions by one tonne of a year.
The climate news in 2003 was all bad. The summer
heat wave in Europe killed 40,000 people, and reduced Europe’s grain
harvest by 10%. Ukraine lost 75%; Moldova lost 80%. The global death
toll from climate related disasters was 150,000 people.
The 28-member council of the American Geophysical
Union, whose 41,000 members include more than 10,000 experts on
the planet's atmosphere and changing climate, declared that the
unprecedented increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, together
with other human influences on climate over the past century and
those anticipated for the future, constitute a real basis for concern.
Their statements reads: "Scientific evidence strongly
indicates that natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase
in global near-surface temperatures observed in the second half
of the 20th century."
The Arctic ice is continuing to melt. The rate
of warming between 1981 and 2001 was eight times the rate of the
last 100 years. There are now signs that the summer ice will vanish
by 2030, not by 2050 as previously thought, and that the year round
ice could vanish by 2100. If things continue this way, your grandchildren
will be able to paddle a kayak from Ikaluit to Siberia in December
without seeing a scrap of ice. Without any ice, the polar bear is
heading towards certain extinction.
Our forest fire season was just awful, and the
mountain pine beetle has devastated an area of BC’s interior that’s
three times the size of Vancouver Island. One cold winter would
control the beetle – but the winters are not cold enough any more.
When it comes to the impacts of global climate change, it’s bad
news whichever way you look.
When it comes to the potential solutions, however,
there is plenty of good news. All we have to do is wake up from
the fossil fuelled dreamworld we’ve been living in for the past
150 years, and start walking the talk.
Dreamworld? Here’s why. New research by Jeff Dukes,
an ecologist at the University of Utah, tells us how much land was
needed to convert the forests, plants and ocean creatures into fossil
fuels, millions of years ago.
To make one litre of gasoline, you need 20 tonnes
of prehistoric plant material, gathered over time from 9 acres of
land. If your car does 14 litres/100km (20 mpg), and you fill it
up with 50 litres, you are using the energy gathered over time by
photosynthesis from 1,000 tonnes of plant material on 450 acres
If you are a typical Canadian motorist who drives
18,000 kilometres a year, in a car that does 10 litres/100 km (28
mpg), you will need 36,000 tonnes of plant material gathered from
6480 hectares (16,200 acres) of land in ancient times to make the
fuel. That’s 65 square kilometres.
If you fly from Vancouver to Toronto in a Boeing
747, your plane will consume 61,640 litres of kerosene, gathered
over time from 1.23 million tonnes of plant material on 5,547 square
kilometres of land. (Thanks to Jeff Dukes’ calculations, and www.chooseclimate.org/flying)
When plants photosynthesize sunlight, they absorb
carbon dioxide and store the carbon. When they become trapped in
ancient bogs and converted into fossil fuel over millions of years,
they hang onto their carbon. So each time we burn some as coal,
oil or gas, all of that ancient stored carbon is released back into
the atmosphere. Maybe this explains why we are having such a problem.
In our annual use of fossil fuels on the planet
as a whole, we burn 400 times more energy than all the plants on
Earth and all the life in the oceans gathers through photosynthesis
during the year, and releasing 400 times the carbon emissions that
the atmosphere would normally be handing.
It took hundreds of millions of years for plants
and sea creatures to lay down the oil and gas we are using today.
We are going to burn it all up in a mere 200 years, so it goes to
reason that there’s an awful lot of carbon being pumped into the
atmosphere. No wonder the Arctic is melting.
So far, we have remained in a stupor, as if caught
in a maze from which there is no way out – but oh, such a comfortable
maze. When fossil fuels give us such a degree of concentrated power,
why would we want to relinquish them? It’s the same question that
southern slave-owners faced in the USA, before the civil war. Slaves
enabled them to live with a style and grace that would have been
The long-term need is to stop burning fossil fuels
altogether. Canada’s short-term goal under the Kyoto Treaty is to
reduce our carbon emissions by 20% by 2012. This year’s goal is
for each of us to reduce our personal emissions by one tonne. Inside,
I’ll show you how.
For the Jeff Dukes story with the fossil fuel numbers, see www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-10/uou-bm9102603.php
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A SPECIAL ISSUE ON THE ONE TONNE CHALLENGE
CALCULATING YOUR CARBON EMISSIONS
So – how much CO2 did you produce last year? Finding
out is the first thing to do, if you are to reduce your greenhouse
Step One: Travel. Every litre
of gasoline that you burnt in your car or truck releases 2.5 kg
of CO2. If your car does 30 mpg, that’s 9.5 litres per 100 km (www.rockymountainmoggers.com/convert.html
for conversion factors). You need to know how far you travelled
last year. If you write down your January odometer reading, it’ll
be easy next year. For this year, you might need to make an informed
guess. If (like the average Canadian) you travelled 18,000 km, you
will have burnt 1710 litres of gasoline. At 2.5 kg of CO2 per litre,
that’s 4275 kg of CO2, for your first total. If you share the vehicle
with someone else, divide this by 2.
Step Two: Flying. Make a
list of each flight, and then go to www.chooseclimate/flying
, where there’s a map of the world. If you mark the start and end
of each flight, you will see how much CO2 your share of each flight
produced. Victoria to Winnipeg – 1700 kg. Victoria to Florida –
3280 kg. Victoria/London UK – 5280 kg. Tally them all up, for your
Step Three: Transit and Trains.
A daily commute of 5 km each way comes to 2500 kilometres. Each
kilometre on a bus or train, on average, releases 0.14 kg of CO2
per passenger, so a daily 5km commute releases 350 kg in your name,
for your third total.
Step Four: Electricity. BC
Hydro produces 90% of its power from hydroelectricity, which does
not produce CO2 emissions. The big hydro dams trap a lot of plant
material in their waters, however, which breaks down as methane
instead of CO2, and methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas
than CO2. Without detailed measurements at each dam, however, it’s
impossible to know how much. The other 10% of our power comes from
natural gas. It makes sense to count all of your electricity use
as coming from natural gas, for this reasoning: If you used less
electricity, BC Hydro could burn less gas; they won’t release less
water from the dams. They could also export the saved energy to
the USA, where it would displace energy from natural gas or coal.
So dig out your hydro bills, and look at the total kilowatt hours
(kWh) you used. For every kWh, 400 grams of CO2 is released by burning
natural gas. If your total is 15,000 kWh, that’s 6 million grams,
or 6 tonnes of CO2, for your fourth total. If you share your home,
share your total.
Step Five: Heating with Gas.
Each GigaJoule of gas releases 34 kg of CO2. So did out your gas
bills. If you used 75 GJ last year (the residential average), that’s
2550 kg of CO2, for your fifth total.
Step Six: Heating with Oil.
Each litre of heating oil releases 2.5 kg of CO2. So look at your
oil bills. If you used 1000 litres, that’s 2500 kg of CO2, for your
Step Seven: Your food. Cattle
produce a huge amount of methane by burping from their three stomachs.
Each kilogram of beef produces 0.5 kg of methane, which is the greenhouse
gas equivalent of 11.5 kg of CO2. If you’re an average Canadian
beef eater, you eat 31 kilos of beef a year, producing 356 kg of
CO2. I don’t have an average CO2 figure for groceries, but if you
buy locally grown BC food, instead of food imported from the US
or Mexico, you’ll reduce your emissions.
Step Eight: Household Wastes. All
that garbage has to be manufactured and transported, so there’s
a lot of energy tied up in it. Most landfills don’t capture their
methane gas, so there’s a big burden of greenhouse gases there,
too. Victoria’s Hartland landfill does, so there’s no need to account
for this here. Each bag of garbage per week accounts for 300 kg
of CO2 a year. Each blue box or bag full of recyclables accounts
for 140 kg. If you put two bags of garbage and two blue boxes or
bags of recyclables every two weeks, that’s 440 kg of CO2 for the
year, for your eighth and final total.
Step Nine: Add it all together.
Put your household totals in Col 2, your % share of each in Col
3, and your personal totals in Col 4.
Bus or train
Heating - gas
Heating - oil
Step Ten: Buy Carbon Offsets.
If you want to pay your planetary dues, as I believe everyone
should, you can offset all of last year’s emissions by paying into
a fund which will prevent the equivalent amount of CO2 emissions
from entering the atmosphere. I do this with help from the Solar
Electric Light Fund (SELF) (www.self.org
) in Washington DC. They help rural villagers in countries like
Bhutan to install small solar PV systems, instead of burning kerosene.
As well as removing a source of CO2, this also removes a source
of local air pollution, and a danger from fire if the lamp gets
knocked over. It also lowers the birth rate, since couples spend
their evenings reading or listening to the radio, instead of going
to bed early.
The current price of CO2 offsets such as this is
$10 US a ton. ($14 CAN a tonne). In 2002, I produced 28 tons of
CO2, most of which came from flying to conferences on climate change.
So I paid $280 US to SELF, which is being used to extend the revolving
loan funds that SELF sets up, enabling villagers to buy 50 watt
solar systems. The maths works out almost exactly, that my $280
assists towards the purchase of enough solar PV systems to offset
28 tons of CO2 over the life of the systems.
You can also buy carbon offsets by making a cash
donation to Tree Canada (www.treecanada.ca
), who will plant enough trees to absorb your emissions. Their estimate
is that 6 trees will absorb 1 tonne of emissions over their 80 year
lifetime. So if you produced 20 tonnes of CO2 last year, you’ll
need to plant 120 trees. Planting trees where they would not otherwise
have grown is clearly a good thing. My only concern is that with
the rising temperatures, and the increasing risk from pest damage,
will the trees survive to hold the CO2, or will they die early,
releasing it back into the atmosphere?
Step Eleven: Your Reduction Goal.
Decide on your reduction target for 2004. Environment Canada is
asking each of us to achieve a one tonne reduction. For most people,
that’ll be a relatively small reduction in emissions. If you keep
it up each year until 2012, however, it’ll make a big difference.
If you are already a keen green cyclist, living in a small energy
efficient home, your emissions may be as low as 3-4 tonnes, in which
case your target for reduction might be as small as 250 kg. If you
live in a big house, run two cars, and take several flights a year,
on the other hand, you might want to aim for a 2 tonne reduction.
Step Twelve: Action! Look
at your emissions, and plan how you are going to achieve your reduction.
Aim to do fewer small local vehicle trips, by walking and cycling
more. You’ll save 262 kg of CO2 for every 1000 miles less that
Switch to transit for some of city trips
Switch to gasoline that contains 10% ethanol – this will reduce
your vehicle emissions by around 8%. Ethanol is not a fossil
fuel, but it needs fossil fuels to make it, so it’s not a 10%
Switch to a more fuel efficient vehicle
Stick to the speed limit – you’ll use less fuel at 90 km/hr
than at 110 km/hr
Switch off, instead of idling. Here’s the rule of thumb: if
your wait is more than 10 seconds, switch off. If you reduce
idling by 10 minutes a day, your emissions will fall by 258
kg a year.
Take the bus and ferry, instead of flying to Vancouver
If you sell your car, and join the Car Share Coop (www.victoriacarshare.ca
). you’ll save more CO2, since you’ll cycle and use the bus
Take a holiday locally in BC, instead of flying to somewhere
Change as many lightbulbs as you can for the compact fluorescent
bulbs that use 3-4 times less power
Change your Christmas lights to the new LED bulbs that use
90% less power – but don’t use the LEDs as well as the old ones;
use them instead.
Make your home more snugly and energy efficient. BC Hydro,
Terasen, and the federal government all have grants available
to help, at present. Call City Green (381-9995) www.citygreen.ca
for advice and ideas.
If you have an old fridge chugging along in the basement, switch
it off. This could save 400 kg of CO2 a year.
If you install a four-season solar hot water heater on your
roof, you could save 1000 kg of CO2.
If you are buying a new house, buy one that is smaller, and
If you switch to a water efficient, front-loading washer, you’ll
save up to 180 kg of CO2. If you also switch to a 99% cold water
wash, you’ll save 585 kg of CO2.
Lower the thermostat on your hot water heater to 48 C (120
The one change we don’t recommend is switching to a microwave
If you eat 25% less beef, you’ll save 89 kg of CO2. If you
go vegetarian, you’ll save 356 kg. If you go vegan, giving up
meat and dairy, you’ll save even more (no CO2 numbers, alas).
If you switch to a local organic food delivery service such
as Share Organics (www.shareorganics.bc.ca
), Small Potatoes Urban Delivery (www.spud.ca
) or Saanich Organics (544-4369), your emissions will fall by
78 kg of CO2 a year, by reduced travel, and eating more locally
If you grow more of your own food, you’ll do save even more!
(‘Individuals’), for more ideas like this.
Residential – Commercial
Indoor – Outdoor
Carpentry – Painting – Flooring
Composters – Creative storage
& much more
Harald Wolf – 250-882-9653
‘SEEDS OF VICTORIA’
Organically Grown–Locally Harvested
Vegetable, Flower & Herb Seeds
2004 Seed Collection
Carolyn Herriot, 250-881-1555
Catalogue $2 or order online at
MICROWAVE OVENS (1)
Notes from The Ecologist, Nov 2003: Russian
research into microwaves has shown that people who ate microwaved
foods had a statistically higher incidence of stomach and intestinal
cancers, a general degeneration of peripheral cellular tissues,
and a gradual breakdown of the digestive and excretory systems.
Due to chemical alterations within the food, they had lymphatic
malfunctions, causing a degeneration of the body’s immune system.
Microwaved food loses its nutritional value, especially for vitamins
B, C, E, essential minerals, and lipotropics (that prevent the abnormal
accumulation of fat). The use of microwave ovens was banned in Russia
in 1976. In 1989, the Swiss food scientist Dr Dans Ulrich Hertel
fed eight individuals on a range of raw, conventionally cooked,
and microwaved food. Blood samples, taken from each volunteer after
eating, showed serious irregularities in the structure of the food
microwaved, and in the blood of those eating the microwaved samples.
The microwave manufacturers used the Swiss courts to silence Dr
Hertel, and made him fear for his family’s safety, so that he publicly
disassociated himself from the research.
More on this next month.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF WEB
The Watershed Sentinel’s new website: www.watershedsentinel.ca
George Bush GI Joke Action Toy: www2.warnerbros.com/madmagazine/files/onthestands/ots_437/6.html
The Earth Viewer. Just click on any location, and
the satellite photo turns: www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth?imgsize=320&opt=-l&lat=43.5417&ns=North&lon=87.25&ew=West&alt=1000000&img=learth.evif
Earthwalkers - Canada’s online eco-home store:
The Tyee – a new BC on-line magazine: www.thetyee.ca
Nanaimo’s Community Involvement Project, and Interactive
Community News: www.cip.nanaimo-online.net/home
Canadian Wolves. "The wolf is neither man’s
competitor nor his enemy. He is a fellow creature with whom the
Earth must be shared.": www.CanadianWolves.net
"Reconstruction Zone" by Mark Fiore:
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