No. 174 - Serving the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver
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A GREEN BUDGET
Carole Taylor, BC’s Minister of Finance, is asking us to consider how the 2008 budget can promote environmentally responsible choices – while keeping BC’s economy strong and competitive, of course.
This is a difficult question, since if everyone in the world were to live as we do we would exceed the ability of Planet Earth to provide for our wants four times over.
Making environmentally responsible choices while keeping BC’s economy strong and competitive may be an ecological contradiction, since the economy depends on stripping the forests, drilling for fossil fuels, fossil fuelled tourism, and large quantities of imported food.
It would be relatively easy to create a regular budget with green trimmings –some tax breaks here, incentives there. The challenge is far more fundamental, however.
As well as needing to eliminate 100% of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 (33% by 2020 is just a start), we need to put BC’s entire forest economy onto an ecological footing, and phase out the export of coal, oil and gas. We need to transform the materials economy so that all goods are recycled; practice resource recovery on all wastes including sewage; and move BC’s farmlands to 100% organic practices.
We need to take the income from BC’s non-renewable resources move it to the column headed "natural capital", using the income to create a Legacy Fund to wean us off our dependence on this one-time income.
We need to redesign the tax system so that external costs such as air pollution and the loss of farmland to urban sprawl are charged to the activity, not to the general taxpayer.
We need to eliminate incentives for unsustainable behaviour that have crept in over the years, such as tax breaks for gas production and no taxes on flying.
Having laid down these principles, BC should design a ten-year budget strategy to steer our ship of state into a new direction that will lead to ecological sustainability within a generation. A handful of green tax trimmings that gave the impression of commitment with the budget reverting to business as usual in 2009 would be a very deceitful, cynical thing to do.
So where should we start? Here are 15 ideas drawn from the BCSEA, the Sierra Club, myself, and other NGOs.
Earth is not a negative externality
1. Tax credits for investments in renewable energy and other carbon-reducing technologies, based on production over 10 years.
2. European style Feed Laws, with 20-year fixed price contracts for producers of renewable electricity.
3. Income tax credits for expenditures on home energy retrofits and green heating systems such as solar hot water and geothermal heat pumps.
4. Government funding for energy audits; grants to match all federal ecoENERGY grants; property transfer tax rebates for energy efficient and green buildings, financed by increased property taxes on business-as-usual houses; increased annual Homeowner Grants for houses that achieve the Energuide 80 standard; and a loan guarantee fund enabling private financial institutions to offer energy upgrade loans at favorable rates.
5. Funding support to achieve 7,000 solar roofs in BC by 2010, 100,000 by 2020.
6. Grants for municipalities that achieve carbon neutrality in their corporate operations, and incentives for community wide carbon neutrality.
7. Vehicle feebates – fees on gas guzzlers, rebates for efficient cars.
8. A tax on aviation fuel in addition to the carbon tax, to level the playing field with road and rail.
9. Road-pricing on the Malahat and roads entering Vancouver, with the income going to support cycling, luxury commuter coaches and teleconferencing.
10. A province-wide retail carbon tax on all fuels, starting at $50 a tonne, to prepare for the enormous future cost of climate change. 50% of the income to go into a Climate and Biodiversity Adaptation Fund, and 50% into a Climate Solutions Fund. Both Funds are going to be essential since we must prepare now for enormous future impacts, and invest now to eliminate our dependence on the fossil fuels.
11. A Landfill Tax to encourage the capture of landfill gas (methane) and a Garbage Tax to encourage people to reduce their waste and recycle more.
12. Farming - fees on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, using the income to train organic farmers who manage BC’s farmlands sustainably.
13. Forestry - fees on practices that damage soils and streams, and rebates to forests that are managed according to ecological principles.
14. Carbon Solutions Bonds, enabling people to invest in the future.
15. Preparation for Personal Carbon Allowances, starting in 2010. Each person receives a carbon card granting 4 tonnes of free emissions a year, falling annually, the rest to be purchased on a competitive regulated carbon market.
To get involved, see Action of the Month (below).
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The Fifth Law of Sustainability - If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable
PLUG-IN HYBRID CARS
Ten years ago, most people thought the car of the future would be powered by hydrogen. Five years ago, it was biofuel. Now there has been a stunning change of perception and most people think electric. The ultimate green car is the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle, using electricity for all local trips, backed with gas, biodiesel or ethanol for longer distances.
General Motors is planning to roll out the plug-in hybrid GM Volt in 2010 or 2011, with a lithium ion battery (range 70 km) and a small 4-cylinder biodiesel or ethanol engine that recharges the battery if it gets low during a trip. They hope the battery will last 10 years, and the car will sell for under $30,000.
Since half of all power in North America is coal-fired, until we green the grid with renewable electricity an electric car will be a partially coal-fired car, but the numbers show that even using 100% coal-fired power it will produce fewer emissions than a gas-fired car. In BC, where our grid is heading toward 100% green, it will have zero emissions.
SOLAR EV CAR – 2 CENTS/KM
When the Toyota Prius is fitted with a larger battery, as individuals in the US have been doing, it uses 115 to 150 Watts of electricity per mile. For an average year’s driving of 10,000 miles, this is 1300 kWh a year.
If we pay 7 cents per kWh, 1300 kWh will cost $91 a year – or $1.75 a week. The price-break is balanced by the need to buy a new battery every ten years costing maybe $10,000 ($1,000 a year), falling as mass production kicks in. A gas car doing 10 litres per 100 km costs $1,200 a year with gas at $1.20 a litre.
Now think solar. A 1 kW solar system will produce 1100 kWh a year in most of BC - enough to drive 8,500 miles – and cost around $8,000 to install, falling to $4,000 as the world moves to mass production.
If you spread the cost over 25 years (the life of the PV panel), that comes to $320 a year to drive 8,500 miles – or 3.75 cents a mile (2 cents/km), falling to 1 cent/km as the price of solar falls (under $1 a day).
Looking to the future, it is realistic to visualize cars and light trucks running on the sun, wind and hydro for all local trips. A typical BC household uses 10,000 kWh a year, falling to 5,000 kWh if we invest in the best energy efficiency measures, encouraged by tax incentives. The additional power needed to run our cars off the grid is 13% - four times less than we could save by becoming energy efficient – and the sun and wind will be there forever.
Other possibilities? If we use hydrogen, we have to use solar, wind or hydro to split water to make the hydrogen; we lose 66% of the power in the process, and we have to find a way to distribute it across North America.
If we use biofuel grown from crops, we would need 3 times more farmland than the planet can provide. There are possibilities to make more sustainable biofuel from sewage, farm wastes, and by growing algae, which may be needed for the longer travel distances.
SAANICH GREEN BUILDINGS
It costs money to make our homes more energy efficient – wouldn’t it be nice if we at least got a tax-break on the investment? Saanich is stepping forward with a Green Building Rebate for retrofits and new houses. Anyone wanting to go green in Saanich can now get a free one-hour consultation with a City Green energy advisor; priority building permit processing; and rebates of up to 30% of the building permit value, depending on efficient your house has become. For details, call the Saanich Planning Dept, 475-5471. For a full listing of available green building grants, go to City Green www.citygreen.ca .
THE GREAT CLIMATE CHALLENGE
Practical Solutions that Work
with Guy Dauncey
Royal Roads, Sat Oct 6th, 9-5pm ($95)
391-2600 #4801 1-866-890-0220
NORWAY’S ECOLOGICAL JAIL
Maybe gas guzzlers and other carbon wastrels should go to jail to reform their anti-social behaviour? It would have to be a green, carbon neutral jail, of course, or the jailers would have to go to their own jail.
Welcome to the world’s first ecological prison on Bastoey Island, Norway, which uses solar panels for 70% of its power, produces most of its own food, and works to reduce its carbon footprint. It is a low-security jail intended to develop a sense of social responsibility in its inmates; anyone who tries to escape or breaks the prison rules is sent straight back to a closed prison.
From 8:15 to 2:30pm the prisoners work on the farm, cut timber, or restore the wooden houses scattered around the island. Each prisoner is responsible for a horse or a cow, and prisoners have been known to refuse their leave if a favourite cow was giving birth. The prison has a philosophy that individuals will stop their anti-social behaviour if they develop a sense of responsibility and empathy.
As well as its ecological emphasis, it has training programs for men who don’t know how to be good parents, and for violent offenders, drug addicts and alcohol abusers. It is also 30% cheaper to run than a closed prison. Now, about training programs for carbon-abusers…
WORKING FARM HOLIDAY
Do you need a break? Do you yearn for some good old-fashioned labour on the farm, chewing on a straw as you bring in the harvest? From October 4-7, The Land Conservancy’s heritage Keating Farm in Cowichan is sending out a call for one and all to come and help them harvest the crops, pickle and can, prune the fruit trees and feed the chickens. Camping under the stars, all tools provided. If you want fall magic to rustle through your memories for as long as you live, call TLC at 1-888-738-0533 and visit www.conservationholidays.ca
Speaking of fresh air, who needs the rural life when you can buy Febreze, Ozium, Naturex, Scented Bouquet, and Glade in a can?
You might think twice after reading a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, however. They looked at 14 common air fresheners, and found hormone-disrupting phthalate chemicals in 12, including those advertised as "all-natural" and "unscented".
Some of the chemicals (pronounced "tha-lates") are known to cause birth defects and reproductive harm; they have been associated with allergic symptoms, asthma, reproductive abnormalities, malformations of the genitalia, sperm production, developmental difficulties in babies, and cancer in laboratory animals.
In a 2004 British study, 29% of people with asthma said that air fresheners caused breathing difficulties. Once the chemicals have been released they can be inhaled or absorbed into the skin. Once in the bloodstream, they can alter hormone levels and cause other health problems.
We may reject them at home, but we can be exposed to them in offices and washrooms. They’re not regulated, and there’s no requirement for the manufacturers to say what’s in them. And the government is concerned about the rising cost of health care?
If you want fresh air, open the windows, clean things with vinegar and water, make a spray solution from water mixed with lavender or lemon juice, keep a cup of baking soda in the fridge or garbage area, or bake some fresh cookies or bread. If you know families with children, please show this to them. The air fresheners they use today may contribute to cancer, asthma, genital abnormalities and infertility in their children and grandchildren. See www.tinyurl.com/2kk2c6
A new coalition has formed in the Capital Regional District with the goal of reducing the health and environmental risks associated with the use of pesticides. Its mission is to advocate for cosmetic pesticide bylaws in the municipalities throughout the CRD, and educate the public on alternative means of pest control using organic methods.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that substances used in pesticides are known, probable or possible carcinogens, and studies have linked pesticide exposure to childhood and adult leukemia, childhood brain cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, neuroblastoma, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, and some lung cancers. Infants and young children are particularly at risk.
130 Canadian municipalities and the whole province of Quebec have adopted pesticide bylaws banning the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes, representing almost 40% of the population. In BC, this includes Vancouver, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Maple Ridge, New Westminster, Port Moody, Gibsons, Salmon Arm, Nelson, Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland. So why not here?
The Coalition is organizing a public forum at St John The Divine Church Hall Quadra/Balmoral on October 23, with other activities to follow. For details call Nancy 380-2358
On the same topic, here are two stunning new results. The first, from a team at the University of Michigan, found that organic farming can yield up to three times more food as conventional farming in developing countries without putting more farmland into production, and hold its own against standard methods in rich countries, contradicting the often quoted myth that organic farming is inefficient and produces lower yields.
Ivette Perfecto, who conducted the research looking at 293 examples, said corporate agricultural interests have influenced the public into believing that we must have chemical inputs to produce food. See www.tinyurl.com/yspvub
The second piece of research found that chemical pesticides such as Monsanto’s Roundup are toxic to nitrogen fixing bacteria, interfering with the signaling and impairing the efficiency of symbiotic nitrogen fixation – the way plants absorb nitrogen from the soil.
The research team, led by Julia Fox from the Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Oregon, found that pesticides and other contaminants are reducing plant yield by as much as 33%. For the details, see www.tinyurl.com/yqkqsd
ACTION OF THE MONTH - THE GREEN BUDGET
We all need to tell Carole Taylor, BC Minister of Finance, how important her Green Budget is. To submit your ideas for the 2008 BC Budget:
1. Send your thoughts as a document or PDF to email@example.com
2. Mail them to the Select Standing Cte on Finance and Gov Services, Rm 224, Parliament Bldgs, Victoria V8V 1X4, or
3. Submit them online www.leg.bc.ca/budgetconsultations/survey.asp
You must submit by Friday October 19th. For more details, see www.leg.bc.ca/budgetconsultations
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