No. 179 - Serving the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver
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OUR JOURNEY TO ZERO CARBON
March, 2020. It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon, and all the better because BC’s annual progress report on The Road to Zero Carbon has just shown that we have achieved a 50% reduction in our carbon emissions since 2008.
The Arctic is still melting, the sea-level is set for an ominous rise by 2100, and the impact of climate change on agriculture and ecosystems gets worse each year, but it’s good to know we are on the path, and that BC is demonstrating how life is both possible and enjoyable in a low carbon world. At this rate, we’ll hit the 99% reduction by 2030 the climate scientists are insistent we achieve.
Throughout Victoria, people are busy in their gardens, harvesting winter vegetables and planting seeds that will bring bounteous crops this summer. With food prices so high, it’s Victory Gardens all over again, along with rooftop gardens, community gardens, and boulevards thick with nuts, fruits and berries.
The changes have brought a wave of excitement. The roads are thick with bicycles, and many quieter roads have been turned into car-free bicycle routes where grannies and children alike feel safe to ride. Small electric batteries have turned hills into music, eliminating one of the biggest barriers to cycling.
It was certainly a shock in 2010 when the BC government went into partnership with a small Vancouver electric vehicle company, raised $500 million in public shares and started to produce 100,000 electric vehicles a year. Being attractive, colourful, tax free, cheap to run and immune from the carbon taxes and road tolls other vehicles had to pay, they were an instant hit with the consumer. And so quiet! Combined with streetlights being turned off after midnight, the solar panels that people use to light their homes and charge their cars in summer, and the home delivery of local food by bicycle, they are adding a definite je ne sais quoi to our fast evolving cityscape.
The new ferries are smaller now, since more people travel by bus, and Victoria has an amazing holographic teleconference centre that brings us closer together across the country, without having to leave home.
Finding the electricity to run the cars was not a problem. Most owners charge up at night when the power is cheaper because there’s less demand on the grid, and BC’s rapidly expanding wind, solar, tidal and carefully selected number of small hydro projects produce far more power than we need, allowing us to sell the surplus to Alberta and California where it earns us good money, while enabling the important closure of coal-fired power plants.
BC’s first “deep rocks” geothermal power plant is due to open this summer in the Kootenays, drilling 8km down for the heat. They’re planning to develop 10,000 MW of capacity, enough to power an astonishing 80 million small electric vehicles, assuming each uses 1 MWh to drive 10,000 km a year, and a geothermal plant produces 8,000 MWh a year per MW.
The old habit of spending hours commuting to work has been quite transformed by carbon taxes and road tolls. With the income being poured into rapid transit and luxury commuter coaches, the journey to work has become a chance to catch up on emails and get a head start on the day’s work; some companies are even paying their staff for work done on the coach.
It’s the older, retired baby-boomers who have found it hardest to adjust. The global carbon taxes on international flights and shipping kicked in just when they were hoping to visit their “100 Places to See Before You Die”, causing the cost of flying to rise dramatically. As a result, close to home holidays have become more creative with bicycle and horseback tours substituting for Mexican beaches and Mayan ruins.
Some of BC’s industrial companies did a lot of complaining in the early years of carbon constraint. As the carbon taxes and cap and trade requirements went up, however, and incentives for green energy grew, their engineers found ways to be vastly more efficient, and to substitute with power from biomass, biogas, and air, earth, sewer and ocean heat exchange. As the prices of oil and gas increased, they watched their competitors struggle with rising costs, while congratulating themselves for being ahead of the curve.
And there is music in the air. When it began, I do not know. I think it was as people began to spend more time in their neighbourhoods, digging their gardens, upgrading their homes, and brewing their own beer and blackberry wine. Out of greater friendships came more music, and more song.
Some still complain, but most people realize that something very profound is taking place – and while we are all still very worried about the future, we are also deeply glad.
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BC’S CARBON TAX
Almost everyone is praising the BC government for introducing a carbon tax, starting at $10 a tonne and rising to $30 by 2012.
Yes, it’s a good small first step, as long as we realize that even at $250 a tonne, it will not be enough to change our behaviour. That would add 58 cents to a litre to the price of gas, taking it to $1.71, which would still be below today’s average price in Europe at $1.85 a litre ($2.27 in Holland).
And throughout Europe, every road is still packed full of cars, because drivers love their cars.
In economic jargon, there is an “infinite elasticity of demand”, so most people will simply go on paying. Maybe when gas reaches $5 a litre we’ll begin to see real change - that would need a carbon tax at $2,000 a tonne. That may seem shocking, but with or without a carbon tax that is where we’re heading due to the reality of global peak oil.
By 2020, gas may be $12 a litre: this is what happens when a global commodity runs out. In addition to a carbon tax we need a steep windfall tax on oil industry profits, pouring the income into rail, transit, light rail, bus rapid transit, and thousands of miles of safe cycling routes.
AL GORE’S PROJECT IS COMING TO CANADA
As part of his Climate Project commitment, Al Gore has trained 2,000 people around the world (including 21 Canadians) to present a personalized and localized version of the slideshow on which An Inconvenient Truth is based. Following the initial U.S. training sessions, similar trainings have been held in Australia, Spain and the UK with more planned for India, China – and now Canada. From April 4-6 people across Canada from all walks of life will gather in Montreal, Quebec for a rare opportunity: to be trained by Al Gore to become one of 200 climate change presenters. If you are interested in applying, please see http://www.climateprojectcanada.org/indexen.html
THE JOURNEY TO ZERO WASTE
It’s the only rational, eco-intelligent goal - dumping our wastes in a hole in the ground is eco-barbaric.
San Francisco has set a goal to achieve zero waste by 2020, with 75% diversion by 2010. They have reached 69% so far, making them one of North America’s leaders. They use a 3-bin system – black for regular garbage; blue for paper, bottles, and cans which go to a state-of the art recycling facility; and green for food and yard waste, which is composted.
They use financial incentives, so the more a business recycles, the lower its garbage bill: the Fetzner winery has reduced its waste by 95%. They have banned the use of plastic bags and take-away Styrofoam food containers – restaurants must now use biodegradable, compostable or recyclable containers.
They have squads of friendly recycling missionaries who inspect people’s garbage and teach the gospel of recycling to any backsliders, and they have staffed the city’s recycling department with social activists, rather than engineers, which may be their real secret.
So how are we doing here? In 2006, the CRD set a goal of 85% diversion by 2020, with an intermediate goal of 60% by 2012. It looks good on paper, but in reality we have been recycling less every year since 1998, when we peaked at 42%.
By 2005 our waste diversion had fallen to 33%, with a small climb back to 34% in 2006. What to do? Learning from San Francisco would be a good start, with region wide recycling of compostables, “pay as you throw” fees and incentives, and block-by-block community education efforts.
Victoria’s Great Sewage Treatment debate continues as the CRD moves towards a decision, and the citizen-based Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition is making a big drive this month to help people learn more about what’s possible, with five showing of the film Crapshoot in different communities, followed by discussions (see Green Diary).
In Oslo, Norway, heat from the city’s sewers is piped through a hill to warm 9,000 apartments using heat pump technology, reducing heating costs by 50%. In Stockholm, 200 cars run on biogas from the city’s sewage works.
Here in Victoria, the engineer Stephen Salter, inspired by a visit to Sweden, has calculated that smart sewage treatment could power 200 buses with biodiesel and 5,000 cars with biogas, reducing CO2e emissions by 33,000 tonnes a year. See www.greatervictoriawaterwatchcoalition.ca
Earth Hour was created in Australia to take a stand against global warming, using the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a powerful message about the need for action. It has since taken off, and at 8pm on Saturday March 29th millions of people in many cities, including Copenhagen, Toronto, Chicago, Melbourne, Brisbane and Tel Aviv, will unite and switch off for Earth Hour.
What to do in the darkness? Maybe hold a candle-lit dinner party, and ask everyone to share their hopes, fears, and what they want to do to make a difference. You can also register yourself at www.earthhour.org.
Carpentry – Woodworking
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Harald Wolf 250-882-9653
TOP TEN CLIMATE SOLUTIONS - #5: ZERO CARBON BUILDINGS
Can we heat and cool our buildings without coal, oil or gas? This is one of the big global warming challenges. One solution is Zero Carbon Buildings - super-insulated, triple-glazed buildings that need almost no heat.
In Germany, 6,000 Passivhaus buildings use 90% less energy than the Germany average – 9-16 kWh per square meter instead of 160. In winter, they need no heat when it’s minus 10?C outside, and in summer when its 35?C outside it’s only 26?C indoors.
For heat, there are several options, including solar hot water; heat exchange from air, ground, water, and sewage; district heating using biogas from compost and sewage; solar hot water gathered in summer and stored underground for use in winter; biodiesel from wastes, algae, or seaweed; solar walls and catchments; super-efficient wood stoves, pellet stoves, wood gasification boilers and masonry heaters (in rural areas); and masonry night storage heaters that use off-peak green electricity.
The way to get there is by Green Building Codes that make it mandatory. Britain is requiring all new buildings and ten new towns to be zero carbon by 2016. Austin, Texas is requiring all new homes to be Zero Energy Capable by 2015 - 65% more efficient than the code, with protected roof space for solar PV and hot water.
BC’s new Green Building Code is to be published soon, but due to pressure from the building industry it is unlikely to go far enough. To make up for this, it must at least allow municipalities to create rules that exceed the Code: this is how the best pioneering progress is being made, by experimentation at the local level. This is how Spain came to have a law requiring solar hot water on all new buildings, for instance.
What about our existing buildings? This is a far bigger challenge. In Berkeley and San Francisco, every building is required to have an energy upgrade whenever it is sold, transferred, or renovated, which is a very smart move. By 2006, 12,000 Berkeley residences (30% of the building stock) had been upgraded, resulting in 25% - 50% less energy use.
Another approach is to get Energy Saving Companies (ESCOs) involved, financing the work from the energy saved. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a $100 million ESCO partnership is visiting all 23,000 buildings, offering free energy audits, and retrofits that can be financed through the energy savings.
Ann & Gord Baird’s solar thermal zero carbon cob house in the Highlands. www.eco-sense.ca
Utilities like BC Hydro can also play a role. Austin Energy provides free home-energy improvements to customers with low-to-moderate incomes and rebates for energy investments.
Seattle City Light has numerous programs to assist with energy upgrades, and in Colorado, Fort Collins Utilities provides Zero-Interest Loans for Conservation Help (ZILCH).
Retrofitting existing buildings to become Zero Carbon is a big challenge, especially for baseboard-heated homes that have no ducts or under-floor pipes to distribute green heat.
One big disadvantage in BC is our very low price of electricity, which removes the incentive for people to care. The higher the price of power, the more people care about efficiency and the less energy they waste – so increasing BC Hydro’s rates and using the income to support energy saving measures including targeted programs for low income households is a very sound approach.
THE GROWING FOOD CRISIS
Red wheat prices hit a record $25 a bushel at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange in February, before falling back to $20. This is the sign of hunger to come around the world, as poor people stare at the price of bread.
For prices to jump from $5 to $20 in a year is unprecedented. US wheat supplies are at a 60-year low, and global stocks at a 30-year low due to rising population, crop-failures due to climate change, and crop displacement due to biofuels. The $6 loaf has arrived, and may soon cost more.
It’s a sign to get into your garden and learn how to grow food. There are at 3 courses on offer this month – at the Victory Garden, Camosun, and the Compost Education Centre (see Diary).
SPIRITUALITY AND HOPE
On Saturday March 8th, I am leading a day workshop at Queenswood on Spirituality, Hope, and the Future of Our Planet. This is a chance to learn about the evolutionary tendency of all life to seek wholeness and order (syntropy), and how it plays out in evolution, in quantum theory, on the planet, and in our personal lives.
It is also a chance to explore how we can achieve a deeper alignment with the inner core of purpose that runs through the universe, and make it work for us in our lives as we seek to be of service to the world. For info, call me at 881-1304. To register ($60), click here: www.queenswoodcentre.com/programs/936/index.html or call 250-477-3822.
The Pinch Group
Connecting your money
with your values
There are rapid developments at the Spencer Road Interchange near Goldstream Park, where non-violent protesters are trying to prevent the loss of Garry oaks, wetlands and First Nations heritage to allow for the expansion of the Bear Mountain development. For regular updates, see http://treesit.blogspot.com.
They are putting their liberty on the line to stop this development, and need help with media contacts, police liaison, jail support, making speeches, hanging banners, distributing leaflets, holding signs for passing traffic, artistic installations, and taking video footage. If you can offer any help, call Zoe Blunt 885-8219 ZoeBlunt@gmail.com.
Anyone who walks or cycles alongside Victoria’s roadways know what a truly disgusting state they are in. In some places, there is scarcely a foot of roadside green space that it not befouled with junk food packaging, discarded coffee cups, beer cans, and assorted other litter.
Why it is that people who buy junk food feel entitled to toss the remains out of the window?
Across Canada, April 21-27 is Pitch-In Week, coordinated by a national non-profit society. Volunteer teams are registering now to take on small local projects that help pick up, clean up, reduce, re-use, and recycle. If you want to jump in and register a team of friends, neighbours or follow workers, click here: www.pitch-in.ca/Pitch-In.php.
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