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Guy Dauncey, Editor
395 Conway Road, Victoria, BC
CANADA V9E 2B9
Tel (250) 881-1304
www.earthfuture.com

Executive director of The Solutions Project

 

 ECONEWS


Newsletter No. 46 - Serving Vancouver Island's Environmental Community - January 1996


CLIMATE CHANGE - ANOTHER WAKE-UP CALL

What's happening to the weather? The summer of '95 was the third warmest this century, with 1989 being the warmest and 1994 the second warmest on record. Globally, the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1980.

1995 was also the second worst year on the records for forest fires. From the Yukon to Quebec, fires consumed nearly 7 million hectares - an area the size of new Brunswick. There is hardly a day that passes without a record snowstorm, flood, drought or heat wave being reported from somewhere in the world. Insurance claims due to natural disasters were ten times greater in the 1980s than in the 1960s. Worldwide, there were 8 catastrophic windstorms in the 1960s, 14 in the 1970s and 29 in the 1980s. The insurance industry is seriously worried. If Hurricane Andrew (which cost the industry $16 billion) had gone 30 miles further north in 1992, the re-insurance industry would have been wiped out.

What is happening ? After several years of playing safe, the 2000 scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have now come out and said that yes, global warming is occurring. There is now a general consensus among the scientists that the higher temperatures projected for the next century will cause more frequent and intense heat waves, wide-scale ecological disruptions, a decline of agricultural production in the tropics and sub-tropics, and continued acceleration of sea-level rise (up to a meter in the next century). During the last year it has been proved that flowers and grasses are spreading rapidly in the north of Antarctica, and several of the continent's ice-sheets have melted. There is serious discussion of the consequences of the possible disintegration of the Antarctic ice-pack - if the ice-pack should slide off its rock-base into the ocean, the oceans would rise 74 meters, drowning most coastal cities and vast areas of agricultural land.

At the same time, we have to factor in the effects of UV penetration from the depleted ozone layer. In theory, December 31st 1995 is the last day CFCs can be manufactured in the USA - but in reality, US companies have negotiated loopholes which allow them to go on producing 60,000 tons a year (75% of the 1993 level). On top of that, there is so much smuggling of illegal CFCs going on, chiefly from the former Soviet bloc, that the market is flooded with contraband, and the market for recycled freon is also growing like crazy. In other words - the Montreal Accord has broken down.

Here in B.C. we face several distinct threats. Many species will not be able to tolerate the increased heat and, unable to migrate north fast enough, may die out. An increase in forest fires and pest damage, combined with the failure of seedlings to grow in the increased heat and high levels of UV exposure, could hit the forest sector. The fishing industry will also be hit. Already this summer increased river temperatures in the Fraser contributed to higher adult pre-spawning mortality rates and increased susceptibility to pathogens and parasites. The skiing industry may well be affected too.

So why is the media not giving serious attention to such a major global crisis, which has potentially catastrophic consequences ? Why do we find relevant stories tucked away in the back of the Times Colonist advertising section ? The normal answer is "scientific uncertainty". In the Dec '95 Harpers, Ross Gelbspan investigates the origins of this supposed "uncertainty". It stems in the main from five individual scientists who have been paid by oil and auto industry groups to produce friendly research disproving the "scare stories" about climate change. In the last year and a half, the Global Climate Coalition (an oil industry set-up) paid over $1 million to downplay the threat of climate change. The National Coal Association spent over $700,000 on the climate issue in 1992 and 1993. In 1993, the American Petroleum Institute paid $1.8 million to the PR firm of Burson-Marsteller, partly in an effort to defeat a proposed tax on fossil fuels. Together, the coal, oil and auto industries are lobbying governments furiously to prevent any action on climate change, using spurious science to help their cause. It is not by chance that critical information is being withheld - it is by a deliberate, well-financed campaign of misinformation. This has to be the single most serious environmental crisis the world is facing. Inside, EcoNews explores what it would take to address the issue seriously. This is an area where B.C. could play a global leadership role - but only if we are properly informed, and prepared to act.

Guy Dauncey

Sources : Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly #471; Climate Change Digest (Environment Canada); Scientific American Sept & Nov '95; Financial Times, Nov 1st; Sierra Club Climate Change Campaign; Harper's, Dec '95.


CLIMATE CHANGE - A SPECIAL ISSUE

The issue of climate change is so serious that it merits a detailed examination of the problem, and of possible solutions. If we do not address this one, we will be in deep water - literally ! The German government's panel on global climate change has warned that if emissions continue to grow at the current rate, the climate will be unbearable in 25 years. Professor Zimmerman, Chair of the group, said that global temperature only had to rise by 1.3 deg C before the upper level of the "tolerance window" for the "preservation of creation in its present form" had been reached.


FIRST, THE FACTS

Earth's atmosphere is only 70km thick - that's only the tiniest skim, into which we pour all our emissions. So far, there are 750bn tons of C02 in the atmosphere - we're adding an additional 8 billion tons a year. Carbon dioxide accounts for 80% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. 75% of this comes from our burning of fossil fuels, and 25% from deforestation, which releases the forests' stored C02. Methane accounts for 13% - 22% from landfills, 35% from oil and gas industry leakages, and 21.2% from livestock. Nitrous oxides account for 5.3% - 48.6% from fuel consumption (eg driving), 37.6% from the production of adipic and nitric acid, and 10.9% from chemical fertilizers. CFCs also play a major role - some estimate maybe as much as 25% of the overall warming picture. In Canada, total emissions of C02 came to 460,000 kilotonnes in 1990, fell to 452,000 KT in 1991 (the recession) and then increased by 6.6% to 482,000 KT in 1994. Here in BC, our 1990 emissions of 41,000 KT increased by 8.7% to 44,700 KT by 1994. That's right folks - we're still increasing, not decreasing !

So where do our own B.C. CO2 emissions come from ? 49% comes from transportation - cars, trucks, boats, trains and planes. 45% comes from stationary fuel sources (home heating, businesses, industry, etc); and 6% comes from direct industrial processes, such as cement production, lime production and 'stripped natural gas' (whatever that is).


WHAT'S OUR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION ?

Bob Martin (595-0655) has done some calculations to bring the numbers home. He has worked out that based on our use of home heating, travel, gas and electricity, a typical James Bay couple living in a condominium with no children, using natural gas for heat and hot water, walking, cycling or taking the bus to work, doing just 7,500 kilometres a year in a small compact car, and taking just one air trip to Winnipeg, would produce 7.7 tonnes of CO2 between them in a year. *7 tonnes ! * But wait - a family with two children living in a 2,600 sq ft house in Saanich, burning oil for their heat and hot water, with both parents driving to work separately in a =46ord Taurus and a Chrysler minivan, and taking one holiday air-trip to Britain, would produce 54.3 tonnes of CO2. So what if our Saanich family wanted to plant some trees to offset the CO2 they produce ? A fast-growing tree can absorb 50 to 75 kg of CO2 in a year, so they would need to plant between 725 and 1,000 trees *each year* to maintain an ecological balance. Yes, that's 3 trees every day. And that's just one family !


A 90% REDUCTION IN CO2 EMISSIONS - ARE YOU MAD ?

No - not mad. I've just analyzed the data. Our current emissions of CO2 are 27% above the pre-industrial norm. The 2000 scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) say that if we want to limit our global greenhouse gas emissions to 50% above the pre-industrial level, we will need to reduce today's emissions by 66%. The Third World still has a huge amount of development ahead, however, so the industrial nations need to increase their share to 80%. But we are already seeing considerable disturbances in our weather patterns at 27% above the pre-industrial norms, and heaven protect us from what 50% above would be like - so a 90% cut is really more sensible. The current goal countries have committed themselves to is stabilization at 1990 levels by the year 2000. For Canada, where we have increased our CO2 emissions by 2% per year since 1991, this will involve an 10% cut - or to *reduce * emissions by 2% per year. But as the data shows, this will be nowhere near sufficient : we will still be pouring far too much CO2 (and other gases) into the atmosphere. In order to achieve a 90% cut by the year 2020, we will need to reduce our emissions by 9% per year - starting today (11% if we wait till the year 2000). This means serious change !


WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE ?

(1) TRANSPORTATION

Let's take the CRD, with its 300,000 people. For each 200,000 car trips made daily, we would need to reduce this by 90%, down to 20,000 - or 40,000, if we assume the cars are all twice as fuel efficient. Could it be done ?

(a) An LRT network could take 30,000.
(b)
A hugely increased bus service could take an extra 40,000.
(c)
30,000 people could enjoy the by-now fresh clean air, and travel by bike on a network of safe cycle paths.
(d)
20,000 people could choose to work from home, which is reckoned to be 25% more productive than commuting to work in a normal office.
(e)
20,000 could walk to work, school, or the shops - this assumes that they now live in neighbourhoods that have been redesigned with active neighbourhood centres within easy walking distance of people's homes.
(f)
10,000 could car-share in 1/4 of the cars that are still being used.
(g)
10,000 could travel by new mini-solar-hydrogen vehicles, which are good for short trips. This is already underway - in the French city of Tour, in 1996, Peugeot-Citro=EBn will be developing a scheme of self-drive electric mini-taxis, called the Tulip. Key in your membership number, and drive it away !
(h)
40,000 could still use their cars, assuming that every car is now twice as fuel efficient.

Total : 200,000 trips.


HOW COULD IT BE DONE ?

Firstly, it would require a major investment to build the LRT routes, create the bike routes and expand the bus service. The best way to finance this is through increased taxation on vehicle use, by doubling the price of gas at the pump to European levels. This has two effects - it encourages people to buy far more fuel efficient vehicles, and it brings in the income which can be then poured into public transport.

It would also innovations such as trip reduction by-laws (already being done in Washington State and LA); a feebate system for cars, which uses a fee on fuel-inefficient cars to provide a rebate for efficient ones; cycle allowances for employees; replacing the mandatory parking requirements at places of work with mandatory showers and bike lockers; changing road engineering priorities to emphasize reducing car traffic, instead of accommodating it; insisting that every city engineer MUST cycle in to work at least twice a month; giving all employees monthly transport allowances of (eg) $125 a month, then charging them $125 for parking, and selling off the parking space as employees reckon they'd be better of pocketing the $125 and cycling in to work; providing tax incentives for companies which develop telecommuting programs; making bus shelters far more attractive, with sheltered seats, electronic timetables (*any * timetable would be good !), bedding plants and sculptures; and - wait for this - including the price of an annual transit pass in our municipal taxes and then letting everyone travel on the busses for free, sending the extra income direct to BC Transit.

To redesign our neighbourhoods so that there are attractive neighbourhood centres within easy walking distance of every home would require changes in OCPs and zoning bylaws, and active participation by community groups. If the number of cars on the roads is going to be reduced by 90%, many roads could be made much narrower, and side-streets near the neighbourhood centres could be turned into Dutch-style 'Woonerf' streets, where cars are either not allowed, or have to travel at a walking speed. Trees and shrubs could be planted, village ponds created, allotment gardens dug out of the boulevards, and complete new urban landscapes created, which would be far more attractive, and safe for kids.

For new settlements, we need a Climate Change Bill which states that they will only be approved if they follow planning principles designed to reduce CO2 emissions by 90%.


WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE ?

(2) HEATING AND ENERGY

Q : Can we achieve a 90% reduction in the use of fossil fuels for residential and commercial heating without getting cold?

A : Well, let's give it a try ! Oil and natural gas are equally bad when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas releases 24% less C02 than oil, but it has a methane leakage rate of 1-2%, and methane is 22 times more powerful than C02 as a greenhouse gas - so that puts it back on the level, alongside oil. When the gas industry tells you the birds sing more sweetly when you use natural gas - don't believe them. It's not true. The transition to non-fossil-fuel heating will come from energy efficiency retrofits and from the use of renewable energy. We could easily retrofit every building in B.C. if we wanted to. It could be done by a partnership involving BC Hydro, home-builders, and local finance institutions, financed by the savings on future energy bills. It would generate several thousand jobs and put several hundred million dollars into the BC economy every year. Legally, it could be done through an Energy Retrofit Bill that created a legal requirement for every house to be retrofitted before sale as of the year 2000.

A carbon/methane tax on fossil fuels would increase the incentive to retrofit, and generate revenues which could be ploughed into rebates for solar appliances, ground source heat pumps, and other renewable energy technologies. Solar energy is falling in unit price all the time, and we can hasten the arrival of the "cross-over point" where solar becomes cheaper than gas and oil by changing the price signals.

Germany has a "1000 Roofs" programme, launched in 1990, which has resulted in 3,000 houses being fitted with solar panels so far, with the government paying 70% of the cost. In Aachen, Germany, every electricity consumer pays an extra 1% on their bill into a solar fund, which is used to subsidize anyone who exports surplus solar energy into the grid. 34 more German and Swiss cities are now in the process of following suit. In Japan, the Sunshine Project is aiming for 60,000 new houses to be fitted with photovoltaics every year by the year 2000. By guaranteeing Japanese PV manufacturers a domestic market, they hope to create a break-through into the developing world market. The cost of photovoltaic cells has fallen 4-fold in the last ten years; once it becomes competitive, builders will roof houses with photovoltaic roof-tiles, enabling small electric vehicles to be powered by the surplus fuel. Within 20 years, it is even possible that roads could be surfaced with PV cells, instead of tarmac.

Resources : Louise Comeau, Director, Climate Change Campaign, Sierra Club of Canada, 620-1 Nicholas St, Ottawa, Ont K1N 7B7 (613) 241-4661 Fax (613) 241-2292 Email : sierra@web.apc.org.ca   To get involved, and receive the Climate Change Informer, send a donation ! For information on BC's climate change response, call Ric Williams, Ministry of Environment, 387-3607. NB : This is a huge and complex issue, and this short coverage inevitably misses many key issues. Our apologies !


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EcoNews, Guy Dauncey
395 Conway Road, Victoria V8X 3X1
Tel/Fax (250) 881-1304

Available free by mail or email

Author of 'After the Crash : The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy'
(Greenprint, London, 1988. 3rd edition 1997)

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