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
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 ?
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
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
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 : firstname.lastname@example.org
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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Author of 'After the Crash : The
Emergence of the Rainbow Economy'
(Greenprint, London, 1988. 3rd edition 1997)
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