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Photo by Ike louie Natividad on

Transportation and Land Use Planner Eric Doherty in The Observer has written a thoughtful piece that drills down on the “Climate Emergency”. Earlier this month Canada endorsed the global “Green New Deal” which aims to halve greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in eleven years.

There are two main causes of GHG in Canada~transportation and the oil & gas industries. Doherty makes a convincing argument that transportation, “the second largest source of GHG pollution in Canada, must not be ignored.”  

We must be politically prudent in having the discussion about the impact of vehicle pollution on climate change. And that will require a complete shift at the federal and provincial levels in terms of what is funded and why, and ensuring that link between GHGs and vehicle use is recognized in effective policy to mitigate climate change. We simply need to stop building roads.

The biggest driver of increased GHG pollution in transportation has been government spending on road and highway expansion in and near urban areas. Governments understand full well that expanding highways results in more traffic and climate pollution. The 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (the federal-provincial climate agreement) already commits the federal and provincial governments to shift spending away from things that increase carbon pollution, such as urban highways and airport expansion, to low-carbon transportation including public transit, walking and cycling. However, both federal and provincial governments are largely ignoring this commitment.”

With transportation increasing GHG pollution by 43 percent between 1990 and 2017, public spending on highways increase air pollution. Commuting leads to health problems and isolation.

Doherty identifies several ways to mitigate the transportation GHG impacts.

Firstly electric trains and buses can provide connectivity to small towns. Existing rail services can be overhauled and converted to electric power, which Doherty notes most everyone else has already done. This conversion could also employ workers in the traditional oil & gas industries.

Transportation equity for rural areas and for seniors, First Nations and low income people must also be paramount. These are populations of people travelling to medical appointments, education opportunities and to good and services that simply have little available public transportation options that are accessible and affordable. Providing transportation alternatives also lessens traffic congestion and creates more cohesive rural communities.

Doherty states: ” Efforts to reduce climate pollution from transportation have the potential to make our communities safer, more just, and more prosperous. These improvements can largely be paid for by re-allocating funds from destructive projects and fossil fuel subsidies.

Already vehicle ownership in Quebec has declined by 20 percent in five years among men between 16 and 20 years old. While policy may still be pushing for highway expansion, the younger demographic’s choices suggest that more convenient public transit, wider and comfortable sidewalks and truly protected bike lanes are more usable and appropriate.

“Car traffic quickly expands to fill expanded road space in urban areas, but traffic contracts just as quickly when road space is no longer available to motor vehicles. When you make a car lane into a bus lane, a protected bike lane or more space for pedestrians, car traffic disappears.”

As Doherty bluntly concludes : “The Green New Deal can make our cities and towns healthier, more just and prosperous, and happier places to live. The other choice is to stay on the expressway to extinction we are on.”



  1. CO2 is now pollution ? The climate lies know no end.

    There is no climate emergency, or climate crisis, or “climate breakdown”. It’s socialism, coated green, for better market appeal rather than formerly communist red.

    Why not tax SOx, NOx, diesel soot, coal dust or methane ? But CO2, a harmless gas good for plant growth?

    Reducing CO2 output by 50% in Canada, esp in 11 years in an immigration country with a cold climate and vast distances is an UTTER illusion. It’s pure fantasy. Even if it is accomplished, a great cost to society and a vastly reduced standard of living here in Canada, it does nothing on a planetary level as Canada is such a small country, dwarfed by China, India, US, German etc CO2 output.

    No more travel to Mexico, Hawaii or Palm Springs ? Sorry folks, the tax paying populace will NOT go for that and does not buy into the hype either

    -deleted as per editorial policy-

    1. The environment is the economy.
      As someone recently said: “If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

    2. I guess lots of CO2 is awesome… if you’re a plant. And I admit I am starting to suspect some climate change skeptics may have the intelligence of a potato — so perhaps they speak from a position of self-interest. But regardless, I like my air breathable and my planet inhabitable… for all creatures.

      Glad the official spokesperson for all taxpayers is here to quell my crazy idea that people will make changes to improve their children’s chances to adequately respond to the very real, non-socialist — mostly created by capitalism — climate emergency that is being declared in many jurisdictions around the world. The fact this is already happening is probably fake news to some I guess. Regardless, many people consciously limit or eliminate unnecessary GHG emissions, or seek ways to offset their impacts already, so perhaps it is simply a question of the company one keeps?

      Personally, I wonder how humanity survived so long without a winter trip to somewhere warm? It is after all a recent phenomenon — confined to the middle classes and above, and is a manufactured desire for people who aren’t smart enough to make their lives enjoyable where they live. Consumerist ‘vacation’ travel is facade designed to make profits for the travel industry and make you feel bad if you don’t blow half your time off in airports and flying cattle pens. It is as necessary as teats on a bull.

      Of course a carbon tax helps reduce other gases and particulates, simply by encouraging lower consumption and higher efficiencies with the fuels we do use, but don’t let logic ruin a perfectly idiotic position. We also have strict measures to control and limit those additional pollutants already. It’s a red herring and erroneous to uncouple all the benefits that accompany a carbon tax.


      Don’t look to well-off people with skin in the fossil fuel game to offer solutions, or even have the good manners to STFU and get out of the way of those who wish to tackle real issues in a substantive fashion. They never have and never will understand that the world isn’t a meal to be consumed, but a living thing to be cared for. To speak plainly, they are the enemy. To be frank, it is harmful to give them a voice. It pains me to see productive dialogue in this forum overrun by a Negative Nelly hijacking every conversation to spew nonsense.

      1. Chris, that’s a really mean thing to say – and completely unfair. Everything I’ve ever heard come from a potato has displayed more intelligence than from a climate change denier. Potatoes are evidence based.

        A more apt comparison would be with flat-earthers. They’re on the same level. I’ve never heard of a potato that thinks the earth is flat either.

        They know.

      2. “Glad the official spokesperson for all taxpayers is here to quell my crazy idea that people will make changes to improve their children’s chances to adequately respond to the very real, non-socialist — mostly created by capitalism — climate emergency that is being declared in many jurisdictions around the world. The fact this is already happening is probably fake news to some I guess. ”

        But they don’t make those changes Chris. Case in point the electoral defeat of the NDP in Alberta and the Liberals in Ontario. Most recently how the Labour Party in Australia went from leading the polls to electoral defeat. People say they want to do something about climate change when it is a moral issue but when it comes down to being an economic issue, they vote with their wallet.

        Regardless, 50% in 11 years is so unattainable as to be ridiculous.

        1. Doing the right thing and understanding that you should do the right thing are very different things. Conservatives berate alcoholics or drug addicts even when they are among them. It’s easy to be lazy. It serves no positive purpose to be lazy.

          Conservative propaganda plays on our unwillingness to better ourselves. They’re very good at it.


        2. As I say it may hinge on the company u keep. Some dream big and act. Others spend a lot of time saying things aren’t possible.

          The respective track records of achievement of these cohorts tend to be the proof in the pudding to mangle two metaphors.

          Regardless, action or inaction is an individual choice — one need not follow the herd if it is one’s desire to effect change, and is in fact a bad strategy.

          Heavier than air powered flight was a fantasy until two bike mechanics proved otherwise. Believing naysayers is a losing position in the long run.

          The future will demand we be made of sterner stuff. Each individual must decide if they are up to it, but big change is never impossible. Just inconvenient.

    3. Swinging for the fences, Thomas. Clearly you are the only person in the world who knows the truth. Every scientist in the world is a dope.

      1. Apparently I am not the only person. Many MANY skeptical scientists. There is no 97% “consensus” about what actions to take. See comment below for ever more folks waking up to “climate doom” hype and the associated costs of energy schemes allegedly saving the planet.

      2. You are not the only person Thomas. There are people out there who believe in a flat earth as well. That doesn’t mean that we should give them the time of day. Better to label them for what they are.

        There is no need for debate on whether the climate is changing and we are the primary cause, we are well past that. There is reason for debate on what actions to take. A healthy debate would be on approach A vs approach B. Your position of doing nothing is being laughed at.

        In between your rants about socialism, and reading your favourite discredited bloggers like Judith Currie, why not check out the NASA website? They have a nice graphic on scientific consensus for you.

  2. Doing the right thing and understanding that you should do the right thing are very different things. Conservatives berate alcoholics or drug addicts even when they are among them. It’s easy to be lazy. It serves no positive purpose to be lazy.

    Conservative propaganda plays on our unwillingness to better ourselves. They’re very good at it.


  3. As daily news headlines become ever more catastrophic or desperate, hyping climate fears based on utterly unproven and often wrong projections, the international public is becoming increasingly wary of claims of alleged impending climate doom using terms such as “climate crisis”, “climate breakdown” or “climate emergencies”.

    Voters in more and more developed countries are saying “enough is enough” to high energy prices or CO2 taxes that punish the most vulnerable but do nothing to control the weather.

    The latest was the Australia election result (or Ontario for that matter) among all the excessive hype there .. echoed around the world ie folks waking up to the extreme costs of many proposed measures

    The undebated issues, or certainly grossly under-debated, are the vast benefits of cheap energy over the last 125+ years ie human progress in living standards, health, longevity .. and the implications if energy prices are vastly increased that those same benefits still materialize.

    While living without diesel trucks, diesel tractors, diesel combines, kerosene burning airplanes or oil burning ships is certainly theoretically feasible it is not even remotely doable today to produce food for 8B people daily and provide them with goods and services at low prices.

    1. That many people don’t like the solutions isn’t proof that the science is wrong. Even potatoes know that.

    2. Beyer would have us believe that he is smart. But just how dumb do you need to be to fail to grasp the concepts of “today” versus “three decades from now”? Pretty dumb I’d say. Five year olds would know the difference even if they can’t imagine three decades. They probably even understand that technologies advance. Most ten year olds get that society changes too.

      Not Beyer.

      Beyer can’t visualize the future. Any future. He can only visualize the present moving unchanged year after year. No wonder there will be no climate problems in the future. The future is the present only later. Until he is able to grasp what any ten year old knows he’s not going to have compelling arguments about what 2050 could bring.

    3. Yep, the impossible takes a little longer and requires some minor sacrifices on the part of the ‘haves’. It’s not for everybody. Those that can’t manage it might best help by shutting up and getting out of the way while the rest of us take on the heavy lifting.

      Whether or not that scenario frightens you or not is irrelevant. Whether you believe it or not is beside the point. We deal in reality and the reality is we must begin asap to address the issues we face. Anything else is cowardice.

      It would be a terrible thing to stain one’s family name through inaction in the face of crisis. Esp. on the internet, where our opinions and proclamations stick around to haunt us.

      Scaredy-cats trying to hobble those willing to put in the effort. It’s the Little Red Hen, writ large.

      Geez, go build a bunker somewhere and let the rest of us get on with it.

  4. “The Green New Deal” is not strictly about land use and transportation planning. It is a much
    grander vision that imagines a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy and infrastructure. The problem looks like this: There are nearly 1,400 new coal-fired electricity plants in the works worldwide. The world will continue to use 30 per cent oil, 30 per cent coal-fired electricity, and 30 per cent natural gas.

    We can not shift much from fossil fuels by restricting car use on roads. And we are not building roads in Vancouver anyway unless we count the road building proposals for NEFC. We can do something much more important however than playing around with road use, we can change the energy mix of road users by building new electric vehicles in BC using clean hydro energy. That would be a good step in the right direction, a Green New Deal.

    Switching to electric vehicles is only a small step because the use of fossil fuels is pervasive in nearly all aspects of our material lives. Planners do not work in these other areas. To effect broader change, we need revolutions in the means of production supporting our consumer life styles, either that or change our life styles instead for which there is likely faint hope.

    1. Why be so limited? This crisis needs all hands on deck. All solutions must be on the table.

      VKT *is* falling in most developed countries (and in Vancouver) because people are moving to cities where transportation options exist. Increasingly those options are electric. Young people aren’t buying into motordom like their parents did.

      A century ago humans flew for the first time and within decades it was becoming normal for hundreds of people to fly transcontinental. Today electric planes are flying. What do future decades hold for non-fossil fueled flight? Jets are already airlines are flying on biofuels. We’ll do better than that.

      EVs of all kinds are easy for all ground transportation. All we need is scale.

      Renewable energy projects are competing with coal for cost. It’s terrible that new coal plants are still being built but we can’t use it as an excuse – it just makes our challenges harder. People in developing nations will never emit as much CO2 as we have done. It is up to us to show a better way and help them get there.

      We are building buildings that use 10% of the heating/cooling energy of those built a decade ago. Economic to heat and cool with electric heat pumps. No fossil fuels required.

      Industry is learning new techniques to reduce fossil fuels and developing new materials to replace high carbon materials like steel.

      There’s no reason why farming can’t be electrified. Westerners are eating less meat.

      There are advances in efficiencies in shipping and more will come. Biofuel/electric hybrids?

      There are people who say it can’t be done. They are usually the same people who say it doesn’t need to. We have no time for them.

        1. I agree. He uses phrases like “it’s not remotely possible today” about 2050 and “rebuilding infrastructure that took 125-150 years” when we don’t have to. He discounts everything that has already been accomplished as if it doesn’t exist so he can fall back on his tired old arguments.

          I wonder how long he’ll keep it up. Will he still be saying it can’t be done after it is? I suspect so.

  5. Personally I’d like to see what Thomas is saying that’s getting turfed. It’s not that I’m a climate change denier, but it’s good to see what arguments are out there and get practice utterly demolishing them.

    1. It isn’t typically Thomas’ denier claims that are deleted from what I have seen, but rather personal attacks. Sometimes against the editors of this private site.

      Several of Thomas’s nonsensical claims about GHG and climate change are still there in the posts above.

      He follows a traditional pattern:
      First, deny it is happening (what warming?)
      Second, deny humans are the cause or that we contributed to it. (Attack any discussion around consensus)
      Third, deny it is a problem (CO2 is a benefit…..)
      Fourth, deny that we can fix it (Reducing CO2 output is fantasy….)
      Fifth, claim that it is too late so why bother. (Canada’s contribution is so small we should just give up….)

      Thomas makes claims under all of the above categories. Sort of a shotgun approach.

    2. I’m glad you’re getting something out of it, because I don’t see the need to argue. We don’t need 100% of the population to agree (nor do we need perfect understanding of the phenomenon) before we take action.

      That said, I think it’s important to be respectful of individuals and groups and allow people to speak their mind. Polarization is bad news:

      When a huge chunk of the population are conservative, turning climate denial into a core conservative position is a very bad idea. I realize that has been a political strategy of those who are most responsible for the problem, but we don’t have to do their dirty work for them.

      Thomas puzzles me. But I know someone who is intelligent, informed and caring who has simliar views. I don’t argue about it – what’s the point? I think he may be softening on his own; one thing that seems to be making him hold out is the lack of respect from the other side. If they don’t respect him, if they play fast and lose with the truth (it does happen), if it’s an ideological cudgel they use against their opponents (as it is for many) – why should he believe them?

  6. Geof has a good point.

    Thomas’s post is scientifically illiterate. There are no references to any peer-reviewed research published in reputable science journals that backs the assertion that CO2 in large and increasing quantities over time is always good for the planet’s millions of plant communities. One can once again play whack-a-mole on cherry-picked factoids about climate change, or simply check the evidence.

    On this subject there is a plethora of choices within rich sources of evidence, from the limits to CO2-stimulated plant growth beyond which plants decline (e.g. heat stress, water stress, disruption of the O2-CO2 nighttime-daytime exchange, the known heat-absorption properties of CO2 and so forth), not to mention CO2-caused ocean acidification and water column heating, glacial melt and so on.

    The laws of physics are not on Thomas’s side. So that leaves contrarianism for the sake of being contrary. Thomas’s argument is too-easily refuted to invest an inordinate amount of time on . Nonetheless, continuing to accept Thomas at the table provides a useful foil to the debate and sharpens one’s own thinking on the subject, and provides practice in retaining civility even when debating the nuances of claptrap.

  7. Eric Doherty’s article provides an excellent primer for a ‘rail map’ toward sustainability.

    I have always thought that Canada has great potential for new trans-national, intercity, regional and urban rail in all its permutations. Most rail corridors are still intact as land assemblies, if not in use (primarily freight rail today). One thinks of the currently derelict E&N Railway corridor on Vancouver Island joining the centres of the towns and cities along eastern shore’s major population corridor, the former BCR (now CN) from North Vancouver to Prince George, and of course the heavily-used CNR, CPR and BNR freight corridors.

    In all cases hundreds of former small town stations on the mainline routes could be resurrected, and that would no doubt help repopulate and revive the towns, many with beautiful 19th Century buildings in walkable town centres (e.g. rural Manitoba on the CPR mainline). That would require separating freight rail from a new, modern passenger service within the corridors.

    In some cases, new commuter rail routes would need to be built and it makes ultimate sense to involve Indigenous communities as full partners in their conception, development, implementation and operations. I am glad to see Eric’s acknowledgement of this very useful tool toward reconciliation. One can see the irony of changing a former sword (settlement of the West through railways and the resulting cultural devastation) into a ploughshare.

    Electrifying the railways is also promoted in Eric’s piece, but there is little discussion on the separation of passenger and freight tracks and electrical infrastructure, or the possibility of using the historic and new rail corridors for the transmission of clean, renewable electricity across the land as part of a national smart grid. The corridors offer a convenient tie-in with directly adjacent potential wind power facilities on farms and First Nations land, therein bringing permanent jobs and revenue to farmers and Indigenous communities.

    There are some significant advances in stationary, scaleable district-sized power storage batteries in the works that are tailor-made for intermittent wind and solar power developments. One promising unit is the long-lasting liquid metal battery using cheap, common base materials (like magnesium and liquid salt electrolyte, but not solids like lithium which degrade faster and which may eventually present supply constrictions in politically unstable regions) being developed at MIT by a Canadian materials engineer.

    When thought of in national terms, one should not dismiss 350 kilometre-per-hour high-speed rail out of hand. Electric HSR would be fairly affordable to build incrementally over the long-term in the market offered by the 10-million person Vancouver-Seattle-Portland corridor, on the flat Prairies, and the 15-million person Windsor-GTA-Montreal-Quebec City corridor, with additional potential connection points across the US border. It would offer direct competition to flight within provincial boundaries, notably by its attribute as a downtown-to-downtown service and high per-train capacity. Stepping down from the HSR point locus at stations in major cities to connect with increasingly fine-grained networks of regional then local rail is easily conceived.

    Sweden is developing a national semi high-speed passenger rail network that is a step below the bullet trains of mainland Europe, Japan and China. As part of the project they worked with Bombardier on the development of a much greener trainset with a long operating life, high passenger seating design flexibility and capacity, resilient and widely recyclable long-lasting materials like stainless steel, better energy conservation and a design suitable for a very cold climate.

    A similar program could be initiated in Canada if the feds would unbury their heads from the tar sands and act like adults on fighting climate change with genuine projects instead of taking an entire 4-year election cycle to enact a simple carbon tax while only taking a matter of days to buy a pipeline for the export of unprocessed diluted bitumen and 319,000 tonnes of CO2 per tanker, all the while issuing reams of rhetoric about fighting climate change. The feds and most provinces are a collective of embarrassing contradictions.

    The above ideas dovetail quite nicely with Globe journalist Doug Saunders’ research on accommodating a slight increase in immigration to eventually build a sustainable, self-supporting domestic economy and stabilize emissions in our cities, and to lower Canada’s egregiously high per capita energy consumption and emissions rates (we are the pigs of the planet) with a similar plan as the Green New Deal. His idea is to improve the energy conservation attributes in existing and new buildings, expand electric rail used to catalyze the urbanization of the suburbs (I would add that high quality and human-scale urban design is crucial), to provide a wide selection of alternatives to the almighty car and asphalt politics, and to establish market gardens and farms in greenbelts around our cities to ensure food sources no longer have extraordinarily long and insecure supply chains. This was elucidated in his book ‘Maximum Canada,’ a most fascinating read for all urbanists.

    1. Maximum Canada = Maximum Debt ?

      Rail makes sense in urban centers with high density but not across the vast sprawling country, say Vancouver-Calgary or even Vancouver-Seattle. Work on E-Bus concepts instead, or even hyperloop or cleaner planes.

      Also see California’s abandoned fast rail project with far more people.

      Europe (or Japan) has rail systems because it was built before buses or cars existed, in the early 18th century. Plus far shorter distances and far more people.

      1. Increasing the efficiency of transportation and marrying it to efficacious land use and urbanism will result in orders-of-magnitude lower operating costs. It’s kinda chicken & egg: don’t make the capital investments and we’ll continue paying through our noses on the operations and external costs of inefficient car dependency, such as remediation of pollution and environmental degradation, healthcare costs after car accidents, litigation in the public legal system and much more.

        Perhaps you also missed the point Eric made about redirecting existing funding lines from airports and freeways toward public transit and energy conservation. I suggest an incremental approach to afford a defined transition period.

        One topic not covered is the costs of liquid fossil fuel depletion. The biggest and cheapest conventional oil reserves have been in decline for years. Recent data from Aramco indicates Saudi Arabia and the largest supergiant oilfield on the planet has been on a plateau for a few years. The five shale formations in the US are not going to underpin lower world oil prices forever with hyperactive debt and production oversupply to make the debt payments. In fact, Canadian geoscientist David Hughes did the math using industry’s own production and drilling data and discovered the egregious decline rates of solid rock geology. You can only frack so much. Two of the five have already plateaued, and all five are expected to be in full decline before 2025. Supply … demand … you can guess what will happen to the price at the pump and the fuel surcharges on airline tix in the early ’20s.

        The HSR systems we see today in the EU and Asia did not evolve before the car. But yes, their railways evolved in the 19th Century and their basic urban form before that. Canadian railways followed close behind, but the urban form was shotgun married to the car after WWII. However, the RR rights-of-way are still largely intact, which diminishes the land assembly costs of new intercity rail infrastructure using the same corridor (e.g. the Expo Line and the old BCER and Interurban). The land assembly comprising the ~240 km E&N corridor on the Island is still perfectly intact and was worth $330 million in the 2016 annual audit. That is a sunk cost that will never be paid again, unless they do something stupid like sell it off and double down on expanding highways just as oil is set to rise to higher than ever levels.

        Further, the metro systems in EU and Asian cities are largely underground to protect the dense urban form that evolved before the car, and that is expensive. By comparison Canadian cities have spent 70 years wastefully devoting almost 40% of their land to cars. Think about the surface transit capacity of many (but not all) arterials in the Metro. Then think about the above comment on sunk costs. One high-capacity LRT train on a dedicated surface median (already paid for land) can displace 300 cars every 3-10 minutes. One high-capacity subway can displace 300 cars every minute. You hopefully get the picture.

      2. E-buses do have potential. But we already have a great electric trolley legacy system in Vancouver. With imagination one can envision grid-based electric buses and trucks on the highways.

        Some solutions are simple and effective but not very sexy. Some secondary bus routes have major destinations or are just very busy, therein a good number of passengers are travelling relatively long distances on a non-express, stop-and-start service. Running half the buses on a route using ordinary diesel buses while making only limited, express stops — kinda like a secondary-level B-Line service — could prove to be very effective. #25 UBC-Brentwood and some longer Kingsway routes come to mind. Perhaps Main Street too.

        Hyperloop? Dream on. There are well-developed technologies already out there.

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