Time has run out for the Harper Strategy on climate change.

I like to give Stephen Harper credit for this strategy because, in his trips to the Arctic, he so well exemplified it.  (I wrote about it in 2014, and again here🙂

If the goal is to keep climate change off the public agenda, the most effective strategy is not the ‘hard denialist’ strategy of rejection but the soft strategy of omission: saying as little as possible, preferably nothing, to keep the topic off the agenda.

As previously noted, that was the brilliance of Prime Minister Harper’s ninth Arctic trip in August, as observed by Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe:

“Nowhere in Canada is the impact of climate change more increasingly evident than the North. And yet, the words ‘climate change’ are never heard from Mr. Harper in the North, as if the idea they connote are so distasteful that he cannot bring himself to utter them.”

No denial, just no recognition.  And hence a standard for others in power to follow, whether politicians, business people or editors: serious people don’t have serious public concerns about climate change, so that decisions today need not take into account tomorrow’s probable reality.

The strategy works only so long as nothing too serious happens too frequently.  That results in fear, and then anger, and then bad things politically.  And then you have to say something.  If you have nothing substantial to say about climate change – because the whole strategy was never to do anything substantial – then you’re in trouble.  As George Bush quickly discovered in his indifferent response to Hurricane Katrina.

And as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison just found out.

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Amidst the Australian bushfires – an image too sad to seem real:  a firefigher and a koala, watching their forests burn next to a vineyard.

Apparently it is all too real. From a Guardian blog:

… the photo was taken at Lobethal on Friday while protecting homes. Two koalas wandered out of the bush seeking assistance.

“Up behind us there were a couple of houses under threat so we were working to protect them from ember attack and the firefront and they stepped out of the bush seeking help,” he said.

Adams said it was common for koalas to seek help from firefighters in these situations. The koalas were given water and moved to a safer location. Firefighters lost track of them and they were eventually forced to pull out of the property.

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In Building a Resilient Tomorrow, Alice Hill and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz have put together a superb primer on responding to the impacts of climate change. …

Particularly gripping is chapter 9, which focuses on relocating people in harm’s way. For years, the issue of displacement and relocation was something of a taboo subject in international climate debates, both because it is so sensitive and because solutions are not readily apparent. …

“Of all the hard lessons in this book, managing climate migration may be the hardest,” they argue …  “[t]he earlier we start, the easier, and less costly, and less traumatic building resilience will be.”

They don’t need to use the future tense anymore.

From the New York Times – Among the World’s Most Dire Places: This California Homeless Camp

 

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The posts today are like the weather: gloomy, but it’s the environment we live in.

The Washington Post just featured this report: The Arctic may have crossed key threshold, emitting billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback.

Mike Brown, who was a member of Vancouver’s Clouds of Change Task force 30 years ago (the first report by a municipality on climate change), has been doing analysis and raising questions with respect to Canada’s permafrost (and our responsibility) with urgency and trepidation.

Here is his update:

An article from the Washington Post is making its rounds today. Permafrost thaw has made the mainstream!

It refers to two reports* about the state of affairs.  Each says that there’s evidence that the annual net emissions (thaw in winter months minus growth in summer months) from the permafrost are now about .6 Pg of Carbon.  Here is a quote from the NOAA Arctic Report:

“ . . .  suggests that carbon release in the cold season offsets net carbon uptake during the growing season (derived from models) such that the region as a whole could already be a source of 0.6 Pg C per year to the atmosphere.”

Here is what the reports don’t mention.

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That head has to be a contender for a ‘most boring headline’ contest, right up there with the previous winner: ‘Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.’  Every word a snoozer, including ‘an’ and ‘for.’

For bonus points, it’s about a pumping station!

What makes the project worthy of attention is this:  “Although the pump station had a budget of $4.17 million through the provincial grant, the project actually came in $600,000 under budget.”

So what happened to the $600,000 they didn’t spend?

“Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced at the pump opening that the leftover funds would stay in the District of Kent for drainage.”

Kent saves money; Kent gets to keep money.

Here’s the part of the province we’re talking about:

This is a very soggy place; it was where the great flood of 1948 began.  Indeed, the District of Kent was incorporated … “for the reason of being able to borrow money so they could get drainage work done,” the mayor said. “It’s been something that we’ve always been working on for 125 years, and more than likely well into the future.”

Oh yeah, “well into the future” – as places like this are impacted by climate change in numerous and devastating ways.  The infrastructure costs to adapt and mitigate are going to be massive.  By rewarding Kent for making its millions go further, the Province is setting a precedent and sending a message: stretching dollars on infrastructure to deal with climate change is going to be worth your while.

 

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Last week I attended the International Road Safety Symposium that was hosted by UBC’s Integrated Safety and Advanced Mobility Bureau as well as by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This team brought in practitioners from Australia and the Netherlands, where policy work and research mirrors or is ahead of our local policy. A mix of physicians,  police officers , engineers and consultants presented and debated current issues and trends in road safety and active transportation, providing a very thoughtful discussion on how to make streets and roads safer for all users.

Speaker Dr. Fred Wegman is an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology and is the individual credited with the development of the “safe systems” approach, “based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network.”

It was Fred  that described the tremendous gains in the Netherlands where there has been a 49 percent reduction in fatalities/serious injuries with the safe systems approach. He also noted the importance of reducing speed as a basic tenet for safety, and that politically elected officials would not be reducing speed to save lives, but would be doing it for basic sustainability reasons. And tied into a greener, cleaner environment and the future, such speed reductions would be accepted nationally.

We didn’t need to wait long to hear the result of Fred’s prediction. The BBC News has just reported that  in 2020 “the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis” 

This information is still confidential, but the disclosed report suggests that the current speed limit of up to 130 km/h would be allowed only in  the night hours.

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Metro Vancouver has managed air quality in the region for decades. As part of this effort, we are refreshing our regional air quality and greenhouse gas management plan.

Join us to learn more about Metro Vancouver’s Clean Air Plan, how we are working to identify and prioritize actions needed to meet greenhouse gas and air quality targets for 2030 that will support the transition to a carbon neutral and climate resilient region by 2050.

  • John Lindner, Air Quality Planner, Air Quality and Climate Change, Metro Vancouver
  • Erik Blair, Air Quality Planner, Air Quality and Climate Change, Metro Vancouver
  • Sheryl Cumming, Project Engineer, Air Quality and Climate Change, Metro Vancouver

Register here.

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In early October the task force set up by the Metro Vancouver mayors came to a consensus and decided that an eight lane immersive tunnel would be the agreed upon option to replace the aging Massey Tunnel. The existing four lane Massey Tunnel still has another fifty years of service, but if used for transit would need seismic work for a one-in -475 year seismic event, and flood protection at entrances. Since these upgrades would be substantial, the task force examined five options, choosing the eight-lane tunnel. Two of the lanes of the tunnel would be dedicated for transit.

The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council will now review the report and the decision of the task force, and forward their recommendation to the Province. Under the previous Liberal government, the Province had more of a quick and dirty approach which favoured an expansive and overbuilt ten lane bridge with all the requisite overpasses and land usurping ramps. Using the immersive tunnel  technology allows for slope grades  that would allow transit lanes to be converted to rail in the future. While cost estimates were not discussed, it is suggested that the cost of this option is similar to building a bridge. Environmental impacts would result from excavating both river banks, as well as mitigating  damage to existing fish habitats. You can take a look at the report of  the Massey Crossing Task Force here.

While a smaller crossing  at the existing Massey Tunnel with a separate crossing of the Fraser River that aligned up to truck routes for Vancouver  port bound traffic may have made more sense, it appears that cost was a factor in the choice of one bigger tunnel. The fact that this proposed tunnel is being located on sensitive river delta that will be prone to future flooding also needs to be addressed.

This time the Province under the NDP government asked the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council to come to a consensus of what type of crossing would replace the existing Massey Tunnel. Of course a complete environmental assessment will also be necessary, expected to take a year to produce.

There’s no surprise that critics are decrying the fact that the previous Liberal provincial government’s massive bridge will not be built, throwing their hands up about the fact this could have been built faster. But while the previously proposed overbuilt bridge may have proceeded faster, the previous government had no plan on how to manage congestion on either side of the bridge. They never addressed the fact that traffic heading to Vancouver had to throat down to the two lane Oak Street Bridge. It was in many ways a pet project to produce jobs and votes, but did not have the supportive infrastructure to move increased projected traffic anywhere. It was also not supported by the Mayors’ Council with the exception of the Mayor of Delta who has been an outlier and port trucking traffic booster.

And that brings up the concept of induced demand. As described in this City Lab article,  induced demand “refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion”. 

There is also “Marchetti’s Constant” .

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