Climate Change
May 23, 2019

Eric Doherty, The New Green Deal & the Missing Link

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.

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Like some unprecedented mass shooting, it’s the kind of record-breaking news one tends to think twice about discussing at the breakfast table.

As reported by Popular Science, among many other media outlets, late last week the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured carbon levels in the atmosphere at 415 parts per million. That’s more than 100 ppm higher than any point in almost 1 million years’ worth of atmospheric data available.

For nearly a million years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have maintained an average of about 280 ppm, not going above 300 ppm or below 160 ppm…the latest human-caused warming event is occurring over just a couple of centuries, which is so quick in comparison that the trend line appears vertical as it approaches today.

Do we actually still need to wonder why this is happening?

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In David Wallace-Well’s worthwhile and worrying book on climate change – “The Uninhabitable Earth” – he writes this:

The United States Geological Survey… recently “war-gamed” an extreme weather scenario they called “ARkStorm”: winter storms strike California, producing flooding in the Central Valley three hundred miles long and twenty miles wide, and more destructive flooding in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Bay Area up north, altogether forcing the evacuation of more than a million Californians …

Hard to get your head around the idea of evacuating a million people in sudden and stormy circumstances.  Unless you’re Indian, in the impoverished state of Odisha hit by a severe cyclone :

… the authorities, sobered by past tragedies, moved a million people to safety, really fast.  …

On Thursday morning, Odisha government officials released a five-page action plan. They seemed to have left nothing uncovered. The most important part was to get people to the shelters. Since Odisha has been hit by many killer storms, state emergency officers said they had drilled on their evacuation plans many times. …

Krishan Kumar, an officer in the Khordha district of the Odisha government, said the government’s success reflected an accumulated wisdom.

How likely is it that California could do the same? Maybe.  Maybe they have the plans, the training, the experience – and the generals.  Those in charge, those accountable, those with the mandate and resources to face the threat and mobilize people – as Odisha did.

People in the sustainability community tend not to be fans of the idea that we need generals – and should be including them now in our ‘Climate Emergency’ strategies.  But when it comes to evacuating a million people in response to climate emergencies, how could you do without them?

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“In a lot of ways it was the best apartment I’d ever had. Partly just the proximity to the ocean…”

For lovers of cheeky dystopian thrillers and urban planners alike…

Written and directed by Nate Sherman and Nick Voley, Wet City is a series of shorts from Adult Swim which begs the important question: What would life be like if Amazon tried expanding into New York City after the polar ice caps have melted?

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Munich Re (the insurer’s insurer) may have more impact on society’s response to climate change than scientists and legislators.

From The Guardian:

Insurers have warned that climate change could make cover for ordinary people unaffordable after the world’s largest reinsurance firm blamed global warming for $24bn (£18bn) of losses in the Californian wildfires.

Ernst Rauch, Munich Re’s chief climatologist, told the Guardian that the costs could soon be widely felt, with premium rises already under discussion with clients holding asset concentrations in vulnerable parts of the state. …

After comparing observational data spanning several decades with climate models, the report concluded that the wildfires, which killed 85 people, were “broadly consistent with climate change”.

Nicolas Jeanmart, the head of personal insurance, general insurance and macroeconomics at Insurance Europe, which speaks for 34 national insurance associations, said the knock-on effects from rising premiums could pose a threat to social order. … 

“The sector is concerned that continuing global increases in temperature could make it increasingly difficult to offer the affordable financial protection that people deserve, and that modern society requires to function properly,” he said. …

Dr Ben Caldecott, the director of Oxford University’s sustainable finance programme, said: “Company directors and fiduciaries will ultimately be held responsible for avoidable climate-related damages and losses and urgently need to up their game to avoid litigation and liability.”

Munich Re has divested its large thermal coal holdings. However, it maintains some gas and oil investments.

 

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Here are three interesting items that are linked to sustainability and surprisingly  involve the province of Alberta. As noted on Twitter by @TheGentYYC some extraordinary initiatives are moving that province in a greener direction. First off,  that Canadian oil stalwart, Petro Canada is building a network of Electric Vehicle (EV) fast charging stations across Canada.

Petro Canada says “Keeping people moving is what we do, and we know that Canadians needs are evolving. We want to help you along your journey, which is why we are building a cross-Canada network of EV fast charge stations. To keep you moving toward what matters most to you.”

As @TheGentYYC points out Petro Canada is owned by Suncor, the world’s largest producer of bitumen. Suncor had a revenue of over 29 billion dollars in 2015 and owns the oils sands plant near Fort McMurray.  For Suncor to sponsor electric vehicle charging stations is a “tectonic event” and suggestive of a major policy shift in “corporate climate leadership”.

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With another mention of Clouds of Change in the latest Cambie Report podcast, as well as Gord’s post yesterday (plus past posts on the topic), it’s worth sharing some of the back story.

As late as the 1980s, the climate science conversation was still terra incognito within civic government. So, as with today, it came down to the people who decided to lead the conversations, and bring them to action — first and foremost, the City of Vancouver Task Force on Atmospheric Change.

Recalls Task Force member, and Vancouver city councillor (1999-2005) Fred Bass:

We met every Saturday morning for a year, to look at recommendations to the city about global warming. And I saw the CO2 curve going up like that.

And I’m enough of a scientist, and also I think a fairly good assessor of information, that when I saw the CO2 curve going out of control, I thought, “This is terrible. This is awful.”

Many of the people who participated are still around; a few, like Mark Roseland, principal researcher on Clouds of Change, former professor and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Community Development at SFU, and now Director of the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University, are not.

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In the current PriceTalks episode with Christine Boyle, we reference ‘Clouds of Change’ – the 1990 report and recommendations from what was maybe the first task force to address climate change at the municipal level.

Here it is:

 

As the councillor who initiated the process, I continue to be impressed by its prescience.  It helped change the way City Hall thought about the related issues of greenhouse gases, energy, transportation and land use.  It led to good things – like sustainability pioneering at the Olympic Village; it reinforced a lot of good things – cycling, energy conservation, recycling.

And while its targets for greenhouse-gas reductions were ambitious (and not achieved), it underestimated what can happen when there is global determination – like the targets for ozone-depleting-gas reduction (which were achieved.)

So conscious were we of the danger to the ozone layer that a related response was prioritized as recommendation #5.

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Peter Berkeley passed this item along from Snopes:

A 14 August 1912 article from a New Zealand newspaper contained a brief story about how burning coal might produce future warming by adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.

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