Saturday, March 31, 2007

Farewell to Nova Scotia -- and PEI -- and NYC -- and Tokyo -- and... and...? Rising Sea Levels, Megafloods, and the Deniers

In coming decades, rising sea levels and frequent mega-storms will endanger Canada's Maritime Provinces. Some of the largest world cities, like Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Dhaka are also at risk. The culprit, according to researchers: you guessed it, global warming. Yet some people continue to deny the scientific evidence -- either cynically or due to breathtaking ignorance, even about very recent history.

Back in more innocent times, political bickering about power-sharing and transfer payments were Canada's main concerns (I know, they still are, if you judge by the latest Federal Budget). I heard a parody version of "Farewell to Nova Scotia" on the C.B.C. in the late 1990s that began with "Farewell to Nova Scotia and P.E.I. / And New Brunswickers will understand...."The rest of the song mocked the notion of a "Maritime Union", with the punch-line, "And the name of our new land will be NewScotIsland!" (If you can find the rest of the lyrics, please leave a clue or link in the Comments.)

The issue facing the Maritimes this century is not union but physical isolation -- and worse -- due to rising seal levels and increasingly frequent super-storms. Consider this:
  • "The major railway line that connects Halifax with the rest of Canada runs along about a foot above sea level along the Bay of Fundy," according to Gordon McBean, president of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. It is at risk of being flooded out in the upcoming decades unless we do some serious engineering. (Source: Globe & Mail)
  • A soon-to-be-released "...UN study will identify coastal areas sensitive to sea-level rise and cite Charlottetown [the Capital of Prince Edward Island, and the birthplace of Canadian Confederation] as an example of a city vulnerable to increased flooding and storm surges, Mr. McBean said." (Source: Globe & Mail; emphasis added)
  • The Canso Causeway is what links Cape Breton Island with the rest of Nova Scotia. Nobody seems to have mentioned it recently, but during the November 2004 winter storm,
    "The Canso Causeway to Cape Breton... suffered structural damage and was closed."
If rising sea levels and frequent storms close the Causeway permanently, then the Cape Breton separatists might just get their wish -- though not in the way they had expected.
The Great Maritime Blizzard or "White Juan" (February 18, 2004)
Environment Canada, GOES satellite
imagery showing the evolution of the storm
Source: Regional Municipality of Halifax,
"Climate SMART: Be cool - reduce global warming & climate risks"

The Maritimes might need Elizabeth May and the Green Party even more than some people realize. Their "Green Plan 2" (GP2) [PDF, see p. 3] includes support for
"Adaptation to Climate Change: Develop pro-active adaptation strategies for vulnerable residential areas, and for economic sectors particularly dependent on stable climatic conditions...."
Unfortunately, the problems foreseen for the Canadian Maritime Provinces are far from unique:

"More than two-thirds of the world's large cities are in areas vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, and millions of people are at risk of being swamped by flooding and intense storms, according to a study released Wednesday.

"In all, 634 million people live in the threatened coastal areas worldwide — defined as those lying at less than 10.05 metres above sea level — and the number is growing, said the study, which was published in the journal Environment and Urbanization.

"More than 180 countries have populations in low-elevation coastal zones, and about 70 per cent of those have urban areas of more than five million people that are under threat.

"Among them: Tokyo, New York, Mumbai, India; Shanghai, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Dhaka, Bangladesh." (Source: CBC.)

Hey, these just happen to be some of the largest cities in the world!
"Separately, the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a draft copy of a report expected to be released next week that coastlines are already showing the impact of sea-level rise. The draft copy, which was obtained by the Associated Press, said about 100 million people each year could be flooded by rising seas by 2080.

"The draft copy warned that two of the biggest cities in North America — Los Angeles and New York — are at risk of a combination of sea-level rise and violent storms. By 2090, under a worst-case scenario, megafloods that normally would hit North America once every 100 years 'could occur as frequently as every three to four years,' the draft said." (Source: CBC.)

Alas, some of the the reader comments to the above Globe & Mail story show an incredible level of cynicism, ignorance and denial. For example, "Dutchie . from Toronto, Canada" writes:
"I think the sense of panic portrayed in the comment about the rail link to Halifax being under threat is tragically hilarious. It's a foot above sea level? Fine, build a two foot berm next to it, maybe accented with some nice bushes. Sea levels are not going to come crashing in with a giant tidal wave to flood us all; even as they rise it will be a slow, gradual increase that will lead to a little bit higher high-tide. The overall issue of climate change is serious, but it isn't helped by non-serious comments by scientists/politicians clamouring 'Catastrophe! Disaster!'" [emphasis added].
Wow! It's so good to learn that Hurricane Katrina was not a "Catastrophe! Disaster!" where a mega-storm overwhelmed flood control structures that had been adequate against then-average sea levels. Hey, maybe it never really happened -- was it all just a made-for-TV movie?!

Flooded I-10/I-610/West End Blvd. interchange and
surrounding area of northwest New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana
Source: Wikipedia

How soon some people forget!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

E85 rebate slipped in at the last minute by finance

Thanks to Far and Wide for pointing out this G&M article.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's department made a last-minute change to the budget that allows cars built at the General Motors plant next to his riding to qualify for federal climate-change incentives even though environmentalists say the cars are gas guzzlers.

I wondered why they included those - there's currently only two places you can buy E85 gas in Canada - both in Ottawa! The mileage on them is not great either - 14.8/9.2 l/100km (for both models), or 12.3 using the calculation. Not anywhere close to the other cars getting rebates!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Step It Up 2007 Canada

You've probably heard of the Step It Up 2007 campaign in the US. I just found a site promoting Step It Up in Canada!

I think it's a great idea. If anybody is planning any actions on April 14th, let me know and I'll post them here!

Bill McKibben
Step It Up is organized by Bill McKibben. I recently heard him speak on a podcast of NPR's OnPoint. He also has a column in last month's Ecologist, about how we can stop global warming and be happy too. (Which is great, because I just read Heat, and am now really depressed.)

McKibben's latest book is called Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. It's on my reading list.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NOT A Green Federal Budget

The CBC has a good summary of reactions to yesterday's Canadian Federal Budget from environmental groups and others, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May: 'Green' budget falls short for environmental groups. As expected, throwing a few goodies at the problem simply does not cut it. The lackluster green car rebate/gas guzzler levy (more here and here), reviving a few Liberal programs in reduced form -- without a plan on how to actually implement the Kyoto Protocol -- without even mentioning Kyoto by name -- is not nearly enough.

Tax subsidies for the Oil Sands would be phased out -- but not until 2015.
"They're going to continue to subsidize the big oil and gas companies at the same level as today for another three years," said NDP Leader Jack Layton. "That's billions of dollars shoveled into the bottom lines of Exxon and such companies while they continue to pollute."
The absurdity of helping the world's wealthiest -- and most polluting -- corporations to destroy the planet to the tune of $1.4 billion per year is apparently not enough for this Government to end it immediately.

Spending most of the water strategy budget on Coast Guard ships does little to address the looming water quality and shortage issues of the 21st century -- which would be made worse by lack of action on Climate Change.

The list goes on and on.

For more opposition reaction, see Bloc to support budget; Liberals, NDP say no.

Elizabeth May summed it up best:
"We're just losing time and we can't afford to lose time."
Beyond these criticisms, there is no National Transit Strategy, and no linking of infrastructure spending to success in curbing urban sprawl.

In general, the Conservative Government has no vision on how to transition Canada to a sustainable economy based on renewable energy. Thirty-four years after the publication of the Canada as a Conserver Society by the Science Council of Canada (in 1973!), the federal budget does not even try to make environmental and social costs part of the economic bottom line. This unscientific approach amounts to economic and ecological negligence, almost guaranteeing the continuation of "uneconomic growth" (some of these issues are also covered in the interview with David Suzuki on the Treehugger Radio podcast).

Writing about the Conserver Society idea in the Canadian Encyclopedia, Dixon Thompson notes:
"As we move to the 21st century... capitalism has begun to look beyond its own horizons and has seen the profitability of conservationism blooming on the hillsides. Advanced conserver societies may thus have better prospects for the future."
In the U.S., 65 financial companies and investment groups representing USD $4 trillion have just called for:
  • "Long-term greenhouse gas reductions by 2050, in line with the 60 to 90 percent cuts below 1990 levels that are urgently needed to avoid worst case scenarios — including 'mandatory market-based solutions, such as a cap-and-trade system, that establish an economy-wide carbon price, allow for flexibility and encourage innovation.'
  • "Realignment of U.S. energy and transportation policies to promote research, development, and deployment of new and existing clean technologies at the scale required.
  • "Clear guidance from the SEC [U.S. Securities Exchange Commission] on what companies should disclose to investors relative to climate change."
(Sources: Wired Blogs - Autopia; Boston Globe).
One of these days, Canadian businesses will wake up, too. If the message comes from a business lobby, perhaps the Conservative Government would start to listen.

More realistically, it would take an election to displace the Conservatives before we see real progress.

This is where the parochialism of the Bloc Québécois endangers us all: their own web site links to a brochure [PDF] titled "Save Kyoto" that opposes the oil-sands subsidy (on p. 1), and says says (on p. 2):
"If nothing is done to combat climate change, future generations may well end up living on an uninhabitable planet where natural disasters are the rule rather than the exception.

"Kyoto is an all-round winner for Quebec. We need it to save the planet and allow our children to continue to live comfortable lives.


"Each barrel of oil that Quebec doesn’t consume enriches us and helps reduce pollution.

"Kyoto is necessary for the environment and essential for Quebec’s economy."


[Bolding added.]
Yet somehow, just increasing federal transfers to Quebec, without even a mention of Kyoto, has made this budget good for Quebec in the Bloc's view. They will support this budget, and let this Government stand.
"Après moi, le déluge" -- literally, and by their own admission.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Green Levy" lightened by the elimination of the HVT

An addendum to yesterday's post. Down at the bottom of the section on the Green Levy (in Appendix 5 of the budget document), it says this:

With the introduction of the new levy, the existing excise tax on heavy vehicles will be eliminated effective March 20, 2007

What is this "heavy vehicle tax"? I looked all over the GC web site, without much luck. But this article in the Star says:

the impact of the penalty will be reduced, because the budget states that Ottawa will drop its excise tax on heavy vehicles, which typically adds $500 to $700 to the cost of a big luxury car or full-size SUV.

So, it's even less of a penalty than it sounds.

Another note: The complete list of vehicles eligible for the fuel-efficiency rebate can be found here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Federal green levies and rebates for cars

The US has had rebates for hybrid vehicles available for a while now, and we are finally catching up. In fact, yesterday's budget brings in both rebates for efficient cars, and a new "green levy" on the most inefficient of cars sold in Canada. (See Annex 5 for details. Search way down at the bottom for "green levy") This levy is comes into effect immediately on any new cars delivered or imported after March 19, 2007. (However vehicles already on dealer lots are exempted.)

So, how inefficient does a car need to be to get hit by the levy? And will it stop people from buying these cars? According to the Dept. of Finance:

Vehicles that have a weighted average fuel consumption of 13 or more litres per 100 kilometres will be subject to the levy at the following rates:

* at least 13 but less than 14 litres per 100 kilometres, $1,000;

* at least 14 but less than 15 litres per 100 kilometres, $2,000;

* at least 15 but less than 16 litres per 100 kilometres, $3,000; and

* 16 or more litres per 100 kilometres, $4,000.

Note that this is a weighted average fuel consumption:

"taking into account 55 per cent of city fuel consumption and 45 per cent of highway fuel consumption, as determined in accordance with information published by the Government of Canada under the EnerGuide mark, such as the 2007 Vehicle EnerGuide."

So, which vehicles will get hit with this levy? If you look at the National Resources Canada Vehicle Energuide site, you can get an idea. Of course, you'll have to do a bit of calculating to figure it out, as they haven't yet added the weighted average calculation to the tables. As an example, I looked at 2007 mid-size vehicles, and sorted by fuel consumption. It looks like anything from the Audi S6 (15.2 l/100 km city/10.4 l/100km hwy) on down will be "levied".

Now, given that the Audi S6 pricing starts at $100,000, how many buyers are likely to be deterred by a $1,000 (or even $4,000) levy?! In fact, this is probably the case for most of the cars likely to be hit with the levy (whose brand names include Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, etcetera).

[Actually, the CHRYSLER SEBRING FFV (15.5 l/100km city; 10.0 l/100km hwy) looks like it would fall under the levy as well, however the FFV stands for "flex-fuel vehicle", which means that it can run on 85% ethanol, and is therefore eligible for the rebate instead; see below. However, there aren't many places yet in Canada to buy E85 fuel. A lot of the time owners of this car would likely end up using gasoline; and the gasoline consumption ratings alone certainly wouldn't have qualified this car for a rebate.]

In addition to the levy, Flaherty will give you a rebate of up to $2000 if you purchase a more efficient car. (See Chapter 3 of the budget for details.)

The basic rebate amount will be $1,000, and an additional $500 will be added for each half litre per 100 km improvement in the combined fuel-efficiency rating of the vehicle below these thresholds. The maximum rebate value will be $2,000. Efficient E-85 fuel vehicles will be eligible for a rebate of $1,000. Eligible new vehicle purchases or leases as of March 20, 2007, will qualify for the rebate.

Eligible for the full rebate are the Toyota Prius (4.1 l/100km weighted average, MSRP starts at $31,280), Honda Civic Hybrid (4.5 l/100 km weighted average, MSRP starts at $26,250), and Ford Escape Hybrid (7.4 l/100 km weighted average, MSRP starts at $31,499).

These rebates are on top of any provincial rebates that you may have available. (Described in this post, and this post.)

Note the fine print:

While the introduction of rebates for eligible fuel-efficient vehicles is proposed to take effect March 20, 2007, the payment of rebates will be made once administration and delivery systems have been put in place. The Government is aiming to make rebate payments by fall 2007.

So, to sum up, while it's nice to reward people for buying Priuses, it's unlikely that the levy on highly inefficient luxury cars will have any effect on reducing pollution or GHG emissions.

Toyota Says Use Public Transit, Agrees in Effect With Don Fitz, Green Critic of Hybrid Car Hype

Here's an interesting counter-point to my earlier blog entry about electric cars: Green writer Don Fitz has criticized the hype around hybrid cars and bio-fuels. I must admit that if you replace "hybrid" with "electric car", much of his argument retains its force: any type of car uses up land on roads and parking, supports urban sprawl, and continues to isolate us socially from each-other -- by displacing public transit.

Mr. Fitz is described as "editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought, which is sent to members of The Greens/Green Party USA". Unfortunately, this might qualify his writings as a fringe opinion in the Land of the SUV. If you asked me, "would a major car company, the world's largest hybrid-car maker, agree with some of his main points," I would have answered, "sure, when Hell freezes over".

Well, it's the warmest winter on record, but Hell has managed to freeze over. Toyota has told the U.S. Congress that they support mandatory increases in fuel-efficiency -- plus more public transit and better land-use planning! In testimony before a U.S. Congress Committee on March 14, 2007 [PDF], James E. Press, President of Toyota Motor North America, Inc. said,
Toyota supports the use of national performance-based regulatory programs, so long as the program is fair, technologically feasible, cost effective and does not discourage early compliance, technological innovation and safety improvement. In this context, we support increasing both the passenger car and light-duty truck fuel economy standards, and giving NHTSA the authority to reform the passenger car standard. [Emphasis in the original.]
Green Car Congress comments:

"The emphasis on 'national” in the remarks was likely a reference to Toyota’s opposition to the California LEV CO2 limits."

Sigh. But at least he was not opposing mandatory efficiency increases in principle, like many of the other car industry speakers (summarized here).

Toyota is exceeding fuel efficiency targets now, and sounds confident that it can prosper under tougher standards, too. But here's where my jaw dropped:
"In addition to vehicle technology improvements... smarter land use planning, increased reliance on mass transit and greater use of so-called “intelligent transportation systems” can all reduce traffic congestion and energy consumption." [Page 4 of the official text (PDF). Emphasis added.]
You've read it right. Toyota, the world's second-largest car company, is saying, in effect, that we should drive less. To say that it's "an unusual tact for an automaker" (source) would be an understatement.

So in effect, Toyota, the largest-volume hybrid-car maker in the U.S., is agreeing that hybrid car technology alone is not the answer -- we also need to plan our cities better and use more public transit! Has someone replaced their Hybrid Synergy Drive with an Infinite Improbability Drive?

Humour aside, could electric cars (the logical outcome of the hybrid -> plug-in hybrid evolution) be made to help public transit after all? That's the thinking of
"...a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. With backing from General Motors Corp., they are building a prototype of a lightweight electric vehicle that can be cheaply mass-produced, rented by commuters under a shared-use business model, and folded and stacked like grocery carts at subway stations or other central sites."
The folding frame would save parking space. The ability to "rent" an electric car at any transit stop would remove an excuse for not using transit, by providing a door-to-door experience, just like a private car. See this article, and the interactive slide show.

It's a fascinating time, and getting more interesting by the day.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Deep doo doo. Literally!

Boy, those Albertans really know how to take the lead in GHG reductions. Worried about your dog's contribution to global warming? Energy Solutions Alberta has a suggestion - compost his/her - um - emissions.

The idea here is that any organic material that is landfilled (e.g. doggie doo) produces methane - a very potent greenhouse gas. Therefore, the site says, compost the waste in your backyard; the implication being that doing so will reduce the production of methane.

However, you can't just throw Fido's poo into your regular backyard composter. Any pathogens present would not be destroyed, and then you couldn't use the compost on your tomatoes (ew!). So, they recommend products such as the Doggie Dooley Pet Waste Digester System.

Automatically reduces pet wastes to a ground absorbing liquid that is harmless to pets, wildlife and the environment - will not damage grass or shrubs

Sounds good, right? Save space in landfill - check; keep doggie doo out of parks and off beaches - check; reduce methane production - um... really??? These 'composters' seem to be digesters which probably use anaerobic bacteria to break down the waste. Another site selling the same product says:

Pet Waste Digester is [...] like a stomach, fresh digesting enzymes are applied to the buried green plastic pyramid that neutralizes pathogens that thrive in foul anaerobic conditions.

In other words, it's a small septic tank for your dog. According to wikipedia, septic tanks "ultimately generate carbon dioxide and methane, both of which are known greenhouse gases." The web site for another product called the Doggie Dooley even says "Works like a home septic system".

The same Energy Solutions Alberta article notes that San Francisco is looking at using dog poo as a source of renewable energy - by capturing the methane produced when the waste is digested. Now that sounds like a project that could have some benefits. If you can capture the methane, you can use it for fuel, thus reducing reliance on fossil fuels. However, I imagine that it's hard to capture the methane from a backyard digester.

However, Albertans are not the only ones concerned about doggie doo and what to do with it. The National Capital Commission has a paper on line that describes a pilot composting project. However, the methods they are describing seem to be aerobic, and so may actually reduce methane emissions (although it's not mentioned as a factor in this paper).

So, go ahead and compost that doggie doo - but don't expect to be able to sell carbon offset credits for your efforts.

Now, lest you think I'm just bashing Alberta or the Energy Solutions Alberta web site, they do have lots of other energy-saving tips and information. And this story is really neat too: The SolarBee: A Solar Sci-fi Fantasy

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Canadian climate change news...

I woke up to the following news stories this morning:

Stephane Dion says carbon tax not under consideration after all (Canada Press)

A day after Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said the Liberals would consider a carbon tax, his office denied it is under consideration.

But if not a carbon tax, then what? Meanwhile, Kenneth Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute is quoted as saying
the best way to reduce emissions is to put a carbon tax in place. “Use some of the carbon tax revenue to pay for carbon reduction and invest it in new technologies. Use the carbon tax to offset income tax and corporate tax. Tax the bad and not the good.”

(From Kyoto Bill could have crucial impact on Nisku industrial area, CNews)

Wow - I never thought I'd be saying this, but maybe M. Dion should get together with the AEI people!

And in other news:

Report calls on Ottawa to end oil sands subsidies (CTV)

This story reports that the House of Commons natural resources committee is recommending dropping subsidies to oil sands projects, and that this is being considered for the next budget. (Hooray!)