Friday, November 10, 2006

"Stop Cooking the Planet” Event

At least 25 people braved the monsoon rains to participate in the “Stop Cooking the Planet” event outside Kevin Falcon's breakfast speech. One TV station (Radio Canada/CBC) showed up and there was some good dialogue with people entering the event.

Kevin Falcon, BC's transportation minister was discussing plans to increase BC's greenhouse gas emissions by building more freeways.

I have photos of the event up at:

If anyone wants higher resolution copies of the photos let me know.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Boing Boing and Wind RECs

A Boing Bonig post (later updated) on Whole Foods selling Renewable Energy Certificates generated a fair amount of blog discussion. There have also been responses in a Treehugger post and a Sustainablog post.

First in the interest of full disclosure – I am a co-owner of an organization that sells carbon offsets (although we are a co-operatively owned non-profit).

To respond to some of the concerns:

“...How can you even be sure the money will go towards wind energy...”

Because these projects are audited by a third party and certified. The third party guarantees that the money will go towards wind energy. The auditing and certification is quite intensive and expensive.

“...why perpetuate the idea that alternative energy costs more...”

All legitimate offset programs must meet the criteria of “Additionality.” This means that offsets can only be used for projects that would not otherwise be financially viable. And the the offsets can only be used for the portion of the cost that is “additionality.”

“..a for-profit company (I assume that this is the case her) is kinda odd...”

See the comment above on “additionality” - the money can only be used on a project that was not otherwise financially viable.

For example, let's say that the utility grid buys power at 9 cents a kWh, but it costs 10 cents /kWh to produce wind power – the offsets would cover the 1 cent difference.

“..others were upset that the card looked like a phone card...”

I agree that this was a mistake. Most offset sellers produce “certificates” rather than “cards” - I do think cards are confusing for consumers.

“...if I were so inclined, more easily just invest in a publicly traded....”

You are completely missing the whole point of OFFSETS. People buy OFFSETS to OFFSET a specific amount of ghg emissions – it might be for a trip they took, an event, their annual power consumption or their total annual ghg emissions. That's why these are called OFFSETS. They are not investments, they are not donations, they are OFFSETS.

If you buy equity in a corporation you have no idea how much ghg emissions that equity investment offests. However, if you buy an offset (or green-tag / REC) you know who much ghg emissions that is offsetting.

And you should have some guarantee of that offset. For larger projects there is usually some soft of third party audit or certification. For the smaller projects that my organization does we send a report to offset purchasers of the project and our accounting is completely public. Our policies and methodology is based on the so-called “Gold Standard” of carbon offsets (although the projects are not in the majority-world so they don't qualify for the Gold Standard).

I can't find anywhere on RCE website that mentions what certification process they use.

And then of course there is the whole issue of the new ISO 14,000 standard .....

Seriously folks, before you label all this a “scam” maybe you should at least do a little research on the Gold Standard, the ISO 14064 standard, Green-E certification, EcoLogo certification, etc. Etc.

“...I don't think these things are part of planning a windmill project at all....”

Sorry, you are wrong. Many larger renewable energy projects account for selling carbon credits as part of their financial model. Some projects would not even go ahead if it weren't for carbon credits being used either directly (sold by the project developer) or indirectly (the utility paying a premium for green power because they can sell carbon credits).

In fact, even the old version of RETScreen software used carbon credits as part of their financial analysis. Which means carbon credits have been part of even the most basic planning process for several years now.

“...for the purpose of building profits. ..under the pretext of 'doing your part to save the environment'”

If you buy RECs from a source that uses third-party verification/ certification the third party guarantees that there is a specific environmental benefit (measured in pounds/kgs of ghg emission reductions). TerraPass has a good explanation of verification at:

A certain percentage (sometimes 10%) of the cost of the credit does go to management fees (the profit part) but the majority of the cost should go to the environmental benefit.

You seem to be implying that all of the cost of the credit goes to building profits with not guarantee that there is an environmental benefit. This is a serious accusation and it would mean that the third party verification organizations have defrauded people of thousands of dollars. If you really believe that you should start a class action law suit. Good luck with that.

“..$15 and they use about $2 to buy and resell CO2 credits...”

But that assumes that RCE is buying credits from the the Chicago Climate Exchange instead of using funds to support real world renewable energy projects.

The CCE carbon credit pricing is notorious for being well below the cost of real world renewable energy projects. That is because the CCE credits are used on a wide range of projects some of which are a bit dubious (sequestration projects, majority-world projects that use cheap labour, etc.).

You will find that cost of the renewable energy projects is often more than $15 per tonne. For example, in our local area we have calculated the cost for solar hot water projects to be about $35 / metric tonne and for solar photovoltaic projects more than $100 / metric tonne. And that is just the cost of additionality – not the total cost of the project.

...What exactly do they recieve [sic] in exchange...”

Only the knowledge that a specific amount of their ghg emissions has been offset.

I realize this may sound strange to some people but there is a well established market for these offset credits. Not only among individuals, but also businesses that have made a commitment to being “carbon neutral.” And major events have made a commitment to carbon neutrality. The 2006 Olympics purchased carbon offsets and the 2010 Olympics has a multi-million dollar budget just for carbon offsets.

“ energy co-op in your community...”

This has been used extensively in Europe. There are also a few examples here in North America:

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Enterprise Rent-A-Car Up-selling Pollution?

I have been car-free since '03, so occasionally I rent a car or use the local car co-op. Last week when I rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I dealt with an aggressive customer rep who insisted that I should upgrade to a larger less fuel efficient car. He implied that the small car that I had reserved was not available. When I asked if any other cars were available he only mentioned one but said it was booked out later that day. He became angry that I did not want the larger car and keeping stating that it would be more “fun.” Only when I started to leave the office did a small car magically become available.

Not only was the this practice deceptive but it also has ecological consequences. If the rental agency aggressively encourages people to upgrade to larger vehicles that they don't need, they are encouraging unnecessary pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Six thousand people die prematurely in Canada each year from air pollution, thousands of children suffer heightened asthma attacks and climate change threatens life all over the planet. Is this how Enterprise Rent-A-Car defines “fun”?

How do we encourage car rental agencies not to aggressively encourage fuel inefficient upgrades? Are other agencies as bad as Enterprise Rent-A-Car? How do shift our culture away from the idea that “Bigger is Better (and more fun)” and “More Consumption is Good”?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

2010 Vancouver Olympics Scar

2010 Vancouver Olympics Scar
Originally uploaded by WestCoast TreeHugger.

Construction continues on the new highway from Vancouver to Whistler. This section of construction destroyed a rare Arbutus ecosystem, wetlands that were home to an endangered frog species and migratory bird nesting habitat (an act that is illegal under Canada's wildlife act).

All this despite a promise in the 2010 Olympic Bid to reduce the use of automobiles for the games.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saturday, July 22, 2006

fog in the cariboo

I drove east on an almost deserted highway to the town of Horsefly. Pickup trucks with bumber stikers that said "Piss off a Liberal - Buy a Gun" were parked beside neo-hippies from Spirit Dance. It was the first annual Arts, Music and Dance festival.

I was disappointed with rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But the local duet did a better job of Sarah McLaughlin. When I took shelter from the rain I met a family from Mexico that traveled to the Yukon every summer until they stopped in William's Lake.

The last set was played by a blues band but no one danced the last song except for a young single mother and her daughter.

They burnt TVs in a large bonfire. The fog rolled in from the mountains and mixed with the aroma of beer and pot. There seemed to be clarity around the bonfire or perhaps just echoes of Cohen's song.

But in the bright sunshine of the morning the clarity of the fog was replaced with confusion. When I asked for the best way home, Jeff said "You can't get there from here."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Solar in North Vancouver

The first solar photovoltaic grid-tie system in North Vancouver is up and running.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Eagleridge Bluffs Protest in Court

Today the Eagleridge Bluffs Protest had its first day in court. About 150 people showed up to rally and many of them stayed for the start of the hearing.

A few people offered support for the my sign which read, “Trains Not Lanes” and expressed their frustration with the tunnel option that the coalition seems to be emphasizing.

The hearing had to be moved to a different court room due to the size of the crowd. When I left the lawyer for the concerned citizens was making the case that the construction contractors had broken their contract by not filing an Environmental Management Plan for the entire section that they were working on.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Resurrection of Environmentalism?

In the year and a half since Shellenberger and Nordhaus released their famous (or infamous depending upon your viewpoint) essay on the “Death of Environmentalism” it has almost seemed like environmentalism has in fact died. There have not been large scale protests like the ones that lead up to and followed the WTO meetings in Seattle (at least not here in North America). And although there have been blockades in the forests they are much smaller than the “war in the woods” that occurred during the 80s and 90s.

Environmentalists (and other activists) that I have talked to lately have been bemoaning both their own apathy and the apathy of others. The local weekly newspaper here even had an article in their most recent edition called “Apathy is the new activism

But perhaps the “Resurrection of Environmentalism” occurred Easter Monday in a most unusual location – West Vancouver, Canada's richest municipality.

Hundreds of people gathered to protest the logging and construction of a highway through Eagleridge Bluffs, a scenic area with a sensitive ecosystem that a couple of endangered species inhabit. Ironically the destruction of the Bluffs is part of perpetration for the 2010 Olympics which are being billed as the “sustainable” olympics.

Of course there have been protests against logging before. But there a couple of things that make this one unique.

First it is not on some remote logging road, but on the edge of an urban area. Nearby homeowners can camp over night in the tent city that has sprung up but still go home for a shower.

Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), the protesters themselves are unusual. Many are professionals with above average incomes who have never been to a protest before. And some have said they are willing to be arrested if that is what it comes to. And this group has been joined by more seasoned activists – some who have spent years fighting clear-cut logging in the wilderness.

At the rally on Monday I was talking to a couple of other activists from east Vancouver. One of them remarked at how different this protest seemed from others she had been to. “If feels like a church picnic,” she said.

In my mind this protest is not without its problems. The coalition that is organizing the protest is suggesting a 4 lane tunnel as the alternative to the destruction of the bluffs. Of course this solution does nothing to address climate change issues and other forms of pollution from increased traffic on the expanded highway. I think that the only truly sustainable solution is to introduce good passenger rail service and improved public transportation along the corridor.

But perhaps the unique and diverse group of people congregating at Eagleridge Bluffs is an example of the “expansive vision” that Shellenberger and Nordhaus described in their essay.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Highway one and triple convergence

I recently had a conversation with a friend (Nancy Callan, author and environmental food activist) about the expansion of highway one. I mentioned that freeway expansion rarely solves the congestion and often during peak hours congestion returns to previous levels in a matter of months. This occurs because of triple convergence (also here). At the time I had forgotten what the three convergences were but after a little research here they are:

  1. many drivers who formerly used alternative routes during peak hours switch to the improved expressway (spatial convergence);

  2. many drivers who formerly traveled just before or after the peak hours start traveling during those hours (time convergence);

  3. some commuters who used to take public transportation during peak hours now switch to driving, since it has become faster (modal convergence)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Burrard Bridge Bike Lane Myths

Vancouver's new mayor and council has reversed the previous council's decision about the burrard bridge bike lane trial. I am finding that there are still a lot of myths out there about the bike lane trial:

The electorate has spoken in opposition to the bike lane trials by electing the NPA.

The only poll I saw showed that 50% of the population supported the lane reallocation trial. The other 50% was divided among those that were neutral or opposed the lane reallocation. So, only a minority opposed the bike lane reallocation. And even among those that opposed it I found many were confused about basic facts and would change their mind when given all the facts.

Myth: The bike land trial is only supported by a “radical bike lobby.”

The bike lane reallocation plan was supported by a board coalition that included:
- the mainstream cycling groups in Vancouver
- transportation policy groups that advocate for public transportation
- one the most famous and respected urban planners in the world (a person even NPA mayor Sam Sullivan called “a hero”)
- Vancouver's Heritage Preservation Society (definitely no “radical bike lobbyists” here)
- the West End residents association (representing hundreds of people who are certainly not all “radical bike lobbyists”) - which has been tirelessly advocating for this change for over a decade
- environmental groups who do not directly advocate for cycling
- and others.....

Myth: Cyclists make up only 3% of commuters.

According to the GVRD Regional Travel Survey (2000), 7% of the total trips in Vancouver are made by bike and 30% of people travel by bike occasionally. The occasional cyclists stated that having "dedicated bicycle lanes on major roads and bridges" would most likely induce an increase in bicycle commuters.

Across the GVRD, walking and cycling trips increased by 29% between 1994 and 1999. More people now move around downtown Vancouver by foot or bicycle than by car. Walking and cycling trips increased from about 70,000 trips a day in 1994, to about 108,500 trips – or 32% of all trips. Auto trips account for about 30% of downtown travel, and public transit about 40%.

Myth: The current infrastructure is fine.

Five years ago, a cyclist was seriously injured and suffered permanent injuries after being knocked off her bicycle by a pedestrian and hit by a van.

The existing sidewalk is 2.8 metres wide. Only half of that is designated for bikes. The standard for cycling facilities that carry the number of cyclists the Burrard Bridge carries is 3.7 metres.

Myth: The 1996 bike lane trial was a disaster.

City staff admitted after the trial that they did not properly prepare the public for the trial. They did not give advance warning and did not put up proper signs approaching the bridge. This did result in chaos for the first couple of days, but only the first couple of days.

During the trial the number of cyclists using the bridge increased dramatically (39%) while the car traffic literally disappeared. There was a decrease of 8800 car occupants (9% decrease).

Delays were reduced from 20 minutes early in the week to a few minutes after only 5 days If the trial had been allowed to continue those delays may have decreased even further.