we might have made a big mistake…

It seems the City of New Westminster has decided to move towards single-stream recycling. This means that we will no longer be separating our paper from our plastics and containers, and will be throwing it all into one bin. The bin will be exactly like our existing black (garbage) and green-lid (organics) bins, and will be designed to be picked up by the same trucks.

At the time these ideas were floated, there was little feedback from the public. I didn’t comment at the time, as I felt that I was simply not informed enough to make a useful judgement about the merits of single-stream. I actually had lunch one day with the City’s Supervisor of Solid Waste, hoping he could explain the costs and benefits of going that way. It was clear to me after that meeting that I still didn’t fully understood the issue.

I was present at City Council on April 4 of this year when Allen Lynch , a New Westminster resident and Manager of North Shore Recylcing Program pleaded with council to not go down that path, but to consider the longer-term cost and sustainability implications of Single Stream Recycling. At the time, his issues seemed real, and I was happy to hear council direct Staff to address these concerns (most of which admittedly went over my head). I was equally happy to read a report from staff a month later that seemed to address all of the issues raised by Mr. Lynch. But it still stuck in my craw that somebody with a lifetime of professional experience managing recyclables was so convinced that the City was taking a wrong path going to single stream, and the main benefits to it were explained to me as saving money on trucks. When I feel underinformed, I tend to rely on experts in the field to explain the situation, and for the fourth time in this post already, I will admit I was not well-informed enough to take a position.

There was also quite a bit of discussion with the TrashTalkers group at NWEP, with some seeing the benefit of increased diversion promised by the Single Stream, and loving the idea of going to fortnight waste collection once it comes in, while others lamented the loss of 20 years of effective Community Based Social Marketing around the use of Blue Bins – we have taught a generation to separate recyclables, and recognize the differences in materials, are we going to lose some of that? Again, there were enough sides to this issue that the TrashTalkers could not come up with a consensus opinion, and therefore stayed out of the public debate.

I realise now that was a mistake. I should have met with Helen Spiegelman.

Tuesday, I attended a meeting of Zero Waste Vancouver, where Louise Swartz of Recycling Alternatives and Helen talked about single stream recycling, and the future of Extended Product Responsibility (EPR) programs in BC. It was a too-short 90 minutes, with a lively discussion amongst the participants, and I walked away with much of the information I was so lacking during my earlier ruminations on Single Stream Recycling.

Not to bury the lead; neither Helen (who has been involved in recycling and EPR programs since they began in the 80’s) nor Louise (who runs a very successful small business collecting recyclables from businesses and institutions) think that the move to single stream a good idea, for numerous good reasons.

Let’s see if I can summarise.

The justifications for going to commingling can be broken down to three “C”s: Cost, Convenience, and Capture. You can find them all mentioned here.

Cost is usually up front, and seems to be the main motivation behind New Westminster’s shift. By commingling recyclables, the same truck can be used for recycling as is used for trash, they just hose it out between loads. Therefore fewer vehicles are needed , and fewer crews to run the vehicles. The crews never leave the truck, so you only need one person per vehicle, and no-one is out in the rain physically tossing the recyclables. There is, of course, an upfront cost to buy the bins and the upgrade the trucks ($1.3 million in the case of New Westminster) , and there will actually be a small increase in the fee charged to residents (to cover the cost of the carts), but the City will save money in the long run, if all the other assumptions in the projection hold up.

“Convenience” is the assumption that separating your recyclables is a big hassle. I guess it is hard to argue that tossing everything in one bin is more convenient for the homeowner (… ugh….)

“Capture” is related to this. The assumption is that by making recycling more “convenient”, people will do it more, so a higher percentage of the recyclables will be captured, and diversion rates (the stuff at your curb that doesn’t go to the landfill) will go up. This has been measured in places that have gone to single-stream, and there is usually a slight increase in the percentage of materials going into the blue bins compared to the black bin (in the order of 5-10%).

Now let’s look at the alternative view on these three points:

The Cost savings are amortized over 20+ years, and are based on a lot of assumptions about fuel costs, about how we as a society are going to manage our waste, about where tipping fees are going, and about the future of recycling technology, markets for recycled materials, and producer extended product responsibility (EPR) programs. This is without even getting into the sustainability arguments around externalized costs relating to the down-cycling of materials and the loss of valuable materials, but let’s save that for another day, as this is already too long a rant.

The convenience gains are frankly ridiculous in New Westminster. Currently, the City asks that you separate your “garbage” (black bin) from your organics (green bin) and your recyclable containers and paper (blue box). We further ask that you separate your clean paper and newsprint from your containers by putting it in a blue or yellow bag along with your blue box. With commingling, you will still need to separate your “garbage” from you organics, and put your recyclable containers and paper in a blue bin. The only difference is that you can toss your paper in with the containers without having to put them in the bag first: hardly a massive time saver, and hardly a saving of hours of careful thought as people look at an object and wonder if it is a newspaper or a plastic container. So the increased convenience is a marginal gain at best.

However, what we lose by gaining this convenience is huge: and this is where the big lie comes in. Theoretically, there is an increase in “capture”; people will recycle more due to a mostly imaginary increase in convenience. However, this gain at the curb is very quickly lost at the Material Recovery Plant (MRF), and now we enter the murky world of Residuals.

Your recycled materials, either out of your blue box (plastic, metal and glass) or your new commingled blue bin (plastic metal glass and papers) go to an MRF to be sorted. (if you paper went in a blue/yellow bag, it is alreadt separared, so it goes through a separate process). At the MRF, the metal is removed using magnets and/or density-sorters, and the plastic and paper are sorted partially be mechanical means, and partially by hand. I wrote last year about touring one of these facilities in Iowa, but our MRF is in Surrey. Your recyclables are separated and bundled for shipping off to wherever they will be reprocessed (which is another whole separate Blog topic). At least most of it does. Some of the material that shows up in the MRF is not recyclable, either because it didn’t belong in the recycling in the first place (plastic bags, PVC, wood, BeeGees cassettes, etc.) or because it has been so contaminated and mixed with other materials it cannot be recycled (think a newspaper pressed up against a half-empty yoghurt container in the collection truck compactor). Depending on who you ask, and how you count, the residual rates in the MRFs can range from 5% to 50%. That is a big range. Clearly, even the most modest residual rates will offset any increase in “capture” you got from increased curb-side use. It also does not include the “down-cycling” component, that is the material that comes out of the MRF as much lower quality than it went into the blue bin, and consequently, cannot be used again for its original purpose.

The worst part is this residual rate going up (the 50% end oft he range as opposed to the 5% end) is largly the result of mixing fibre materials with containers, which is the only result of the New Wesmtinster’s commingling initiative! Of the materials being collected for recycling, paper is the one material that is at highest risk of being contaminated by other materials, and it is the material whose value as a commodity in the recycling market is most closely tied to its quality. A few shards of glass or a single sheet of soft plastic can turn a Tonne of paper fibre into a liability for the receiver, and can be stripped of its entire value. This is why the City currently asks you to separate your paper from the other products in the Blue box.

But it gets worse. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but Allen Lynch was quick to point this out at New West Council. As of May, 2011, The Province of BC added “packaging and printed paper” to their EPR regulation. That means that all packaging materials and all printed paper will be managed through an industry-led extended product stewardship program, the same type of program that now makes the producer responsible for refillable bottles, cans, tires, computers, paint, and all those other things you can take to a recycling facility and dispose of at no cost to you (because you paid for the recycling when you bought the product). What does this mean for the commingled recycling? Will the City get paid to collect the paper? Will the city send a bill to the EPR program operator (Encorp, or whomever)? Will all packaging (recyclable plastic and non-recyclable plastic, including films and blister packs) be mixed in with the paper? If so, how will we separate them? Simply put, the answers to these questions arw not known yet. The main point Allen Lynch was trying to make in April was that it may be irresponsible to throw a lot of money down this path until we know where it is going!

OK, one more point, just to throw gas on this fire. What happens to these MRF residuals? Traditionally, they go to the landfill, like the rest of your black bin trash, or potentially into the new incinerators that the region wants to install. However, with increased diversion, with an EPR program on packaging and paper, with organics in the Green Bin, there will continue to be less and less black bin trash. The fuel source for these incinerators is going away, even before they are built. However, residual waste from the MRF is excellent incinerator fuel! With the organics and wet materials out of it, it is low moisture, with the metal sorted out at the MRF, you are left with paper mixed with plastic film, heavy plastic, and a bit of broken glass: this shit will burn great! This I where the cynic says: The entire commingling move is a back-door way of diverting otherwise-recyclable materials to incinerators!

People who know me know I am not a conspiracy theorist, I always default to Hanlon’s razor. However, the implications of commingling are both unclear (in the real costing and in the fact that the metrics for diversion vs. residuals are very muddy from any City that has gone that way), and crystal clear (what the fate of the materials you put in your blue bin will be). The case for commingling is so poorly made, that I am waiting to be convinced that there is a sustainability component that I am missing. And while I wait, we are spending millions buying trucks and building incinerators.

I will come back to this theme in later posts. Mostly, I am confused about what we do next to deal with this issue. In New Westminster, we will be moving to commingling in 2012 unless we can prove to the Council prior to the November election that this is not the way we want to manage our recyclables. It is also an open secret that our Mayor is very interested in having a garbage incinerator installed in our City, in spite of the loud and ongoing public opposition to the idea.

To be continued…

Solution: Put the scientists in jail.

I’m not one of those people who feared Stephen Harper’s “hidden agenda”. I am one of those people who found his expressed agenda to be frightening enough. With the new budget that no-one seems to have noticed (what with Hockey Games and Gene Simmons and Hugh Hefner both having marital woes…), the Harper Government™ clearly outlines what their priorities are. The following graphic shows how he will distribute the 4000 federal job cuts over the next few years. The plan seems to be to put scientists in jail. But before I get all Godwin here, let’s look at the numbers.

Now this is from the Parlimentary Budget Office, and although they work directly for Harper, they have disagreed in the past, but these are the best numbers so far. Let’s start with the cuts.

The biggest cut (33.4%) will be in Heritage (sorry Minister Moore, but your portfolio is shrinking as fast as your credibility on the Evergreen Line). No surprise here, Heritage represents a lot of things Stephen Harper hates: media, culture, art, women’s equality, multiculturalism, the French language, etc. No hidden agenda here, he puts that depressing shit right out there on his sleeve and lets us sniff it.

Next in line is Environment Canada (21%). I guess we should not be surprised. It is the uppity Environment Canada types who irritatingly point out that tar sands development is annihilating large areas of the north, and is threatening two of the nations largest Rivers. As someone who works with EC enforcement officers trying to keep people from dumping oil into fish-bearing streams, I know those officers are overworked and their departments understaffed. Their ability to enforce the simplest environmental rules (like don’t dump oil into fish-bearing streams) is hampered.

These cuts also fly in the face of the Government’s own Independent Report released just before Christmas (when everyone was paying attention) stating that Canada had a responsibility to step up monitoring and enforcement to protect people and the environment from Tar Sands impacts. But that is just a bunch of science-talk…

Next comes Human Resources and Skills Development (16.4%). Good timing Steve. Bolstering our “fragile recovery” by taking away help for people whao are actually trying to get re-trained and find new jobs. What a Dick.

INAC will see a 13.5% cut. Again, ugly, but not surprising. Why continue to support people living in third-world level poverty, with inadequate housing, no clean water, and no access to jobs or education? I guess the thinking is that it is easier to provide for them in the new jails we are building…

The next three are Stats Can (13.5%), Natural Resources Canada (10%) and the National Research Council (8.9%). These are the agencies that actually guide government policy on the basis of facts and information. How in the hell do you govern an information-age country without access to the highest quality information? Admittedly, reality often gets in the way of Conservative ideology. The research is clear that Insite saves lives and saves the taxpayers money, but Harper hates druggies and wants it closed. This is why they keep bringing back mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes, although no-one in criminology, including the former head of the US DEA who introduced the same laws down south, think it is a good idea. Every police force in the country says the Long-gun Registry is useful and saves lives, but the redneck base hates it, so it has to go. Crime is steadily going down across the country, but “Tuff on Crime” bills bring in the votes. A nuclear scientist tells him a nuclear reactor is unsafe, he fires her and opens it anyway.

When facts get in the way, get rid of the facts. This is the problem with ideology-driven decision making: it is what crippled the USSR and keeps Cuba impoverished, it is what is killing the US economy, and it is how the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan. This is terrible leadership.

The cutting of 4.9% of the defence staff is an interesting move. This likely will be met through retirements of soldiers who have been busy fighting oversees wars for a decade, and are about ready to get out. The budget doesn’t actually include the costs of the war in Libya, nor does it include the cost to buy his new jet planes, but that is prudent since no-one can agree with Mr. Harper on the price of those planes. So let’s call the defence budget even.

Cutting 3.5% of the RCMP also seems strange for a “Tuff on Crime” PM. However, a good friend of mine in the RCMP reminds me that their main role is not to put people in jail, it is to prevent crime. By preventing crime, they keep people safe, and save the taxpayers money. With crime prevented, who are we going to put in jail to keep the natives company? Scientists?

But it isn’t all cuts, Harper also plans to grow parts of the civil service:

Including a 24.8% increase in corrections officers. I don’t mean to be crass, but holy fucking shit. At the same time he is cutting Police officers, he is replacing them with almost 5x as many prison staff. The Harper agenda appears to be making us into a nation of Jailers.

I had a chat on the weekend with a family member who works in corrections, and suggested Harper guaranteed him job security. He agrees, with a laugh, but wishes that instead of building more prisons and hiring more staff, they put al ittle more money in to the prison programs that made his job easier: drug prevention, counselling, rehabilitation, fitness and education. When the prisoners are busy and are making progress towards a goal, they tend not to act violently towards guards, each other, or themselves. But the direction seems to be more towards warehousing now.

I just can’t figure out the increase in the Chief Electoral Officer’s office. It is not like we had a hard time running our elections or that election fraud was rampant. It also seems a strange place to save money at the same time you are cutting contributions to political parties… but I will have to chew on that one.
The next few seem to pretty obviously follow the trend, 13.4% increase in Citizenship and immigration, 10.2% in Immigration and Refugees, and 7.5% in the Department of Justice. Clearly, Harper does not think all prison population growth can be organic, but we will need to assure a good proportion of immigrants also find their way into our human warehouses.

Industry (6.3% increase) and Agriculture (1.9% increase) will assure subsidises keep flowing to his multinational partners, as will a large portion of the Public Health (5.1% increase) budget (Tamiflu anyone?)

There is no reason to fear a secret agenda here. It is right out front. When the Conservative majority was announced, I put a post out on Facebook that said “Bed Manufacturers of Canada, time to stop the production of your Hospital models, and start ramping up the Prison ones!”

Did anyone mention to these guys that by any reliable numbers, Crime is continuing to drop in Canada? Oh, yeah, I forgot, unreported crime is up. I guess getting rid of some RCMP officers and StatsCan will assure the unreported crime rate continues to grow. Who needs information when you have ideology?

Meanwhile, people in Vancouver tie themselves in knots of worry about the deeper meaning of a few broken windows, yet remain blithely unconcerned about our own government dropping bombs on civilians in Libya.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

My first actual Tree-huggin’ post

Tree protection?

?????????During the recent Royal City Farmers Market fundraiser at the Heritage Grill (great time again, you guys!), I had a short chat with Councillor Lorrie Williams. Somehow the conversation gravitated to Tree Protection Bylaws This is a topic that has come up several times at NWEP meetings over the last couple of years, and the NWEP members who serve on the City’s Environment Advisory Committee have mentioned that it arises occasionally at their meetings. There are a few people in New Westminster who have been advocating for this type of protection in recent years, Bill Zander amongst the most persistent. But there has been a push-back from City staff (mostly around cost and logistical issues- admittedly there is not much point having a bylaw if they cannot enforce it!) and even from a few members of Council.

An historic beech tree in my neighbourhood.

I had a conversation at one of the fall’s TransLink open houses with another Councillor (who shall remain nameless to protect the cornered), and the topic of laneway housing came up. (S)he was concerned about the loss of green space, rainwater infiltration, etc., that might result if we overbuild our single-family lots. I agreed and suggested we shouldn’t allow laneway housing until we have a strong Tree Protection Bylaw. The Councillor’s response was to take a bit of a double-take, then bemusement that I had trapped the Councillor that way. (S)he then offered a rather meek “we have lots of trees”. The conversation ended shortly after.

The beustiful dogwood in front of my home.

So I was pleased to hear that Councillor Williams has decided to bring this topic back to Council, and I decided to delegate to Council on the topic on Tuesday. No cameras were there, so I thought I would relate what I said for the record here.

Note that at Council, and in the excerpt below, I am speaking on behalf of the NWEP. The message below reflects the conversations the NWEP membership had at meetings, and the Directors of the NWEP unanimously approved my presenting this address to Council on behalf of the Group. Pretty much everything else you read on this Blog is my personal opinion, and is not necessarily the opinion of the NWEP or its members. Just so we are clear on the distinction.

The NWEP have discussed the issue of Tree Protection at length, and at our most recent meeting, agreed that a Tree Protection Bylaw for New Westminster was timely.

On many environmental, social and economic sustainability areas the City of New Westminster has taken a leadership position. However, this is an area, the protection of trees and our Urban Forest, where we have unfortunately been laggards.

Tree protection bylaws of varying strength are already in force in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Richmond, Delta, WhiteRock, North Vancouver , Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Maple Ridge, the Township of Langley, Victoria, Saanich, Nanaimo, Toronto…..well, the list goes on across the province, and across the country.

These bylaws vary in both their protection measures and the complexity of their implementation, but it is clearly within the Municipality’s authority to prohibit or regulate the cutting or damaging of trees, or to require that trees be replaced. Further, they all take into account the hazards caused by dangerous or diseased trees, and many designate significant areas (such as riparian areas around streams) or specific species or trees of historical value for special protection. Many use permit structures to become revenue-neutral.

I guess the point is we are not reinventing the wheel here, nor are the NWEP asking for New Wesmtinster to be an exception. . Tree Protection Bylaws are becoming standard practice in Canada.

The reasons Cities are establishing these bylaws are varied. Some Cities are rapidly developing and are concerned about habitat loss and the wholesale removal of forests at their edges. Others are concerned about greenway preservation and riparian protection for salmon-bearing or other ecologically-important streams in their districts, or are worried about slope stabilisation in hilly terrain, or establishing green buffers between zoning changes.

However, most Cities simply recognize that trees play multiple roles in the 21st Century city. They shade buildings to provide energy savings; They buffer urban noise to make for a more peaceful environment; They filter CO2 and particulates out of the air while providing oxygen and acting as both humidity and temperature stabilizers in extreme weather; They absorb rainwater and reduce the load on stormwater drainage systems; They provide habitat for songbirds and other wildlife; They block light pollution and soften the “sharp edges” of a built-out urban environment. There is some evidence that trees actually prevent crime!

Here in New Westminster, trees provide all of these benefits, but additionally, we have our own specific reasons to have a very protective bylaw here. As one of western Canada’s most historic cities, it seems remarkable that we do not have a firm law protecting these historic landmarks. In my Brow-of-the Hill neighbourhood, there are several exceptional and well-preserved century-old trees. The loss of these remaining giants would be a loss for the entire community – but it is only to good grace of the current owner that protects this important natural heritage. Unfortunately, these examples are becoming fewer and far between as multi-family dwellings and densification have eroded our tree inventory over the last 50 years.

Development puts pressure on the Cit’y tree inventory.

?And densification is clearly the way of the future. With New Westminster a signatory to the new Regional Growth Strategy, it is clear that New Westminster will become a more “compact” Regional City Centre, in order to accommodate the extra 40,000 people projected to live in our City by 2041. With this densification, the pressure will be on to replace single lots where our trees need protection the most with townhouses or multi-family dwellings and the normalization of laneway housing. Make no mistake, I think these changes can be a positive thing for building a more energy- and transportation-efficient housing stock, and are imperative if we are to build a more durable and sustainable community. However, these changes raise significant concerns about the preservation of remaining natural greenspace, about managing rainwater infiltration so we don’t overwhelm our stormwater infrastructure, and yes, maintaining the myriad benefits of trees. A Tree Protection Bylaw will not solve all of these problems, but it is an important first step to assuring the next generation will receive the same environmental, social, and economic benefit from tress that we do. 

Trees are often removed to “improve property”, with no need to replace them. Note three trunksin this pic that were large fir trees a year ago.
This lot on 8th Street used to have two single familty houses, and trees.

For these reasons, the NWEP believe that the time is now for a protective tree bylaw in New Westminster, and we call upon City Council and staff to work towards developing a Bylaw that suits the City’s specific tree protection needs.

After my presentation, the Councillors asked a few questions, but seemed very receptive to the idea. Mayor Wright seemed the most cautious (his standard “we need to consider many things here….” line), but I did emphasise that there ware lots of resources available on line and through inter-governmental discussion groups, there are many Cities that have these bylaws, and I have confidence that City Staff can find the right mix of protection for the City. I also offered any help the NWEP could provide in researching tree bylaws, and in helping with public education campaigns about the value of trees in our urban environment.

Later in the Meeting, Councillor Williams’ motion was read:

“WHEREAS trees are essential to air quality, esthetics and quality of life;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT New Westminster develop a Tree Retention / Removal Bylaw for both public and private property.”

The motion received unanimous support of the Council (Councillor Harper not present).

This decades-old cornellian cherry dogwood dominates my back yard, but it isn;t going anywhere on my watch.

Community -updated!

I had such a fun weekend. One that reminded me how much I love my community.

I just want to add the note that back in December, I did an interview with the News Leader, and made my predictions for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. OK, I said Canucks-Habs, but Boston are an original six team that needed 7 games to knock Montreal out, so I’ll call that predition 75% accurate.

Friday evening was spent in Downtown Vancouver with some great friends, performing an unusual ritual for a life-long Canuck fan: drinking beer and watching hockey in the month of June. The sounds of the crowds downtown when the goal was scored, and when the final buzzer sounded, were amazing. I was lucky enough to be downtown during the Olympic Gold Metal Game as well, and the feeling was much the same. To be in amongst a crowd of tens of thousands, everyone throwing high-fives as they walk the street, the feeling was electric. Lots of cops in the crowd, but much like the olympics, they were present to make us feel secure, not to “keep order”, and they shared as many high-fives as anyone else. It was a great time.

It wasn’t the camera – it was actually this blurry out.

It is silly to try to explain it. Generally and really large crowd of like-minded individuals is inherently a dangerous thing, but the feeling was so positive. Why? Because, as XKCD so eloquently put it, a weighted random number generator just produced a new batch of numbers. Why care if the Professional Sports Franchise in my hometown is superior to the Professional Sports Franchise in another town? Is the only benefit to all the time and energy we put into ultimately meaningless entertainment just about feeling good, collectively, once in a while? Is this a better way to spend out time an energy than curing cancer or writing piano concertos?  Is this community building?

It occurred to me on the SkyTrain home; it might have been the beer.

Saturday was mostly a garden day. Putting out a lot of the plants that I started indoors: the peppers, the tomatoes and the cucumbers, along with a few squash plants I was gifted from a friend. The radishes, lettuce and spinach are already out of the ground and into my salads, but with the cool spring we had, everything is starting late, and I have to fight the slugs, aphids and cutworms for every leaf. More bloggin on this to come, an ongoing summer project.

Finally, Sunday was spent at Sapperton Day, and it went off great. The event itself was incredibly well attended, the bands were great, the food was great (mmm…pulled Pork sandwich from the Crave/Ranch), and it was great to connect with many people I only see during summer events.

The NWEP booth was well attended, and there was lots of great discussion about the future of transportation in New West, post-UBE. We had a “blank map” to allow people to attach post-it notes with ideas about transportation in the City – What works, what doesn’t, pet peeves and points to ponder. Hopefully ,we can use this blank slate to collect ideas at all the summer events we are attending this year. It was great at facilitating conversation, and lots of great ideas were placed on the board. Notably, not all were NWEP member ideas, or even ideas the NWEP would endorse! The point was to start people thinking about transportation, as the City is getting into its Master Transportation Plan process. We hope that by starting the conversation, people will be informed and curious when the public consultations start.

But mostly Sapperton days is about getting together in the community to meet neighbours, catch up with friends, make new friends, get a little sunburned and have fun. Again, it is all about people coming together to community build.

…and have a little fun along the way.

NWEP’s cycling wildman and Ryan Kesler look-alike Pete taking a few turns on his new bike?

Sapperton Day this Sunday

The Summer Festival season is upon us. We don’t have “Car Free Days” per se in New Westminster, but there are a few days when we close roads and let people gather on the streets. It is always a great way to meet your neighbours, re-connect with people you haven’t seen in a while, and remind yourself how we are a small community within a large City.

I guess the season started last month with the Hyack festival, and I had a great time sitting in the beer garden at Queens Park listening to Jim Byrnes play the blues while the Octopus and the Tilt-a-Whirl made faces green a few metres away.

However, for the NWEP, festival season starts with Sapperton Days , as we are setting up our booth and doing some outreach to the community.

Last year, our outreach concentrated on solid waste issues, as the City was rolling out it’s clean green program, we had two neighbourhood Zero Waste Challenges in the City, and Metro was consulting on an Integrated Solid Waste Resource Management Plan (still sitting on the Minister of Environment’s desk, by the way).

This year, we are talking transportation. The reasons should be obvious to anyone who has been reading this blog (hi mom!). With the UBE dead, with the future of the NFPR in doubt, with questions about the future of the Pattullo Bridge, and with the City starting its Master Transportation Plan process, now is the time to talk about transportation issues in the City.

So the NWEP will be there sharing our perspective. Our Transportation Group has established a set of ideas and principles that the group can support, based on our vision for the City and our research and consultation with regional transportation experts.

However, these community events aren’t about us preaching to an audience, they are about exchanging ideas. The main point of our booth is to listen to what the community thinks, and where the community is going on this issue. We hope that our ideas will be the starting point of conversations and will raise the topic so that more people get engaged in the public consultation around the Master Transportation Plan.

As such, we will be asking lots of questions about what you want to see in the City’s Master Transportation Plan. These are the “big ideas”: do we want to build more roads to move more traffic? Do we want to make the streets safer for bicycles and pedestrians? Can we take better advantage of our Transit opportunities? Can kids safely walk to school in New West? Can people with disabilities safely cross a street?

We will also be going smaller-scale. We hope to have a map where you can attach your ideas, where you can point out the “good, bad, and ugly” of New Wesmtinster’s transportation system. That intersection that just doesn’t seem safe, the area under-serviced by transit, the traffic light that doesn’t make sense or the crosswalk no-one seems to stop at.

So I hope to see you there Sunday. Make sure you show up in time for the Pennyfarthing Races, it is a highlight of Sapperton Day for me.

Just for fun, and to start a discussion, here is a collection of Myths about transportation I prepared for our booth (these are my opinions, and not neccessarily the NWEP position on these points). These are common conversation points that come up when we start talking about sustainable transportation to an audience that sees the world through a windshield. Don’t agree? Come down on Sunday and give me a hard time. I’m the guy with the 4th Round playoff beard.

Myth: The best way to fix traffic problems is to build more or better roads.
Evidence clearly indicates the opposite is true. No-where in the world has road building acted as anything more than a temporary solution to traffic congestion. Many large cities around the world (New York, London, San Francisco, Seoul, etc. etc.) have solved intractable traffic problems by reducing road space and investing in more rational alternatives. Others (Los Angeles, Seattle, Shanghai, Tokyo) have continued to build and expand roads, only to find them soon swollen with cars.

Myth: “Sustainable Transportation” means we will all be forced to ride around on bikes! You can’t move products to stores on bikes!
Sustainable transportation needs to include multiple choices for transportation of people and goods, and the most carbon-and space-efficient should be made the most cost-efficient. By moving people towards mass transit or “active transportation” like walking or cycling, and long- and medium-haul freight movement towards rails and ships, we make better use of existing roads to move goods to the stores more efficiently!

Myth: The traffic is going to come whether we build for it or not!
Traffic expands to fill space available. This is incontrovertible, and has been demonstrated around the world. “Rush Hour” traffic is caused by landuse planning built around the automobile. We need to start building to encourage more efficient transportation. The only demonstrably effective way to reduce the noise, pollution, and loss of liveability related to traffic is to reduce the space that traffic can take up. If you build it, they will come.

Myth: Trucks caught in traffic are limiting our economic growth!
No-one has clearly demonstrated how our economic growth is slowed by traffic. Clearly, the movement of bulk and container goods by truck is still competitive compared to the alternatives (such as rails or short-sea shipping) or companies would not rely so heavily on them. However, the trucking industry (much like the private automobile) is heavily subsidized by all levels of government, while rails and ship operators are mostly on their own for all their infrastructure costs. Economic growth comes from a level playing field and robust competition between competitors, not by favouring the least carbon-and energy-efficient mode of transportation by externalizing many of the infrastructure costs to the taxpayer.

Myth: Roads are cheap, building alternative transportation is expensive!
This should be an easy one in a Province where we are spending $3 billion in road bridge and highway expansion, and cannot find $400 Million to “fill the gap” on the Evergreen line. But when you add up the amount of your taxes the government spends on roads, on traffic lights, on traffic cops, and factor in the “externalized” costs related to healthcare, oil company subsidies, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation resulting from road runoff into our rivers and loss of developable land to parking lots and road lanes, the amount you pay for insurance, car repair, and gas seems miniscule. Once transit systems are built, once urban development encourages active transportation, their maintenance and operation costs become very small fractions of the costs of roads. One reason transit so great in most European cities is that they didn’t waste their money on roads!

Myth: Cyclists don’t pay taxes for the roads they use, drivers do!
No tax exists in BC that specifically charges drivers for road use. Gas taxes and carbon taxes go into general revenue to pay for roads, hospitals, fighter jets, Stephen Harper’s Stanley Cup roadtrips, and gazebos in Tony Clement’s riding, not specifically towards road building (although a portion of the TransLink gas levy does go to road building). Your roads are built mostly by the municipality and the province, using a combination of property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes. People who ride bicycles pay the same taxes as people who drive cars, yet use 5% of the road space. Pedestrians and transit users also pay all these taxes, and use less than 5% of the road space that drivers do. People using alternative transportation are in fact subsidizing the private automobile user, and most would strongly support a road tax that fairly charged drivers for their road use

The Mayor of Coquitlam wants to create a Zombie

The Mayor of Coquitlam is not taking the death of the UBE lightly. I suppose we should have expected as much. Except that his complete lack of participation in the last 6 months of public consultation, and the complete lack of interest his community has show for the project sort of got me thinking maybe Coquitlam would accept the obvious, as New Westminster did. The obvious being that 10 lanes of Freeway and 6 lanes of Lougheed Highway would prove adequate for goods movement, and that trucks really don’t need another four lanes of curvy, driveway-dotted United Boulevard.

Alas, those were but dreams. Mayor Stewart has instead decided to cry to the teacher … uh, I mean the Province and the Feds, in the form of a letter to the Ministry of Transport and the Federal Minister of Canadian Heritage. It is apparent from the letter that he could have learned a lot from attending some of the consultation meetings.

I would love to deconstruct this letter. It’s my blog, I guess I will.

No-one has ever demonstrated that United Blvd. is” vitally needed” for good movement, especially after the freeway is expanded and the SFPR is built. Just who are these truckers trying to get from New West to points East via a narrow, 4-lane commercial road, through lights and past the Casino, the furniture stores, the Toys R Us, just to get to the freeway or the Lougheed? Why are they so irrational as to not just go directly to the freeway or Lougheed?

Also, the consultations with TransLink found a solution that adequately addressed the rail safety issues at the level crossing at Braid: it was “Option C”, and TransLink decided it did not serve it’s needs. If Mayor Stewart is concerned about rail safety at a level crossing that has not seen an accident since…?, then will he embrace TransLink’s “option C” that was preferred by New Westminster residents during the 6 months of consultations he did not attend?

He keeps going on about “goods movement capacity” going from 4 lanes to one. United Boulevard is not 4 lanes, it is two lanes. Expansion to 4 lanes is possible (although not if we want to maintain cycling lanes, as the road is not wide enough for 4+cycling lanes, but I digress). But most of the traffic on this road is cars and commuters, not goods movement. He knows it, we know it, TransLink knows it. Blair Lekstrom probably doesn’t know it.

Also, where does this 4 lanes of “goods movement capacity” go when it gets another 500m west? To a one-lane light-controlled left turn onto Front Street. So much for increased capacity.

TransLink has NOT committed funding, in fact Mayor Stewart himself is on the Mayor’s Council that did not fully fund the supplemental budget that would have included the UBE: He doesn’t know where the money is coming from. Even with this supplemental funding (that Mayor Stewart voted against), there was a $30-50 Million “funding gap” on the UBE, remarkably similar to the “Funding Gap” on the Evergreen.

Also, by (intentionally?) conflating the UBE and the NFPR, hew can conveniently avoid the issue that the entire TransLink portion of the NFPR is completely unfunded, another several-hundred-million-dollar “funding Gap”. Mayor Stewart wants a freeway overpass in New Westminster, but he doesn’t want to pay for it. Compared to the rest of the NFPR, this $65Million in federal money is a drop in the bucket.

Who is “we”? the Mayor signed it himself. Is he using the “Royal We”? Regardless, I would like His Worship to explain exactly how the Bailey Bridge is “holding our regional economy back”. Really, he is asking the Feds to commit $65 Million, for TransLink and (?) to spend another $100 Million, for Sapperton residents to live with a freeway overpass in their front yard, and for all of New Westminster to accommodate increased traffic congestion and the negative impacts to our entire City… isn’t it a fair question to ask exactly how avoiding these impacts is “holding our regional economy back”? Let’s see a business case.

Oh, here we go, the UBE supports Coquitlam’s “planned growth”. Now we are getting to brass tacks, Coquitlam’s “planned growth” is contingent on the degradation of New Westminster’s liveability? Sorry, We are the City that is accommodating regional growth by building a dense, transit-oriented City. We are the City with region-leading alternative transportation mode share. Coquitlam is the City that refuses to sign the Regional Growth Strategy, the City that refused to allow a Millennium Line station in Maillardville, because transit accessibility was such and offensive idea. So we have to accept the automobile and exhaust effluent of your unsustainable, car-oriented residential development at Fraser Mills? Now, after refusing a Skytrain Station, after you start building the King Edward Overpass, after you fill lower Maillardville with auto-oriented development, 10 lanes of freeway and 6 lanes of Lougheed Highway connected by a spaghetti-bowl of concrete: now you suggest traffic might be a problem? And you are crazy enough to suggest 3 more lanes of bridge in New Westminster are going to be some sort of magic solution to this traffic quagmire you have developed!? With all due respect, are you insane?

It seems that Mayor Stewart has a different definition of “community livability” than I do. Based on what I saw and heard at 6 months of community consultation, I suspect that the majority opinion is closer to mine than his.

There we go with the “Royal We” again. Presumably, he is talking for Council, but Council is addressed as a copy to the letter. Along with making the province aware of the negative impacts on regional economic development, could he also let us know? He has hinted towards it, but he still doesn’t actually provide any data to support this assertion.

I’m also not sure here what he is asking the Province to do. “Act quickly and decisively” to overturn the results of 6 months of public consultations? Why does the Mayor feel so contemptuous towards the public?

It is great that Coquitlam has a “preferred solution”, yet will be flexible on how their poor planning negatively impacts New Westminster, even being OK with a few trees being planted for mitigation. Damn magnanimous of him. What a team player.

With all the usual sarcasm and snarkiness aside, here I honestly disagree with Mayor Stewart. This is not an impasse that can only be solved by the Province plowing a freewhere through where a community doesn’t want it. This is a disagreement between neighbours, and there is a lot of room for discussion yet. The UBE as proposed by TransLink is dead, and as a zombie it is starting to stink. If Mayor Stewart really wants to move goods and people, really wants to improve rail safety, and really wants to work with New Westminster finding a common solution, then maybe he should engage us like TransLink did. Maybe he can actually hear the concerns that New Westminster had, and find out if some of the solutions that came out of the TransLink consultations (that didn’t work for TransLink) can work for both Cities.

We all want rail safety, we all want goods to move efficiently, we all want livable communities. We just disagree how to get there. The Mayor thinks more roads in New Westminster will solve his problem, the people in New Westminster don’t think building lanes has ever solved congestion problems.

If you can find an example from anywhere in the world where building road capacity has done anything other than increase traffic demand and lead to further congestion, please bring that to the meeting.

Since you asked, I have a few questions:

James Moore is the Minister of Canadian Heritage. What does he think of the destruction of the waterfront of BC’s first Capital City to accommodate a 4-lane express route for trucks, against the expressed desires of the Mayor, Council, and Citizens of BC’s most Historic City?

Is that the same Iain Black who suggested during a 2009 All-Candidates Meeting that the Evergreen was a “done deal”, and people should stop worrying because it was being built?

OK, those questions were both sarcastic and a little snarky. They were not, however, as cynical as your Worship’s letter.

Geology and Climate Denial

In one of my earlier lives, I was a geologist.

Once a geologist, you sort of always are a geologist. It gets in your brain. I am going down the Grand Canyon next week with a friend who happens to be a Professor of Earth Sciences, and we plan to spend a lot of time cracking rocks and talking stratigraphy. I have already downloaded geologic sections and taken prep notes on the major units, their interpreted settings and anticipated trace fossil assemblages. I do this stuff for fun. However, in an earlier life, I actually did geology for a living, not as a hobby.

 As a geologist, I was member of the Geological Association of Canada, attended several of their meetings, and even presented at one of them (and had my presentation topic expanded into a paper in a special volume of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences published by the GAC).
 As a sedimentology student, I also read a whole lot of Andrew Miall. His “Principles of Sedimentary Basin Analysis” is in every sedimentologist’s bookcase, along with a raft of his papers on fluvial sedimentology (the deposits left by rivers). I cited that book and two other Miall papers in my Masters thesis, relying on his descriptions of alluvial fan deposits to interpret some of the facies in my field area, his description of bi-modal clast distributions resulting from traction flows, and his interpretations of peripheral foreland basin deposit sequences. He is a giant on the subject of the geology of terrestrial sedimentary basins, and a petroleum geologist of significance world-wide, not just in Canada.
 So it is remarkably disappointing to read about this year’ Annual GAC meeting, and to see the symposium entitled “Earth Climate: past, present, and future”, chaired by none other than Andrew Miall.
 The subject itself is topical, interesting, and well within the scope of geology (Geologists are the most qualified to interpret historical climate indicators, working with paleontologists, palynologists, isotope geochemists, and other fields that fit loosely under the big tent of Geology- the study of the solid earth.) The problem arrives in the outline for the symposium . Every line of it makes me cringe: 

“The scientific debate about climate change is far from over.”

Lifting this language right from the Climate Denier playbook, it is clear from the opening line the approach that will be taken below. This line pre-supposes that there is a single debate about Climate Change, and by that supposition, the two positions are: A) humans are definitely causing unprecedented changes in the earth’s climate by their burning of carbon-based fossil fuels and the nations of the word need to take immediate and drastic action to reduce atmospheric CO2 or face significant social, environmental and economic consequences; and B) wrong. 

“Some of the projections of climate change and its consequences contained in the 2007 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been called into question.”

Ugh. Yes they have. Admittedly, the 2007 report put out by the IPCC got a few things wrong, or failed to fully support a few of the statements within. And there has been a lot of science done since 2007, some of which matches the IPCC projections, some of it that suggests the IPCC projections were pessimistic, and the majority suggesting the IPCC projections underestimated the scale of the problem. But the IPCC report is a single document in a sea of research, and of all the documents, it is the most politically tainted. Why single this one out for discussion in a scientific meeting in 2011?

“This symposium will address some of these issues and present a geological perspective on the scientific debate. “

Good, Geology has lots to say about historic climate conditions. Sounds like an important topic to discuss.

“For example, what is the relative importance of water vapour versus carbon dioxide as a medium of heat retention in the atmosphere?”

Huh!?! H2O vs. CO2 in the atmosphere? How is that a geologic topic? This is simple chemistry and physics, we know H2O is a larger greenhouse gas than CO2, no geology required. The only reason this topic is being brought up is because it is a favourite amongst climate deniers, even after it has been thoroughly debunked. This topic has no relation whatsoever to the “climate debate”, it is a red herring. 

“How important have variations in solar output and in sunspot levels been in determining energy input to the Earth’s atmosphere?”

Huh!?! Is this even a debate? More solar output means more input to the Earth’s atmosphere, the relationship is linear. This is not a debate (and not really a geology topic either, although some geologic methods allow estimation of historic solar output directly or by proxy). Another red herring. Of course, this is not in any way relevant to the current observed warming, but they digress. 

“Is the current global temperature regime now warmer than the Medieval Warm Period or the Holocene Hypsithermal?”

OK, This is an excellent topic for geologic investigation. We should be able to use our multiple lines of geologic evidence (although these events are so recent, it is more pedology than geology) to determine the straight-forward answer to this question. I’m not sure what the relevance is… oh, wait, here it comes….

“This is a significant question, given that many damaging ecological, faunal and weather changes have been predicted based on such warming. Yet Earth and its assemblage of life forms clearly survived these and even earlier exceptionally warm periods.”

Here is where the real intellectual dishonesty comes in. Yep, the Earth survived climate change in the past. Actually, at the end of the Maastrichtian, it survived a pretty big climate disruption. Of course nothing larger than a chicken survived, all the planet’s apex predators were killed, the dominant form of sea life was made extinct, along with 90% of vertebrate species, but hey, the earth and life went on. That said, I don’t think any of us want to experience that type of event in our lifetime.

As for the events he actually cited, the MWP was probably (and I say probably, as there is actually some debate in the mainstream scientific community on this) not warmer than today globally. It was certainly as warm as today in Northern Europe, and certainly cooler than today in regions of the tropical south Pacific, but the global temperature average is not as well established. It is also important to know that start and end of the MWP in northern Europe were gradual events, taking centuries for any change to become apparent, and they nonetheless cause huge disruptions to society, to food supplies, and to the natural environment. The current measured warming is happening at a rate 50-100x that rate. How will we adapt this time? 

“Is it possible that other causes, such as the density and ubiquity of the human presence on Earth, rather than climate change, may be the cause of the observed deterioration in many environmental indicators?”

Huh? Is this a geologic topic? Is this really what a bunch of mineral and petroleum geologists should be studying? And what the hell is implied by the question? That overpopulation and resource use are problems we need to worry about, instead of worrying about climate change? How about we worry about both, and recognize they are both the same freaking problem!

Ok, so Miall wrote a provocative abstract to attract an audience to his symposium. You don’t get to be an eminent Petroleum geologist with out a few sales skills. Luckily, the GAC provides abstracts on-line , so we can look through the actual presentations and pick out the real science here. Should be fun, and I will more in future posts.

But as a satart, let’s look at hte Keynote: Oh, oh. It started bad. I see the Keynote is noted Australian climate denier (and mining geologist) Ian Plimer . Looking at Plimer’s Abstract does not instill confidence. Check out how in the last paragraph, instead of summarizing findngs and speculating on implications, as one is wont to do in a scientific abstract, he uses it to pile up non-sequitor climate denier catch phrases…

“Humans have adapted to live on ice, in mountains, in the desert, in the tropics and at sea level and can adapt to future changes. During interglacials, humans have created wealth; populations grow; glaciation is heralded by famine, starvation, disease, depopulation. Humans, although not the dominant biomass of Earth, have changed the surface of the planet. Pollution kills, CO2 is plant food, H2O vapour is the main greenhouse gas. Climate models throw no new light on climate processes”

 In order, that paragraph can be summarized as:

  • Climate change isn’t a problem, we’ll adapt! (debatable) 
  • Global warming is good! (ridiculous) 
  • People have impacted the planet in many ways! (non-sequitor)
  • Pollution is bad! (generally true, but irrelevant)
  • CO2 is good, so it can’t be pollution! (does the same go for zinc?)
  • Water vapour is the problem! (demonstrably not true)
  • Climate models don’t work! (bullshit. how does he feel about mineral deposit models?

He actually pre-emptively Gish Gallops. Loads on the BS so thick, it would take more than a 40 minute keynote to address how wrong his thinking is.

I will opine more as I get time to go through the other abstracts, but I want to leave with an paraphrased quote I once heard from a paleoclimatologist I know:

“AGW is founded in Physics, all was can don in geology is test it. Unfortunately, every time geology and physics have disagreed in the past, it was always the physics that had it right”