UBCM 2018

Apologies to regular readers (Hi Mom!) that I have not been putting a lot of content on this blog recently. The campaign is in full swing, we are still doing our regular City Council stuff, and I have another job that keeps me occupied. Hopefully back to regular programming in later October. In the meantime, I am talking more about campaign stuff on my campaign Facebook page, and on the my campaign website and trying to keep this page about City stuff that isn’t campaigning.

However, I thought it apropos to provide a quick update on the annual Union of BC Municipalities meeting. I was not able to attend this year, mostly due to work and Council commitments. I did go up there on September 10th (disclosure: on the City’s dime) to attend the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council quarterly meeting, and the Minister’s breakfast that is hosted by that Council (of which I am a member). It was a productive meeting, and we were able to discuss the BCMCLC’s response to the Province’s Clean Growth Intentions Paper, which was both supportive of the work the province wants to do, and suggestive of some further steps the province could take to support local governments in reaching the aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals that are required to meet Canada’s Paris targets.

I then returned to Whistler on Wednesday (not on the City’s dime this time) to attend the Lower Mainland LGA meeting (I am a vice president) and to present the annual Community Energy Association awards to communities taking exceptional efforts to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In my role as Chair of the CEA, it was my honour to share the awarding duties with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. I also had the opportunity to give one of the awards to the Mayor of Nelson for their Solar Garden project –and let her know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, demonstrated by New Westminster copying their model for our own Solar Garden project.

The good news coming out the UBCM is that some resolutions we sent to be debated were passed by the membership of UBCM. These were:

B-8: Alert Ready Emergency Alert System

… be it resolved that UBCM works with the Province of British Columbia to provide access to the Alert Ready (emergency alert) system to local governments in order to allow them to broadcast critical and potentially life threatening alerts to residents of their respective communities using the framework of the Alert Ready System.

B-54: Cannabis and Harmonizing Smoking Regulations

… be it resolved that UBCM urge the Provincial Government of British Columbia to extend the prescribed distance from a doorway, window, or air intake in which a person must not smoke tobacco, hold lighted tobacco, use an e-cigarette or hold an activated e-cigarette from 6 meters to 7.5 meters and prohibit smoking in all public parks by amending the Tobacco and Vapour Control Regulations and by ensuring the corresponding distances prescribed in the Cannabis Control and Licensing Regulations are the same.

And:
B-102: Updating the BC Motor Vehicle Act to Improve Safety for All Road Users

… be it resolved that the provincial government be requested to support modernization of the Motor Vehicle Act, addressing the recommendations in the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC Position Paper entitled “Modernizing the BC Motor Vehicle Act” to enhance safety for all road users.

I have to admit, I’m pretty chuffed about that last one.

CLI 2017

Concomitant to being on City Council, I am involved with more than a few other projects. Two of these are membership in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council, and Board Member of the Community Energy Association. These two organizations collaborated last week to put on the first Climate Leadership Institute conference in Richmond. If you are a New Westminster resident, you paid for me to attend, so here is my report on what you got for your 1/3 of a penny each.

(I feel I need to mention here that it was a pretty intensive program, and I have dozens of pages of notes, so I need to do quite a bit of distilling. Everything below if my filtered impression of the program, and may not reflect another person’s experience, and every quote is a paraphrase from memory or scribbled notes!)

This was an interesting 2.5-day event that brought together local government elected officials from across BC, municipal staff working in energy and emissions policy, and subject matter experts across the broad spectrum of energy efficiency and climate change policy. The format was a repeated pattern of a keynote presentation, a panel discussion, then an intensive break-out conversation where the participants could share their local successes and challenges related to the topics covered by the panels. This schedule drove collaborative thinking, shared learning, and more than a little inspiration.


The first session was on communications – how do we lead productive conversations on this politically difficult topic? Aside from some pretty useful self-reflection on how we are communicating personally and on the social media (Do we spout facts, or talk about our beliefs? Are we open to being wrong? Are you silent for fear of being judged?) we heard from some organizations who are learning how to effectively lead conversations: the Pembina Institute, the BC Sustainable Energy Association, Clean Energy Canada. We also discussed current communication challenges related to climate policy: How do you talk to a denier – or do you even bother? Does “Decongestion Charging” mean anything to anyone? With so much bad info on Social Media, how to react?

My takeaways from this were not profound, except in that I recognize I have shifted a bit on this blog and in public from speaking my passions to speaking facts and pragmatics. I think there is a space for the latter – I strive to be factual – but it is the first part that matters, and makes people want to listen to or read my ideas. I gotta get that passion back…


The second session was opened by former Premier and Mayor of Vancouver Mike Harcourt. He gave a pretty interesting “inside basebell” historic run-down of the politics of Greater Vancouver’s regional transportation and infrastructure planning, from Expo86 to today. He spoke of the politician’s paradox – the need to have a long term vision and also deliver in the short term to get re-elected so that vision can be realized. In the end, we all fail, but can move the baton forward, and good work can get done (or undone) by those with the ability to project a vision.

This led to a panel discussion on policy creation an implementation within complex (and often political) organizations. It was less about specific ideas (although some ideas I’ll talk about later arose here), and more about how to champion ideas through an organization as complex as a City. Do we make climate action part of a strategic plan? What happens when your strategic plan gets old (as happens quickly in this fast-moving tech-driven policy area)? What point to making new plans if you haven’t the budget or political capital to see it implemented? We also talked quite a bit about how we measure and report out the results of climate policy, in order to assure our staff are accountable to our council, and our Council is accountable to the public that elect them.


The third panel brought together energy managers from North Vancouver, East Kootenay, Richmond, Campbell River and our own New Westminster to talk about initiatives unique to each community that was making a difference in the their community in reducing energy use or emissions. We were presented a variety of policy tools, technology approaches, and strategies – including the successes and the challenges. I did note that New Westminster’s Urban Solar Garden got quite a bit of interest from other regions and communities.

We had a couple of powerful presentations on the future of global energy systems and on bringing the changes home to our communities in meaningful ways. I really need to write a separate blog post about this, because it takes us to interesting places. In short, the world’s energy economy is changing much faster than we ever thought possible. Canada’s National Energy Board, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry and approves pipelines recently shifted their prediction of the year when Canada will hit peak oil. Last year, they said after 2040; this year they say 2019. Think about the meaning of that on every aspect of our economy. It’s happening, the only question is whether we will be ready. I’m looking at you, Jason Kenny.


On the last day, there were break-out sessions that explored in depth some of the topics not yet covered by the conference (in my case, we talked about food security, and the role that food systems play in our community energy and emissions goals). We also had presentations from the Provincial Government, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Real Estate Foundation of BC, all of who outlined grant opportunities local governments can use to develop studies, to implement new programs, or even for capital costs that will result in reduced energy use and emissions.

Finally, a theme I took away from the entire conference was one of timescales. On one hand, we need to think long-game in energy reduction and community emissions. We cannot replace our vehicle fleet in a year, or our building systems in a decade. On the other hand, things are moving fast. Electrical vehicle technology is growing at an exponential rate, as is building insulation and energy system technology. The prices for what was until recently “bleeding edge” technology are dropping fast, as China invests heavily in solar systems and vehicle tech is pushing storage systems forward. Where putting off infrastructure improvement was once fiscally prudent, the pay-back time for more efficient systems is shifting that equation.

As much as we need to think long-term, there has never a better time than now to take real action.

UBCM 2017- Day 2

This is part 3 on my reporting out on what I did at the 2017 UBCM conference. Part 2 is here.

My third day at UBCM had less of an educational component, more of a political one.

One aspect of UBCM is an opportunity for Local Government elected types and staff to meet with Provincial Government elected types and staff, so we can raise important issues, lobby for support for our initiatives or programs, or learn about how provincial government programs are going to impact us. These meetings are arranged ahead of time, and with hundreds of local governments in attendance and only so many provincial folks to go around, the scheduling is pretty difficult. Meetings are generally 15 minutes to a half an hour, and rarely result in immediate action on issues – especially this year with a new government so early in their mandate.

Part of having a collaborative approach on Council that extends to working with senior governments, we split up responsibilities for these meetings among the Council Members attending UBCM, with the Mayor taking the lead at most meetings. I was able to take part in meetings regarding transportation topics, on the future of childcare in New West and the provincial role in supporting it, and on several community energy and emission reduction initiatives.


Several members of New West Council and a few of our planning staff also had a sit-down meeting with representatives of AirBnB. Clearly, AirBnB are working all levels of government in Canada to assure their business model is not regulated out of existence, and (unlike Uber), this is an area where Local Governments can exercise some regulatory control, through Zoning and Business Licensing. They came prepared to talk to any city who would listen, including providing local stats. In New Westminster (according to AirBnB, there are 130 active hosts, with the average host opening a room for 54 nights a year, for a total length of stay of between 4 and 5 days. The case they were making is that AirBnB contributes to the local economy (guests frequent local restaurants, pubs, and stores) and make housing more affordable for some people, by providing a “mortgage helper”.

We were pretty frank with AirBnB, we are concerned about the impact on our affordable housing stock, about violations of our business license and zoning laws, and about some livability concerns expressed by community members. We had a good discussion about other jurisdictions (such as Nelson and Tofino) and the strengths and weaknesses of their attempts at regulating this platform. It should be no surprise that some concerns that AirBnb raise about different regulatory models are very different that the concerns we hear in some parts of the community. There is also, I think, a bit of a disconnect between AirBnB’s interest in operating within a better regulatory framework, and the limits they put on how they could help local government with that framework- often citing (debatable) privacy issues.

This is a topic I am interested in, and am not getting a lot of traction in my calls for the City to take a more proactive approach. I think there is a role for supporting expanded BnBs in our community (Really, AirBnB is just a platform, not the core business), especially as we have so few Hotel Rooms, no “Hotel Tax” to support our Tourism efforts, and so many heritage and cultural aspects that should make us a popular destination. But with our rental vacancy rate below 0.5%, renovictions burgeoning on crisis, and so many challenges maintaining our affordable housing stock, the answers here are not easy.


Wednesday was also the first day of Resolutions for UBCM 2017 – but I’ll talk about those in a follow-up post.

The afternoon saw several “Provincial Cabinet Town Halls” which were an interesting model for engagement by the new government. There were four Panels (Health and Safety; Investing in People; Infrastructure and Economic Development; and Job, Resources, and Green Communities), each headed by 5 or 6 members of the new Provincial Cabinet. They gave a brief intro to their Mandate Letters, and where they see their files helping Local Government, then the floor was opened in a Town all style for us to grill them on any topic we liked.

I attended the Jobs, Etc. session, where the Ministers of Agriculture, Energy & Mines, FLNROrd, Environment, and Jobs&Trade were in attendance. The introductory conversations were pretty high-level, with Minister Popham clearly excited about protecting the ALR, Minister Mungall equally excited about the future of mining and green energy in the province, and Minister Donaldson proud of the provincial response to the wildfires of the summer (and giving significant props to his predecessor John Rustad for working hard to not let the transition impact firefighting efforts).

Questions given to the Ministers were wide-reaching, including yet another visit from the same Mayor from a certain agriculture-focused municipality clutching pearls over marijuana taking over prime farmland already overwrought with freeways and million-square-foot factory greenhouses (though she didn’t put it that way), to concerns about the future of northeast BC’s ample natural gas resources.

On that final point, I recognized a place where our senior governments are sending mixed messages. Where the Federal Government (in defending the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion) is saying downstream greenhouse gas emissions of pipeline products are not our problem, because they are burned elsewhere, the BC Government (including, alas, the new government) are insisting that we need to support LNG because it will reduce overall emissions in the downstream by offsetting coal in the target markets. Am I the only one who sees the contradiction here?

Post-election Idea #2

The recounts and brokering are still ongoing, and I’m doubly assured none of the provincial leaders read this blog, so I’m going to continue spitballing big ideas that make for interesting conversation, and would support (in my mind) a strong Green-NDP alliance that could rule for a full term. After dispatching electoral reform, I present another vision for the province’s future:

Idea 2: Ministry of Energy and Climate Change

The science on climate change is clear. The causes are known, the implications are serious, and a wide suite of potential policy solutions have been developed and debated. Yet little progress is being made outside of select northern European countries. Under Gordon Campbell, BC was looking to take a lead on this file, but that leadership has slowly eroded for a decade. What now?

For too many reasons related to policy implementation, we need to stop thinking about climate change as an environmental issue, to be managed under the Ministry of Environment. Fundamentally, climate change is an economics issue. The impacts of it come with economic costs and the policies needed to combat its cause are economic policies. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy And Mines marries together two policy areas that will become less aligned as we work towards a post-carbon economy, as our federal government is suggesting is our goal.

Energy and Mines is currently without a Minister. Bill Bennet retired going into this election, and the Legislature will need to sit to put another Minister in place. I would argue that the file is large enough to split into two ministries.

I am one of those people who thinks the fact we had one of the largest environmental spills in Canada’s history on this Minister of Mines’ watch should have been a resignation-level event (and the fact no charges were laid in the spill raises questions about the competence of the Minister of Environment, but I digress). This event shook public confidence in the safety of our mines, just as Environmental Assessments to support new mining projects are ongoing and four new mining projects are pushing forward. The whims of the global metals market and speculative investment have always driven the pace of development in BC mining, but returning public confidence in the industry and its oversight should be job #1 for the Minister of Mines, and could be a full time job.

By taking the “Energy” part of the file out and placeing that new ministry in charge of Climate Change policy, the province can leverage its greatest advantage when it comes to sustainable energy policy and technology development: BC Hydro.

Hydro has a solid grid, and oodles of energy storage capacity in the existing dams across the province (I’m going to avoid wading into the Site C issue here). BC’s electricity is plentiful, cheap, and provides a significant boost to provincial revenues through cross-border sales. We also have a massive potential for solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative energy production. The storage afforded us by large-reservoir dams connected to an integrated grid also provides the “battery” we need to make these less-consistent power sources viable and reliable through pumped water storage. BC Hydro also has an incredible reservoir of human talent in power technology (through Powertech), managing energy markets (through Powerex), and forecasting demand (through the BCUC). To be world leaders in sustainable energy, BC needs an integrated and coordinated effort that looks at our entire energy regime – from how we power our cars to how we provide cost-competitive power to industry and manage residential rates. Coordinating these efforts under a single ministry would facilitate this process.

And yes, managing our domestic supply of hydrocarbons is also a fundamental part of that long-term planning. The mandate of the Ministry of Mines (facilitating the safe extraction of resources to supply markets domestic and international) is harder to reconcile with long-term planning for a de-carbonization of our energy supply.

Most importantly, BC can again look to be leading the country on climate change policy, which will help keep the Greens on side through what might be rocky political days ahead.

Sharpshooter politics

You may have heard of anecdote of the Texas Sharpshooter. He is generally portrayed as a cocky fella standing in a farmyard shooting at the side of the barn. Once his bullets are exhausted, he walks over to the barn, identifies the tightest cluster of bullet holes, and draws a bulls-eye around them. He then speaks glowingly of his targeting skills.

We just witnessed the Premier of British Columbia play Texas Sharpshooter with our coastline.

About five years ago, the Premier was in a tough political situation with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project. She didn’t know which way the political winds were going to blow as she approached her first election. She needed to telegraph general support to satisfy her political contributors, but didn’t want to be caught wearing that approval if things went south. So she pragmatically hedged her bets. She said she would approve the project only if 5 conditions are met. In other words: “I could be convinced”.

At first, the conditions sounded reasonable and concise: Federal environmental assessment approval, Adequate spill protection for land and sea, First Nations agreement, and financial benefit for BC. Five bullets shot towards the barn. It took 5 years for her to finally saunter over there and draw the targets, now declaring them hit.

The problem with what she describes as her “consistent and principled” stand on this project is that it wasn’t any stand at all. One of the conditions was a sure thing (the NEB approval of the project, and I could go on another entire rant about that one – I have in the past!), but the other 4 had no actual measures! They were phantom targets, a blank barn wall waiting for bulls-eyes to be painted.

To use “World-Leading” as the measure for the spill prevention and response plans is, of course, ridiculous. It would be difficult for the nations of the world to have a spill-prevention-off or an Oil Clean Olympics. That said, I have worked on both the Federal (marine) and Provincial (land-based) consultations as part of my previous job. I have reviewed what other jurisdictions do, have read and critiqued position papers, have attended workshops and spill response exercises, and have conferred with experts local and international. That there are major gaps and unaddressed concerns with the spill prevention and response plans is not a controversial opinion.

?

No plan is perfect, but for them to earn the moniker “World Leading”, I would think you would at least meet the standard set out by Washington State, and it is clear these plans fall far short of those measures. There are places in the world where shipping Afrimax tankers full of diluted bitumen is against the law – a spill prevention measure that really can’t be exceeded. We do not measure up to many other jurisdictions yet, not even close.

But it’s OK. The Premier has drawn the target around the collection of half-baked plans the Province, the Feds and Kinder Morgan have, and has determined they meet her vague test of “World Leading”.

The First Nations condition included the meeting of legal and constitutional requirements, which will be measured by a judge, I guess, but also included undefined opportunities and benefits for First Nations. Despite the Premier’s confidence, we don’t know if the legal and constitutional issues are fully addressed, as many of the groups along the route appear to still be opposed to the project, nor has it been made clear who or what opportunities or benefits agreements have been made. This was tweeted out by a reliable newsgatherer during the announcement:shaneKM

So I guess the target was 50% of First Nations. Nice to find out after.

Finally, the economic benefit to BC was also never provided a measure. It sounds like the Premier negotiated with Kinder Morgan to assure pipeline jobs go to British Columbians first (which probably violates NAFTA and TILMA, but I digress), and Kinder Morgan will contribute $25-50 Million a year to fund various local environmental programs in the Province, providing the Premier many opportunities to stand in front of banners with her Haida print shawl in the future. The amount is significant, unless you compare it to the $1.5 Billion subsidy to oil pipelines recently announced by Trudeau.

Again, this target was never defined or openly discussed until the day it was announced as being hit. If it sounds like I wanted more, maybe it is because hard negotiations to get money out of oil companies is apparently a BC Liberal strength when it serves their purposes. But that’s just politics.

Recently, a poll was released that showed 54% of BC are in favour of the pipeline. My Facebook algorithm keeps spamming my feed with that poll, and it always seems a shockingly small number to me. This was a poll conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an organization with extremely deep pockets that has served as the primary public speaker in favour of the project. Not only have they and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars on print, internet, radio and tv ads trying to convince us this pipeline is a great idea, They no doubt were able to frame the poll questions in as favourable a light as possible to push towards their desired result. Yet they still only got 50% plus the margin of error in support. Describing this support as anything but tepid would be disingenuous.

However, the Premier has clearly done the math. The ridings in Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island that most opposed to this project were not likely winnable next election anyway. This approval may even boost Green Party support enough in areas like North Vancouver to assure a few quiet, obedient Liberals can still squeeze through. The great thing about drawing your targets afterwards – the real strength of Texas Sharpshooter politics – is the flexibility. We can have no doubt if polls showed an electoral advantage to opposing this project, those targets would have been drawn on another part of the barn, and our “consistent and principled” Premier would be standing in opposition to the project now. Like she was only a year ago:

Capture

Cazart!

Cursory apology for not writing enough or answering my queued “Ask Pat”s. Things will change in January, I’m not promising much until then. However, something this newsworthy requires comment, and I’m not going to sleep tonight until I write something down. No time for editing, let’s go.

“Cazart!” is a word invented by the Doctor of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. He defined it as “Holy Shit! I should have known.” However that definition lacks the sense of fatal acceptance and calm that the second clause must be spoken with in order to hit the true feeling. It is the shock of surprise at something that was always obvious; we knew it was coming, but perhaps we hoped against.

To quote the esteemed Doctor himself:

“Cazart” goes far beyond mere shock, outrage, etc. If Bill had a better grip on semantics, he would have told you it meant “Holy Shit! I might have known!” Fatalism, I’d say. It’s a mountain word, but not commonly used……In contemporary terms, we might compare it to the first verbal outburst of a long-time cocaine runner who knew he was bound to be nailed, eventually, but when it finally happens he instinctively shouts “Cazart!”

A good friend of mine succinctly summed up in a tweet much of my thoughts  – not just about the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project, but about the way we continue to dance around the edges of serious issues in this province and this country:

Stickers

The profundity of that comment needs a whole new blog post. so instead, I’m going to write about the completely predictable failure represented by the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project.

I am not a distant observer of the Trans Mountain project. I worked on the Environmental Assessment National Energy Board Review. I read and critiqued the Project Description, and the reams of correspondence from stakeholders, intervenors, commenters. I was a participant the Review Process, and could see how the cards were stacked. I attended the protest camp at Burnaby Mountain and wrote about the impacts on New Westminster. I spent a bunch of time converting tonnes to barrels to cubic metres to understand the throughputs of the existing and planned pipelines, what it means for tanker traffic, for our domestic fuel supply in the Lower Mainland, and for Pacific Northwest refineries. I attended emergency planning drills at the Westridge Terminals when they ran boom boats around showing how easy a clean-up was (a very different experience that folks up in Bella Bella had with the Nathan E. Steward spill). I have talked with my colleagues from across the Pacific Northwest at the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. I attended the Trudeau government “Panel Review” that was meant to get to the bottom of the conflict about the project, and found it wanting.

All this to say my opposition to this project is not uninformed, knee-jerk, or equivocal. Providing a Texas-based tax-avoidance scheme the right to threaten what is most sacred to British Columbia, “Splendor Sine Occasu”, makes no economic, social, environmental, moral or practical sense. It is a betrayal of our communities, of the nations that were here before us, and of the generations that will (hopefully) come after. It is a failure to lead and a failure to dream.

I admit that I believed that when Trudeau’s refreshed Canada walked into the Paris meeting and said “we’re back”, we were telling the world that we were ready to lead again. I hoped (dreamed?) we were ready to take a role respective of our technological and economic advantages, catch up with true global leaders, and begin beating our energy swords into plowshares. At the least, we would begin respecting our commitments to ourselves and the world. Instead, it is clear we are going to continue to subsidize the industry that provides all those fragile eggs to Alberta’s wobbly basket. We will subsidize it directly through our tax dollars, we will subsidize it through infrastructure investments like 10-lane bridges that lock a generation into unsustainable fossil-fuel-dependent transportation choices, subsidize it through forsaking future opportunities and risking the ultimate destruction of everything we value in our spectacular BC coast.

It doesn’t really matter if that destruction comes from a single “72-hour spill response time” incident or from gradual and inexorable rises in temperature and sea levels. We have sold our legacy, forgiven our opportunity, failed to find a vision that would allow it to exist.

Justin Trudeau was elected because people saw something akin to a new vision. We had enough of the stuffy old white guy with the 19th century solutions, and were not compelled by the other stuffy old white guy and his 20th century solutions. Dickens and Steinbeck (respectively) had nothing on Copeland and Klosterman. The promise was a new direction from the new generation. Fresh ideas and approaches, more personal politics, dare I say “Sunny Ways”. Traditional ideas like fearing deficits, letting oil companies tell us what’s what, or keeping your sleeves buttoned at your wrists were tossed aside. Canada’s back, baby, with a sexy swagger. We convinced ourselves that we could dream more hopeful dreams, that our ambitions to be something better would be realized.

Alas, before the election ballots were counted, long-time observers were asking how soon the Liberals would course-correct to the right with hackneyed neo-liberal (made so quaint now by a Trump-based reality) policy decisions that blur the distinction between them and the Conservatives they campaigned far to the left of. Campaign left, govern right, stay the course. It has worked for the Natural Governing Party because that’s the Canadian way, and has been since… well, I’m too young to know any other form of Liberal.

They campaign to govern, and govern to campaign. Perhaps under P.E. Trudeau that meant serious discussions about Public Policy, the Role of Government, and the Meaning of Nationhood. In 2016, public policy is a hassle, because it is hard to sound bite and some noisy people or potential donors might not like the results. The need to break promises of last election are an issue only for the crisis communications department; after all, they present opportunities to become promises for next election! Voter cynicism? A political machine this size, if properly greased, can work that to their advantage. For one more cycle, anyway.

When Trudeau II showed up on the scene, many voters jaded by a series of abusive relationships received a glimpse of a new beginning. The honeymoon is now over for people in BC concerned about the environment, about our natural legacy. It is important to note that we are a little late to the game out here on the West Coast.  The honeymoon already ended for Civil Liberty types, as Ralph Goodale seems to support giving rights to CSIS that the Courts denied them making fights over C-51 antiquated. It already ended for human rights activists as selling citizen-crushing machines to brutal dictators became unavoidable in bureaucratic doublespeak. From the stall on electoral reform, to the laissez faire on TPP and the claw-back of public pensions… the reasons for buyer’s remorse are broad and all-encompassing.

Cazart, indeed.

Naturally, we are seeing the same thing here in BC, and it extends far beyond this pipeline (that we know Christy Clark is coyly equivocal about, as she schemes to assure its development as long as she gets a tidy deficit-reducing revenue cut). The same failure to lead / failure to dream leaves us in a place with an economy that is ostensibly the Greatest on Earth, except for the shocking number of homeless, the working poor being made destitute, then the destitute dying of addiction or violence with no apparent support or escape alongside the creeping failure of our public education, public health, and public transportation systems. Even the financially stable are seeing the cost of living creep up through faux-taxes hidden in the costs of basic services while local governments are scrambling to find the funds to putty over the cracks in the social net that has made us a civil society – if not the Best Place on Earth.

It’s an election year, so casual political observers are going to forget about disability claw-backs, about the past-critical housing crisis, about forgotten promises to make schools safe, about privatization of public assets to meet short-term budget goals, about feet-dragging over regional transit funding, about tax breaks for private schools and forgotten promises to provide family doctors. Instead, we are going to hear a few populist news stories about how the Liberals are claiming a lead in housing or education or health care (“It is time to invest”) and we are going to be distracted from the abject failure to provide not only those things for the last 15 years, but any form of public good through their neo-liberal trickle-down economics. Some of us might be convinced they care about us and a brighter future is just around the corner…

That’s the winning formula when winning the job is more important that doing the job. How long until they, too, disappoint us? Will we say “Cazart”?

ASK PAT: Electrical utility

Chelsea asks—

Why does New Westminster have its own electrical utility? What benefits does it deliver to residents and businesses? Seeing as every time Hydro raises its rates to pay for new infrastructure or repairs we have to raise ours too.

Reason I ask is that as a single homeowner living in an apartment, I pay a flat rate that is higher than BC Hydro’s step 1 rates, and I never use enough electricity to move me into step 2 if we were on BC Hydro. So basically…families and people who use a lot of power over a two-month billing period are getting a discount compared to BCH, and I’m paying more.

We also don’t get the benefits of online access to our electricity consumption or basic things like e-bills. It’s nice that I could still pay my bill in person at City Hall if I chose…but I think I’d take being able to see my usage online, just like my cellphone bill or my cable/Internet.

I could have sworn I already wrote this blog post and drawn the graph below, but I can’t find anything in my archives, so I guess I just dreamed about it, or half-wrote it then moved on. So thanks for the reminder!

First off, we have our own electrical utility because we have always had our own electrical utility. It started in 1891, which makes it 70 years older than BC Hydro, and even 7 years older than Hydro’s grandfather, BC Electric Railway Company. Though most local municipal power systems across BC were amalgamated into BC Hydro (or West Kootenay Power, now FortisBC, or other entities), a few still remain independent.

The most obvious benefit is that the City makes money selling electricity. We purchase it at wholesale rates from BC Hydro, and we sell it at retail rates similar to what BC Hydro charges users in adjacent communities (more on this below). The difference between the two is about $8 Million a year. Some of that goes to pay for the operation of the utility (maintaining all those poles and wires, and the staff to do so) and contingency funds to pay for asset replacement as the system ages, but a significant portion of it goes into the City’s coffers, where it effectively offsets property taxes.

There are a few other benefits as well. We generally have more reliable power service and faster response during storm events, because we have dedicated crews and contractors who concentrate on dealing with New West issues while BC Hydro is sometimes stretched a little thin during large storm events. We also, by owning so much of our own utility assets, can leverage that for things like installing a fibre network (happening now) and district energy utilities (coming soon, I hope).

Historically, our Electrical Utility has emphasized reliable service and economy, and has (how can I put this politely…) lagged behind a bit on customer service innovation like on-line billing. They don’t have much of a web presence, and mostly operate out of a non-descript building adjacent to our works yard. Even finding out how our rates work can be a bit of a challenge with the City’s website, as most customers would not think to search for Schedule A of the Electrical Utility Bylaw to get answers. Really, in 2016, they shouldn’t have to. This is a place where a little Community Engagement effort would go a long way.

Now onto the rates issue. The City’s policy has been to maintain retail rates similar to BC Hydro retail rates, and overall when all of our different residential, commercial, industrial, and other rates are combined together, you find this is the case. However, the actual structure of how we charge is slightly different, and ultimately, some people pay a little more than they would on BC Hydro, some pay a little less.

As you have discovered, our base rate for residential users (the amount you pay to have an account, regardless of electrical use) works out to be a few cents higher per 2-month billing period (New West charges $11.92 per 2-month period, BC Hydro charges $0.1835 per day). We then charge a flat $0.0993/ kWh of use, where BC Hydro charges $0.0829 for the first 1350kWh per billing period (2 months) and $0.1243 for any above 1350kWh. So, although collectively, we pay about the same rate, residential users (like you and I ) who use less electricity probably pay more per unit relative to BC Hydro rates, that people who use a lot. To graph it out, it looks like this:

graph1

According to BC Hydro, the average BC household uses about 900kWh of electricity every month. If this average holds true for New West, then the average household is paying about $5.80 per month more than they would in a BC Hydro service area, or almost $70 more per year. Strangely, if you are an efficient apartment dweller and use half that amount of electricity, your monthly New West premium is even higher – at $93 per year.

If you use about 1130kWh per month, then your rates are the same as BC Hydro, and the more you use, the more your savings go up. At twice the average, 1800kWh/month, you would get about a $200 per year discount off BC Hydro rates by living in New West.

As our rate structure is flat, you are not subsidizing larger users – we all pay the same for each unit of electricity in New West. However, comparison to BC Hydro’s stepped rate structure gives the impression that we are encouraging consumption, but not doing enough to actively discourage it. If you add the base and metered values together, here is the true cost of what you pay for every kWh of electricity, based on your usage:

graph2

For context, my (admittedly back-of-the envelope) estimate is that the average New West household saves about $160 a year in Property Taxes (or, depending on your viewpoint, receives $160 worth of extra services from the City they don’t need to pay for through taxes) because we have an electrical utility and the profit it earns for the City. That might make you feel better, except that property taxes index with the value of your home, so again, the big-house-owner probably gets more benefit than the apartment dweller.

In summary, I don’t think this is good. I support the concept of City using the Electrical Utility to provide a financial benefit to the residents that own the utility, and offset their taxes. I support using “similar to BC Hydro” as the benchmark for our retail rates. However, I think the impression of benefitting larger users that is created by our flat rate structure sends the wrong message. I remember asking some questions about this back when I was still pretty new to the job, and I seem to remember getting a report that more of less confirmed what the graph above shows.

I’m not on the Electrical Commission, and I’m not sure when the next rate review will occur, but I’ll see what I can do.

The TransMountain Panel

For reasons probably not relevant to this discussion, I attended a couple of the “Trans MountainPipeline Expansion Project Ministerial Panel” public meetings in Burnaby and Vancouver.

For those who have not been keeping track, here is the TL;DR background condensed to a single run-on sentence:

An American tax-dodge scheme called Kinder Morgan bought a 50-year-old oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, and now wants to replace and twin it, tripling capacity, and shipping mostly diluted bitumen for quick export via daily Aframax tankers berthing in Burrard Inlet, which previously would have required an Environmental Assessment, but the Harper Government changed the rules in 2012, giving an Oil and Gas Regulator/Booster in Calgary called the National Energy Board the ability to review and approve the project, which they unsurprisingly did in May 2016 despite significant local and First Nations pushback, causing the new Trudeau government to say “hold yer horses, Cowboys” and strike a new “ministerial” panel that will be doing further stakeholder, community, and first nations outreach to “seek additional views that could be relevant to the Government’s final decision on the project”, a panel whose validity is being questioned by many critics, as its Chair was, until recently, working with Kinder Morgan.

I went to the meetings as an observer, not a presenter, so this post is made up of my impressions of the presentations of others. You may not agree with them (me?), and although the public meetings are pretty much wrapped up now, you can still take part by sending your comments or filling out a questionnaire here.

panelRoom2

The roundtable I attended in Burnaby took place in one of those familiar hotel convention rooms, all crystal chandeliers and pukey carpets, which was essentially empty for most of the day, with many more seats than participants. Right from the get-go, it was hard to determine what the actual plan for the day was.

The morning session was meant to feature “Environmental NGOs” (I counted three), with two later sessions featuring “Local Governments” (a total of four, including New Westminster, who were well represented by City staff). There was no fixed agenda, so there was no idea who was presenting when, and any member of the public was apparently able to sign up and get their time at the microphone after the pre-designated speakers were finished. There was a polite request that each of the speakers would have 5 minutes, but there was no timekeeping, and some presenters went on for better than a half an hour.

In her introductory remarks, the Chair instructed the audience that this was meant to be an “informal dialogue”. They appeared to have perfectly nailed in the “informal” part, but the dialogue was distinctly lacking. In three sessions totalling almost five hours, I can recall a single instance where a Panel Member asked a follow-up question of a presenter. Even when directly asked questions by presenters, the Panel members seemed unable (unwilling?) to answer, but more on that later.

panelvan

The Vancouver event was crowded and went well into the night, where the lack of any formal organization led to the inevitable. There was a significant presence of the patchouli and gorp crowd that, as usual, had a frustratingly hard time keeping on topic. Concerns were expressed about everything from Site C to salmon farming to LNG. At one point, a gentleman came to the microphone cradling what was, apparently, a plastic doll swaddled in a blanket and finished his talk with a short a cappella folk song of sorts. Perhaps I missed the point. No, I’m almost positive I missed the point.

However, there were also several compelling arguments offered, including the failure of the NEB process to address significant concerns with this project, questions about the ability of the Federal Government to respond to a significant spill in the Canadian half of the Salish Sea (the risk of which will clearly increase if this project is approved), and questions about how Canada will meet its stated GHG emission goals if Oil/Tar/Bituminous Sands developments proceed at the pace outlined in the business case for this project. The one question hanging over the entire proceeding was clearly “Why?” How is accelerating the extraction of a non-renewable resource for rapid export in the “National Public Interest”?

It was the sparsely-attended Burnaby event that was actually more interesting. Mayor Corrigan of Burnaby, love him or hate him, can be a hell of an effective orator, and he was on his game this day. He spoke clearly without notes for about a half hour, and despite his reputation for, uh… being outspoken, he was respectful and calm for the length of talk. He started by talking about the history of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and how 50 years ago Burnaby consented to a cooperative-owned pipeline to supply the 5 refineries around the Burrard Inlet because of the important local jobs and domestic supply needs it represented. He also spoke of the history of Burnaby gifting Burnaby Mountain to the University, then buying large portions of it back 40 years later to protect the conservation area that had become so important to Burnaby and the region.

panelCorr

He went through how his Council and Staff evaluated the Kinder Morgan proposal to “twin” the pipeline, primarily for export, and in comparing the significant costs and limited  offsetting benefits, determined it was not in the interest of the City. They then learned about the National Energy Board, a non-elected body in Calgary made up of (mostly) former energy executives, who would be tasked with reviewing the project to determine if it was in the “national public interest.” They identified fairly quickly that there is no national plan to develop our hydrocarbon industries or to manage our non-renewable resources over the short or long term, making determination of how any project fit within something called the “national public interest” a very difficult thing to determine. At no point was there an explanation of what the “national public interest” was, nor a discussion of how one would measure it. For a Municipal Politician, whose job it is to plan and make those plans a reality, the complete lack of planning or even a clear definition of a goal, was shocking.

Further, going through the process with the National Energy Board, the City of Burnaby (along with most everyone else involved) soon discovered that the hearing process was cumbersome, chaotic, and lacking in some pretty fundamental protections that a formal hearing should have, such as the ability to cross-examine witnesses and test the evidence that has been presented to assure it was credible and had merit. In challenging the process, Burnaby discovered that Kinder Morgan’s legal fight was funded by a special surcharge on the pipeline use approved by the NEB, a source of funds not available to local governments and other stakeholders in the process, and that the NEB was not made up of a broad representation of citizens from across BC and Canada who can fairly evaluate what is reasonable to the general public, but are drawn from within the Oil and Gas industry and friends of the (at the time) oil-soaked federal government.

After discussing some of the technical and safety concerns the City of Burnaby has, and the inadequate responses to these risks provided in the “conditions” to the NEB approval, Corrigan compared these to the inferred benefits: maintaining some jobs in Alberta to accelerate the removal of harder- and harder-to-extract oil reserves so they can be exported faster for the benefit of a few multinationals,with little or no long-term evaluation of Canada’s long-term petroleum needs. Are the needs of future generations included in “the national public interest”?

He summed up by calling the Panel out for what they really are – a political body comprised of two former politicians and a former Deputy Minister – and the review for what it is – a political process to correct the fundamental flaws of the NEB process that Prime Minster Trudeau recognized prior to his election. In summary, the Mayor quoted the Prime Minister, stating “Government can grant permits, but it’s communities that grant permission.”

He then put a period on that point: “Well, we don’t.”

I was also fortunate to have heard Kai Nagata from the Dogwood Initiative ask some rather pointed questions to the Panel, for which he received respectful non-answers. To paraphrase heavily from my memory, the exchange went something like this:

Q: Who was invited to speak? Is there a list of which organizations were sent invitations? What efforts were taken to get the word out to impacted parties, so they can take time from their summer schedules to take part? Was there any vetting of the people who wished to take part?
A: There is no list. Everyone was invited. Anyone can speak.

Q: So you are taking anything from anyone. How are you vetting the information received? With no opportunity for cross-examinations, how are you assessing the strength of evidence? What measures are you taking to determine if the voices you are hearing represent a fair cross section of stakeholders, or the general public. What processes have you brought to weigh the evidence you have received, and where is that process explained?
A: We are here to listen, and we will produce a report summarizing what we hear.

Q: There does not appear to be any official recording or video of these hearings, nor does it appear that official transcripts are being produced. Some presenters have provided you written materials, how will the record of these hearings be entered in to the official record, and how with the public know what transpired here? What process exists to assure the public input is fairly reflected in the report you provide to the Minister, or that the written evidence you have received has been vetted for accuracy?
A: We are here to listen, and we are taking notes, there are no official transcripts.

Q: So with no formal process to solicit input or assure the presenters are representative of the community, no vetting of the information you hear, no process to determine the validity of evidence, and no official record of what transpires – how will this Panel, to quote the Prime Minister “restore public trust and confidence in Canada’s environmental assessment processes”?
A: Hrrm…

I don’t mean to come down hard on the Panel Members. They were hastily called up and thrown into a hastily assembled process, with a mandate that may appear simple, but suffers from a lack of definition or process. Their job is to report to the Minister with some ideas or impressions of whether this project, a narrowly defined pipeline delivering and extra 600,000 barrels a day of products to the Pacific Coast primarily for export through Burrard Inlet, is in the “National Public Interest.” Unfortunately, they have not been provided the tools to define, never mind measure, such an ethereal concept. This “informal” and apparently ad-hoc process is not going to get them any closer to that definition.

Nor will this process restore the public trust in the way the Prime Minister anticipated. The only question remaining is whether he has the political courage to stop this project based on this failure, because it has not moved him any closer to receiving a mandate to approve it.

Sowing Doubt

The Earth is currently warming at a rate unprecedented in recent history, almost entirely due to human activity, primarily the digging up and burning of fossil carbon and introducing CO2 to the atmosphere at a rate much faster than natural biosystems can remove it. This is not a controversial set of facts.

However, much like people who refuse to believe that natural selection shaped the evolution of life on our planet, or those that believe there could be a breeding population of large bipedal hominids lurking just out of sight in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, there are some for which this set of facts cannot fit within their political, religious, or economic ideologies. No problem, it’s a big world, reality isn’t for everyone.

Problems do arise, however, when those so separated from reality are given the power to shape public opinion and political will. I provide for your review the most recent opinion of Black Press’ go-to climate change correspondent, Tom Fletcher. I recognize the Streisand Effect of even calling attention to this bunk, but perhaps we can glean from this a teaching moment.

There is a lot in here, representative of Tom’s liberal (ahem) application of the Gish Gallop on this topic, so I will only pull out two major themes, where he brushes up against the science. I’ll touch more on the politics later.

“According to the environment ministry’s 2015 Indicators of Climate Change report, B.C.’s average temperature has increased about 1.5 degrees from 1900 to 2013, slightly more in the north and less in the south. That’s one one hundredth of a degree per year”

See how only little cherry-picked factoid stripped of context can be used to sow doubt about the seriousness of the situation? The report (which you can read here) says 1.4°C per century from 1900 to 2013 (doing the math on that strange bit of language, that means 1.6°C in the 113 years between the two dates). At the risk of pedantry, this is 40% more than one one hundredth of a degree per year – an annual change of 0.014°C.

Still, a number so small, it can’t possibly a problem, right? Except…

We can all agree the climate has changed before. During an era 10-20,000 years ago there was a dramatic climatic change that saw continental glaciation in North America come to an end. What is now British Columbia went from being about 95% covered with ice to less than 1%. No doubt this type of dramatic climate shift had devastating effects on the extant biosystems, not to mention any society that existed during that time. Some survived, others didn’t. It was monumentally disruptive.

However, that dramatic landscape-shifting shift in climate came with a 3.5°C shift in temperatures over about 8,000 years. To simplify this trend to Tom Fletcher math, that is about 4 ten-thousandths of a degree per year – an annual change of 0.0004°C. The current temperature shift is happening at more than 30 times the speed of the previous, devastating one.

Except it isn’t, because the current trend has been accelerating over those 113 years. The rate of warming now is more than twice that of the first half of the century. If one looks only at the trend from 1960 onwards (as the ubiquitous use of fossil fuels and resultant exponential increase in energy consumption has expanded from the socio-economic “First World” to the majority of the planet), the rate is not only faster, but the acceleration is accelerating.

“The B.C. report ritually attributes this to human-generated carbon dioxide, the only factor the UN climate bureaucracy recognizes. And here lies a key problem for the global warming industry.

“More than 90 per cent of the greenhouse effect in the Earth’s atmosphere is from water vapour. Antarctic ice core analysis shows that over 400,000 years, increasing carbon dioxide has lagged centuries behind temperature increase. This suggests that rising temperatures lead to increased CO2, not the other way around. (Scientific American, working hard to debunk this, found a study that shows the CO2 lag is only 200 years, rather than 800 as others calculate. Still, it can’t be causing warming.)”

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the measure of Fletcher’s knowledge of this topic is most generously described as “little”. So let’s unpack that paragraph a bit and see where his failure to do his reading has failed his keenly skeptical mind.

On water vapour, Mr. Fletcher is almost right. Water vapour is indeed a strong greenhouse gas, however the behaviour or water in the atmosphere (where it enters as a vapour, exists in all three phases at a wide variety of temperatures, and exits primarily as a liquid, influencing upward and downward energy fluxes at all times) is horribly complicated. The best estimates modelling these fluxes (and I’ll refer to Kiehl and Trenberth, 1997 here) suggest water vapour represents about 60% of the total radiative forcing under clear skies, and somewhat more under cloudy skies (at any given time, the planetary cloud cover is about 62% – a pretty cool factoid to pull out at your next dinner party). There are more complications here, as we can get into debates about defining the “greenhouse effect” relative to the impact on the planet’s surface vs. that in the atmosphere, about difficulty defining latent heat fluxes from precipitation, and other details that were definitely discussed in my upper-level boundary layer climatology courses, but that was 20 (ack!) years ago, and I am not as well versed as I once might have been.

Those caveats aside, the inference by Mr. Fletcher is that water vapour is a higher percentage than CO2, and therefore CO2 doesn’t matter. Nothing could be farther than the truth.

The same estimates put CO2 forcing at around 26%, based on historic CO2 concentrations (the 1990 concentration of 353ppmv was used, although the global concentration in 2015 is at least 13% higher than this). More importantly, one needs to recognize that the two gasses exist in the atmosphere in very, very different ways.

When we emit CO2 into the atmosphere, it essentially stays there until sorbed into the ocean or is made into rock through biogenic systems  – two very slow processes. Respiration by plants is, at best, a temporary storage, as the majority of CO2 that enters plants is returned to the atmosphere within a year or a decade, and almost all of the rest within a century. Stick extra CO2 in the atmosphere, it stays there for a long time.

Conversely, the concentration of H2O in the atmosphere is controlled by atmospheric pressure and temperature – because in normal atmospheric conditions H2O exists in all three phases (CO2 only exists as a gas in the atmosphere of earth- there are no conditions here where liquid or solid CO2 form naturally). Stick more H2O in the atmosphere, and it exits again almost immediately as rain or snow when the saturation level of the air at that temperature and pressure is met. If we double or treble human inputs of H2O into the atmosphere without changing atmospheric temperature, the net concentration of H2O in the atmosphere a decade later will be unchanged (notwithstanding the sheer enormity of the natural H2O cycle of evaporation and precipitation, where the most generous estimates of human inputs account for something like 0.005%).

So the only thing we can do to influence that 60% of forcing is to increase the temperature of the atmosphere (as meaningfully changing the pressure of the atmosphere, globally, is beyond our current terraforming technology). In contrast, by effectively doubling the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, we are wreaking havoc with that 26% of forcing – it is going up. And that’s the part we are talking about.

Now, onto ice those pesky ice cores. Those pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 changes over the last 400,000 years did lag behind temperature increases (by how much is a debated point, see Caillon et al, 2003). That should actually frighten us, not make us confident. It also in no way refutes the observation that anthropogenic combustion of fossil carbon is the primary driving force for the current temperature increases.

When the ice in those cores was being deposited (and ice cores are not the only temperature/CO2 proxies we have, but let’s keep this simple) it was recording long-scale shifts in global climate caused by Milankovitch cycles. Short version: cyclic wobbles in the axis of the earth’s rotation relative to the sun along with changes in the shape of our orbit give rise to 100,000-year long cycles of increased and reduced solar input. These shifts continue today, indeed we are just past a “peak” that occurred ~10,000 years ago, and are in the downward part of the cycle with solar input slowly decreasing right now. Global CO2 levels also shift in lockstep (or slightly after) these cycles, from 180ppm to 290ppm.

I cannot emphasize this enough – the historic climate effects of Milankovitch cycles occur at a rate orders of magnitude slower than what we are currently observing: Heating at a scale of 0.0005°C per year, cooling at a rate of 0.0001°C per year.

These historic shifts in temperature were not caused by changes in greenhouse gasses, and no-one has suggested they are. They are caused by shifts in the solar energy hitting the earth. So the cause of the much slower heating and cooling cycles recorded in the ice cores is not, in any practical way, related to the cause of the much faster heating today. They are two separate phenomena, operating in different ways, at different scales. To compare them is like comparing the tide coming in to a tsunami – both cause the sea to rise, but in different ways, through different processes with, different effects.

So Fletcher is right- the initial cause of warming 25,000 years ago, 130,000 years ago, 250,000 years ago, was not CO2, but that does not mean the cause of the present warming isn’t CO2. In fact, we know it is.

More problematically, the ice cores demonstrate that increases in temperature related to outside causes can (and do) result in increased atmospheric CO2, for a bunch of reasons relating to carbon storage in soils and the sea. This, in turn, creates a positive feedback loop. As the earth gets warmer, more greenhouse gasses (GHG) are released, and that increased GHG concentration warms the earth further. This is the primary reason why the cooling phase related to Milankovitch cycles operates at a quarter of the speed of the heating phase – once that GHG blanket is thrown over the warm earth, it takes much longer to cool off.

That should scare us, as should the other data from the ice cores. Even at the “peak” of the previous cycles observed in the ice cores, planetary CO2 was only 290ppm. We are now over 400ppm, and the trend is continuing up. It also means that once those GHG hit the atmosphere, their effects are long-lasting, and getting back to start gets much harder the further we move away from what I can only loosely call a “baseline”.

In the end, the reality of this information doesn’t matter. No amount of science-based explanation is going to change Mr. Fletcher’s mind about this topic. He will continue to believe that the hundreds of thousands of scientists at NASA, NOAA, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Science, (and every other national academy of science on earth, from Bolivia to Zimbabwe), are either pulling a monumentally complicated con only he and a few of his buddies can see through, or are fools lacking his brilliant insight into global climate systems.

His views are so separated from reality that he may as well be casting Bigfoot footprints, and should be treated as a crackpot. Instead, he is paid for his misinformed opinion, which is subsequently circulated widely throughout BC, as the lead columnist for the only newspaper that much of BC ever sees: their local Black Press iteration resulting from our era of old media consolidation.

Although the facts of anthropogenic global warming are strictly scientific, discussing these facts is unfortunately political, because the implications and any solutions to address them will require political will. By using his bully pulpit as one of the most widely-distributed columnists in the province and President of the Legislature Press Gallery to spread misinformed crackpottery about this topic, he deliberately undermines the political will required to take action. He helps relieve our leaders of the responsibility to lead. His ongoing efforts towards agnotology are a real disservice to his industry, and the public he claims to inform.

Thermodynamics

Now that we are deep enough into the Anthropogenic Global Warming crisis that only the whackiest of whackaloons are still denying its existence or the serious impacts it is going to have on planetary livability, a whole different type of whacky thought is filling the airwaves. These have to do with a variety of techniques to suck CO2 out of the sky and turn atmospheric carbon into something useful like carbon nanotubes or alternative fuels.

These schemes are no doubt possible. The problem is that they don’t solve the actual problem, which isn’t carbon in the air, it is about making energy by putting carbon in the air. To talk about that, we need to talk about thermodynamics.

The Laws of Thermodynamics are pretty fundamental science. They cannot, in the normal universe where we live, be violated. They were once summed up to me in this analogy which helps to keep track of them*:

1st Law: You can’t win.
2nd Law: You can’t even break even.
3rd Law: You can’t get out of the game.

The one we are most worried about here is the 2nd Law, which essentially says that any time energy changes states, there is a net increase in entropy. In other words, every time you use energy to do something, you lose a bit of energy. It is the 2nd Law that makes perpetual motion machines impossible.

Relating this to schemes to pull carbon out of the air and make it useful, it is important to realize we don’t just toss CO2 into the air for the fun of it. For the most part we do it to use the energy released when you combine carbon with oxygen, be it energy to drive our cars/planes/ships or energy to generate electricity. We do this because the act of combining carbon with oxygen releases energy in the form of heat (which is a whole different chemistry lecture we should save for Beer Friday). We can do the same thing backwards, strip the oxygen off of the carbon, but that takes energy, and (this is where the 2nd Law comes in) a little bit more energy than it produced during the original combination.

So all of those schemes you see that will turn CO2 into something useful, no matter how efficient they are, will require more energy than we gained when we created the CO2 in the first place. So it makes way more sense to simply not produce the CO2 in the first place. instead, we could use the energy we would dedicate to sucking it out of the air and making carbon nanotubes out of it back into doing whatever job we wanted to do with the energy we gained in the first place when we added the oxygen to the carbon. As a bonus, we can still make the carbon nanotubes out of any of a zillion existing carbon sources we have on the planet, be they plants, rocks, or hydrocarbons, without the need to waste a bunch of energy stripping oxygen off of the carbon.  That way the carbon stays out of the atmosphere, we use less energy, and we are all better off.

The reality is that the “technological fix” of climate change is nothing shocking, cutting edge or freaky; it is in our hand right now. It is no more complicated than stopping the taking of carbon out of the ground to combine with oxygen for cheap energy when there is an abundance of alternatives available. But it starts with recognizing this “cheap” form of energy is a false economy, as is betting the future on big fans and diamonds from the sky.

*there is a 4th Law, but since it was developed later, and then determined to be more fundamental, the physics community called it the “0th Law”, just to reinforce those points. In the analogy above, it would be translated as “We are all playing the same game”