13 March 2007

Delusional Emissions

We'll never get to Kyoto by transit

Opinion - Wendell Cox, a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg, says there is a popular perception that transit is an important strategy for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, in the expectation that drivers will abandon their cars en mass. Thus, the Association of Canadian Municipalities and big city mayors have called for a national transit program. However, things are not that simple. Predominant views do not establish reality and the mayors' program is a prime example. If every car were to be retired, the nation would fall far short of achieving its Kyoto Accord greenhouse-gas reduction objectives. More importantly, there is little potential for transit to replace automobile travel. Automobiles increased affluence by increasing exponentially the jobs, shopping and other destinations that can be reached in a fixed period of time. The irony is that, in the modern, sprawling urban area, traffic congestion is less intense than in the more dense urban areas, because traffic is diluted. For example, in the New York area, the most sprawling urban area in the world, work-trip travel times are the shortest to jobs in the outer suburbs and the longest to jobs in the core, despite its being served by one of the best transit systems in the world. Remy Prud'homme and Chong Wong Lee of the University of Paris have shown the substantial economic growth gains that occur when people can reach more jobs in a fixed period of time.

To replace automobile travel with transit would require automobile-competitive transit systems -- service that is as fast and convenient as the car. Transit is automobile competitive for some trips to the largest downtown areas, such as Tokyo, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and works very well in these locations. But large downtown areas are geographically small and generally represent less than 20% of metropolitan employment. For example, in the US, Bureau of the Census data indicates that nearly one-half of all transit commuting is to downtown areas, which represent less than 0.1% of the urban (developed) land area. Transit service is woefully slow and often not even available to other destinations. Transit travel takes too long. Statistics Canada data indicates that worktrip travel by transit is 80% longer than by car. This means people have less time and, indeed, were they to switch to transit, the economy would be less productive. It might be argued that the answer is more transit service. This is infeasible. In most urban areas, the required automobile-competitive systems would cost more annually than the gross income of the entire population.

It is thus not surprising that there are virtually no proposals (much less serious plans) anywhere in the world to establish the automobile-competitive transit systems that would be required to attract significant numbers of drivers from their cars. It is also why there have been no successes in attracting material numbers of drivers from their cars anywhere in the world. The reason is simple. For the most part, transit does not go to where people need to go from where their trips begin. And it cannot for a price that can be afforded. The mayors' national transit program would be costly and ineffective, because money from afar is simply not used as carefully as local taxes. European nations have devolved transit funding and programs back to the local level, principally for this reason. Again, the national transit program model is the United States, where costs have quadrupled relative inflation. Canada can expect the same result: a lot more expenditure and little more service. The first step in reducing greenhouse- gas emissions with transit would be less hot air and more reality from its naive advocates, with their hopeless proposals.
(National Post 070313)

Sure, the options aren't perfect, but it's almost like everyone is scared to talk about the big elephant in the room...that dealing with lowering CO2 emissions might just possibly require a hit to the economy. I know, b'gosh and b'gorrah - it might actually happen! Nobody said cleaning up this mess was going to be easy or pleasant. This still appears to be quite an unconscionable idea for The Powers That Be. Who'd want to be the messenger to deliver that good news to the sheepling public? The public has been coddled so long with happy thoughts and a challenge-less existence, this would be bordering on heresy.

"How dare they expect me to live with less? Those economists and politicians told us that everything would forever grow and be forever good! Off with their heads!"

I do believe that economic stimulation will be created by the implementation of alternative energies and control technologies, but we have to start somewhere and we have to start now. People can bitch and moan all they want that this solution or that solution won't work or will be a hit to the economy. They can't associate that the health and sustainability of our environment, atmosphere and resources IS the basis of our economy. The sooner we realize that you can't look at all these factors in isolation from each other, the sooner we'll realize that we most likely will have to make concessions for the sake of the planet.

$12 billion greenhouse gas emissions trading market in Canada: report

CIBC World Markets foresees an inter-provincial market in greenhouse gas emission credits that could be worth as much as $12 billion annually. The new study predicts that the economies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick would be big buyers of emissions credits, with provinces that generate most of their electricity with hydro-electric power, such as British Columbia, being likely sellers. The report notes that BC has driven 10% of emissions growth in the country since 1990 but is the third lowest province in emissions per unit of real GDP. Saskatchewan and Alberta account for 60% of national GHG emissions growth while representing less than 15% of the country's population. Relative to GDP, the two provinces are the most emissions- intensive in the country. The report finds that electricity generation is often the single most important determinant of a province's potential exposure to carbon emission costs. Coal-fired generation is the chief offender, emitting roughly twice the GHG emissions per unit of power produced than gas-powered plants. Gas-plants themselves are relatively heavy emitters when compared to effectively emissions- free sources of electricity like hydro and nuclear. Given that BC and the provinces of Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland & Labrador all rely heavily on emissions-free hydro power, they are less exposed to carbon costs. On the other end of the spectrum are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia who rely on coal for at least 60% of their electricity needs.

The oil and gas industry is also a large contributor to GHG emissions. Since 1990, the growth in oil and gas emissions has exceeded 50%, easily twice as brisk as growth from remaining GHG sources combined. The carbon profile of Canada's oil industry will worsen materially in the next decade as oil sands production rapidly eclipses conventional oil production. Due mainly to heating requirements, producing a barrel of synthetic oil from the oil sands generates three times as much GHG emissions as an equivalent amount of conventional crude. Alberta already accounts for roughly two-thirds of direct emissions from fossil fuel industries, and that figure will rise meaningfully given the planned doubling or even tripling in oil sands production over the next decade. "The regional disparities in emissions growth could lead to some pretty hefty inter-provincial flows of emissions credits under any future cap and trade system established along the lines currently being implemented by a growing number of US states," notes the report. "It remains to be seen how a cap and trade system would be implemented in Canada - or how much of that $12 billion in emissions credits would be traded across provincial borders," adds the report. "But with an already-skewed distribution of GHG emissions looking to become even more unbalanced in coming years, it's easy to envision a healthy inter-provincial trade in carbon permits. "Saskatchewan, Alberta and New Brunswick could be the biggest buyers of emissions credits, with the Manitoba and Qu├ębec economies the most obvious sellers, given their already low emissions intensity and planned expansion of emission-free electricity generation."
(Canada News-Wire 070313)

I don't see emissions trading as solving much of anything since it only shifts the true costs of emissions from those that have the money to afford to buy the credits to those already-proven, lighter-emission energy generators, yet the high emitters might still be the biggest contributors and this program simply may not give them enough incentive to clean up their own acts quickly enough. It will keep the economists and politicians happier than if there weren't any of this sort of thing going on at all. WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO LISTEN TO THE ECONOMISTS ANYWAYS? Despite the fact that they are wrong most of the time (foretelling the future? Puh-leaze...infinite growth in a finite system. Give me a break...), they're largely responsible for the plans and designs that got us into this fucking mess in the first place.


starbuck said...

I really like your analysis of the situation we are in. My question for you - if you the Powers that Decide everything - what would you do - knowing that you have to balance the needs from the many different segments of our society? I am always interested what ideas are out there that are not being communicated to our different levels of gov't.

Reid Dalgleish said...

That's the big question, methinks. At this juncture, it may be time to dole out the tough love, but you're not going to get anyone with a vested interest in the status quo to do that because they have lulled the public into complacency and a belief that the governments and corporations are looking out for the public's best interest. And they are completely shitting their pants that the hard truth is going to come out and they are going to be tasked with defending themselves while public opinion wants them burned at the stake (oops - that will release too much CO2), okay some sort of heinous punishment....

A lot of people are distrustful of science and just as many are distrustful of religion, but I see only those two institutions having any power to sway public opinion away from the corporations and governments who use mainstream media to maintain the complacency/status quo scenario.

Wouldn't that be grand? Science and religion working together to inform the masses of the huge, sober task at hand? They might be the only ones able to pull it off, since they are more likely to tell things like they really are -- something that the governments and corporations are loathe to do.

Reid Dalgleish said...

Something tells me that there would be too many personality clashes in that scenario to pull it off, but I don't think science and religion would have to go about it the same way -- only as long as the end result is the same.

Derek Hachey said...

Great analysis and research Reid. I am wondering how urban planning can fit into all this?

Is there anything out there that indicates that within 15-35 years we can develop our cities and suburbs to be more transit friendly? In many of our large cites (Edmonton pops to mind), it seems that development strategies (if they exist) do not include a good transit development plan. If we cannot build an economical and useful transit system for the strong majority of the population in and around large cities to use then we have fundamental design flaws of these communities.

It concerns me that the Feds are writing huge cheques to these cities without condition that significant urban planning will be performed to ensure transit systems can become more effective and widely adopted.

On another note relating to Greenhouse Gas emissions, I am working on a non-partisan proposal to reform and refocus the Federal Accelerated Capital Costs Allowance program and the Provincial Royalty Regime for the Oil Sands. The main goal of this reform will be to first provide incentives to Oil Sands producers to cut their Greenhouse Gas emissions and second follow up these incentives with hard GHG emission caps. I am looking to spread this proposal as much as possible to generate a wide discussion and gain valuable feedback.

I have created a new blog Greener Oil Sands where I have posted this proposal and where I will be following up on this project. I would appreciate if you could review this proposal, and provide some feedback.

I work in the Oil Sands and recognize the enormous potential it has for Alberta and Canada's economy; however, I believe that we must work to develop this resource more responsibly.