Home » Environment

Category Archives: Environment

Solving Vancouver’s Forest Fire-related Air Quality Problem

by John Brian Shannon

City of Vancouver skyline transformed by the 2018 forest fire season.

The City of Vancouver skyline is transformed every forest fire season. File photo courtesy of CTV News-Vancouver.

Vancouver is suffering the worst bout of poor air quality in its 132-year history

Since the 2018 forest fire season began, smoke has been accumulating in the atmosphere and finding its way to lower elevations in the province of British Columbia.

The greatest concentration of BC residents live in the province’s Lower Mainland (also called the MVRD or Metro Vancouver Regional District) home to 2.8 million people and the average elevation of the region isn’t that much higher than sea level.

The mountains that surround the area keep the smoke from moving out of the region, which is why all that smoke is concentrating in the MVRD, instead of dispersing.

Visit the MVRD website to read the Continued Air Quality Advisory

Vancouver was ranked as the fifth-worst major city for air quality in the world on Wednesday. Global News.

Vancouver was ranked as the fifth-worst major city for air quality in the world on Wednesday. An air quality advisory from Environment Canada is still in effect for much of the province. Image courtesy of Global News.


How to Solve Air Quality Issues in Vancouver (and in every other city)

Every year, Vancouver is inundated with smoke from distant forest fires. It’s no surprise that Vancouverites are visited by a virtual wall of smoke every summer and it seems to be completely uncontrollable even with today’s modern fire-fighting methods. Therefore, the only variable that can work to improve air quality in the Vancouver region is to drastically limit the use of motor vehicles within the MVRD during the worst air quality days.

Several cities in the world have already adopted ‘Car-Free’ days in an attempt to mitigate their urban air pollution and it can work wonders for local air quality. Seoul, Paris, Copenhagen and other modern-thinking cities simply issue a ‘Car-Free’ notice and cars and trucks are banned from the cities roads until further notice.

In Paris, emergency vehicles still operate and people with medical emergencies may use their car to drive someone to the Hospital or to an Ambulance station — but they are speed-limited to 20 miles per hour — though with zero traffic in Paris on ‘Car-Free’ days it means you get to the Hospital much sooner than compared to normal traffic days. Also, the city’s transit system boost the number of buses to accommodate the extra ridership.


Parisians instructed to leave cars home during the city’s third official ‘Car-Free’ day


“Vehicles were forbidden from all of the city’s historic centre for the day on Sunday, making way for environmentally friendly modes of transport such as cycling.

The first journee sans voiture (day without cars) was held in September 2015 and was found to reduce exhaust emissions by 40 per cent. The idea has since been repeated twice.

But this time the zone has been expanded, covering 40 square miles over the historical centre of the French capital, and was in force between 11am and 6pm.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was first elected in 2014 on a promise to tackle pollution in the city, which is estimated to kill 6,000 every year. She has begun building new bus and cycling lanes to reclaim the roads from cars.” — The Independent


‘Car-Free’ Days for Vancouver?

It’s long past the time for the Metro Vancouver Regional District to embrace the idea of ‘Car-Free’ days during peak air pollution events such as forest fires, weather inversions or other events that wreak havoc with air quality — and by doing so — lower ambient emission levels by 40% or more.

Screenshot of the most recent Air Quality Advisory in Effect for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley of British Columbia

Air Quality Advisory for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, August 23, 2018

Air Quality Advisory for Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, August 23, 2018. For more information click the image.

If you care about air quality in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, call or write your elected officials to suggest they implement ‘Car-Free’ days during periods of poor air quality.

Such ‘Car-Free’ days have been found to lower air pollution by 40% or more in other cities, which can dramatically improve air quality and improve the personal health of everyone who lives in the region.

The Right Carbon Tax for Canada

by John Brian Shannon

“Canadian business needs a fair, transparent, and proportional carbon tax to spur action towards a cleaner environment.”

Which is not the same statement asCanada must punish Canadian industry so the country can meet it’s COP21 emissions targets.”

See the difference?

Unfortunately, in the rush to meet Canada’s global air quality commitments (admirable) the federal government may have leaned more towards ‘action’ on the carbon file rather than ‘smooth implementation’ of the carbon file (forgivable) and now has at least two provincial premiers questioning the mechanics of the federal carbon tax plan.

In the end, both methods would result in Canada’s emissions targets being met, but one way is complimentary while the other is confrontational.

Which of the two ways exampled above would cause you to want to work with the federal government to reach Canada’s international emissions obligations?


No Need to Reinvent the Wheel – Just Fix the Broken Parts and Carry On

Federal Carbon Taxes: Small business always suffer in these scenarios, while large corporations already have multi-million dollar environmental + energy budgets — which means all that’s required for them to meet upgraded emissions targets is a shift in their budget allocations to meet Canada’s new emissions regulations.

Therefore, for polluters emitting less than one megatonne of CO2 annually, such companies shouldn’t pay any carbon tax until they surpass that limit and thenceforth begin to pay a $40. per tonne carbon tax (for example) on any emissions beyond the one megatonne threshold.

Likewise, large companies shouldn’t be required to pay carbon tax until the point in the year is reached where they surpass the one megatonne limit and only then begin to pay $40. per tonne of CO2 (or CO2 equivalent, because not all airborne emissions are of the CO2 variety) on each additional megatonne for the rest of the calendar year.

In this way, Canada’s carbon tax model would be a breeze to implement, a carbon tax that would be small business-friendly, and one that provides an incentive to bigger companies to work toward reducing their emissions over the longer term.


Carbon Taxes Administered by Provinces and Cities

Provincial carbon taxes: Provincial and city carbon taxes should be ‘flow-through’ carbon taxes where 100% of each dollar collected at the transactional level (a point-of-sale tax like a provincial sales tax) is spent on poverty alleviation, or on energy conservation + investment in green energy projects + green energy bonds. As is already done in some Canadian provinces.

Provinces and cities that face serious air quality problems would be thereby empowered by federal legislation to address their unique air pollution issues and be better positioned to help Canada meet its international emissions targets while lowering their healthcare and environmental spending associated with air pollution.


Annual Step-up Carbon Tax

Start with a low carbon tax: If the ‘year one’ federal carbon tax is set at $40. per tonne, the next year could be set at $50. per tonne, and ‘year three’ $60. per tonne, etc., it would allow Canada to continue to meet its emissions goals and to lower environmental and healthcare spending in Canada where a significant proportion of healthcare budgets are devoted to treat respiratory ailments brought-on or worsened by the poor air quality in Canadian cities (and some high land use agricultural areas) and could actually save provincial budgets millions of dollars per year.

If there’s one thing that markets and big business like, it’s a long lead time for new regulations and a ‘carbon-tax-free-zone’ that they can shoot for which will help them lower costs by increasing efficiency (which is closely tied to productivity, ask any economist) and a step-up carbon tax gives them the opportunity to adjust their operations several years ahead of the time when it could begin to get very costly for them.

Hitting Canadian companies with a $220. per tonne carbon tax (which is what Stanford University says is the true environmental and healthcare cost of each tonne of carbon) would prevent companies from attracting the funding required to lower their emissions.

In a perfect world, legislators would slap a $220. per tonne carbon tax on every level of government, each corporation and on citizens and all of them could afford to pay it. Sadly, that isn’t possible. But starting out at $40. per tonne allows companies to begin the process of lowering their emissions without stressing corporate finances.

If you doubt how costly pollution is to the economy, see the landmark study from Harvard Medicine which estimates coal-burning alone costs the U.S. economy between $330 billion and $500 billion per year.


The Need to Address Carbon Pollution

It’s indisputable to any educated person that Canada and every other country needs to address carbon pollution — but ultimately, carbon taxes must be designed to mesh with the overall economy — not entangle it.



Visit The Solutions Project to see how renewable energy can work in your jurisdiction to help citizens live healthier lives, care for the environment, boost the economy and help Canada meet its international air pollution targets.

Images below are courtesy of The Solutions Project

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 1.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada – The Solutions Project. Image 1. Click on image to expand it via your browser tools.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 2.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada – The Solutions Project. Image 2. Click on image to expand it via your browser tools.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 3.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada – The Solutions Project. Image 3. Click on image to expand it via your browser tools.

Visit The Solutions Project main webpage here for more information.



Bonus Graphic courtesy of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

 

While the federal government of Canada seeks to meet its international emissions targets, Canadian premiers press for a more business-friendly carbon tax regime.

While the federal government of Canada seeks to meet its international emissions targets, Canadian premiers press for a more business-friendly carbon tax regime. Image courtesy of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Click on image to expand it in your browser.

G7 – Please Save Our Seas!

by John Brian Shannon

Can the G7 Solve the Problem of Too Much Plastic in Our Oceans?

In the time it takes for G7 leaders to meet at the picturesque Charlevoix, Quebec location for their annual summit which lasts 28 hours, some 22,000 tonnes of plastic will have been dumped into the world’s oceans.

Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the sea. That’s equal to one garbage truck full of plastic every minute, 24/7/365.

And it’s piling up in great floating plastic islands that are found in every ocean on the planet, it’s piling up on the world’s beaches, and it’s sometimes ingested by fish and other aquatic life which sometimes kills them or causes them medical distress.

This problem didn’t suddenly appear. Since plastic was invented in 1907, billions of tonnes of the stuff has wound up in rivers, lakes, oceans, and the world’s land-based garbage dumps.

Nor will this problem disappear anytime soon as some kinds of plastic can exist in nature for 400-years.


OUR GENERATION… MUST PUT IT RIGHT.

NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO DO IT FOR US.

WE’RE ALONE WITH THE MONSTER YOU AND ME CREATED.


 


SOLUTION #1

Stop putting so much plastic in the ocean!

It’s easy to switch to biodegradable plastics for everything from drinking straws and cutlery, to plates and coffee cups, instead of continuing to use the millions of tons of plastic equivalents every day.

“An Indian startup called Bakeys has come up with an edible alternative.

Their brand of edible spoons, knives and chopsticks are baked rather than manufactured, and even come in a number of different flavours including celery, black pepper and cumin. If you don’t like the taste, then the cutlery will safely biodegrade in just five days. The company launched a kickstarter campaign which raised over $250,000, well above the initial target of $20,000. They have now invested in a new production line and shipped over 3 million items. The founder believes that with scale, the edible spoon will soon cost the same as the plastic alternative. “So now the cutlery is tasty, fun, nutritious and environmentally friendly,” said the founder Narayana Peesapahty.” — World Economic Forum

If we stop putting so much plastic waste into the ocean we might actually be able to get ahead of the problem and solve it.

It’s not only plastic dinnerware that can be made biodegradable, packaging materials, bedding, and many other products can be manufactured using materials that break down in the environment, such as the ubiquitous shopping bags which are a menace to sea life.

Click on this link to get up-to-speed on the different kinds of environmentally friendly shopping bags.

Check here if you want to purchase biodegradable and compostable shopping bags made from corn cellulose.

As half of all plastic in the world’s oceans are fast-food and shopping-bag related, if we switch to biodegradable or compostable equivalents we will have solved HALF THE PROBLEM regarding future plastic waste.

It’s clearly a G7 and developed-nation problem!


SOLUTION #2

Scoop it up, crush it, and incinerate it!

As most of the plastic in the global ocean floats on top of the surface or within 25 feet of the surface, it’s reasonable that purpose-built machines could scoop up the plastic, crush it, and package it in tight bundles.

Once a ship has been filled with waste plastic, a number of things can be done with it.

The most efficient modality is to incinerate it at high temperature (800 celsius) to completely break the plastic down into its constituent atoms — which is the scientific way of saying that the exhaust plume will be non-toxic.

Some CO2 will be produced during incineration. But toxic gases? Barely measurable even by the most modern and sophisticated equipment.

Many advanced incinerators burn trash at 800C to produce many MegaWatts of electricity.

In Sweden, it’s the law that all trash that can’t be recycled must be incinerated — and citizens and companies can face steep fines for not turning-in their non-recyclable trash for incineration.

The recycling programme in Sweden also offers offbeat TV commercials to remind people to recycle and conserve.

On Swedish TV, sandwiched between other commercials, the Pantamera videos try to encourage people to return used bottles and cans to grocery stores – ‘panta mera’ means ‘recycle more’.

Sweden’s Pantamera programme saves millions of tonnes of trash from ending up in landfills and it saves the Swedish government millions of Krona per year. The bonus is that Swedes have a reliable supply of cheap renewable electricity as evermore European countries export their waste to Sweden.


The Job of Every G7 Leader: Turning ‘Problems’ into Opportunities

If G7 governments portray waste and plastic in the oceans as an onerous and unsolvable problem, that’s how their citizens will view the problem.

But as we see in Sweden, by showing leadership and making it fun for citizens to participate in solving the trash problem, waste in Sweden and the related problem of plastic in Swedish coastal waters have been completely eliminated — at a profit.

In fact, the Swedes over-achieved so well in regards to handling their ‘trash problem’ there’s only one ‘problem’ left to solve…

Sweden needs even more trash from European countries, because incinerating it is a cheap and clean way to produce electricity. Which is a nice ‘problem’ to have!

By any standard, the Swedish ‘Waste-to-Energy’ example is a ‘Win-Win-Win’ and that’s how G7 leaders should approach their similar and dissimilar problems.

If little Sweden (population 10 million) can achieve all that in only a few years time, imagine what the combined power of the G7 nations could accomplish should they turn their attention to the ‘problem‘ of plastic in the world’s oceans!