Category Archives: environment

Green power?

Brigid Delaney in tomorrow’s (oh, Australia) The Age:

When I rang home from various parts of the world during my three years away, the news from my family often sounded like excerpts from the Book of Revelation: Lake Wendouree was so dry that it was set on fire, flowers were withering on the vine, people were drinking the bath water. What next? The horses eating one another?

But all is not lost, we have a solution, suggested authors Mark O’Connor and William Lines in their book Overloading Australia: how about not letting any more people into Australia, closing the doors.

The Age reported on Saturday that the book urges Australians to forgo self-responsibility and “ignore water conservation”, instead putting the onus on the Government to rethink its immigration policy.

This solution comes down to a simple calculation. Are immigrants a drain or a benefit to our society? It’s a basic question — but the answer is complicated. Yes, more people will use more resources. Bingo — fewer migrants mean longer showers.

There may be certain places where it would be wise to restrict population growth. Phoenix comes to mind (a city so parched for water they call the airport a harbour) but even there a little conservation would go a long way. We’re water fiends in North America, and I bet it’s the same situation in Australia.

Even excluding all the desert, Australia is a very big place. There’s plenty of room for millions more people, and enough water if used wisely. Hell, with all that potential solar power in Australia you ought to be able to desalinize as much water as you want.

Here’s the deal, Australia: Don’t let those Nazis commandeer your environmental movement and I’ll keep an eye on things in Canada. Agreed?

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Pay Your Own Way

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Road pricing is back in the news as Metrolinx tries to fund transit improvements in the GTA. On the table are expressway tolls of 10 cents per kilometre. This would, according to the Globe and Mail, mean a one-way toll of $3.60 to get from Oakville to downtown Toronto.

This is a pretty good deal for motorists; GO riders pay $6.00 for the same trip.

While recognizing this is a good idea, we should hold off on implementing some or all of the tolls until certain significant improvements are made to transit. I know this is a chicken-and-egg problem, but the Yonge subway is at capacity during rush hour and GO has serious trouble arriving on-time. If we can’t fit people on the trains or get the trains to run on time it isn’t fair to punish them for hitting the highway.

And since we’re talking about road pricing, why not tolls on most of the 400-series highways? Ten cents per kilometre gets very pricey very quickly, but we might consider something similar to the New York State Thruway. Accordingly to my (shaky grasp of) math, it costs about 2.5 cents per kilometre between Buffalo and Albany. Applied to the length of the 401, a journey from Detroit to Montreal would set drivers back about $20. It isn’t a lot of money, but it is a reminder that driving has costs. You may not have to buy more gas when you get on the 401, but you always pay a small toll.

Gas taxes encourage people to use gasoline sparingly which is a worthy goal in this age of climate change. Getting people to leave their car – Hummer or Prius – at home is a part of that, but setting aside inconvenient truths, fewer cars on the road has independent merit. It isn’t healthy to spend hours on the road commuting between or across cities. Cars turn people into monsters. Highways destroy neighbourhoods.

The financial and psychological impacts of road pricing make it a useful tool for combating climate change, urban sprawl, and low standards of living.

[photo] “Toll booths” by vagrantant

Krugman Jumps on the Grain Train, Falls Off

\"tea crop\" by angela7dreams

Back in December, The Economist led with an analysis of the challenges and posibilities presented by rising global food prices. Its case was that the likely long-term rise in food prices means government support for farmers in rich countries can be drawn down without putting those farmers out of business. Developing countries and their rural poor are poised to benefit from these changes, and the prosperity that comes with increased food production will boost the import of other goods from rich countries. Everybody wins (except for the urban poor, but they are already less poor than their rural compatriots).

And now Paul Krugman is writing about the “food crisis“.

I’m glad Krugman has written about the rising cost of food. His audience is probably wider and less exclusive than The Economist’s. General knowledge of the trend and its origins is necessary for political change in a country like the US. Here, he does quite well. Krugman outlines the rapidly-developing world’s growing taste for meat, and he points out the folly of turning corn grown with oil-based machines and fertilizers into “green” ethanol.

His excellent exposition is followed by an unsatisfying conclusion:

“What should be done? The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the U.N.’s World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.

We also need a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake.

But it’s not clear how much can be done. Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past.”

Yes, feed the starving. Yes, end the silly, counterproductive ethanol subsidies. But The Economist presented a much more complete and satisfying answer: Export value-added goods to developing countries instead of cheap grains, and let those countries grow their own food at realistic prices.

[photo] “tea crop” by angela7dreams

[mp3] “The Cost” by The Frames

Did I Speak Too Soon?

St. Pancras Station by sean-b

No sooner did I lament the sorry state of federal government in Canada and the unlikely progress of any plans for high-speed rail in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor than Premiers McGuinty and Charest get together and announce the intention to begin considering the study of the possibility of high-speed rail along the St. Lawrence. And all this with the cooperation of the federal government.

Granted, they’re aiming low and investigating a type of train that might be more honestly called higher-speed rail, but I’ll take it. By simply acknowledging that rail links will play a substantial role in future transportation, the political discourse has been shifted from “none or some” to “some or more.” With the Conservatives taking the side of “some” high-speed rail, the rest of the federal parties, all to the left of the government, are pretty much forced into advocating for more.

Sure, countless similar studies have been commissioned over the years, but let’s pay no attention to that because I’m tempering my cynicism tonight.

[photo] “St. Pancras Station” by sean-b

The First Loophole

Unlike any other industry in Canada, the oilsands will be allowed to increase pollution under incoming “clean air” regulations.

Reasons this is stupid:

1) Bad PR everywhere but Alberta and northern Saskatchewan.

2) Pollution sucks.

3) As long as we have oil, there will be a market for it. Whether it gets dug up now or in five years, there will be somebody willing to pay through the nose for it. Oilsands are probably in the least precarious position of any industry in Canada, yetthe government wants to treat it as if the slightest breeze will send the whole economy of the West under.

[image credit]

Lip Service

The most distasteful thing about majority governments is that they are essentially 4-year dictatorships. Excepting something so outrageous it drives the Governor General to use his or her significant but unused powers, there is nothing standing between a majority government and it’s agenda.

This is why it should come as a breath of fresh air when a minority government radically changes it’s policy to better suit the electorate, as the Conservatives have been frantically trying to do regarding the environment.

But it does not.

The Conservatives are only paying lip service to the environment, and normally this would be more than enough. As Michael Ignatieff said about toppling Saddam Hussein, “if good results had to wait for good intentions, we would have to wait forever.” The thing is, the other parties are either paying exceptional lip service, or good intentions and good results are actually lining up.

Every other party (or at least the leader) had cast itself as green long before the Conservatives identified the environment as a path to their own 4-year dictatorship. So if you’re concerned about the environment (and everyone’s been saying lately they are) you should vote that way. We shouldn’t settle for half-measures when the other parties are offering the real deal.

[image credit]