Over the course of an election campaign, you expect to see more than a few slick elisions of truth — the details of a platform shaded or facts of the case bent to make one party’s stance look more desirable than another.
And because climate change is especially complex and addresses such a wide range of data, scientific research, policy minutiae and future-tense assumption, it is especially susceptible to such inaccuracies, willful or otherwise.
I expect to use this space to point out these calculated, often half-hidden falsifications from here to Election Day.
Other times, though — well, other times, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada shows up in Vancouver on the morning of a historic climate march to announce that widening roads will cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Scheer violates a 'fundamental law'
Now, the shading and bending of fact in this case is not so much akin to careful massage as to what the Kool-Aid Man did to kitchen walls after the kids yelled “Hey, Kool-Aid!”
What people are reading
But the truth-smashing in this case is so egregious that I couldn’t possibly cycle past it without comment on the way to the march.
Andrew Scheer flew cross-country last Friday to land in suburban Vancouver and promise to prioritize funding for a handful of large-scale urban infrastructure projects designed to reduce commuter times.
As examples, he cited subway expansion in Toronto and a new bridge or tunnel in Quebec City, as well as expanding a notoriously bottlenecked tunnel under the Fraser River in suburban Vancouver.
Asked what this might have to do with climate change, Scheer answered, “when you have a tunnel that does not have the capacity to handle the number of motorists who use it, that means there’s huge backlogs, and lots of time spent idling or moving very slowly — that leads to higher emissions.”
Even on its face, the argument that, by making it easier to commute in vehicles that burn gasoline, emissions can be cut, scans as likely false.
Though Scheer is correct that any individual vehicle will create more emissions if it’s forced to idle in gridlock en route, he could only be correct on the larger point if Vancouver had a finite number of cars traveling through the tunnel in question each day, so that new lanes would allow just those cars and no other vehicles to travel smoothly from home to workplace.
In reality, though, expanding the capacity of a roadway inevitably leads to more overall vehicle traffic — this through a well-proven phenomenon called “induced demand,” a concept as well understood in urban planning circles as “pandering to the base” is to politicians.
At its most succinct, induced demand can be boiled down to what has been called the “fundamental law of road congestion,” and it goes like this: “On urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.”
Expand the road (or tunnel) and it makes commuting faster and easier, which invites more people to commute by private vehicle.
The law itself is half a century old, and piles of research since have confirmed its bedrock truth in cities around the world. In a 2009 study of traffic patterns across North America from 1980 to 2000 — one of the most widely cited — researchers discovered a “perfect one-to-one relationship” between increasing road capacity and increased driving.
That means that a city that expanded road capacity by 10 per cent saw a 10 per cent increase in traffic.
It’s possible that Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are sitting on an approach to tunnel expansion that stands the whole field of urban planning on its head.
More likely, though, is that four more lanes of traffic between Delta and Richmond will lead to four more lanes’ worth of commuters, emitting more greenhouse gases than ever.
NDP, Greens don't tell the whole story
Scheer, of course, wasn’t the only leader to take advantage of last Friday’s climate strike to tout some climate bonafides.
Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May marched in Montreal with student strike leader Greta Thunberg, and Jagmeet Singh took to the streets in Vancouver.
Both the NDP and the Greens used the occasion to attack the government’s record on climate action as nowhere near as ambitious as their own — both employing sharp, protest-sign-worthy slogans on social media to summarize their criticisms.
And both guilty not so much of inaccuracy as not quite telling the whole story.
The NDP’s main line of attack on the Liberals, as phrased in a pointedly brief press release last week and repeated on strike day, is: “You. Bought. A. Pipeline.”
This. Is. Certainly. True. The federal government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline and is fully backing its expansion.
But if the NDP wants to score points on its pipeline opposition, it should be noted that its leader has been unclear where exactly he stands on pipeline projects in general, while his plan promises both to curtail reliance on oil imports and “prioritize domestic upgrading and refining."
Details in the party’s plan are thin, but this would clearly oblige new domestic upgrading and refining infrastructure, and the upgraded and refined oil would have to reach import-free gas stations coast to coast somehow.
There surely will be pipelines involved. Just not that one, I guess.
The Greens, meanwhile, came at the Liberals’ Paris emissions reduction goals, which they have repeatedly noted feature “Harper’s targets.”
Again: unassailably true. The federal government committed in Paris to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and this is the same target announced by the Conservative environment minister in May 2015.
The implication, though, is that little has changed on the action front. But when the Conservatives left office later that year, Canada was projected to overshoot its greenhouse gas reduction target by 300 megatonnes.
Today, Canada will still miss its target, but by a much smaller 79 megatonnes — maybe not enough, as the Greens like to point out, but not nothing, either.
Justin Trudeau, for his part, said last week his government was “on track” to hit its Paris goal. Since 79 megatonnes is also not nothing, that isn’t true, either.
And with three weeks to go in a campaign where the long-promised focus on climate seems to be finally emerging, it’s sure to be far from the last inaccuracy we hear. Stay tuned.
Yesterday the oil producers
Yesterday the oil producers lobby claimed that greens were naive in their demands for immediate transition to zero emission vehicles. He is right it is a naive demand but that is not to say it isn't a neccessity. To make it happen we need a massive injection of research and development (Meaning a massive investment of public and private funds) While alternative energy sources like solar, wind power etc are making great strides, they are not without problems and the power they generate is currently insufficient to power a national fleet of electric vehicles - even if those vehicles were actually ready for prime time. They are not, neither their quality or quantity are up to the proposed scale and there are unresolved issues with battery management, safety and toxicity.
Canada has allowed its rail infrastructure to be reduced to a few crumbling, freight dominated crosscountry ribbons of steel. Another massive injection of investment is required to scale up the rail mass transit (subways, light rail, commuter rail, high speed passenger rail, full electric energy powered) system to replace the crumbling infrastructure of multi-lane mega highways.
Canada itself will crumble and be absorbed into the disfunctional US political mess if it doesn't pull up its socks and strengthen its East West systems of trade and communication. Father of Confederation John A. MacDonald got at least one thing right - he knew Canada wouldn't survive without the transcontinental RR.
In order to make the transition possible we need the massively exploitative, largely foreign owned Petro industrial complex to switch its money making investments from fossil fuels to alternative sources and to make their infrastructure viable. The oil/gas complex is monumentally and destructively resisting this essential transition and calling the greens naive won't change the stupidity of their lack of foresight.
For Canada, the imperatives of geography, geology and two languages don't change. All must be mastered to guarantee continued national integrity. We cannot allow the foreign owned Petro complex to destroy our nation.
"a national fleet of electric
"a national fleet of electric vehicles"
As long as we are bursting claims about how to go green, we may as well pop the EV bubble as well.
Cars drive urban sprawl, and urban sprawl drives cars. Hopelessly unsustainable. The energy expenditure is obscene. Not to mention lost productivity, lost green space, sedentary lifestyle, millions of deaths and injuries, roadkill, and social isolation. Insanely long commutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Not a path to sustainability, but a detour.
Urban sprawl will always be hopelessly inefficient. Two-ton single-passenger vehicles carting around 150 lb human beings will never be sustainable, even if they run on fairy dust.
The automobile lifestyle will never be green or sustainable. No car is compatible with a one-planet Earth ecological footprint.
We need to redesign our cities for people, not cars. Invest in public transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure — and smart urban design that allows people to live close to their place of work and amenities.
In perpetuating sprawl, EVs exacerbate the problem and delay real solutions. A one-Earth footprint cannot accommodate an energy-intensive lifestyle where people drive everywhere they go -- or an urban model relying on millions of cars to transport millions of people.
EVs are one element of the unsustainable urban model underlying our high energy/resource consumption paradigm. We CANNOT SOLVE THE PARADIGM PROBLEM SIMPLY BY REPLACING internal combustion engines with electric motors.
Our main challenge and first priority must be to reduce energy consumption, NOT MERELY SWITCH TO A DIFFERENT ENERGY SOURCE.
In promoting EVs, we are still going down the wrong road. Whether we go over the cliff at 100 mph or 10 mph makes little difference.
Never mind the EV detour. Let's go straight to the solutions. No time to lose.
It is ironic that all Andrew
It is ironic that all Andrew Scheer did was to repackage previous commitments to help fund a rebuilt Fraser River crossing, this time for the George Massey Tunnel. Both the previous BC Liberal and current NDP governments have had a go at this crossing, the Liberals with a monster 10-lane bridge supposedly justified by port truck traffic, but obviously gift-wrapped for their conservative suburban SUV-driving base. (They appropriated the name “Liberal” which is no reflection of their true blue orientation.) It is doubly ironic that the NDP cancelled the monster and resurrected the troll, but maybe, just maybe, if you pray and rub beads hard enough, with a lane or two devoted to commuter buses.
The entire crossing issue is moot anyway considering that the site is part of the low-lying Fraser delta which will likely be under water by the end of the century due to climate-induced sea rise. The highest point in Richmond (pop: 220,000) where the north end of the tunnel surfaces is currently one metre BELOW sea level at high tide. Dikes and diesel pumps are the only elements keeping their local civilization alive. Higher dikes will probably sink into the deep, soft alluvial soils. Rather than building more car infrastructure today, or raising the dikes for anything more than a temporary measure, they need to start planning for at least a quarter million local climate refugees, perhaps also for communities that float. Seriously.
The treble irony is that the city of Vancouver is ahead of most North America cities in reducing emissions and traffic and raising the bar on sustainability. Over half of all commuters within the city do not drive cars. They walk, take transit and ride a bike. Traffic on the downtown peninsula decreased by double digits even though the population doubled with high-density living. The year-over-year demand for transit is insane. This is the real story of induced demand. Transit infrastructure funding by senior governments remains far, far behind the phenomenal growth in demand.
The George Massey tunnel accommodates 88,000 cars a day, primarily single occupant vehicles. The newish Canada Line subway burst through all the ridership estimates from Day One and moves nearly 150,000 people a day. Additional train cars have been ordered not a decade since opening. The upcoming Broadway subway is expected to move at least 250,000 people a day a year or two after completion, and over 320,000 within a decade, an estimate that is sure to be broken. Transit vs. roads: There is no comparison.
Yes, we are having a federal election in three weeks. But it has been obvious for the last few elections that both federal and provincial governments been pathetic in fighting climate change, let alone in understanding modern economic trends based on human resources and knowledge. The most important battleground is in our cities. That makes ultimate sense; cities are where 85% of Canadians live their lives. Cities outpace all other sectors in wealth generation, including our frankly stupid obsession with the 17th Century resource extraction model of economics, and regional transportation standards from the Fifties.