Sunday, 5 August 2018

My submission re: the BC Clean Transportation intention paper

The Provincial Government is developing a climate action strategy, "Clean Growth", that will be integrated with the Economic Development Strategy, #BCTech Strategy and Emerging Economy Task Force; to be released in fall of 2018.

They have released a set of Intention Papers, which discuss aspects of the strategy in the first of three core areas:

  • Clean Transportation
  • Clean, Efficient Buildings, and
  • Clean Growth Program for Industry
The public is invited to view these papers here, and respond to with comments by August 24, 2018.

I've written a submission, which can be found below.

Thank you for inviting comment and discussion on the Clean Growth Strategy intention papers.

My comments are focused on the specifics of the Clean Transportation paper, but could easily apply to any of the other sectors, where adding more technology, and more “stuff” onto business as usual is the strategy, at enormous financial and environmental cost, rather than evaluating true alternatives. In making our climate mitigation intentions a clean growth strategy, rather than a clean transition strategy, BC risks focusing on strategies that require compounding all of our overconsumption problems, rather than solving the one of greenhouse gas emissions – a strategy in kicking the can slightly further down the road.

Carbon emissions are only one part of the large pollution and environmental overshoot puzzle – replacing all of our internal combustion engine cars, trucks, airplanes and all the service infrastructure that supports them will require massive outlays in materials; for electric vehicles, that includes lithium, cobalt, and other rare earth minerals that are already beginning to see shortages, or predictions of shortages within a couple short decades (e.g. Forbes, March 2018 'Cobalt: the Achilles Heel for Electric Car Makers') With what will we replace all of these new vehicles partway through our infrastructure transition, if no technofix using more abundant minerals is forthcoming? In addition, all that mining and manufacturing also has a carbon footprint; for example, it is 57% larger for a new electric car than for a new internal combustion engine car, resulting in relative emissions reductions of only 20% over the lifetime of the car (The Guardian, December 2017 'How Green Are Electric Cars?').

Fortunately, we don’t require new technologies, and very little more of anything to reduce our transport emissions – we just have to use less of what we already have, or use it more efficiently.

Starting with reductions in non-essential transportation would be an easy start.

Given that global tourism accounts for nearly 10 percent of emissions (The Independent, May 2018 “Tourism is responsible for nearly one tenth of the world's carbon emissions" ) it seems remiss not to discuss a strategy for simply reducing airplane usage for purely recreational uses; perhaps increasing taxes, or decreasing permits or supporting infrastructure for massive, expensive expansions of airports we know we can’t use if we hope to meet our emissions targets (YVR Media Centre, June 2018 "YVR Breaks Ground on Multi-Year Expansion Projects to Further its Position as a World-Class Connecting Hub and Strong Economic Generator for British Columbia").

While Section 2 does include “investing in transit” as a nod to the role of transit in achieving lowered carbon emissions from more efficient use of existing transportation modes, there is no other mention of transit in the document aside from the potential for the inclusion of buses within the Specialty Use Vehicle Incentive Program to incentivize switch to lower carbon fuels. There are considerable low hanging fruits still available in increasing the use of mass transit in inefficient and underserviced areas of the province simply to reduce the number of single occupancy cars on the road – the Capital Regional District of Vancouver Island has been struggling to liberate funds to improve transit for decades, and a publicly run bus service with improved schedules would certainly be welcome in the northern half of the province or over the treacherous Malahat pass on Vancouver Island; serving two provincial objectives in increasing public safety and improving transportation options. Currently the rural buses are underused due to intermittent service, but increased service would likely be all that is needed to improve ridership. Much better even than buses would be to revive the passenger trains, or conversion of railways to busways to be able to use existing rolling stock and connect from rail to road. Reviving the railways would, however, be able to address not just moving people, but moving freight – achieving 4.5 to 5 times fuel usage reductions without having to use any new technology at all (e.g., see Tolliver, Lu and Benson, 2013 Comparing rail fuel efficiency with truck and waterway); though much neglected and torn up, the infrastructure is also still more complete than, say, starting a new hydrogen fuelling station network from scratch.

The biggest emissions reductions targets, however, would likely be found in getting urban areas to switch to active transportation- if the first targets are a 33% reduction of total GHG emissions by 2020, what could be simpler than getting people to leave the car at home at least a third of the time? Given the considerable public health benefits of encouraging active forms of transportation, incentivizing active transport would also seem like a way to meet two provincial responsibilities at once. Providing funding to municipalities to build bike lanes, invest in bike shares, and improve pedestrian networks would not require investing heavily in new and unproven technologies that may be obsolete before the investment has been paid off. And for when people really must use cars, car sharing also doesn’t require any new technology – groups of neighbours in condos, apartments or single family homes can do it with the cars they already own. A car share education campaign, tax breaks for groups setting up their own car share, or otherwise supporting existing car share companies to expand their services could cut emissions immediately by an average of 10% at the tailpipe, and probably more when including reduction in new cars bought (, July 2016 "Car sharing increases mobility, decreases greenhouse gas emissions"), which could reduce overall living expenses considerably, boosting disposable incomes available to support the rest of the economy. While many of the strategies to shift to active forms of transportation currently fall under the purview of municipalities, that only further reduces the work and costs at the provincial level – if the funding will be made available for a larger, top-down approach, surely it can be more effectively spent by putting it behind programs that are already developed and just waiting for a boost (e.g. the BC Climate Action Toolkit).

Thank you again for this public invitation for feedback.

Sara Duncan
Sidney, B.C.