Hoax? Canada's Actual Targets The Real Joke

So, you've heard about the prank that got played on Canada yesterday? I though it was pretty funny, personally. The punchline of the whole thing though, is that Canada's actual targets are the real joke.

I know, I know, that might sound like it rolls off the tongue a bit too easily. Prank...Joke...ha ha. But if you look more closely at our targets, something is obviously out of step.

In a hoax press release, political tricksters "The Yes Men" hoodwinked a number of politicians and publications into believing that Canada had revealed a much more ambitious climate change plan. The faux-plan included 40% cuts to 1990 emissions by 2020.

Canada's actual emissions targets (3% of 1990 by 2020) are the lowest in the G8, lower than the EU (25% by 2020) and even lower than the US if you take 2050 targets into account (83% of 2005 by 2020). They are also orders of magnitude below what our best science is telling us we need to be doing. It's worth asking, why are we falling so far behind our peers? (You can track national targets here, or the climate scoreboard below)

The three answers that come up most often are: a fear of negative economic impacts, the fact that developing nations (read: "India and China") need to do their fair share, and that before doing anything we have to wait to see what American policy will look like. But none of those really stand up if you poke them a bit.

Avoiding Economic Impacts
Climate Change, and climate change policy is going to affect our economy one way of the other. Setting low targets doesn't solve that problem. Actually, it makes us more vulnerable. Take Forestry for example. Forest fires and infestations like those that have decimated Canada's western forests, for example, are only predicted to grow worse as temperatures rise. Similar trends will hit agriculture and fisheries. Blocking a commitment to strong international emissions reductions backs a big part of our economy into very stormy waters.

Take a look at last year's Globe and Mail list of Canada's top companies and you'll notice something else. Appart from the banks and a few insurance companies, all the other companies in the top 20 are in the fossil fuel sector. That's hardly a picture of a balanced economy.

Strong emissions reductions targets create a climate where Canada's innovative hi-tech, engineering and manufacturing sectors can expand into areas of alternative energy and green infrastructure – the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. Without targets to encourage that diversification, the climatic vulnerability and carbon liability on our economy will just keep on growing.

Rapid Growth in India & China
Now, on the surface of it, worries about rapidly industrializing countries like China and India make sense. What good would it do anyone if our reductions were simply swallowed up by growth elsewhere? But both India and China are reported to be at the top end of the targets recommended by the United Nations IPCC.

China has pledged to educe carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 in 2020. India has pledged a 20% to 25% reduction in emission intensity (both based on 2005). Will they live up to those targets? A good question. Do we hope for better in the future? Yes. But foot dragging from a wealthy country like Canada doesn't help any. Not the mention the fact that we are missing a prime opportunity to sell renewable energy technology into one of the hottest markets in the world.

Waiting for the Giant
When it comes to the U.S., we've got a long history of conflict and collaboration over economic and environmental issues. The treaties that govern the shared waters of the Great Lakes are held up as a model on international environmental policy. Our confrontations over softwood lumber have attracted different kinds of attention. But in both cases, Canada has been effective in defining and defending its own interests.

We need to do the same thing for Climate Change. Take Tar Sands emissions, for example. Who should be responsible for them? We make the stuff, but the Americans buy it. It took our former P.M., Paul Martin, to argue that the U.S. should assume responsibility for some of those emissions before the current Environment Minster stepped in. The U.S. disagrees, and has considered imposing carbon-based taxes on oil like the kind coming from Alberta.

Interesting. But where is the current Federal government on this or other similar issues? What's their plan? These are details we need to figure out before, not after the US, or the UN, decide on climate change policy. And while I think Paul Martin has a point, it certainly seems strange that serving politicians need to take their cues from former Prime Ministers.

Leaderless in Copenhagen
So why then are our targets so low? Partly, it is because of the incorrect Federal argument that aiming low and waiting for others to call the shots puts the Canadian economy in a better position. But more than that, it is because within the party currently in power (and some of the parties not in power), we lack any real leadership on climate change. In fact, many of the best leaders in the country are among our provinces and cities.

Leadership is about recognizing that there are multiple possible futures, having a vision of where you want to go, and then building the strategy to get there. Leadership is about understanding that current economic and political realities don't determine the future. Yes, they are the foundationfor tomorrow -- but how we build on that foundation is something we have a say over. That, after all, is what politics are all about -- otherwise we'd just get experts and bureaucrats to run everything.

Canada is in an enviable position to lead on these issues. We are a rich country, a smart country, and a secure country. We have a legacy of savvy diplomacy that has meant that (until recently) we have punched well above our weight in international negotiations. As a signatory of the Kyoto convention we also have the ability to negotiate more broadly in Copenhagen than non-signatories (like our neighbours to the south).

It's a shame to see that go to waste. We have an opportunity now to help build an international climate change agreement that would be good both for our country, and for the whole world. It's time we get serious about this. Spending time defending our uniquely low targets isn't the way to go about it. Much more is possible.


Climate Scoreboard

A great way to keep track of what's going on in Copenhagen. For more info see Dot.Earth over that the New York Times.


Climate Comix: Preventative Detention

[Over the past few weeks, I have been translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here, and earlier translations here. Click for larger clearer image.]

This is a response to the 1000 or so people detained at the climate demonstrations in Copenhagen over the weekend. Despite the often sensational headlines, it's worth remembering that the rallies both in Copenhagen and around the world were almost entirely peaceful. They were more rallies FOR ambitious changes rather than demonstrations against any one country, company, or economic system. I've got a bit more on that in an earlier post. Read more...

Climate Protests: Worldwide and in Montreal

Cities around the world held climate change rallies today (12/12/09). In total, over 3000 events were held across 130 different countries, and the news coverage is coming up very positive (see after the jump for a selection of videos). Between 40,000 and 100,000 people are reported to have marched in Copenhagen. In Montreal, hundreds of people crowded Philip's Square for the main event billed as a "Save Santa" rally (photos on flikr).

The rally was critical of the Canadian government's current position (no surprise there), but it was also humourous, happy and up-beat. It wrapped up with hundreds of people dancing in the snow in the heart of the downtown.

What Canadians Want

Speeches, signs and songs all echoed sentiments that a recent poll shows spread across the whole of the country: Canadians want to see our government contribute to creating a strong deal in Copenhagen. But if that fails, people are ready to look for other ways to address the problem, regardless of national or international commitments.

Like earlier rallies held in the Fall, the feeling of these rallies is distinct from the other major protests of our era. Unlike the WTO protests, for example, there is a real sense at the climate change rallies that people are there to demonstrate FOR something not against it.

Whether in Copenhagen, Sydney, or Montreal, participants are coming together to show that we are ready to help make positive change possible. These events are as much about showing that support, as about calling laggards to account.

[One the topic of calling laggards to account: at one light hearted moment in Montreal a speaker encouraged everyone there to whip our their cellphones and leave our Prime Minister a message. If you'd like to call yourself, you can reach his office at: 613-992-4211.]

Hope, Hapiness & The Largest Global Demonstrations in History
This year we have seen the largest civil society demonstrations in human history. Crowds from all walks of life have come together in a support of a common cause. We are all worried about climate change, but that is not all we share. We share the hope that a better world is possible, and the happiness of having so many others with whome we share that commitment to change.

Hope and happiness are powerful feelings. The commitment that they cement has created a powerful constituency for change, both here in Canada and around the world. And while we can all do our part, in our homes and communities, there are limits to the power of individuals – no matter how optimistic and motivated we appear in opinion polls. What we need now are politicians who are ready to run with the ball we are throwing them and make large scale change possible. Here's hoping we'll see democracy in action.

If you want to talk to your MP about Canada's position on climate change, you can find them here.

Great Raw Footage of the Copenhagen Event:


Climate Comix: Fresh Paint

[Over the next few weeks, I'll be translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here, and earlier
translations here. Click for larger clearer image.]


Finding the Money: The Wizardry of Financing Climate Responses

Even if you aren't particularly interested in climate change, Copenhagen's high level negotiations are interesting because they bring to light things about the world that usually pass unnoticed. That's particularly true when it comes to finance.

This morning, financial wizard George Soros announced a climate financing plan that to most of us was akin to lifting up the cushions of the couch and finding a billion dollars.

Soros' plan relies on a form of financing called special drawing rights (SDRs) that, I think it's safe to say, most people still don't know exists. SDRs are in a sense a virtual pool of capital that can be exchanged for the currency of any IMF member state. They have been around since 1969, when they were created by the IMF to add liquidity to international currency exchanges. Most recently they were used to inject $283 billion into the world economy following financial crisis.

Soros' plan (summed up over at green.inc) is to place $100 billion worth of these SDRs in a "green fund" that would be invested " in the most vulnerable developing countries to protect rain forests, plant new forests, expand farming methods that store carbon, and help with adaptation and energy programs." It sound like a brilliant way to kick-start the proposed (but still unfunded) $10 billion annual climate adaptation fund.

Another overlooked pool of capital is the equity controlled by the world's insurance and reinsurance companies. Anxious to limit their potential liabilities, insurers and reinsurers have long been some of the most eloquent quantifiers of the need to respond to climate change.

Munich RE, the world's largest reinsurerfor example, has been charting the increased incidence in natural disaster related losses since the 1970s. As Matt Huddleston, Principal Climate Change Consultant at the UK's Met Office points out in an excellent feature on the BBC (text & video), they have a real business interest in pushing for ambitous emissions reductions: "

"They're terrified that they might have a year where they have a lot of damage from winter windstorms in Europe, a lot of land-falling hurricanes in America and hail damage in the Midwest - all in the same year."

The idea of getting caught holding the bag for those kinds of losses has pushed Munich RE to begin investing in a variety of renewable energy projects, including the ambitious DESERTEC solar aray in North Africa. Nikolaus von Bomhard, CEO of MunichRE, says that from a strictly business point of view it makes sense for insurers to invest 1%-2% of their equity into mitigation measures. For his firm that amounts to $2billion, but of the several trillion dollars managed by the insurance sector globally it would add up to tens of billions of dollars a year.

Now if only New York had found a similarly creative financial partner for their building retrofit program.

[The BBC feature is well worth the watch, if only for a glimpse of the trippy Alice-In-Wonderland inspired series of tunnels that link Munich RE's various buildings.]

Climate Comix: A Polar Bear in Venice

[Over the next few weeks, I'll be translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here, and earlier translations here. Click for larger clearer image. ]

Great combination of Venice and polar bears, two icons of rising waters. (No translation needed for this one.) Read more...

Underground Jewels: Subway Star-chitecture

Designboom has posted an eye-catching photo series of some of the world's best subway architecture. They range from the old-world opulence of Moscow's Komsomolskaya station to the near seizure inducing optics of Shanghai Bund Sightseeing tunnel.

My favourites have to be the Indiana Jones-esque Museum Station in Toronto, and the colourful cave-like spaces of Stockholm's Tunnelbana.

Frank Pick
, Commercial Manager of the London Undergroung in the early 20th C., was one of the first people to talk about the role that public transportation plays in creating the identity of a city. Used by thousands everyday, public transit is more than just a way of getting around town. The experience of taking transit and the design of the space and it's iconography profoundly shapes how you see a city.

Pick focused on creating a uniform look for the Tube through the design of signs, maps and promotional posters (the icons of the London tube that most of us are familiar with). Designboom's pics show the next stage in that pursuit when that attention to creating an identity for the transit system influences the design of the infrastructure itself. It's beautiful stuff - and who knows what is waiting for us around the corner!

Climate Comix: Targets

[Over the next few weeks, I'll be translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here, and earlier translations here. Click for larger clearer image. ]


Global Climate Editorial

[This move to run a joint editorial published around the world took me totally by surprise. I'm the fulltext reposting it below]

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

• How the Copenhagen global leader came about
• Write your own editorial
• Bryony Worthington: How to make an impact
In pictures: How newspapers around the world ran the editorial

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.


Climate Comix: Copen-Crabs

[Over the next few weeks, I'll be translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here.]

[Click on the image for a clearer larger version]


Stilts & Dams in Your Future? : Ethics, Optimism, and Adapting to Climate Change

What are we going to do? These days, more and more attention is focused on how we might adapt to the impacts of climate change -- actually, not just how we "might" but how we are already starting to adapt. The Associated Press ran a fairly long piece at the end of last week looking at adaptation measures everywhere from Boston to Bangladesh (click on the image for some highlights). It's also something that I've covered here before.

Talking about "adaptation" used to be taboo -- it implied defeat (that we need to adapt to a problem we hadn't solved), and ran the risk of taking attention away from efforts to reduce emissions. Looking back, that all seems pretty naive.

If you ask me, talking about adaptation means that we are finally taking the problem seriously. If you look at most of what passes for sustainability initiatives, the film of"green" is so thin that you've got to wonder what exactly they're meant to accomplish. LED traffic signals (or Canada's emissions reductions targets for that matter) , only really count as an emissions reduction measure in the fluffiest and most optimistic vision of the challenges we are facing. If talking about adaptation means that we are getting too wise to settle for such low targets and ambitions, than I'm glad to see it.

It's also through adaptation that the ethical side of climate change becomes unavoidable: of the between $US100 billion to $US300 billion a year that will need to be spent on adaptation, close to 75% of that will need to be spent in the developing world. That's money that they do not have, for a threat to their survival that they had next to no role in creating. Maybe, as Oxfam is hoping, taking adaptation funding seriously will even unlock commitments to more serious emissions reductions at Copenhagen.

In 2008, Nature ran a very readable (and recommended) Comment piece by three IPCC scientists on adaptation. I'll let them have the last word:

"We have lost ten years talking about climate change but not acting on it. Meanwhile, evidence from the IPCC indicates that the problem is bigger than we thought. A curious optimism — the belief that we can find a way to fully avoid all the serious threats illustrated above — pervades the political arenas of the G8 summit and UN climate meetings. This is false optimism, and it is obscuring reality. The sooner we recognize this delusion, confront the challenge and implement both stringent emissions cuts and major adaptation efforts, the less will be the damage that we and our children will have to live with."


Climate Comix: Protest

[In the lead up to Copenhagen, I'll be translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here.]


Toolkit for Change: ICLEI's new Urban Sustainability Framework

[This piece on ICLEI's new Sustainability Toolbox is currently running over at worldchanging. Reposted below for your enjoyment.]

Sustainable cities has been a hot topic for over a decade.
But there has never been a time when the challenges and opportunities of sustainability have been so clearly on display. On the one hand, billions of stimulus dollars around the world are being channelled into the green economy. On the other, we find ourselves at the tail end of a year where report after report have made clear that things are much worse that we realized; when did we start talking about 1.4m sea level rise and a 40% reduction in grain yields by the end of the century?

Somehow, old classics like putting energy efficient lights on city hall and installing some LED traffic signals just aren't that exciting anymore.

Toolkit for Change
That makes ICLEI's new Sustainability Planning Toolkit a well timed resource for municipalities who want to go beyond on-off projects and build a true sustainability strategy for their city. The core of the kit is a step-by-step planning guide that takes you from how to hire a sustainability coordinator to how to design, implement and monitor a local sustainability plan. Accompanying the guide, the Toolkit includes a collection of model documents, inventorying software, and even sample job descriptions for municipalities just beginning their push toward sustainability.

ICLEI is the world's largest urban sustainability association with 1,100 members worldwide and 600 in the U.S. alone. Drawing on the experience of their members, particularly New York city's PlaNYC team, stories of how other cities have implemented their own plans are woven in throughout the guide. Think of it as the sustainability planning boxed-set. And just in time for the Holidays! (or is that Copenhagen?)

Anyone already familiar with the Cities for Climate Protection program will recognize the hallmark ICLEI approach of dividing up complex problems into a series of manageable milestones. While Climate Change is still a key focus, the toolkit shows how to couple emissions reductions with wins in other areas like reducing poverty, preventing sprawl, or diversifying the local economy.

Everyone's Problem, But Nobody's Responsibility
But as many cities have already realized, the trouble with sustainability, or climate change more specifically, is that are everybody's problem, but nobody's responsibility. They don't fit nicely into the division of labour that has kept our cities running in the past. They also ask departments that don't talk much (and may not get along all that well) to work together to get things done. It may seem unlikely, but often those dynamics (more than a lack of political will, or money, or knowledge) are why cities don't green-up more quickly.

Given that, it's great to see at the core of ICLEI's new toolkit, a detailed section on team-building, overcoming divisions between departments, and engaging the public. Their key points are strong: manage sustainability centrally (preferably from the mayor's office), bring representatives from all departments on-board, and open up the process to the community. No city has the resources to address sustainability and climate change on their own. If it is going to happen it has to be a shared project that makes the most of the expertise and skills of the local community.

Getting the Lead Out

There has been a lot of talk about the place of cities in a transition to a greener world (or at least one that won't fall apart at the seams). Somewhere between 50% and 70% of global greenhouse gases come from cities – we've all heard that statistic so often we probably know it by heart. But despite all that – even among ICLEI members – there are only a select few examples of cities making real progress of sustainability issues. We need to get the lead out, as the saying goes.

This toolkit doesn't provide one-size fits all solutions, motivational talking points or snazzy charts and graphs. What is does provide is much more substantial: a collection of organizational resources for cities who want to move past eating the low-hanging fruit, and design a locally relevant plan that addresses sustainability at a more ambitious, and rewarding level.

Canada & Climate: Mission Impossible?

[Here's a short Op-Ed of mine that hasn't been picked up by any of our major papers. Better luck next time.]

It's Impossible
A few weeks ago, world leaders emerged from the APEC summit with a very Canadian message: “It's impossible. We will not reach a strong agreement in Copenhagen. Better luck next year." Since then, Canada has been internationally condemned for our role in blocking climate action at APEC, the Commonwealth...and pretty much whenever else we get a chance. The criticism is so sharp that there is even talk of booting us from the Commonwealth. But our tune hasn't changed.

“It's impossible,” what a soothingly familiar phrase. It could almost be our federal climate change motto: we heard it first from then Environment Minister Rona Ambrose in 2006, and our Prime Minister and current Environment Minister Jim Prentice have been repeating it ever since. In 2006 the problem was that the Kyoto targets were too high, now the problem is that we don't know what the American targets and policies will be...what is a government to do?!

There's Green under the Grey
Thankfully, not everyone has been so stumped: Canadian cities, provinces and private companies are miles ahead of the Feds. Canada is filled with examples that prove that what's “possible” is much bigger than it appears through the foggy windows on Parliament Hill. There are projects up and running across the country that are both good for the environment, and that put us on a more competitive footing against countries (like the US) that are rapidly developing their green technology sectors.

North America's power grid is the biggest single machine in the world. It is also amazingly inefficient, and losses up to 10% of the electricity that it carries. But that's changing. Ontario's ambitious smart grid program has pushed the province to the forefront of grid modernization. Higher efficiency, reduced consumption, and an increased ability to integrate renewable energy have all made Ontario into an international example. BC and Quebec are set to follow suit.

Canadian cities have also distinguished themselves as leaders in sustainability. Household energy use can account for up to third of a city's emissions, and many households rent. But how do you get landlords to make efficiency improvements to their buildings, when it will be their tenants who reap the benefits of lower bills? Toronto has used well designed low-interest loans provided by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to resolved that Catch-22. On the Pacific coast, Vancouver's eco-density program is spearheading efforts to add housing to existing residential neighbourhoods while preserving their homey qualities. Olympic athletes there will also be staying in one of the most sustainable communities in the world.

Commercially, we have an impressive list of innovative companies: Bombardier, one of the worlds foremost manufacturers of high-speed trains; alternative energy companies like AAER or Canadian Hydro; and ZENN electric cars, to name a few. All of these would be able to play an increased roll in the Canadian economy if conditions were right. But here, as with all the successes noted above, there is no strong federal support.

High-speed rail (which is 20 times more efficient that driving a car) has been repeatedly shelved despite being economically viable in the Quebec City -Windsor corridor and between Calgary and Edmonton. There is also little in the way of incentives or support for residential efficiency or encouraging the growth of a cutting edge alternative energy sector. Public transportation continues to struggle to get the federal dollars that it needs.

One Challenge, Many Opportunities
The challenge of climate change is also filled with opportunities. Cities, provinces and companies have begun to respond to that challenge in serious and innovative ways. In and of themselves, their successes so far aren't nearly enough to make the urgent emissions cuts that we need. But their efforts point us in the right direction. They also sink the argument that the environment and the economy are at odds with each other. In Ontario, grid modernization alone will create an estimated 20,000 jobs. Housing retrofits, and green infrastructure projects could generate similar figures across the country.

In the weeks left before the climate negotiations in Copenhagen we are going to see more debate over what is "possible.” The answers will often seem to be strangely out of touch with what we can see going on around us. It's high time for federal politics to catch up with what is happening in the rest of the country. When playing the tricky political game of defining what is “possible” we need to keep our eye on what leaders are already doing right here at home. Then we need to ask: “What we can do to take those successes to another level?"

Climate Comix: Tidal Wave

[In the lead up to Copenhagen, I'll be translating and reposting highlights from Spanish cartoonist Ramon's series on climate change. You can find the originals in El Pais here.]

This one seemed particularly appropriate after reading a new study on sea level rise reported on in The Times yesterday. Their conclusions point to 1.4m of sea level rise by 2100 if current temperature increases continue un-checked.

From The Times coverage of the Report:

"SCAR, a partnership of 35 of the world’s leading climate research institutions, made the prediction in the report Antarctic Climate Change and Climate. It far exceeds the 0.59 metre rise by the end of the century quoted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. This was based on a “business as usual” approach by governments that allowed temperatures to rise by 4 degrees. It will underpin the negotiations in Copenhagen.

SCAR scientists said that the IPCC underestimated grossly how much the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets would contribute to total sea-level rises."

A bad day to be Canadian (again)

I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but last week Canada was roasted at the Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. Actually, there is even talk of suspending us from the Commonwealth entirely because our approach to climate change negotiations has been so destructive.

If all that sounds a bit strange to you, check out George Monbiot's most recent column over at the Guardian. He's put together a depressingly accurate summary of why we've lost our reputation as "Canada the Good."

The official Canadian position is that we are a small player, with little power and that we've got to wait for the US to act before we can design our own policies. As Monbiot's article sums up, the truth is that we are actually a very important player - at least diplomatically. Far from waiting to follow someone else's lead, we've been working hard to under cut climate negotiations since 2006. The full article is here and I've re-posted a few excerpts after the jump. [There also a CBC TV report along similar lines.]

"Here I am, [in Toronto this past weekend ] watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush."

"In 2006 the new Canadian government announced it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%."

"It is now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation. Never mind special measures; it won't accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren't worth the paper they're written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void."

"After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world's 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th."

"In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada's obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth."

"In Copenhagen next week, this country will do everything in its power to wreck the talks. The rest of the world must do everything in its power to stop it. But such is the fragile nature of climate agreements that one rich nation – especially a member of the G8, the Commonwealth and the Kyoto group of industrialised countries – could scupper the treaty. Canada now threatens the wellbeing of the world."


Climate Comix: Hipo Popo Pota & Tamo

I'm totally hooked on the editorial cartoons that run in Spain's El Pais newspaper. The cartoonist Ramon, in particular, runs a quirkly environmentally themed strip that is consistently wonderful. Who would have thought cute hippos, grumpy frogs and sinister alligators could be sharp! In the lead up to Copenhagen I'll be translating some of the best strips for those of you who don't read Spanish. You can find the originals here. (click on the strip for a bigger clearer image)

As a proud Canadian, I just wanted to point out as well that it was us who invented the trick of basing your targets on 2005 instead of 1990. Cool, no? Makes any target look that much bigger. Kind of like putting newspaper in your shoes to look taller. Good thing we've got some cartoons to help us keep things straight!

Double Warming: Urbanization, Climate Change and Global Health

For those of you in Montreal (where I've resently resettled), there is what looks like an interesting talk this Wednesday at McGill's Institute for Health and Social Policy.

The theme of their 2009-10 seminar series is "Sustainable Cities in a Changing Climate." This week's talk by Dr. Lea Berrang Ford is on urban health concerns and climate change. See all the details after the jump (or click on the poster to enlarge).

- From the press release:

The series continues with a talk by Dr. Lea Berrang Ford from The McGill Geography Department, entitled: “Double Warming: Urbanization, Climate Change and Global Health.” The talk will cover the effects of urbanization and climate change on public health by highlighting the recent trends of Malaria transmission in urban environments.

Location: IHSP Conference Room (1130 Pine ave West). Light snacks will be served.

Gaming the Future and Getting It Right: an interview with Dr. John Robinson

[This piece is also running over at worldchanging.com]
Dr. John Robinson,
one of the world's leading urban and regional sustainability experts, gave a great keynote address at a public policy conference hosted by the Trudeau Foundation in Ottawa last week (The Trudeau Foundation, which funds my research, is similar to the American Fullbright Program).

Dr. Robinson was part of the team that developed the interactive urban sustainability platform Metroquest (profiled earlier on WC ). He is also heading up the construction of UBC's Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) and has been a Lead Author on the past three IPCC reports. I caught up with him after his talk for an interview on how to foster a shift to a sustainable urban society.

--"We have the Next Fifty Years to Build it Right."--

Alex Aylett: What is it about our current situation that makes smart sustainable urbanization so important?

John Robinson: Roughly speaking, the urban population of the planet will double in the next fifty years. This amounts to about a trillion dollars a year of infrastructure investment over the next decade or so (it is hard to project investment further into the future). After 2065 or so, global population growth (and thus the build-out of cities) is expected to level off.

This means we have the next fifty years to build it right, after that point it will all be about retrofitting – not building – our cities.. Retrofit is much more expensive and much less effective than building things right in the first place.

Every unsustainable piece of infrastructure we build is a 50-100 year mistake and makes it much harder to act sustainably. I think we should be focusing a lot of our attention on making sure that the annual trillion dollars of infrastructure investment is being spent on sustainable infrastructure.

AA: Polls in Canada and the US show that people care about climate change. But turning that concern into productive action hasn't been successful so far. How are efforts to get people to take action on climate change missing the mark?

JR: At the level of individual behaviour, much of the efforts to date have been based on the so-called 'information deficit' model of behaviour change. We assume that providing people with more information will change their behaviour.

But a lot of research in social psychology, social marketing, and what might be called applied cultural anthropology shows that this model is simply ineffective. At the collective level of policy change, a similar approach is often taken, and it is assumed that the provision of more and better science on, say, climate change impacts or the costs of mitigation, will lead decision-makers to change policy and investment decisions. That's also quite unsuccessful.

We need much more behaviourally nuanced and sophisticated approaches.

AA: So what's the alternative, if focusing on education and individual responsibility are more or less dead ends?

JR: The approach I'm interested in focuses on collective decision-making. I believe that the decisions that are really crucial have to do with collective decisions on issues like land use, urban form, density, transportation infrastructure and energy and water systems. These decisions are key because they have huge direct sustainability implications, and they also strongly constrain individual choices.

If we focus on these collective choices rather than changing individual behavior, the emphasis is on social mobilization processes intended to inform stakeholders about the trade-offs and consequences associated with different collective decisions. That approach both gets at the root of many sustainability problems, and gives policy makers a political constituency that supports changes to existing policy.

AA: Facilitating that kind of engagement with large scale policy choices (as opposed to changing light bulbs) is where your work on MetroQuest fits in. Tell us a bit about gaming the future... [check out Chicago's use of the MetroQuest platform for yourself.]

JR: At it's most basic, MetroQuest is an interactive gaming tool that allows people to create and explore scenarios of the future of their cities. It's a powerful way for them to to engage in discussion about the future and learn about the impacts of different choices on issues like landuse or transportation. It's also a way to collect views about the futures that people prefer -- information about preferences and choices that is much more useful than what can be provided by polls and surveys.

People react very positively – and very strongly – when they see detailed visualizations of the dramatic impacts of their choices on areas that they know and care about.

AA: What role does political leadership play in all of this?

JR: Simply holding MetroQuest workshops of course does not mean that the results will have any effect on real-world decisions, no matter how engaged people get. What is needed is processes that connect to actual decision-making processes.

This is quite tricky as few politicians or policy-makers will commit, in an open-ended way, to act on the results of processes they do not control and can’t predict, and which may or may not be representative of their constituents’ views.

There are two possible routes: first, engaging policy-makers actively in the design and development of such processes so they feel some ownership from the beginning (this has been done in projects in Europe); two, engaging a large enough fraction of the population in a given jurisdiction that they view as politically significant. This is the route we intend to pursue in the next few years.

AA: What other changes do we need to see to make a strong shift towards sustainability possible?

Linked to getting people to engage with collective decision making, there are also many many changes that can have powerful effects on the achievement of sustainability that don’t require changes in policy. Institutional rules, including codes, standards, job descriptions, performance evaluation criteria, assessment metrics, for example have a large effect on what decisions get made by organizations. Changing these rules can make an important contributing to really transformative social change.

As well – for better or worse – the private sector is also the locus of much of the behaviour that transforms our world. The focus here is on processes of commercialization and market transformation (not just government policy and regulation). The argument is that if it is in the economic interest of private sector organizations to invest in, produce, and market more sustainable products and services, then the market itself can become an engine of change in the direction of greater sustainability.

Electro-dub-ocalypse: fishing in NYC with DJ /Rupture

Rhyming nicely with the earlier post on illustrations of urban spaces redesigned by flooding and human adaptability, I stumbled on recent work by New York based DJ /Rupture. His new album Solar Life Raft, creates a disjointed dubby soundtrack for a future that's both dark and strangly joyous.

In an interview with New York Magazine he summed the album up as:

"a picture of New York 40 years in the future, where the water line is at the fourth story of buildings and the rich people are dry in the Catskills. Kids are making music on their cell phones and grilling octopi. So it’s postapocalyptic, but not necessarily grim." [take a look at the video for a taste.]

I really liked the music, although jagged electro-dub probably won't be everyones cup of java. But eyond the images and music, it's interesting that we are seeing these creative celebrations of human ingenuity and adaptability.

On the one hand you might say it's an artistic cop-out: an admission that we can't make the clouds go away, so we'd better start looking for silver lining. But if we are ever going to manage to create change, it's exactly these kinds of imaginative responses to difficult situations that we are going to need.

Now if we can just show a little bit of that ingenuity, adaptability and flexibility sooner rather than later, maybe we can fish octopi from the first floor, rather than the fourth...

Images of A Flodded City : NYC & Tokyo

NYC architecture firm Studio Lindfors has released a lushly rendered vision of massively flodded New York and Tokyo streets. The series of images [flickr] is part of what the firm calls their "speculative" works. (Which have previously included populations of nomadic cloud skippers and blimp shelters for hurricaine survivors.)

What hooked me about these images, other than their beautiful details (click images to see larger), are the way they side-step the apocalyptic. Sure, the city is under 10 meters of water, but life continues to evolve and adapt. The city is still vibrant and alive (maybe more so), even if it is dramatically changed. In one of my favourites a pedestrian crosses a make-shift foot bridge above rows of crops, below a dog waits to pounch on a trio of geese.Wheat has been planted in a parking tower in the background and roofgarden forests sprout over head.

It's a different future, frightening but at the same time appealing -- certainly not helpless or devastated. The whole project makes a great pushing off point for musings about how human adaptability will make use of the climate modified urban spaces of the late 21st C.

Align Center

Bike-onomy: Cycling in Your Local Economy

What's the value of cycling to your local economy? That's a question I've been thinking about since stumbling across a report that peg's Portland's cycling related economic activity at US$90 million for 2008 (click image to enlarge). When I started poking around, I found a collection of other similar stats for other areas.

This is really just the stub of an article that I'll be developing more for next week. I wanted to ask anyone reading out there who has some info on the bike economy in their area (especially, but not only, if you live outside the USA) to post something in the comments field, or send me a note at alex.aylett[at]gmail dot com. Read more...

Urban Forests Key to International Climate Responses

A study released yesterday [press release ] by Georgia Tech planning Professor Brian Stone recommends planting millions of trees to create extensive new urban forests as a key part of international climate response plans. That's one conclusion of his look at the climatic impacts of deforestation and urbanization.

Stone's key finding is that:

Across the U.S. as a whole, approximately 50 percent of the warming that has occurred since 1950 is due to land use changes (usually in the form of clearing forest for crops or cities) rather than to the emission of greenhouse gases.

That offers a strong argument for recognizing how key land use is to responding to climate change. It's also a call to recognize the importance of local governments:

As we look to address the climate change issue from a land use perspective, there is a huge opportunity for local and state governments...Presently, local government capacity is largely unharnessed in climate management structures under consideration by the U.S. Congress. Yet local governments possess extensive powers to manage the land use activities in both the urban and rural areas.

Coming a few weeks before the Copenhagen negotiations, this is a well timed report. Both land use related emissions and local governments have been slowly acquiring a greater profile in international climate change negotiations.

Strangely, most reports on the study are running under the title "Reducing Greenhouse Gases May Not Be Enough to Slow Climate Change." Eye-catching, sure. But not really accurate. The real strength of this report seems to be (I say seems because the full text is yet to appear on the publisher's site) that it has put solid, nationally specific, numbers behind an argument that has long been made about the importance of local land use planning.

And did I mention that green streets aren't bad looking either? (image: treecanada.ca)

Our Choice: A Review

Our Choice is as much a reference book as a call to action. In an unexpected poem (Al Gore writes poetry!?) that closes the introduction to the new book, he writes: "The Hour of choosing has arrived / Here are your tools." The tools he offers in the four hundred pages that follow are a detailed and lushly illustrated look at the solutions to the climate crisis, and the social and political barriers that are standing in our way.

Like the moon mission or the civil rights struggle, these are challenges that can bring out the best in all of us and make possible rapid and fundamental changes. As those examples suggest, Our Choice is also a call for the United States to regain faith in its ability to create positive change. But even for non-American readers, like myself, the book contains a wealth of information on what is possible.

Renewable Abundance
Most greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to our use of fossil fuels, and energy is the core of Gore's analysis. Reading his account of Solar, Wind and Geothermal it's hard to understand why we are still at such an early stage of the shift to green energy. For one thing, there is just so much of it:

-- Geothermal resources globally are equal to 280,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the world. Accessible geothermal in the United States is equivalent to a 30,000 year supply of energy at current rates of consumption.

-- Available wind resources in the US are equal to ten times annual American electricity consumption.

-- "Even taking into account all of the technical difficulties in capturing and using solar energy, it would take only seven days' worth of sunlight hitting the earth to meet the annual energy needs of the planet."

Also – while peaking petrol supplies will drive oil prices higher – renewables are only going to get cheaper. Technological advances have already cut the cost of renewable power technology. Once a real economy of scale develops, Gore argues, they will come down even faster. It will be Moore's Law all over again, only for energy this time, not computing power. Bundled in with all this are the millions of jobs that can be created building new smart grids, installing local decentralized renewables, and retrofitting existing homes and buildings.

Missing the Mark
So what gives? America, he makes plain, is lagging. It is being held back by inconsistent federal policies and regulations, and incentives that come and go depending on the price of oil and the politics of the White House. A brief lead resulting from efforts following the 1970s oil crisis has been squandered, and by comparison even China comes out looking pretty good (especially for developing solar industries and smart grids).

He points to the success of state level policies, like those in California, that require utilities to supply a certain percentage of renewable electricity. But these are not enough. It is time to correct the market and put a proper price on carbon through either cap and trade or a carbon tax. ( Although there is strangely little discussion of the carbon markets that are already up and running in the US out of Chicago and along the Eastern seaboard.) Not doing comes at great economic risk.

The Subprime Carbon Bubble
He draws an analogy here to the recent collapse of the subprime mortgage market: "We now have several trillion dollars' worth of subprime carbon assets owned by individuals, pension funds, and other institutional investors in the form of companies whose value is artificially inflated by dishonest misrepresentations concerning the need to sharply curtail the burning of carbon fuels .... [When] the appropriate actions are taken to curtail emissions have begun, the oil and coal "bubbles" are likely to burst. The long we wait, the bigger those bubbles will grow." All the more reason to begin the shift now, build an economy based on renewables and put a price on carbon to spur economic and technological innovation and an environmental recovery.

Power of Us
Beyond his business plan for the future, Gore offers an account of the multi-million dollar effort to mislead the public on climate change that will make your blood boil. The unified and successful campaign of American automakers and oil companies to shift media coverage and public perception on the issue is more than shameful. (ExxonMobil, for example, offering $10,000 a pop for any papers disputing the scientific consensus on climate change.)

But he uses this story about a public mislead to segue into a discussion of the strength of the internationally linked grassroots movements that have sprung up to fight for action: "The lesson we should take from looking at the way carbon polluters hijacked the political process on global warming is that grassroots activism is essential to building a base of support strong enough to overcome well-funded opposition. That is the political task at hand for anyone who wants to be part of the solution to the climate crisis."

Our Choice
The one most welcome difference between this book and it's precursor - An Inconvenient Truth – is the recognition that this is about more than policy, politics and energy. In it's closing sections, Our Choice points out that we are all far more than consumers. It draws our attention to the truly meaningful connections that we have with each other and our environment, whether those links are based on spirituality, community, or family. It is the strength of those ties, and the collective action that they make possible, that will allow us to successfully face down this challenge. But it is also from the strength of those ties, and the deep meaning that they hold for all of us, that we will find the resolve and motivation that we need to create truly fundamental change.

This combination of almost encyclopedic coverage of the science, technology and politics of climate change with a deeply felt call to action makes for a strange read at times. But the book provides much of the information needed to turn passion and commitment into effective action. Action that goes beyond changing light bulbs to changing laws. For a concerned public often left asking “but what can we do?” Our Choice answers “a whole lot, and we'd better start now.”


Al Gore on Letterman: "I'd Vote for An Asteroid"(Video)

Here is the video that I promised in my earlier post on Al Gore's appearance on Letterman. (Thanks MrPiratte) It get's interesting around minute 4.


Oil and Ice Tour: Are we giving up ice for oil?

[Just got word of this speaking tour that will be travelling Canada from Coast to Coast this month.]

Join two of Canada's leading authors for a discussion about the choices that will determine the future of Canada's Arctic, and what we can learn from the tar sands.

WWF-Canada is proud to host the cross-Canada speaking tour of award-winning authors Andrew Nikiforuk (Tar Sands) and Ed Struzik (The Big Thaw). Join them this fall as they discuss how the melting of Arctic sea ice and the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands are connected, and how they are shaping Canada's future. WWF aims to stimulate debate among Canadians about the choices and consequences – political, cultural, economic and environmental – involved in how we develop the tar sands and respond to a changing Arctic.

Join us in a city near you between November 4-20, 2009. See here for more information about dates and locations. Read more...

Changing A City: Inside Portland's 80% by 2050 target

[Worldchanging.com is running an interview that I did with the Deputy Director of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. See the full post at worldchanging or reposted below.]

Last week the City of Portland and Multnomah County jointly passed one of North America's most ambitious Climate Change Action Plan (CAP), which commits the city and county to reducing their overall emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Portland has been a leading city on climate change policy since 1993, when it became the first city adopt a strategy to reduce carbon emissions. It is also the only North American city that has managed to reduce its emissions below 1990 levels (despite an 18 percent growth in population). Nonetheless, the plan opens with the sobering point that “perhaps the most important lesson learned from local climate protection work to date is the frank recognition that our good work...is not nearly enough.” (A familiar mia culpa, well in line with how serious things have gotten.)

What follows in the rest of the 70 page plan (pdf) is an example of what it might look like if cities truly take sustainability seriously. The plan is packed with useful information and strategy. You can find more complete review here.

The standout element is the way the city has positioned itself to facilitate a broad shift that extends well past what it controls directly. This is much more than leading by example. Through a combination of educational programs, public consultations, economic development planning and the coordination of financial incentives, the municipality is leading change across the city as a whole. To find out more, I caught up with Deputy Director of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Micheal Armstrong via e-mail.

Alex Aylett: Early municipal climate action plans, both in North America and in Europe, tended to focus on things that the municipal government controlled directly: street lighting, municipal buildings, landfill sites, etc. Portland's new CAP, on the other hand, really is an action plan for the whole city. Tell me a bit about that more ambitious approach to municipal sustainability.

Micheal Armstrong: Since 1993 Portland’s climate-protection work has consistently included both its own operations and community-wide emissions. Our operations represent about one percent of total local emissions, so there’s a modest but real opportunity to achieve meaningful reductions. We clearly need to be making the same prudent investments in efficiency and renewables that others are making.

But our ability to set policy and to invest in infrastructure is a much more powerful lever in influencing local carbon emissions. We have an important role in shaping the overall form of the community -- which is perhaps the single most significant factor in emissions, as well as in integrating transportation systems, enforcing the building code, and regulating garbage and recycling collection, among many other thing.

AA: All true. But this goes beyond good land-use planning. Renewable energy and efficiency gains in private homes and commercial buildings, for example, make up 29 percent of the city's planned GHG reductions. "Food choice" (something significant that never makes it into municipal policy) accounts for another 10 percent.

Often cities avoid things that they can't directly regulate. You've gone a very different route. How has the city approached targets that can't be met solely through regulation?

MA: In the Climate Action Plan we prioritized actions the City of Portland or Multnomah County could either take ourselves or strongly influence, while at the same time trying to identify the full range of potential options for reducing emissions. If we do not put issues like food choice or how much stuff we consume on the list, it makes it that much more difficult — and expensive — to reduce emissions, since we’re limiting our options for where we can make reductions.

Food is a good example, too, where historically local governments have not had much of a direct role. We see that changing. Last year, for example, we provided gardening and food-related classes to more than 700 local residents, and we expect even more participants this year.

We’re also actively reviewing our code to address ways in which it makes it more difficult to grow, sell, or distribute locally produced foods. And we continue to identify parcels of land owned by the city that may be suited to urban gardening. We’re looking at options for expanding the number of community garden plots, and we now have several larger parcels of land that are being gardened by residents. We need to enable a much more active urban agriculture.

AA: Funding is also a big issue here. High up front costs are often cited by homeowners and property managers as a barrier for efficiency retrofits. What's Portland's approach to that part of the puzzle?

MA: With the help of federal stimulus funding, Portland has put together a program, “Clean Energy Works Portland,” that deals with this issue head on. The program pays for the cost of installing efficiency improvements, and the homeowner then repays the cost on his or her utility bill over time. The program puts contractors to work today, provides homeowners a more comfortable, more valuable home, and delivers energy savings and carbon reduction for decades to come.

We’ve also worked hard to ensure that the program provides quality jobs. We developed a “community workforce benefits agreement” that brought together contractors, unions, social equity organizations, and environmentalists to ensure that the jobs created through the program reach historically disadvantaged parts of the community.

This program is still in a pilot phase that will retrofit 500 homes by June 2010, but we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to scale it up from there.

AA: How important are the links between these projects and other local benefits like creating jobs or improving health?

MA: Connections to other benefits are essential. But we view it more as choosing carbon-reduction actions that help create a future community that people want to live in.

In the Climate Action Plan we describe a “vision for 2050” that we hope is appealing, attractive, and desirable – not so much because it doesn’t depend on carbon emissions to succeed – but because it’s simply a place people want to be.

One of the things that gives me hope that we can achieve very large carbon reductions is that many people enjoy the exact things that make a low-carbon community possible: walking to the neighborhood business district; eating fresh, seasonal food; enjoying a cozy, well insulated home; and having affordable, convenient choices about how to get around town.

Al Gore on Letterman: "I'd Vote for An Asteroid"

Chalk it up to me being a skeptical Canadian usually unimpressed by American TV, but I was really surprised by the quality of Al Gore's appearance on Letterman last night.

Over what must have been close to 15 minutes Gore and Letterman talked about everything from how extremely vulnerable human society is to shifts in climate and the importance of a significant agreement in Copenhagen, to the links of women's education and population stabilization, and the fact that we are currently living through the 6th great extinction in the history of the planet.

(On that Letterman quipped "I'd vote for an Asteroid [like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs] at least that would be exciting.")

[I'll post some video once something decent comes up on Youtube. For now there is this.]
[UDPATE: Here's that Video]

The one message that Late Show viewers went to bed with was that the benefits of good climate change policy go way beyond the environmental. Besides protecting the only planet that we've got, they also reduce vulnerability to foreign owned sources of energy and can help anchor a true rebuilding of the American (and global) economies:

Gore: "We should be relying on American renewable energy that's available right here at home. And we can create millions of green jobs retrofitting houses, installing solar and geothermal energy... and those are jobs that can't be outsourced somewhere else."

Not all of Gore's points made it to their most important punchlines though, so here are a few elaborations:

-- He talked about coral bleaching and ocean acidification, but the clincher (for humans at least) is the impact that that is going to have on fisheries and ocean food supplies.

-- Flooding of lowland communities in Egypt and Asia are a concern, but most especially so when you start to think about the impacts that that will have on migration patterns (i.e. so what is being called "climate refugees".

-- The millions of people who could be displaced within the USA itself also could have used a mention. (It's not just other parts of the world that are vulnerable).

-- Ditto for the impact of water shortages on agricultural production in places like the Middle East. North America also faces a potentially drastic reduction in its agricultural production if we warm by over 4c (which doesn't seem so unlikely any more).

--He also talked about the fact that with women's education and empowerment population growth rates are declining. But beyond that, it needs to be mentioned that population itself is not the problem. It's the fact that a very small percentage of the world gobbles up an incredibly large percentage of its resources.

Gore's new book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (which I have yet to read) came out yesterday.



This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.

Browse Older Posts