Monday, June 30, 2008

Dion's Carbon Tax

The reviews are mixed. First, what is Dion's carbon tax plan?

The Liberal plan is relatively straight-forward - a $40/tonne on carbon dioxide emissions, phased in over a 4 year period. This tax would replace a number of existing excise taxes on carbon based fuels. Since the existing federal gasoline tax is equivalent to the rate 42 dollars/tonne of carbon, gasoline taxes are not unchanged with this new tax.
If Stephen Harper hates it so much, could there be any merit in the plan?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled no punches on Friday in describing a carbon tax proposal by Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion, saying it would "screw everybody" across Canada...

Harper, who has previously called Dion's plan "insane," said the policy is not only bad for Western Canada, but "will recklessly harm the economy and the economic position of every Canadian family."
The NDP are also opposed to Dion's plan (and to carbon taxes in general) since the tax "relief" components can disproportionately hurt those who pay the least income taxes - i.e. the poor will pay for increased costs of energy but get little or no tax breaks.
"Unlike the Liberals and their big business friends, Jack Layton and the NDP think big polluters should pay for the pollution they create, not ordinary people who are trying to make ends meet."
Here's a pro-carbon tax editorial from the Ottawa Citizen.
St├ęphane Dion's carbon tax plan is not "crazy"; it is actually brilliant.

First, he listened to good economists. Second, he used the National Round-Table on Environment and Economy figures to put a price on carbon, figures which were developed at the request of the Conservative government to find out what's required to cut greenhouse gases by 60-65 per cent in 2050, a widely agreed upon international target....
Here's an anti-carbon tax article from Terence Corcoran at the National Post.
That's Mr. Dion's plan, and he's sticking to it, whatever its dubious economic foundation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"An Inconvenient Truth" - Canadian Edition

About a dozen head office staff attended a live presentation of "An Inconvenient Truth" in the Theatre today. The session was organized by OPSEU's own Marnie Niemi and facilitated by the father and son team of Steven and Sammy Davis-Mendelow.

Sammy, Stephen & Marnie

Stephen & Sammy were part of a group of more than 200 people from across Canada who were trained to deliver the presentation in April. Al Gore was part of the training session. The presentation provides plenty of Canadian examples of the impact of global warming. It underscores the importance of starting today to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions before it's too late.

To request a live presentation for your local or other organization, contact The Climate Project.

Thanks to Rick Janson for the pics.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Indigenous plant refugees return to 100 Lesmill

An eager group of volunteers, in co-ordination with 1st Vice-President Patty Rout and OPSEU's Building Services, laid the first two beds of native plants at 100 Lesmill Road (OPSEU's head office) on June 26. The project was initiated by Patty after a proposal from OPSEU's own Janice Hagan and her partner Greg. Over 25 staff members volunteered to work on this bold, green and highly visible initiative at the Energy Conservation Week meeting in May.

That's what happens when you have a 1st Veep who is both an avid gardener and an environmentalist. Part of my job is to help make it happen and I must admit I'm enjoying it thoroughly. Thanks to Rick Janson for the pix.

"Before" - Getting started
Andrea Bowden, Cindy Forsyth, Gary Shaul
After 3 planning sessions to get things rolling, the first group of about 10 volunteers came out to get to down and dirty. Greg dropped off the plants the day before. The moon was aligned. The days were getting hotter and shorter. July was around the next weekend. The planting season was upon us. And once again, OPSEU rose to the challenge.

Preparing the ground
Carol Wilson, Eleanor Woodruffe, David Cox, yours truly
Scott Elliot from Building Services reluctantly handed over the heavy equipment and power tools with a warning for volunteers to keep their hands off the chain saw! There were some sighs of disappointment. Earlier in the week, Scott made a run to Canadian Tire to pick up some garden tools & supplies for the volunteers.

OPSEU Gothic
1st VP/Treasurer Patty & President Warren "Smokey" Thomas show their support. The decision to begin reclaiming 100 Lesmill Road for indigenous plants and wildlife also represents a commitment to encourage others to follow suit. In a few short years, 100 Lesmill could be a showpiece, example and source of plants for other offices, factories and warehouses in this industrial complex on the edge of the Don River (and beyond). There is also talk of starting a seed bank and distributing seeds to our members in the GTA. As the food crisis deepens, climate change impacts arable lands and pollinators are disappearing as fast as their habitat, having executive support and leadership can have an impact well beyond OPSEU.

Gary puts Patty & Smokey to work. "Who said being green can't be fun?" said Patty. Smokey quipped, "Don't tell my wife. I haven't spent much time in my own garden this year."

Cindy plants a milkweed which attracts monarch butterflies. The two beds were planted with a variety of native plants including wild strawberries and chives. Greg provided a variety of plants which are meant to provide habitat for butterflies and other pollinating insects throughout spring, summer and fall. Monoculture, or the planting of one thing only, deprives wildlife of the habitat that it needs to survive. A seasonal balance is central to a native garden's success.

Carol lends a blue hand and a green thumb.

Eleanor Woodruffe

Bark mulch
David, Cindy & Steve
Once the plants were in the ground, a layer of wood chips was applied to the two garden beds. The day before, Cindy, Francesca Sinocropi and myself made a run out to the Scarborough wood chip pile in to bring back 16 bags (for starters). Here's some more information about mulching and its advantages from the City of Toronto.

The first bed is ready. It doesn't look too green yet but will take some time to fill in. Many native plants are low maintenance and require less watering than other garden varieties.

Work on additional beds will continue on July 2 and 3.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

2008 World Wind Energy Conference - Kingston

2008 World Wind Energy Conference concludes on a positive note

At least so says OSEA - the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. Given the government's announcements over the past few weeks on the expansion of nuclear power and weakening of the Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program, it's hard to believe there's not some disingenuousness on the part of George Smitherman and the McGuinty government and its commitment to tackle global warming and clean up the environment. Is there not some truth to the comment in the last post by George Carlin about politicians being in the hands of corporations? Was the government telling participants what they wanted to hear because some disgruntled environmentalists are fed up with plans that are half-measures and were prepared to try and embarrass the government?

Kingston, Ontario, June 27, 2008 – The 2008 World Wind Energy Conference wrapped up yesterday and the overwhelming mood of the 800 conference attendees pointed toward the fact that Ontario should act quickly to institute a Green Energy Act as part of its energy policy.

Kristopher Stevens, Executive Director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) says the 3 day Conference was a great success and provided opportunities for international leaders to share their experiences and ideas.

“I’m delighted with the response we’ve seen here these past couple days. There’s been a real sense of enthusiasm and motivation among attendees and panel speakers that I hope ends up extending beyond this conference and into the communities, workplaces and levels of government here in Ontario.”

On Tuesday, during an appearance as Ontario’s new Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Renewal, George Smitherman made his first public address at the Conference. The Minister said he was open to hearing more about a Green Energy Act, but required more information from interested groups on what they wanted to include in any proposed act.

The Energy Minister’s speech was praised by delegates for showing openness to studying legislation and processes from around the world, particularly in Germany, a country producing 40% of its energy from renewable sources.
So Smitherman's "open to hearing more" new ideas. Certainly praise-worthy but in the end, the proof is in the pudding. Since he's new in the role of Minister of Energy (and other stuff), it's not unreasonable to cut a bit of slack. The RESOP put Ontario on the map - McGuinty et al accepted the praise and then buckled into the nuclear industry who claimed most of the excess future electricity transmission potential. While OSEA is diplomatic in its approach, if you read their document, it's clear that proposed changes advanced in December 2007 were not only ignored, but that the government decided to go the opposite direction. I am less compelled to be diplomatic in saying that without lots of pressure on the government, they will continue to take steps in the wrong direction which in the long run will not only exacerbate the problems, but end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin - 1937 - 2008

Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.
~George Carlin
George Carlin: American Radical by John Nichols
I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately. - George Carlin....

“The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They’ve got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying - lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else,” ranted the comedian whose routines were studied in graduate schools.

“But I’ll tell you what they don’t want,” Carlin continued. “They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting f**ked by a system that threw them overboard 30 f**king years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers - people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your f**king retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this f**king place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

Prosecuting oil companies?

This takes a bit of guts.

James Hansen: Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near on Global Warming

[Monday] I testified to Congress about global warming, 20 years after my June 23, 1988 testimony, which alerted the public that global warming was underway. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference....

The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation....

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. If their campaigns continue and “succeed” in confusing the public, I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials.
Twenty years of near total inaction, lies, deceit, misrepresentation, distortions and denial about climate change.

Dr. Hansen was also the guy who blew the whistle in 2005 & 2006 on the Bush administration's attempts to squelch researchers and research that concluded global warming was caused by human activity.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Biking to OPSEU

(l to r) Marsha Gillespie, Steve Crossman, Heino Neilson,
Paul Bilodeau, Randy Robinson, Joyce Hansen
On Thursday, June 19th, 2008 a number of OPSEU's 100 Lesmill staffers biked to work (and with a few groans and moans) back home at the end of the workday. Heino Nielsen, who lives at the western edge of the city, just a stone's throw from Mississauga, was furthest away from Head Office. That said, event coordinator, Randy Robinson, who lives in the city core, biked out to meet Heino and then "escorted" Heino for his full ride in. This gave Randy the longest trip in that day. (Nothing like making life a little tougher for oneself than necessary, or did he think that Heino would cheat by taking his bike onto the subway? hmmm)

Paul Bilodeau joined the group at a point on the lakeshore (Ellis St. and Lakeshore Rd). The others joined in on the Don Valley trail at Gerrard Street near Riverdale Farm. The majority of the trip was on dedicated bike trails which extend along the lakeshore and up the Don Valley.

Many of the Thursday group also bike to work.

The bike ride drew attention to a number of green initiatives and improvements underway at Head Office. From energy saving lightbulbs to bike trips it all makes a difference. The trip also took place during Toronto's Bike to Work Month.

Staffers Aura Bellin and Michele Dawson-Haber will be biking in on another day this month from their homes in the north end of the city. Michele also participated in the Toronto to Niagara Falls Ride for Cancer on June 21, raising a substantial donation from her pledgers!
Thanks to Heino Nielson for this report.

Composting: Best disposal method

Niagara sets bar for waste disposal

Niagara's landfill sites were filling up, and it had to decide what to do. Faced with the usual clamour from companies with competing technologies, it took the radical step of commissioning a report to compare what it called the "true cost" of different ways of dealing with food waste and leaf-and-yard wastes (including brush)....

The report looked at what the results would be from using four different technologies: composting, landfills that flare the resulting methane gas, landfills that use the methane for generating electricity, and incineration or gasification techniques. It did not compare the results produced by biodigesters, which also create methane for generating electricity.

It found that composting far and away had the least impact. The true cost of landfills with flaring was 3.8 times more costly, landfills with methane used for producing electricity was 2.5 times more costly, and the "best case estimate" for incineration or gasification was 3.2 times more costly.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Carpooling - June 23 - 27

One relatively easy way to reduce smog is by carpooling with someone from your neighborhood or along the route to the office. There are a a lot of advantages to carpooling.

Why not try carpooling for at least a day or two during the Clean Air Commute - June 23 - 27?

To make networking easier, there's a new carpooling website called PickupPal.
Check it out.

PickupPal calculates the carbon emissions saved through carpooling. Any reductions that you report to us will go toward OPSEU's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption by 2% in 2008.

Other things you can do for the Clean Air Commute include taking public transit, walking, biking or canoeing to work instead of single occupancy driving. If working from home is an option for a day or two, avoiding the commute altogether can be quite rewarding.

Event: R5 - The rising price of fuel

Pollution Probe will be hosting a free Public Forum on The Rising Price of Fuel: What will it Mean for Consumers, the Auto Industry and the Environment?

When: Monday, June 23rd from 7 - 9 PM (refreshments at 6:30 PM)
Where: Delta Chelsea Hotel, Rossetti Room

Presentations from
Bob Seguin, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Ken Kurani, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California; and Richard Cooper, Executive Director, J.D. Power and Associates Canada.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tailing Impoundment Areas

Huh? What's a "tailing impoundment area" you ask? It's the new designation for 16 lakes across the country that are downstream from mining operations and will be receiving wastes materials. In other words, it's a dumping ground for the mining industry. Tip of the hat to Aleksandra Grzywaczewska, Local 535 at the Art Gallery of Ontario for this story.

Lakes across Canada face being turned into mine dump sites
CBC News has learned that 16 Canadian lakes are slated to be officially but quietly "reclassified" as toxic dump sites for mines. The lakes include prime wilderness fishing lakes from B.C. to Newfoundland.

Environmentalists say the process amounts to a "hidden subsidy" to mining companies, allowing them to get around laws against the destruction of fish habitat.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Turn your car into a hybrid

Well, not quite yet, but coming soon....

New Kits Turn Any Car Into a Plug-in Hybrid

Soon drivers will be able to get at least double the gas mileage of a Toyota Prius hybrid, thanks to a spate of new aftermarket kits that convert any car into a plug-in electric vehicle. But they’ll have to pay upwards of $10,000 to do so...
Hat tip to Wendy Elliot for this story.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Canada taken to court over Kyoto

Media Advisory

Canadian Government to be challenged in court for failing to uphold federal climate change law

Lawyers will argue in court that Kyoto commitment broken

TORONTO - Canada will be the first country ever to be brought to court for its failure to comply with domestic law and meet its international commitments to combat global warming. On behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada (FOE), pro-bono lawyers from Paliare Roland Barristers and Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) will be in court challenging the Government of Canada for violating the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

When: Wednesday, June 18, 2008, 9:30 am (FOE and legal representatives will arrive at 8:50 am)

Where: Federal Court, 180 Queen Street West, Suite 200, Toronto Ontario (see map)

"Things are different now...."

New nukes for Darlington

Or are they? Pierre Charlebois, executive vice-president and chief operating officer with Ontario Power Generation says they are. He's talking about the taxpayers experience with the $4 billion Darlington nuclear site that ballooned to $15 billion by the time it opened in the early 90s. The newest investment in nuclear is said to be $26 billion, including 2 new reactors at Darlington.

Name one mega-project of any kind that's come in at budget? And who's to say what a dollar will be worth in 2018?

So much for conservation. So much for alternative energy and the transmission lines they need to expand. Who else is building new nukes anyway?

More to follow but in the meantime, you'd better teach your grandchildren how to save money to pay off the massive debt they're going to be saddled with. This could be one of McGuinty's biggest betrayals to date.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Environmental Bill of Rights

Advocates call for new powers for green whistleblowers

OTTAWA- A newly proposed charter of green rights would empower whistleblowers and average citizens by forcing the government to be more vigilant about environmental crimes and negligence, said a coalition of advocates on Parliament Hill on Thursday...

"This is nothing radical and this is not a new concept," said Will Amos, a staff lawyer at Ecojustice, an environmental law organization that is proposing the legislation along with the Sierra Club of Canada and the Friends of the Earth.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Climate Change Protesters Hijack Coal Train

From Common Dreams

Climate change campaigners hijacked a train carrying coal to Britain’s biggest power station this morning, swarming on to the roof of its 20 huge trucks.

The 40 protesters stopped the regular delivery service to Drax in Yorkshire disguised as railway workers in yellow warning jackets and waving red flags, having read up on standard railway safety rules.
Read the story here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Cap & share" emission reductions

Continuing the discussion about carbon trading, carbon taxes and "cap and trade", here's "cap and share" described by its authors as "a fair way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change".

Here's a flow chart of how it works:

This is a very interesting background document by Brian Davey called "Who owns the Sky?". He outlines the basic pre-conditions for an effective emission reduction system:

  1. The necessity for an overall cap on greenhouse gas emissions
  2. Control of carbon emissions should take place "upstream" (producers) and not "downstream (users)
  3. Who Owns the Sky? "Scarcity rent"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The future of solar power

This is well worth reading.

Solar Power to Rule in 20 Years, Futurists Say
Now futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil is part of distinguished panel of engineers that says solar power will scale up to produce all the energy needs of Earth's people in 20 years.

There is 10,000 times more sunlight than we need to meet 100 percent of our energy needs, he says, and the technology needed for collecting and storing it is about to emerge as the field of solar energy is going to advance exponentially in accordance with Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns. That law yields a doubling of price performance in information technologies every year.
See Greenedia for more.

While we're on the solar theme, here's an innovation that mixes solar power and art.
"Solar panel mini power plants created in the likeness of flowers? Why not?...."
Read the article.....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Boy Scouts, trees & OPSEU

Thank you note from Barrie's 1st Mapleview Group for a contribution to their ScoutTrees program from OPSEU's Environment Fund.

On April 29, 2008, Scout Troops from across Simcoe County participated in the annual Scouts Canada Scout Trees program.

Thanks to a generous donation from OPSEU’s Green Fund, the Scouts from Barrie’s 1st Mapleview Group were able to purchase trees and refreshments for the event.

The planting took place at Springwater Provincial Park near Barrie, in an area designated for reforestation.

The day was overcast and threatening rain, but the bad weather held off long enough for the Scouts to plant over 1,200 trees.

1st Mapleview Group thanks OPSEU Environment Committee Members Gino Franche, Sandra Snider and Jennifer Giroux for their wonderful support.

Yours In Scouting,

Lynn Rogers,
Group Commissioner
1st Mapleview Scout Group

Guest editorial: Car pooling in the OPS

A guest editorial by Dan “the Smog Man” McKnight in the lead up to Clean Air Commute 2008 Week - June 23 - 27.

Save Money on Gas; Reduce Air Pollution – Join a Car Pool

Now it’s easy with “OPS Carpool”.

Have you ever driven to a meeting, looked around the room, and seen other staff who also drove from the same place? If only you had known in advance you could have car pooled and saved money, gas & reduced air pollution. Pollution Probe estimates that if you car pool with just one other person you will save about $ 2000.00 a year, and cut your air pollution in half.

Well now there is a web-based tool to assist Ontario Public Service (OPS) staff in forming their own car pools for commuting to work or business travel. It’s called “OPS Carpool”, and it can be found at “” or under “My Services” on “myOPS”.

As OPSEU members we can be proud this site was created by OPSEU represented staff at the Ministries of Transportation (MTO) and Environment (MOE). This is just another example of how the efforts and creativity of OPSEU members can have a significant positive impact on our environment.

I originally created this intranet site to help MTO staff reduce smog. MOE felt all ministries could also benefit from this application, so it was expanded to include all OPS staff. Hopefully this site can be expanded to even more people in the future.

OPS Carpool allows staff to review existing car pools, or post their own car pool listing. This application is designed to be user friendly. Maps are used to help match staff to a desire carpool. This site also contains maps of MTO’s car pool lots across Ontario.

So why drive alone ? With today’s high gas prices it’s time to get someone else to help pay. Your efforts to car pool will also help us all breathe a lot easier by reducing smog & green house gases. Let OPS Carpool get you started to a cheaper, cleaner, and less stressful commute.

Dan “the Smog Man” McKnight
President OPSEU Local 270 (Ministry of Transportation staff in Niagara) Dan is affectionately known as "The Smog Man" by his colleagues at the Ministry of Transportation where he is a senior policy analyst. He has pedaled his way to work each day for the past 12 years. He credits the facilities at the St. Catharines office for allowing him to do it. “I'm saving money, doing something positive for the environment, reducing traffic congestion, getting exercise, and I have about two hours a day extra family time.” Dan has led MTO’s Clean Air Commute event since its inception several years ago.

Note: The link in the article is only available within the OPS network.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Native plants

Thinking of re-introducing native plants into your environment?

OPSEU is taking first steps to do so at its head office in Toronto with help from Janice Hagan and her partner Greg, a professional gardener and passionate, native plant promoter.

One of the big questions is - "What's should be planted?". Here's a couple of lists of native, Ontario plants that demonstrates the range of available options. Hat tip to David Cox.

Native trees and shrubs.
Native wildflowers

Note that while all of these plants grow in Ontario, not all are native to the Toronto area.

Offsetting tar sands destruction?

This report, commissioned by the Pembina Institute, proposes a "win/win" scenario for offsetting the tar sands projects.

In an effort to prevent irreversible decline of species and biodiversity in Alberta's Boreal Forest, industry can take important steps to offset their environmental impacts by setting aside or restoring areas of equal or greater value to the lands disturbed. So says a report, Catching Up: Conservation and Biodiversity Offsets in Alberta's Boreal Forest, released today.
Sounds good in theory. But once the tar sands are drained, what's to stop industry from moving over to the so-called protected areas? Or to put it another way, "Let us tap the oil sands and we promise to leave other areas alone. For now."

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Check out GreenNexxus, an environmental-focused, social networking site (like Facebook).

GreenNexxus provides the ability for people, organizations and businesses to share, publish and contribute green knowledge for the purposes of reducing our collective environmental impact.
While international in scope, GreenNexxus is Canadian-based.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Guest editorial: Car Sharing

Small world. Elizabeth and I are both from Local 520! I had no idea we had such expertise until I ran into her at Head Office one day and we started chatting.

Guest Editorial - Transportation Transformation: Car Sharing
By Elizabeth Reynolds (Member - OPSEU Local 520)
(founder of AutoShare – Car Sharing Network Inc.)

Car Sharing Definition

The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute* offers this comprehensive definition of car sharing: “Carsharing refers to membership-based automobile rental services intended to substitute for private vehicle ownership. It makes occasional use of a vehicle affordable, even for low-income households, while providing an incentive to minimize driving and rely on alternative travel options as much as possible.

Car Sharing in Canada

Car Sharing is perhaps the most significant change in car use patterns since Henry Ford began paying his workers enough to afford one of his cars. When cars were first produced at the turn of the century, they were impractical and expensive, but they did provide an environmental benefit. They cleaned the streets of horse manure. Today, from global warming to asthma, road rage to near-constant gridlock, the car's original benefits to society are now eroding our quality of life.

The automobile's impact is so significant precisely because of its success. Although 80% of Canadians live in cities, Canada has one of the highest ratios of car ownership in the world, nearly one for every two people. More than 16 million cars now traverse Canada's roads. Each car travels, on average, around 16,000 km per year, a total of some 256 billion kilometers.

Integrated Mobility

Car sharing helps create the shift towards more sustainable transportation in two principal ways – by sharing the fixed costs of car ownership among many users and by increasing mobility options, especially when car sharing can be linked to other modes of transportation, such as public transit, railways and inter-city buses, car rentals and taxis, bicycle rentals and parking authorities.

Environmental Concerns

Technological improvements over the last 20 years have already done much to reduce the environmental impact of the individual car, but much of the ground gained through technological improvement is lost as we drive more cars greater distances. We need multiple strategies to address how we will transport goods and ourselves in the coming years — urban planning initiatives, economic strategies, education, and most importantly at the individual level, behavioural change — to lessen our dependence on the automobile.

Because it is so tightly woven into the fabric of our life, the car presents a special kind of environmental dilemma. There is the need to reduce the environmental damage associated with it, while at the same time preserving the advantages it has given us. Reconciling these objectives presents a challenge uniquely met by car sharing.

Numerous studies have, logically, linked increased driving with higher levels of car ownership. The question becomes how to disentangle ownership and use of the automobile. The success of car sharing in Europe over the past 25 to 30 years, and elsewhere in North America over the last decade proves that it provides a level of access similar to car ownership, but less burdensome and costly.

In reality, car sharing participants gradually reduce the total amount they drive quite significantly, 50% and more, without feeling deprived of the resource or any loss of personal mobility. This is achieved by the fact that using a car sharing automobile becomes a conscious, rather than a reflexive, act and over time a much lower level of car dependency is realized.

Additionally, organized car sharing present a real opportunity to introduce alternatively fueled and electric vehicles to a wider market in order to hasten the implementation these advanced technologies, further reducing emissions, and even more so where electricity can be obtained from renewable sources.

Individual and Societal Benefits of Car Sharing

  • Car sharing demonstrably contributes to reduced congestion and air pollution and saves users money. The benefits of car sharing are summarized as follows:
  • Low cost access to a fleet of vehicles through shared use. This benefit reduces the total cost of car travel to individual participants and results in more efficient use of expensive vehicles;
  • Maintenance and insurance are pooled with costs shared among users and recovered through fees;
  • Mobility options are increased through access to cars for those who did not previously own a car. Car sharing can also provide access to different types of vehicles, from economy cars to station wagons, minivans and light trucks. Where these choices are available, mobility options are increased compared with ownership.
  • Car sharing can be a cost-effective alternative to ownership of more than one vehicle;
  • Car owners are confronted with the full marginal costs of a personal vehicle use each time they drive a car share vehicle. Experience has shown that use of public transit, walking, cycling and other alternatives to single occupancy car use, increases among car sharers as they adjust their lifestyle to their new portfolio of transportation options.
  • Since car sharing increases public transit use, transit agencies have a new source of riders and revenue as car sharing grows within urban areas.
  • Studies have shown that car sharing decreases per capita annual vehicle kilometres traveled and energy consumption from personal vehicle use by approximately 50%. This can have a significant impact on the potential to reduce air pollution from cars, including emissions of greenhouse gases and ground level smog.
  • Car sharing can reduce the amount of parking spaces required in cities since the average ratio is one vehicle for approximately 15 to 20 users, and since car sharing vehicles are in use for more hours per day than personally owned vehicles, there are fewer vehicles parked at any one time.
  • For communities, car sharing can mean fewer cars impinging on neighbourhood space and improves social equity for those previously deprived of access to a personal vehicle.
  • Where car sharing vehicles are located at subway and bus stations, car sharing becomes an option for transit riders at both ends of the transit portion of a given trip. In such situations, car sharing can contribute to reduced peak-hour road congestion.
  • Car sharing can improve mobility options and the overall livability of higher density urban developments. Developers of residential, industrial and commercial properties can benefit from the reduced costs of providing parking infrastructure in areas where car sharing is coupled with public transit access and other transportation alternatives.
  • Car sharing can be formally organized as either for-profit or non-profit businesses, but it can also be less formally organized on a neighbourhood, apartment building or workplace basis.

Car sharing is an innovation that can have a profound, long-term impact on how personal vehicles are owned and operated. Shared use of the expensive resource represented by the personal automobile can make an important contribution to reducing many of the negative societal impacts of these vehicles.

* The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute (

Note: this is an abbreviated version of an article that appeared in the Journal of World Transportation Policy and Practice in July, 1999. E.R.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Turn off those laser printers

Aside from the electricity wasted by leaving printers on when they're not in use, there's also potential health and safety considerations. This study, conducted last year in Australia, outlines the concerns.

If you work near certain models of laser printers, you might be breathing the same amount of ultra-fine particle pollution as if a smoker were puffing away in the next cubicle, according to a study by Australian scientists.
What can you do?
1) If you have a desktop printer, turn it on only when needed and then turn it off.
2) If you're at OPSEU head office, send your print jobs to the print shop if you need multiple copies. The copiers there use different technology than laser printers.
3) Turn off all shared printers at the end of each work day.

Tip of the hat to Emily Visser for this article.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Save 10% on your electric bill...

Did you know that all sorts of cool prizes can be won if you reduce your household energy usage by 10 per cent or more in July and August compared to last year -- plus you automatically get a 10 per cent reduction in your electricity rate?

Check out the Ontario Power Authority's Every Kilowatt Counts Summer Sweepstakes today.

cContest rules here.

Prizes include appliance packages, bicycles, solar garden lights and solar battery chargers for your i-pod or cellphone.

Bush to veto climate bill

Surprise, surprise. George W. Bush has indicated that he will veto a Senate bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Once a shill for big energy, always a shill. It was only very recently that Bush even acknowledged that climate change and global warming might be an issue. For most of his years in the presidency, Bush denied the problem by suppressing and editing government studies that ran counter to the oil & coal industries' goals of retrieving and burning every last drop of fossil fuel on the planet.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even before debate began on Monday on the first comprehensive climate change bill to reach the Senate floor, the White House said President George W. Bush would veto it in its current form.
Since a lot of mercury and other pollution drifts into Canada from the United States, Bush's recalcitrance is important issue for Canada. But don't Stephen Harper to say or do anything about it because he's another big energy shill.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Carbon trading or carbon taxes?

The debate rages on. Here's how Cameron Smith at the Toronto Star describes the carbon tax (Dion plan) versus carbon trading (Layton plan) debate in yesterday's news:

Imagine a large fire in a downtown building. Two fire trucks arrive, each from a different station, and they pull up in front of the only fire hydrant near the building. Firefighters from each truck roll out their hoses – and then for the next half-hour, while the building burns out of control, they argue over who has the best hose for the job.
This National Post story - Mr. Dion prepares to peddle a difficult tax - is interesting in that it identifies all the contradictory positions and strange bedfellows.
So there you have it: those forces most dedicated to defending the environment by battling emissions can’t even begin to agree which remedy is most suitable. Not only can they not agree with one another, Dion can’t even agree with himself, since he now fervently supports a carbon tax, which he fervently opposed when he was running for the party leadership.
The NDP opposes Dion's carbon tax plan and supports a cap and trade system to protect low income earners:
“The cap and trade system ensures that big polluters pay their fair share, and it makes it possible for more people to afford green solutions,” explained Layton.
However, to temper criticism from environmental groups over the NDP position, Layton offered an olive branch.
NDP Leader Jack Layton launched his party's latest climate-change plan yesterday with an olive branch to the Liberals and Greens, saying he welcomes debate with his political rivals over carbon taxes.
The CLC position: (page 7)
In line with the polluter pay principle, the CLC will support a national Cap and Auction Carbon-Pricing System. In such a system as proposed by the CLC, the government would fix a maximum emission level, in line with the overall national targets, literally setting a cap for different industries based on the industrial sector’s ability to reduce their carbon emissions in a realistic time frame.
Suzuki Foundation report: They support a well-designed tax or trading system. Last week, Suzuki was critical of Layton's position opposing Dion's plan.
At the end of the day there is marginal difference between a well-designed carbon trading system or a carbon tax policy. Both can be made to meet very similar ends. A trading system sets an absolute limit on greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, a carbon tax will also inevitably “cap” emissions, as the price is adjusted until the desired outcome is achieved.

Both policy options involve passing the cost of carbon on down through the supply chain and on to industry and eventually consumers. This is the raison d’etre of a carbon price – to let consumers know, through a price signal, that carbon emissions are costing the Earth.
Meanwhile, last week the BC NDP voted against Gordon Campbell's carbon tax plan. Carol James is accused by the Sierra Club of pandering.
VICTORIA -- New Democratic Party MLAs voted against B.C.'s new carbon tax last night, taking a calculated risk that the support they can reap in rural British Columbia will outweigh the enmity of influential environmentalists.

The ground-breaking tax, which takes effect on July 1, has won the support of a coalition of 16 environmental organizations. It has also angered northern communities, suburban commuters and businesses, small and large.
While it is clear that Harper wants to stall and the when the Liberals were in power that they stalled, one can't but help but wonder if the NDP is playing politics, pandering and praying that some day they may have the leverage to force the implementation of their cap and trade system. The only thing we know for sure is that absolute reductions in carbon emissions remain as elusive today as they were yesterday.

Edited to add - Carbon cap and share. Also a good read here - The Architecture of Carbon Trading - Who Owns the Sky?

Add to Technorati Favorites directory Add to Bloglines Who links to me?