All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Archive for November 2011

Harvey Enchin is a big, fat moron

with one comment

Harvey Enchin

What a terrible thing to say!  I don’t like Enchin’s opinion, so I’m attacking him.  That’s called an ad-hominem attack: focus on the messenger, not the message.  If he’s an idiot, what he says must be wrong.

Using ad-hominem arguments is usually the last recourse of someone who is losing an argument, so I better be careful.  But Enchin doles out ad-hominems so frequently from his Vancouver Sun op-ed pulpit that he deserves a few back.  Big fat moron!

But I better justify my own attacks.

Here’s his own, unsubstantiated ad-hominems: those who oppose the Keystone pipeline, the Site C dam, or the ludicrously name Prosperity Mine are “elites with an agenda”, “wealthy celebrities”, or “acolytes of well-funded environmental organisations”.  Wow – I oppose these three projects, heady company I keep!  Further, I am misguided and anti-jobs:

Despite the critical role employment plays in alleviating the indignity and suffering of poverty, many misguided groups and individuals stand in the way of creating jobs.

I love this sentence: a combination of ad-hominem, as well as the commission of a strawman attack, and the use of the either-or fallacy.  All three are textbook examples of logical fallacies used as rhetorical devices.  In plain English: misleading lies.

Let’s examine them, one by one.

Ad-hominem: I am neither elite (I wish!), nor misguided.  In fact, I submit that Enchin himself is both misguided and, if not elite, at least elitist, for following and parroting the Fraser Institute’s message.  And that message is clear: the market and only the market can produce wealth, and anyone who opposes this creed is misguided.  Indeed, the market economy has been remarkably effective at creating wealth…for the one percent.  For the rest of us, not so much – and I suspect that this includes Enchin himself.  Misguided?  Deluded, really.  Material wealth has been created by a combination of market forces and strong regulations and labour movements.  Without unions and other social pressures to redistribute wealth, and environmental protection to ensure safe living conditions, wealth just gets accumulated by a lucky few, and a spiral of economic downturn destroys the rest of us.  Just ask the people who fought for union jobs in Cancer Alley.

Strawman: In a debate, this is claiming that your opponent is saying something that happens to be very easy to refute.  One more time: environmentalists are not anti-jobs.  Quite the opposite.  Inasmuch as a group as diverse as the community of environmental activists is, there is unanimity on one thing: we are all pushing for good, well paying, long lasting jobs.  I’ll get back to this.  But claiming that environmentalism is against jobs (or against progress, or…you name it, we’re supposedly against it) is simply wrong.  But the media, dominated by the moneyed elite, has been successful at framing the debate this way – and it’s a shame, and it’s up to all of us to correct this.

Naomi Oreskes has written extensively on this topic (Merchants of Doubt, co-written with Erik Conway in 2010, is marvellous).  In her analysis right-wing pundits equate environmentalism with communism – because environmentalists often call for increased government regulation.  This has been the message of right-wing think-tanks, from the Fraser Institute here to the Cato Institute, the Progress Foundation, and many others too numerous to name.  All aspire to unfettered capitalism, and all have had a very pernicious effect.  Donald Gutstein, of SFU, has documented a remarkable who’s-who of right-wing pundits in his 2009 book Not a Conspiracy Theory.

Either-or fallacy: this one has been dogging the environmental movement ever since its birth, so that it has become a cliché: either you are for the environment, or you are for the economy (and jobs).  At times it has pitted trade unions against enviros, as during the War in the Woods in the 1980s Clayoquot sound in BC.  Other times it has been repeated as a rationale for pushing destructive projects, in a loggers-versus-owls fashion: loggers need to make a living, so damn the owls.  The reality, of course, has always been far more complex; a careful reading of the events during the War in the Woods era, for instance, shows that enviros were pushing against the logging of old growth areas, true, but also for processing raw logs in BC instead of exporting them, so as to create more forestry jobs.  Developing ecotourism and protecting fish habitat (to save fishing jobs) was also prominent in their argument, to say nothing of sustainable forestry a la Merve Wilkinson.  Again the corporate interests have been successful at framing the issue, much to the expense of BC’s environment – AND economy.

In truth, there is no opposition between protecting the environment and creating jobs.  In some cases, yes, stopping a project like Prosperity Mine means that there won’t be mining jobs in that area.  So it seems a net loss – until one starts to factor in all the jobs in tourism, fishing, and traditional activities that will be preserved.  In the case of the Keystone pipeline, the case is even clearer; in fact, some of the opposition to the pipeline stems from the fact that it is a net exporter of jobs.  If crude oil is to be extracted from the Alberta tar sands, then it should be refined in Alberta also, not exported to the US to create jobs there.  This is an argument that is reminiscent of the plea to prevent raw logs from leaving BC – and it comes from the Peter Lougheed, the former premier of Alberta, hardly considered a tree hugger.

Ironically, in the same edition of the Sun are three articles by Margaret Munro about the economic potential of new technologies, undermining Enchin’s argument.  One doesn’t need to go far to find good data about the job creation potential of green industries.  Today’s Huffington Post features an article by Environmental Defence’s Keith Brooks titled “why we don’t need to choose between the environment and the economy”.  Brooks shows that the Chinese new air pollution laws may cost their jobs to over 800,000 coal power workers.  That’s enormous!  But that is significantly less than the even more enormous two and a half million jobs created in wind power by the same regulations.  There are many other examples (for instance, the recent reports by the Brookings Institute, UNEP or the OECD).  The key point is that protecting the environment creates jobs.  Yes, it forces a restructuring of the economy, and this affects people in older industries.  But these jobs would be lost sooner or later at any rate; and an enlightened government (like, say, in Germany or Sweden) facilitates the transition by promoting green jobs.  A backwards government (like, say, Canada or Alberta) insists that business as usual in extractive industries is the way to go.  But there is a reason why the green jobs sector is the fastest growing segment of the economy, and that employment remains relatively high in countries that have invested in the green economy.

Some people will say that there just isn’t the money to invest in green jobs in Canada.  But we are investing billions in pipelines and in coal plants, to say nothing of the F-35 fighter plane purchases or new jails peppering the country.  That’s a lot of money that will generate very few jobs and little improvements to the Canadian economy.  The money is there, it is only a matter of putting it to work in the right direction.

The either-or fallacy rests on a black-or-white view of the world: either you’re with us, or you’re against us.  It is a mainstay of small minds that can’t grasp complexity (and, therefore, reality).  It is also characteristic of a fascist mind-set: an orderly, black and white view of the world, good guys or bad guys, saints or sinners, everyone in its place.  Elites belong on top, the law is the law.  As if life were that simple.  This is a dangerous turn of mind, one that requires oppression.  That, and the dishonest denial of reality that it comes with, is what I reproach Enchin for.

So he’s a big fat moron.   Aaah!  Doesn’t that feel better?  But really, ad-hominems are never really warranted.  They’re rarely convincing.  And, to my knowledge, Harvey Enchin is not particularly fat.  But after reading his stuff, it’s hard not to conclude that he’s a big moron.

Advertisements

Written by enviropaul

November 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Jane Jacobs shocked the world, 50 years ago.

leave a comment »

Good God, Jane Jacobs’ key book, The Death ond Life of Great American Cities turns fifty this month.

Anthony Flint wrote a great column about her in Grist – any body interested in what makes Jane Jacobs so special should go there.  But here are some quotes, just to give the idea:

The story of how Jacobs came to write Death and Life reads like a movie script. A housewife from Scranton with no college degree, she came to New York City, fell in love with its old neighborhoods, and worked her way from secretary to editor and writer at several magazines. She was content in her life on Hudson Street until she learned of a plan by New York’s master builder, Robert Moses, to put a roadway through Washington Square Park, where she took her children.

She went on to organise protests and do the impossible: defeat Robert Moses, and stop a highway from destroying her beloved neighbourhood.  Imagine New York nowadays without Greenwich Village.  Armed with a grant from the Rockefeller foundation, she then summarized her thoughts in The Death and Life.

The book was a shock to the status quo, similar to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. And it gave power to the people. A fundamental theme was that ordinary citizens were not being consulted about the very communities they lived in. The planning was going on entirely behind closed doors. In taking on Moses, Jacobs rallied New Yorkers to fight City Hall, storm planning hearings, gather signatures for petitions, and organize protests.

A half-century later, the concepts of mixed-use, moderately dense, walkable urban environments are uniformly embraced by the planning professions, and by the movements of New Urbanism and smart growth. Yet the legacy of Jane Jacobs and this remarkable treatise is decidedly mixed. Today, she is invoked in campaigns to stop the very kind of urban development she advocated.

Yet, at least in environmental circles, hers is not a household name as, say, Rachel Carson’s is.  But she deserves to be.  Without her, the very concept of livable cities may have taken years to emerge, and environmentalism would still be saddled with the romantic notion that only wilderness matters – and would be far less effective for it.  And, for that matter, without her work there would be a highway running through downtown Vancouver, no Chinatown, and much worse sprawl.

For all that, The Life and Death can be a bit of a slog at times.  The paperback issue runs at 448 pages of small print.  For every brilliant insight discovered in her pages, a reader not familiar with her legacy may wonder whether it`s worth plowing through endless descriptions of wrong-headed zoning and red-lining practices that are now obsolete.  But they are obsolete thanks in large part to that very book – it`s worth the effort.

But someone who is looking for the big picture may do well with books about Jacobs.  There are several.  The two I have read are Anthony Flint`s 2009 Wrestling with Moses, which focuses on the New York fight with the “master builder” that rightly made her fame; it`s a concise, wonderful read that paint both the struggle and the era, in particular in its depiction of the aristocratic Moses, whose impact on the city was not wholly negative and whose life story, in itself, is well worth reading.  The other is Alice Sparberg Alexiou`s 2006 biography, Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary.  It includes Jacobs` Toronto period, where she was instrumental in stopping the Spadina Expressway after moving there to prevent her sons from being drafted in the Vietnam war.  (The positive impact that that war had on Canada by bringing us countless smart Americans cannot be overstated.)

Some later books by Jacobs make for better reading that The Life and Death, I think, because they better reveal Jacobs as the fresh thinker she was.  The concepts first stated in Life and Death (compact walkable neighbourhoods, eyes on the street, etc) are now so common place that it is easy to forget how revolutionary they were.  But the ideas of The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations, for instance, are as fresh and revolutionary as ever.  Jacobs focuses on the central role of cities as economic centres (dismissing the idea of national economies as irrelevant) and challenges common concepts about urban history.  History textbooks repeat that cities came into being as agricultural centres (agriculture created surpluses, enabling the growth of an urban class with soldiers, priests and artists, etc).  Not so, claims Jacobs: cities came first, as trading centres; populations and agriculture followed.

Is she right?  Maybe – I have no idea.  What I love is how she has compunction about challenging authority, of any kind.  She was called an uppity young lady; then a ignorant housewife; then a crotchety old woman.  She`s a hell of a role model.

Great books, anytime.  But especially good Christmas gifts for budding environmentalists of any age or gender – just to be inspired by someone who always questioned authority and had an extraordinary nose for bullshit.

Written by enviropaul

November 16, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Sprawl, sewers, and bankruptcy

with 2 comments

Jefferson County, Alabama, home of Birmingham, has just declared bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy ever.  That made the news.

 

What didn’t make the news was the environmental connection to the bankruptcy: sewers and, particularly, urban sprawl.  And it has an important lesson for us in the Lower Mainland: don’t sprawl – and keep the agricultural land reserve.

Jefferson County owes over three billion dollars, a debt contracted to upgrade its sewer system.  The county could not refinance its debt, stuck as it was between the Wall Street meltdown and municipal incompetence and corruption, and declared bankruptcy.   This will worsen the hardships of its more than 600,000 residents in one of the poorest areas of the US, with expected municipal layoffs and steep increases in utility rates.

But things should never have gotten to that point.  Birmingham, for one thing, is a textbook example of sprawl.  The city has a density of 625 people per square kilometer, and only 230 for the county.  (Compare this to 735 residents per km2 in Metro Vancouver, and over 5000 in Vancouver proper.)  And, sure enough, Birmingham has the most extensive network of highways in the south, fostering urban sprawl.  (Pictures of the sprawling city can be found here.)

Birmingham sprawl

And sprawl means, among other things, that utilities such as sewer and water lines have to cover a large distance to service the spread-out population.  And this is hugely costly: in Metro Vancouver, for instance, upgrading the Nicomekl trunk sewer over 1700 meters had an estimated cost of $14 million.

So when the EPA came calling with complaints about sewers overflowing into the Cahaba River, the county (which runs the sewers, like Metro Vancouver here) was faced with an enormous repair bill – especially since the county decided to expand its system into sprawling areas to increase the number of ratepayers, incurring even higher costs.

It didn’t help that Birmingham was already saddled with a complex network as the city’s neighbourhoods are separated by hills (I found a 90 page history of the sewage system of Birmingham here – amazing, what is found on the web!).

Since the whole fiasco was precipitated by a clean-up order from the EPA, I fully expect to hear further speeches from the loony right about how the EPA is destroying jobs (killing the EPA is still part of the platforms of Perry, Bachman and co).  But hopefully even the right recognizes the need to keep sewage and fishing holes apart.  This also makes the sewer system, a public good, ripe for privatization, as long as the public absords the best part of the debt – another illustration of how unseemly Wall Street has become, and why the occupation movement is important.

What are the lessons for us?  If nothing else, it is that sprawl is costly.  We usually think of sprawl as we think of long commutes or poor public transit.  But infrastructure like water and sewers have a real cost.  Sure, developers are asked to foot all or part of the bill when building a new subdivision; but there are no provisions for repairs and maintenance as the infrastructure age.

The Township of Langley would be quite vulnerable to such a situation; it is a far suburb, with a low population density (305 residents per km2), and pressure for residential acreage.  The same is true of Abbotsford and other municipalities down the valley.

But the saving grace – how we have avoided Birmingham’s mess – is the agricultural land reserve.   The ALR ensures that rural properties are not developed into subdivisions.  Being far apart, on good land, the ALR houses are not connected to the municipal utilities; they use well water and septic fields, something that sprawling developments are unable to do, the houses being just a bit too close to one another.

Many would like to see the ALR go, especially developers.  They blame it for increasing the cost of land and decreasing home affordability.  Point taken; it does play a role, though this is nowhere near as important a factor as they claim.  And whether a cheaper house, on far away land without transit or other services is really cheaper remains a question to be considered.  But when the costs of aging utilities are factored in, the answer is clear: sprawl is worse.

So bless the ALR.  Its main role, when designed by Harold Steves, was to ensure future food security, and this remains more relevant than ever.  But its side benefit of constraining sprawl and preventing a fiscal mess like Jefferson County’s is a blessing.  Save the ALR!

Written by enviropaul

November 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm

The curse of oil, Canadian style.

leave a comment »

The curse of oil has been hitting Canada quite severely recently, no thanks in part to certain pipeline.

What is the curse of oil?  I have been using the expression in class without defining it properly, which is not very nice to my students, who have to guess what I’m referring to.  Being lazy, I was putting off writing about it – until I learned about new developments in the Gateway file that really caught my attention.

The curse of oil is an attack on society along two fronts: the destruction of manufacturing jobs, and the erosion of democracy.

The problem of economies relying on natural resources exports has been dubbed the “Dutch disease”, after what happened to the Dutch manufacturing sector following the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea.  In the pre-Euro era, the Dutch currency at the time, the Gulden, became so expensive that no-one could afford Dutch exports.  The Dutch DAF company made a little compact car that pioneering the continuously variable transmission now commonplace on hybrid cars.  But the car division of DAF went belly-up after the North Sea oil took off.

High oil prices reduce the ability of an oil exporting country to build its manufacturing sector.  The main oil exporting nations are not known for their finished products.  The decline of the manufacturing sector in Britain paralleled the rise of North Sea oil exports, and the rise of the British pound (ok, so Austins and Morrises were never great cars in the first place, but still…).  Recently Condoleeza Rice lamented the fact that the Russian economy is dominated (80%) by natural resources exports, mainly hydrocarbons, while it could be at the forefront of the knowledge industry.

But the more insidious aspect of the curse of oil is the democracy deficit.  This concept was first articulated by Michael Ross in a 2001 article entitled ‘Does Oil Hinder Democracy?’,  documenting five negative effects of oil.

First, there is what he calls the taxation effect.  Oil-rich governments don`t have to raise taxes to bring in revenue; this means that they don`t have to be accountable to the public, either.  Secondly, there is the spending effect: this leads to patronage, which corrodes democratization.  Then there is the group formation effect: the oil-rich government uses its cash to prevent the formation of groups that are independent from the state.  Oil revenues can also fuel a repression effect, that is, a situation where police or secret forces choke democratic movements.  And, of course, there is the anti-modernization effect, which is a corollary of the Dutch disease.

In a later essay (Oil, Islam, and Women) Ross shows how oil-rich regimes tend to repress and under-educate women.  This may be controversial (several aspects are at play, and it may not seem to apply to countries like, say, Venezuela) but the point is made that oil revenues often undermine democracy and social justice.  Some countries may be relatively prosperous but have social equity issues (Saudi Arabia), while other countries that should be thriving have neither wealth nor social justice, but instead are plagued by corruption and unrest (Nigeria).  This is so widespread that the recent discovery of oil in Uganda has led commentators to worry about the future of the country.  Some also see the Arab Spring threatened by the curse of oil.  Ross summarizes the oil curse as leading to authoritarianism, economic instability, corruption, and violent conflict.

What does this means for Canada?  Canada is not immune to the curse of oil, on the contrary; but I was still surprised to read the following Wikipedia entry under “dutch disease“:

Canada’s rising dollar hurting the manufacturing sector in the 2000s due to foreign investment in oil, particularly the Athabasca oil sands.

After the value of oil skyrocketed in the last decade from  about $40 a barrel to above $100 in 2008, the value of the Canadian dollar followed suit, moving from a low of about 65 US cent to above par.  During that period, the Canadian auto industry saw its profits drop precipitously; the Hamilton steel industry shut; countless other Canadian manufacturers struggled or closed shop altogether.  In the service sector, the competitive advantage of the movie industry, for one, was nearly destroyed.

Of course, several other factors have contributed to this decline, including the recession starting in 2008.  But a low dollar would have cushioned the drop and protected some of our exports; as it were, the manufacturing sector was dealt a double blow.

Canada (or Alberta) is pursuing the construction of two pipelines, one to the States and one through BC to Asia, to export Tar Sands crude.  Not only is this risky from an environmental point of view (tar sands crude is harder on pipelines and quite corrosive), but doing so constitutes a net export of jobs.  Even conservative figures like former premier Peter Lougheed are opposed to the construction of the XL pipeline for this very reason.

Andrew Nikiforuk has documented the impacts of the oil industry on Canada and Alberta in particular.  In a recent series of articles, Nikiforuk lists ten reasons why tar sands crude should not be exported and the pipelines not built – otherwise, we risk suffering the worse impacts of the curse of oil.  He notes that the enormous size of the project is such that risks are also enormous, and the project lacks resilience.  The pace of development is frantic and unjustified.  Of course, the developments are causing Dutch Disease effects on the rest of the Canadian economy.   He also notices the failure to save money (Alberta`s Heritage Fund is gone, and the province risks becoming a ghost town when the oil is gone) and the fact that Canada should not be in a rush to export what is ultimately its future guarantee of energy security.  The tar sands energy return on investment (EROI) is low; the amount spent on innovation is pitiful (less than 0.3% of sales goes to R&D, as compared to, say, over 15% in the auto sector);  the questionable partnership with China over oil exports; the climate impact; and, ultimately, what Nikiforuk calls the `dysfunctional petro-state effect`.

Alberta seems to have been hit the hardest by the democracy deficit effect. It has been run, in effect, as a single-party province with low voter turn-out; and its brand of politics has now been exported to Ottawa, in the form of a Harper-led, Alberta based government bent on ignoring environmental impacts (or any inconvenient scientific evidence, for that matter, be it in muzzling its own scientists or destroying Census Canada, among other examples).

A good illustration of this democracy deficit, Alberta style, may be found in the wonderful article written by Robin Rowland – a scathing critique of an article written in the November 4th issue of the Calgary Herald by columnist Deborah Yedlin.  Yedlin argues that freedom of speech at the Gateway hearings should be curbed.  In her opinion, the approval of the pipeline is already a done deal, and oral submissions should be curtailed, so the project can get on with construction.

There you have it: a journalist who is advocating muzzling freedom of speech – denying the very essence of her profession.  Corruption and authoritarianism, here we go.  And the Gateway pipeline is to run through the territory of First Nations, who have consistently refused such an intrusion.  If the hearings are turned into a farce and the pipeline into a fait-accompli, as Yedlin advocates, can violence be far behind?  This is the very scenario that gave us Wiebo Ludwig, only with much bigger stakes.

The rush to develop the oil sands is insane, but the push for the pipelines is even worse.  The curse of oil, Canadian style.  We are not immune, and we better watch out and smarten up.

Written by enviropaul

November 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Montreal will digest its garbage – why not Vancouver?

leave a comment »

Spreading garbage at the Vancouver Landfill

There was a small news item in today’s Montreal Gazette: composting to take place across the island of Montreal.  Nice news, sure, but pretty oh-hum, as it were; who doesn’t like composting?

But the real important news are to be found in Montreal’s La Presse: we are talking about 4 large new plants to be built by 2015 to the tune of $250 million, two plants for composting, and – here’s the key part – two for biodigestion.

In this project, green waste (that’s all food residue, plus garden waste, leaf collection, etc) will be collected separately and digested anaerobically.  This produces biogas (about 30% carbon dioxide, the rest mostly methane), which can then be burned to produce energy.  In the Montreal project, the biogas will be filtered and then delivered to the metropolitan natural gas system, replacing the need to purchase fossil fuel.  And we’re not talking about puny amounts: between four and five million cubic metres per year.

After digestion – which is really nothing other than controlled rotting in a sealed vessel – the residue is to be composted.  This means a new source of organic fertilizer and soil amendment.  The compost is expected to be free of food-borne pathogens such as listeria, because the digestion occurs at a high temperature.

This is an excellent project for a number of reasons.  Incinerating garbage works, but garbage is not the best of fuel, and the potential for air pollution is high, which requires fairly sophisticated and costly air pollution control systems.  The Montreal system captures the energy of that portion of the waste which has the best value as fuel and is non-toxic (it was food, remember?).

Further, the left over mass (maybe half of the total before digestion) makes a nice, stable compost.  This retains the fertilizer elements of the waste, which is non-negligable benefit, considering that nutrients like phosphorus are expensive to mine and may well run out in this century – so this system has an important role to play towards future food security.  And the compost itself is made of stable humus compounds, and this reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released as conpared to, say, incineration.

In comparison, landfilling garbage is a waste, in the literal sense; in a landfill, biogas is also generated, but at a much slower rate, and not all of it is captured.  As a result, methane gas is released, and this a greenhouse gas far more potent than the carbon dioxide generated after combustion (whether in an incinerator or following its use as biogas).  To say nothing of the small uncontrolled fires that periodically occur in landfills (and the Vancouver Landfill is no exception) and the leachate problems that landfills generate.

In the Montreal scheme, the gas generated is piped directly into the natural gas grid.  This is a good system, but a great opportunity is missed: district heating.  District heating is common in Europe, and can easily be retrofitted in a dense urban area such as Montreal.  In this system, the fuel source (be it garbage or biogas) is used to generate electricity locally; this also produces low-grade heat (steam or hot water), which is then sent through pipes to heat a whole neighbourhood.  Density need not be excessive; the maion campus of UBC, for instance, is on district heating (though it does not generate its own power).  In BC, most pulp mills now make use of such a system, burning fuel to generate both their own electricity and their process heat (an approach called co-generation; it saves the mills huge amounts of money and reduces their carbon footprint considerably).  This is a missed opportunity for Montreal, for now; the beauty of the system, though, is that district heating could easily be retrofitted in the future.

Metro Vancouver seems mired mired in the past when it comes to systems like this.  We have a handful of municipal politicians who are asking probing questions, but it seems Metro has decided on incineration, period.  What a shame.  Some thoughts are given to composting and green waste collection, but biogas production does not enter into consideration, and that is the missing piece of the puzzle: it brings revenue and energy production to the whole system.  Politicians are leery of going full-compost because the system is costly.  Good on them, but this is a way out right under their noses.

In Metro, compostable waste makes up over 40% of the residential garbage. Add another 16% that is paper (which should be recycled, but isn’t), and  you have a considerable amount that could be diverted to a Montreal type scheme.  Using the 2008 numbers for the residential sector, paper and green waste represent over 440, ooo tonnes.  Assuming that a quarter of that mass can be turned into methane, that represents a heating value of more than four and a half million million kilojoules (which is about as many BTUs, or 1330 GWh).  If half of this value were turned into electrical power, this represents 150 megawatts.  That’s about one sixth of the electricity that is to be produced by the proposed Site-C dam on the Peace. And that’s produced locally, without the line losses.  Not bad!

 

ADDENDUM

I spoke to Sarah, a friend at Metro, who set me straight on a couple of things.  Green waste (including food waste) is already collected for composting in a few Metro municipalities (Coquitlam, for instance).  She mentioned that the scheme is quite popular, with a larger number of households participating than originally anticipated.  This is great!  But it also reveals a problem with our governing structure.  Individual municipalities pursue these initiatives; Metro can only suggest and encourage.  So while collecting and composting is already happening in some places, other municipalities are foot-dragging.  This is an even bigger problem if a Montreal-style digestion scheme were to be implemented; for economies of scale to work, centralized facilities are probably essential, but centralized planning is an absolute must.  We’ll get there, maybe, but that is a huge political endeavour.  People have to start loving Metro Vancouver – a pretty tall order given the petty disputes that our municipal politicians promote.

 

Written by enviropaul

November 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized