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Here in British Columbia, both of our big political parties are in the middle of leadership races, while the Green Party awaits the results.
What does it mean to exercise leadership at such a critical time? There are plenty of issues on which leadership is needed, such as the need to eliminate homelessness, raise the minimum wage, support BC’s schools, and get the provincial deficit under control.
These are all important, and need action, but they are only the trimmings compared to the real issue where leadership is needed, not just in BC but everywhere.
Here’s the reality we must address - and it must be the measure of any would-be leader that they understand it, speak to it, and make the commitment to tackle it.
As a civilization, ecologically, we are living far beyond our means. The stores are full, the roads are full, and our diaries are full of vacation plans - but there’s a cost. All this “stuff” that defines the good life has to come from somewhere.
The fish come from the sea - but as a world we are driving so many fish stocks into extinction that unless we stop, our children will eat jellyfish.
The timber comes from the forest - but as a province, we are cutting down BC’s last remaining oldgrowth trees.
The food comes from the land - but only a fraction is grown organically, and whenever it is not, soil is lost, wildlife is dying, and rural landscapes are turning sterile.
The energy we love comes from fossil fuels - but the carbon that is released is warming the atmosphere, with devastating consequences that are already showing up in the worldwide increase in extreme downpours, floods, fires and droughts.
And as a result of the way we live, pursuing our many desires, species are going extinct a hundred times faster than the normal background evolutionary extinction rate. Extinction means forever - never to exist again.
If everyone on the planet consumed as we do - to which many aspire - we would need three more planets. And meanwhile, our population is still growing; we will pass seven billion this fall.
This ecological living beyond our means is not something we can solve by issuing bonds (unless they are green bonds), as we do for financial debt. We are not only stealing our children’s financial future: we are stealing the very planet they will live on, stripping it of the creatures, soil, fresh water and atmospheric stability they will need when we are gone.
The looming impacts of global warming alone are so severe that on our present track of fossil-fuelled economic growth we are heading for a 4ºC global temperature rise; the last time things were 3ºC warmer, the sea level was 25 metres higher. This will flood every city at sea-level; every port; every river estuary. Even before the century is out, as Greenland melts, we could see a two metre sea-level rise.
How should a true leader respond to a crisis of this magnitude? Green platitudes are not enough. The crisis calls for us to turn our whole civilization into a new direction, in which every economic decision we take restores nature, instead of - by default - destroying it.
When the challenge is broken down to manageable chunks, many solutions already exist, but many also call for people to change - to change their light bulbs, to change the fish they eat, to pay more in carbon taxes, to make space for bicycle lanes. When leadership is weak, it is easy to perceive these changes as interfering irritations, and evidence that the government is packed with nasty civil servants who want to control our lives.
A true leader would spell out the crisis in strong, clear terms, so that we knew what we were dealing with.
A true leader would be able to see the outline of a future in which our civilization operates in harmony with nature, and have the confidence to know that we can get there, even if many of the details remain unknown.
A true leader would be able to engage people all across the province, overcoming political differences to enroll them in this, the greatest challenge, and to neutralize the whiners and complainers.
He or she would inspire them to work for future in which British Columbia becomes a global leader in demonstrating that a good quality of life need not require the destruction of species, the loss of forests, or the sacrifice of the future to climate change.
Somewhere, such a leader exists, for every real crisis brings forth its leaders. Is it one of the current candidates? It could well be, but we have yet to see.
- Guy Dauncey
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Ten Myths About The New Efficient Light Bulbs
The BC government is phasing out the old inefficient incandescent light bulbs, as a way to help us save money and become more energy efficient, but as a result, there’s a lot of myth-making going on about the compact fluorescent bulbs. Here’s a quick guide to help you discuss them with a disgruntled workmate or neighbour. Myth #1. The old incandescent bulbs have been banned.
This is simply not true - the new regulations simply govern light bulbs in the 75-100 watt range. Philips has a range of Halogena Energy Advantage bulbs that are dimmable, contain no mercury, and meet the new standard. Myth #2. The waste heat from the old bulbs helps heat my home, reducing the amount of natural gas I need to burn.
It is true that the old incandescent bulbs produce waste heat - this is why they are so inefficient as lights. If you’re burning gas for heat, the argument goes, removing the bulbs means burning more gas, increasing your greenhouse gases.
But let’s pause to think. Electricity in North America is constantly traded across borders. BC Hydro imports between 5% and 15% of its electricity, depending on the depth of snowpack, mostly from coal and gas-fired power in the US. When we use less power, it’s the imported power that we reduce, so even if the new bulbs increase the use of gas, this is balanced by the decreased use of imported coal and gas fired power. Also, since most bulbs are close to the ceiling, the waste heat rises, where it’s neither useful nor near the thermostat that regulates gas heating. In warmer months, it’s just waste heat, plain and simple.
80% of British Columbians are already using CFLs, resulting in 600 gigawatt hours of electricity savings per year, the same as the electricity consumed by more than 50,000 homes. If this came from a mix of imported coal and gas-fired power, it would generate 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) a year.
The belief that using the new light bulbs will cause BC’s GHGs to rise comes from measuring our GHGs as a strictly provincial affair, excluding our imported power. As soon as BC is 100% self-sufficient in green power, the energy saved by using the new bulbs will allow more green power to be exported, helping to reduce the need for coal and gas-fired power outside BC. Myth #3. They contain mercury!
Yes, they do contain a tiny amount of mercury. Tuna contains mercury too, which comes from the air pollution that coal-fired power plants produce. Francis Rubinstein from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that if you broke a bulb and did a good job of cleaning up, your mercury exposure would be like taking a tiny nibble of tuna. If you closed all the doors and smashed the bulb with a hammer, it would be like eating a can of tuna, since fish absorb the mercury in air pollution from coal-fired power.
Myth #4. They produce a sickly flickering pale light.
Yes, it’s true - some do. So don’t buy those ones! Buy quality bulbs! If you want warm yellow light, look for ones labeled with a lower colour temperature (Kelvin) around 3,000. If you want a white light, look for bulbs marked “daylight, with a high colour temperature around 5,000. Here is another useful guide to buying a CFL bulb, which also has lots of good advice from on-line readers.
Myth #5. They don’t work with dimmers.
True in 2007, but not today. If you want a CFL bulb that works with a dimmer switch, they’re more expensive (and waste more energy), but you can buy one. Myth #6. They don’t last as long as promised.
In California, the utility PG&E found that instead of 9.4 years of useful life, the reality is closer to 6.3 years, with a faster burn-out rate in certain locations such as bathrooms and recessed lighting. But a regular light bulb burns out after 1,000 hours, so the new bulbs still last six times longer. Myth #7. They don’t come on immediately.
No longer true in most cases. In my home, all but two of our 47 CFLs come on almost immediately. Myth #8. There’s no safe disposal mechanism.
For sure there is - recycling programs for residential CFLs are mandated by provincial regulation. You can find the nearest recycling drop-off at www.productcare.org/lights Myth #9. They produce “dirty electricity”.
This refers to the myth that the new bulbs produce harmful electromagnetic radiation, and the experience that some people have a bad reaction to the UV light. It does appear that some people who suffer from lupus and certain skin conditions can be negatively affected by some bulbs, in which case they should buy a bulb marked as low UV, with a glass cover. For the vast majority of people, who have been using billions of bulbs all over the world for many years, there are no negative health effects. Myth #10. They don’t work in really cold weather.
This is generally true - so look for ones with a special cold cathode weather ballast, which are good down to -23ºC. How Much Will I Save?
BC Hydro says that if the average household replaced all its incandescent bulbs with CFLs, it would save 830 kWh a year, which comes to around $60. BC Hydro’s CFL Fact Sheet says that replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save $52 in electricity over the life of the bulb. For more good information about the new bulbs, see BC Hydro's Guide
What about LED lighting?
LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are more efficient than CFLs - but they are still very expensive ($20-$40), and their light is still very focused and limited. Prices will fall, and the technology will improve; in ten years they may well be the #1 bulbs.
So remind me - why are the old inefficient bulbs being phased out? They use four times more energy than the CFL bulbs, so making the switch plays a small but important role in helping us save energy, save money, reduce the use of coal-fired power, and protect our children’s future. And that has my whole-hearted support.
February - ‘tis the season of the seeds, earthly miracles dropped into worm-rich soil that turn skywards and seek glory as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and squash, gardens loaded, taste buds bursting, summer smiling on spring’s moist labour, ancient knowledge of tiny seeds growing into mighty Garry oaks, parsley.
Victoria’s Seedy Saturday is coming up at the Conference Centre on Feb 19th - last year, it was so packed it felt like Christmas. Qualicum Beach is Feb 5th, Salt Spring Feb 12th, Sooke Feb 26th. This is the start of another cycle of growth, from the soil to the dinner table, locally grown, organic, delicious. If you feel unconfident, there are lots of courses to help you learn - see Green Diary.
DO YOU WANT TO BE A YOUNG FARMER…
but don’t know where to begin? Stewards of Irreplaceable Land (SOIL) is a non-profit society which links Canadian farmers who are willing to train apprentices with folks who want to work and learn on an organic farm using sustainable practices, offering hands-on learning in exchange for learning the basic skills of an agricultural career.
The SOIL website lists 16 farms on Vancouver Island which can take apprentices in Sooke, Victoria, Sidney, Salt Spring, Duncan, Nanoose, Port Alberni, Fanny Bay, Royston, Denman and Cortes. See www.soilapprenticeships.org.
COAL MINING IN BC
Coal is the scrunched up blackened remains of ancient trees and plants which absorbed the sun’s energy 200 million years ago and converted it into carbon. When they fell into a swamp, the carbon got buried underground.
In Nanaimo, it was coal that made the Scottish immigrant Robert Dunsmuir rich, and built his path to being Premier of BC. And it was coal that took the lives of many miners.
Today, coal is a huge cause of global warming. The last time the temperature rose by 3ºC, the sea level was 25 metres higher - and we are on track for a 4ºC rise, thanks in part to coal.
BC has a strong commitment to climate action, so you might think there’d be action on coal. Not so. In 2010, Port Metro Vancouver exported 28.5 million tonnes of coal to Korea and Japan; our exports of coal and natural gas produce 105 million tonnes of greenhouse gases when burnt, far outweighing BC’s domestic emissions of 63 million tonnes.
In November 2010 Shirley Bond, Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure, boasted that “We can actually see a point when coal exports from BC could double and that would mean tremendous rewards for our provincial economy”, while Minister of State for Mining, Randy Hawes, praised the opening of five new coal mines in northeast BC.
Here on the Island, this is an immediate issue since Compliance Coal Corporation is seeking approval for its Raven Underground Coal Project in the Comox Valley, owned 60% by Compliance, and 40% by two Japanese and Korean companies (see www.theravenproject.ca). The mining deposit area covers 3,100 hectares 5 km inland from Buckley Bay, and contains 59 million tonnes of exploitable coal, which would be trucked to Port Alberni and shipped across the Pacific. If the coal was all dug up and burnt, it would add 212 million tonnes of CO2 to our planet’s atmosphere - as much 60 million cars produce during a year.
There are two initiatives underway to stop this. The first is CoalWatch (www.coalwatch.ca), which is organizing local resistance and putting on a big public meeting at UVic on Feb 9th (see Diary). A host of people in the Comox Valley are outraged - they want green jobs in a green valley, not dirty coal mining jobs, and all the pollution coal-mining brings with it.
The second is a province-wide initiative to stop the production and export of coal in BC by 2015, because of the climate emergency. They are gathering pledges from people who agree that they will each "decide on the protest that best suits our convictions" (Martin Luther King) and work with like minded people to make sure the province takes urgent action on climate change. www.stopcoal.ca
NUCLEAR WEAPONS TREATY
The goal is clear - to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. Mayors for Peace is a network of cities seeking immediate negotiations to establish a nuclear weapons free world by 2020. They have 4,301 members, including 98 of the world’s 192 capital cities. In December, the US Senate voted to ratify the New START Treaty, which will reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to (only) 1,550 on each side. The US and China have yet to ratify it; Israel has signed but not ratified; India, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to sign it.
A second major treaty is yet to be negotiated - a global agreement to halt all production of fissile materials for weapons purposes, and the larger goal needs to address the 22,000 nuclear warheads that exist worldwide. Also in December, Canada’s House of Commons voted unanimously to “deploy a major world-wide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of preventing nuclear proliferation and increasing the rate of nuclear disarmament. A world free of nuclear weapons by 2020. That’s the goal. See www.disarmingconflict.ca
Action of the Month
NDP LEADERSHIP CAMPAIGN
As with the Liberal leadership candidates last month, now is a critical time to be asking the NDP leadership candidates where they stand on key issues that matter. So call them up! Ask them where they stand!
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if you want a receipt, please send a stamped addressed envelope).