Climate Change Conferences, Gondola vs. Transit, Best Bar Finder

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post.

From ICLEI to Cities & Climate Change Science

Back in June 2009, Edmonton hosted the ICLEI World Congress to discuss environmental sustainability. I enjoyed attending some of the sessions and related events, in particular the free talk with author Peter Newman on Resilient Cities and Edmonton’s 4th Pecha Kucha Night.

Last week, Edmonton hosted the Cities & Climate Change Science Conference. I was only able to attend one community session: While Nations Plan, Cities Act with David Miller, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and former mayor of Toronto, and Mayor Don Iveson. When asked about the significance of hosting the event, Mayor Iveson drew a straight line from ICLEI in 2009 to this event nearly nine years later. He told the crowd that hosting ICLEI opened up the discussion and that eventually led to the adoption of the Energy Transition Strategy and made it possible for us to host this conference. He did note though, that “we are not where we need to be on implementation” of that strategy.

I really enjoyed David Miller’s presentation. He noted that cities are responsible for perhaps 75% of emissions, but are also where the most activity is taking place to reduce emissions, in four key areas:

I remember a lot of discussion about public transit back at the ICLEI event in 2009 and I suspect it was heavily discussed this time too. Mayor Iveson noted that Canada was the last G8 country without a national transit strategy and attributed the fact that we now have progress to the “increased civic literacy” that former municipal politicians like Amarjeet Sohi have brought to the federal government. Here in Edmonton, the mayor noted that our LRT network won’t be built out until 2030, which could open the door for more business-as-usual in the meantime, which is a good argument for an accelerated investment.

If you like to drive, you’re gonna love the gondola

You probably know that Gondola Over the North Saskatchewan was selected as the winning idea in the Edmonton Project. The couple behind the idea envision “an eight-car system that would stretch three kilometres across three stations, connecting Old Strathcona to the old Epcor power plant and then on to downtown.” It would run year-round and could cost anywhere from $30 million to $300 million.

Maybe you think that’s a cool idea, maybe you don’t. It doesn’t really matter, because it almost certainly won’t be built. The Edmonton Project website says the idea was selected to “move to the next phase” but it’s not clear what that is. There’s no funding in place, and such an idea is unlikely to get Council approval.

Which is why Councillor Tim Cartmell suggesting a gondola could replace LRT to connect Bonnie Doon and the University of Alberta is so frustrating. Even if a gondola ends up being a little cheaper, or can move nearly as many people, that doesn’t mean it’s a better approach. Of course the car crowd will like the idea of something elevated and completely separate, but that doesn’t help with our city’s desired transportation mode shift at all.

Participating in a fun community idea competition? Sure, why not, pitch a gondola. Making a serious Council decision about the future of transportation in Edmonton? No. Stop wasting time on fanciful and unrealistic ideas.

Best Bar None Finder

Planning on drinking some green beer on Saturday for St. Patrick’s Day? Maybe consider choosing a bar that has Best Bar None accreditation. “The Best Bar None program originated in the UK in 2006 and launched in Edmonton in 2010,” and there are now more than 150 accredited bars throughout the province. They’ve built a new tool called the Best Bar Finder to located accredited bars near you.

Best Bar None
(click for larger version)

I thought their infographic to take advantage of the St. Patrick’s Day connection was amusing. Enjoy safely!

How green are Edmonton’s festivals? (Blog Action Day 2009)

Today is Blog Action Day, which means that bloggers around the world are writing about the same issue – climate change. The purpose of the initiative is to create a discussion. For my post, I’m hoping to stimulate a little discussion about how “green” Edmonton’s festivals are.

I first wrote about this topic back in December, when I noted a number of the changes BrightNights had made to become more environmentally friendly:

The City of Edmonton hopes to have a number of events operating green within three years, and BrightNights is just the first. I hope more festivals and events in Edmonton follow suit.

One of the big local stories this week is that BrightNights will no longer be taking place due to rising costs. I’m not at all sad to see the event go (the food bank and hot lunch program will be impacted in the short-term but will be fine I think). Even if they managed to make the event carbon-neutral (primarily by purchasing carbon credits, it should be noted) it still encouraged people to sit in a running car for an who knows how long. That’s not very green!

What about the rest of Edmonton’s festivals? What are they doing to be more environmentally friendly? If you have any links or other information, please post them in the comments!

As Canada’s Festival City, I think we have an opportunity (maybe even a responsibility) to lead the way in ensuring our events are green and sustainable. Let’s set the bar high and encourage others to follow suit!

Upcoming Climate Change Events

October 24th is the International Day of Climate Action. People all over the world are holding events pledging action on the science of 350:

350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

We’re currently at 387 parts per million, and rising (check out the Pew Center’s Global Warming Facts & Figures for more). There are six actions listed for Edmonton so far.

Of course, the main event this year is the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), which takes place from December 7th to 18th in Copenhagen.

Earth Hour 2009 in Edmonton

Edmonton is one of five Canadian cities taking part in Earth Hour 2009, the “lights out phenomenon” led by the World Wildlife Fund. No matter your take on the event (I’m not a supporter), many people in our city will be shutting off their lights and other electronics for an hour on Saturday evening. The official time is from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM on Saturday, March 28th, 2009.

Here are some Earth Hour events taking place in Edmonton:

Know of any others? Let me know!

It’s a little silly to think that we still need to raise awareness for climate change (in my opinion), but that’s all Earth Hour can hope to accomplish. Last year, Epcor initially said that power consumption increased during Earth Hour but later revised that to say that consumption dropped 1.5%. In other words, it had no real effect. I doubt this year will be any different.

You can learn more about Earth Hour in Canada here or on Facebook, and if you’d like to register online, you can do so here. According to the Edmonton Examiner, just 1400 Edmontonians registered for Earth Hour 2008.

Making an effort to use sleep mode

sleep mode Events like Earth Hour raise awareness about our “planet in peril”, but as I’ve said in the past, they don’t have a positive impact on the environment. You need to do the little things to truly make a difference. I try to do my part. I always take a stainless steel mug to Starbucks in the morning, for example. There’s always room for improvement though.

For a little over a week now, I’ve been trying to break one of my worst habits. I don’t know how it started, but I’m one of those people that never turns the computer off when I’m not using it. For some reason I just got into the habit of always leaving it running. Laptops are a different story, because you shut the lid and it goes to sleep, but I’ve always left my desktop on for some reason. I’ve always had it configured to turn the monitors off after a while, but never the computer itself.

I guess I like having the computer immediately available when I want to use it. Really though, waking up from sleep mode doesn’t take very long at all. Slightly longer on my desktop than on either of my laptops, but still not bad.

I’ve been really good about using sleep mode for a week now, and I think I can keep it up. I’m going to kick my “leave the computer on” habit for good.

One hour is just 0.01% of a year

earth hour From Wikipedia:

Earth Hour is an international event that asks households and businesses to turn off their lights and non-essential electrical appliances for one hour on the evening of 29 March at 8 pm local time until 9 pm to promote electricity conservation and thus lower carbon emissions.

I’ve written about this already, and I don’t think there’s much else to be said. If you’re participating in Earth Hour, that’s great, I’m glad you have an interest in making the world a better place to live.

But next time you feel the need to be green, pick an activity that will actually make a difference. Replace your lights with energy efficient ones. Turn the thermostat down in the winter. Buy a fuel efficient car, or better yet, switch to transit. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

You don’t lose weight by going on a diet for an hour, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll make the Earth more green by turning the lights out for an hour.

Anyone else sick of this global-warming-event bullshit?

lights Have you heard of Earth Hour? Sharon sent me a link for it today, pointing out that the City of Edmonton is participating in the “global movement” that aims to “take a stand against the greatest threat our planet has ever faced”. Cities around the world are pledging to turn off the lights for one hour on March 29th. From the about page:

On 31 March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour – Earth Hour. This massive collective effort reduced Sydney’s energy consumption by 10.2% for one hour, which is the equivalent effect of taking 48,000 cars off the road for a year.

With Sydney icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House turning their lights off, and unique events such as weddings by candlelight, the world took notice. Inspired by the collective effort of millions of Sydneysiders, many major global cities are joining Earth Hour in 2008, turning a symbolic event into a global movement.

Reminds me a little of Live Earth. Remember that event? The worldwide concerts that did so much for the “climate in crisis”? Yeah, I remember that.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had it with this event bullshit.

  • Can we really say the current warming trend is “the greatest threat” the Earth has ever faced? What about the ice ages of the past? Or periods of space bombardment? Or World War II and nuclear weapons? I mean, come on.
  • At best, these events come out neutral in terms of net energy consumption/reduction. More than likely, they probably have the opposite of their intended effect. Think of all the TVs and computers tuned to the Live Earth concerts last year. The same thing will happen with Earth Hour.
  • Do these events really inspire change? I would argue that they actually make people complacent – “I don’t need to walk today, I participated in Earth Hour!”

Instead of turning the lights out for an hour, I’d rather see the City of Edmonton do something that would actually make a difference, such as replacing all our old street and traffic lights with new, energy efficient ones.

Read: Earth Hour

It's all green to me

I wonder how long it will be until we all have green overload – I am guessing it’ll be sooner rather than later. These days, you’re simply not hip and with it unless you’re proclaiming how environmentally friendly you are. That goes for individuals, companies, and all other organizations too. Trying to cure cancer? Great – so long as you go about it in a “green” sort of way. Okay maybe it’s not quite that bad, but it’s getting darn close.

Did you know Discovery is launching an entire TV channel dedicated to the green movement? Apparently the New York Times had the story back in April, but I just came across it tonight while reading about Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest project:

DiCaprio is set to executive produce “Eco-Town,” a 13-part reality series which will follow state and local officials in their quest to build an ecologically – and economically – sustainable town in Kansas, aptly named Greenburg.

Yep, even famous movie stars need to add a shade of green to their images. No one is safe from the big bad green machine!

A television channel is one thing, but a niche blog is quite another. If the recently launched earth2tech blog doesn’t scream “go green or go home” nothing does:

Earth2Tech is a publication devoted to intersection between the tech industry, their eco-moves and the next generation of tech innovation that will combat climate change.

When will it end?

Climate Change

Post ImageIf you’re friend of mine here in Edmonton, you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of discussing climate change, especially the particular variety known as “global warming”, with me at some point. In general, I don’t dispute that the globe is warming, but I do dispute that global warming is entirely caused by humans and poses a great threat, for the simple reason that we don’t have enough data.

We can show temperatures are rising (albeit over a very short period of time, so we don’t know if it’s normal or not) but we have absolutely no clue as to why. Sure there are many thoughts and ideas, but the fact that there are so many, and that they are so varied, only proves that we have absolutely no idea why the globe is warming. To blame it all on humans releasing CO2 seems a bit premature, and I hate that people jump on the bandwagon without thinking.

Here’s another reason we don’t know: the ozone layer. You might have heard over the last couple years that the ozone layer is healing. The fact is, it healed much faster than scientists predicted. That leads to many questions – if it healed up so quick, how big was the problem in the first place? Did humans really play a big role in causing the holes? Would it have healed without us doing anything? Again, we don’t know. And if we can’t understand an event like this that has already happened (to an extent), how can we understand something ongoing like climate change?

Even the definition at Wikipedia shows we don’t understand the “why” part of climate change:

Climate change refers to the variation in the Earth’s global climate or regional climates over time. It describes changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere – or average weather – over time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. These changes may come from internal processes, be driven by external forces or, most recently, be caused by human activities.

I came across a really interesting climate change explanation earlier today on Derek’s blog. He cites a transcript of the Planet TV Show:

According to the math, we cannot know for certain how close we are to the point of no return, until it is too late. So if you are looking for absolute proof, you will not get it unless you are willing to sacrifice everything. Because, you cannot have absolute confirmation that a catastrophic change is occurring until it has begun and cannot be stopped.

This is true of both climate cooling and climate warming. When have we reached the tipping point? We don’t know until we’re past it.

Even if our contribution of CO2 is not the main reason for climate change, it is still important that we reduce and eventually eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels. If we are close to the tipping point, then any small amount of increase may be the amount that pushes us over the edge. By the same token, if we are close to the tipping point, then any small decrease will take us that much further from the edge of a catastrophic shift in climate.

Good point, and I agree we should eliminate the release of CO2 from fossil fuels.

Global warming does not pose a threat to the Earth. Nor does it pose a threat to life on this planet. Both the Earth and life on the planet will survive the effects of global warming and catastrophic climate change. What is in danger is us.

The reason it’s humans that are in danger is that climate change could lead to another ice age. Life would exist after the ice age has ended, as we have seen before. The only way the earth itself is going away is if humans blow it up, or something from space does. The full transcript is here.

I don’t think we’re in as much danger as Planet TV Show does. I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity, demonstrated throughout our relatively short history. If something related to climate change happens that might threaten our existence here on earth, I am pretty confident we’ll have already moved on to other planets or at least would be able to. That’s not to say everyone will survive, unfortunately, but I think the human race would.

There are a few main questions to ask when discussing climate change:

  • Are the temperature changes and other factors (storms increasing, etc) we are currently seeing indicative of a fluctuation (temporary) or a shift (permanent) in climate?
  • Is this fluctuation or shift natural, or caused by humans?
  • If caused by humans, are we the only cause, or just one of many factors?
  • Can we do anything about it?

The answers to these questions remain elusive. Many varied theories exist, but conclusive evidence is nowhere to be found.

I think we’ll figure it out eventually. And when we do, I would not be surprised if our contribution to climate change is but one of many factors. Maybe even a really small factor. As much as some people would like to think, humans are not the centre of the universe, nor responsible for everything that happens inside it.