Cycling to Planetary Happiness

April 11, 2009

Two wheels on the road, the summer air in your face - it’s a wonderful way to travel!

When we look at the urgent need to eliminate our carbon emissions, plus the end of cheap oil and the benefits of being healthy and fit, cycling has to be one of the most important transport initiatives we should be investing in.

Coaches, transit, light rail, electric vehicles, ride-sharing, walking – these are all part of the answer.

But cycling should have a special place on the list, because it brings so many benefits. In Copenhagen, where 36% of the population commutes to work by bike, cycling has become such a style that they have invented a verb, “Copenhagenize”, to capture what’s happening. (

And just look at the economics of it. They know from their health statistics that physically active people live five years longer and have four fewer years of lengthy illness than those who are non-active.

They know that cycling for four hours a week – 10 km a day, a typical Copenhagen bike ride – makes a person physically active.

They know that if Copenhageners cycled 10% more kilometres each year, their health system would save $12 million a year, and their economy would benefit from $32 million a year of production not lost to illness. There would be 57,000 fewer sick days in the workplace each year, 61,000 more person-years enjoyed, and 46,000 fewer person-years lost to lengthy illness.

They know that each additional kilometre of bike lane attracts 170,000 more cycle-kilometres a year, 19% more bikes on that stretch of road, a 9-10% drop in the number of cars, accidents and injuries, $51,000 in saved health care costs, and $134,000 in saved production costs. For every dollar they invest in the bike lane, they save 5 dollars. Knowing this, Copenhagen has set a goal that 50% of all work trips should be by bicycle by 2015.

girl with bikeCopenhagen has a 36% rate of bicycle-commuting, while Victoria has a 6% rate - and we boast that we are the cycling capital of Canada. And yes, it rains just as much as in Victoria. They get 71 cm a year; we get 66.5 cm. So what would it take for Victoria – and other North American cities - to reach a 36% level of cycling, with all the multiple benefits it brings?

If I was the Premier – a game we all love to play – I would first ask all my Ministries to adopt integrated long-term co-budgeting, so that a $100 million investment in cycling that was known to generate long-term savings of $500 million in health care and business costs would win immediate approval from the Treasury Board mandarins.

Secondly, I would ask every municipality to prepare a long-term plan to increase the commuter cycling rate to 25% by 2020, drawing on the best examples from around the world.

What would such a future look like? Every major road would have a cycle lane, separated from traffic by a yellow rumble strip, like the ones that we have on highways to tell you when you’re veering off the road. Throughout the city, there would be a network of safe cycle routes where most traffic was not allowed, using a mixture of railway rights of way, back lanes, and quiet residential streets.

At every major intersection, cyclists would be allowed to gather in front of the traffic, and given 30 seconds to advance with all lights on red, before cars were allowed to go. All over the city, there would be safe, sheltered, bicycle parking places.

As in Paris, where 24,000 VeLib bikes were placed on the city streets last year, there would be city-bikes bikes for rent by the half-hour, using a smartcard. To guard against theft, you would lose a $150 deposit if you didn’t return the bike to a bike station after use.

Every community would hire bicycle planners. Davis, California, which has a 17% cycle-commute rate, has two full-time cycling staff for a population of 64,000. A region of 300,000 people would employ ten full-time cycling staff.

For those not fit enough yet, or who can’t make the hills, electric bikes would become the norm, costing only one cent per 20 kilometres.

Every school would have its Safe Routes to School, and all parents would be strongly encouraged to stop driving their kids to school.

The magic of this is that the more cycling there is, the safer it becomes, because – from Denmark’s experience - when more motorists are also cyclists, they are better able to understand the cyclist’s needs.

And not just here, but all over the planet. When such a simple technology already exists with so many benefits, how foolish could we be not to make the most of it?

First published in EcoNews: A monthly newsletter funded by your donations that dreams of a world blessed by the harmony of nature, the pleasures of community, and the joys of personal fulfillment, guided and protected by our active citizenship.


Our Journey to Zero Carbon

April 9, 2009

March, 2020.

It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon, and all the better because BC’s annual progress report on The Road to Zero Carbon has just shown that we have achieved a 50% reduction in our carbon emissions since 2008.

The Arctic is still melting, the sea-level is set for an ominous rise by 2100, and the impact of climate change on agriculture and ecosystems gets worse each year, but it’s good to know we are on the path, and that BC is demonstrating how life is both possible and enjoyable in a low carbon world. At this rate, we’ll hit the 99% reduction by 2030 the climate scientists are insistent we achieve.

Throughout Victoria, people are busy in their gardens, harvesting winter vegetables and planting seeds that will bring bounteous crops this summer. With food prices so high, it’s Victory Gardens all over again, along with rooftop gardens, community gardens, and boulevards thick with nuts, fruits and berries.

The changes have brought a wave of excitement. The roads are thick with bicycles, and many quieter roads have been turned into car-free bicycle routes where grannies and children alike feel safe to ride. Small electric batteries have turned hills into music, eliminating one of the biggest barriers to cycling.

It was certainly a shock in 2010 when the BC government went into partnership with a small Vancouver electric vehicle company, raised $500 million in public shares and started to produce 100,000 electric vehicles a year. Being attractive, colourful, tax free, cheap to run and immune from the carbon taxes and road tolls other vehicles had to pay, they were an instant hit with the consumer. And so quiet! Combined with streetlights being turned off after midnight, the solar panels that people use to light their homes and charge their cars in summer, and the home delivery of local food by bicycle, they are adding a definite je ne sais quoi to our fast evolving cityscape.

The new ferries are smaller now, since more people travel by bus, and Victoria has an amazing holographic teleconference centre that brings us closer together across the country, without having to leave home.


Finding the electricity to run the cars was not a problem. Most owners charge up at night when the power is cheaper because there’s less demand on the grid, and BC’s rapidly expanding wind, solar, tidal and carefully selected number of small hydro projects produce far more power than we need, allowing us to sell the surplus to Alberta and California where it earns us good money, while enabling the important closure of coal-fired power plants.

BC’s first “deep rocks” geothermal power plant is due to open this summer in the Kootenays, drilling 8km down for the heat. They’re planning to develop 10,000 MW of capacity, enough to power an astonishing 80 million small electric vehicles, assuming each uses 1 MWh to drive 10,000 km a year, and a geothermal plant produces 8,000 MWh a year per MW.

The old habit of spending hours commuting to work has been quite transformed by carbon taxes and road tolls. With the income being poured into rapid transit and luxury commuter coaches, the journey to work has become a chance to catch up on emails and get a head start on the day’s work; some companies are even paying their staff for work done on the coach.

It’s the older, retired baby-boomers who have found it hardest to adjust. The global carbon taxes on international flights and shipping kicked in just when they were hoping to visit their “100 Places to See Before You Die”, causing the cost of flying to rise dramatically. As a result, close to home holidays have become more creative with bicycle and horseback tours substituting for Mexican beaches and Mayan ruins.

Some of BC’s industrial companies did a lot of complaining in the early years of carbon constraint. As the carbon taxes and cap and trade requirements went up, however, and incentives for green energy grew, their engineers found ways to be vastly more efficient, and to substitute with power from biomass, biogas, and air, earth, sewer and ocean heat exchange. As the prices of oil and gas increased, they watched their competitors struggle with rising costs, while congratulating themselves for being ahead of the curve.

And there is music in the air. When it began, I do not know. I think it was as people began to spend more time in their neighbourhoods, digging their gardens, upgrading their homes, and brewing their own beer and blackberry wine. Out of greater friendships came more music, and more song.

Some still complain, but most people realize that something very profound is taking place – and while we are all still very worried about the future, we are also deeply glad.

First published in EcoNews: A monthly newsletter funded by your donations that dreams of a world blessed by the harmony of nature, the pleasures of community, and the joys of personal fulfillment, guided and protected by our active citizenship.


The Climate Solutions Dividend

April 3, 2009

Let me start at the beginning: the global climate crisis is far more serious than most people understand.

If we carry on with business as usual, our continued use of fossil fuels will destroy all human civilization as we know it, and take most species and ecosystems with it. As things stand, we are heading for a temperature rise of 4, 5, or 6 degrees by the end of the century. Today's Arctic meltdown and the current increase in forest fires, floods, and beetle infestations comes from a 0.7C increase.

"Do politicians understand just how difficult it could be, just how devastating rises of 4C, 5C or 6C could be? I think, not yet."
- Lord Nicholas Stern, Britain's top climate economist, March 2009.

"How far can it go? The last time the world was three degrees warmer than today which is what we expect later this century sea levels were 25 metres higher. So that is what we can look forward to if we don't act soon."
- James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Feb 2006.

Business as usual is really grim, folks. We don't want to go there.

"The only certainty is that we have to act. How could I look my grandchildren in the eye and say I knew about this and I did nothing?"
- David Attenborough.

Next, let's look at the resistance. Some comes from elderly, well-educated men whose heads are firmly in the sand. Some comes from the coal and oil industry, which doesn't want to change what it's doing; and some comes from economists and bureaucrats who argue that we can't afford to act because it would harm the economy.

So let's look at the economy - the same one that the world's leaders are so desperate to revive so that we can get back to business as usual.

If we do nothing, the cost of future climate-caused floods, fires, droughts, hurricanes, and other disasters; the need to build sea walls two metres high around every port in the world; and the need to relocate 500 million refugees from low-lying lands will make today's recession look like a tea party. Not a pretty sight, by any accounting standard.

We also know that as soon as the economy gets back on its feet the global demand for oil will surge again, and prices will rise past $200 a barrel ($2 a litre, $6 a gallon) as we pass peak oil, with natural gas following. With the global oil supply in terminal decline, the speculative markets will drive the price ever higher.

Not a pretty sight either, from an economic perspective.

But now let us turn this around, and assume that we act on all the known solutions. Let's assume that we successfully eliminate all use of fossil fuels, and create a world in which:

  • All our buildings are super-efficient, and heated or cooled by solar, bioenergy, and heat-pump technologies;
  • All our transport uses electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, combined with far more walking, cycling, transit, ridesharing, and railways;
  • All trucking, shipping, and aviation is powered by algae-biofuel grown on marginal and desert lands;
  • All electricity is renewable and most come from efficiency, wind, solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal, and hydro;
  • All of the world's farms, grasslands, and forests are managed holistically and organically, without need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Our whole economy operates on the principle of zero waste, recycling and re-using 100% of the materials we use.

What would such a world look like, financially? Shockingly, no-one has done such a study, but some numbers are available for the US to give us a start:

  • By eliminating the need to buy oil from the Middle East, and defend the oil-exporting nations, the National Defence Council Foundation has calculated in its report The Hidden Cost of Imported Oil (2007) that the US will enjoy an annual dividend of $825 billion. This includes a $138 billion military saving.
  • By eliminating the air pollution and smog caused by fossil-fuelled vehicles and coal-fired power plants, Terry Tamminen, past Secretary of the California EPA, has shown in his book Lives per Gallon: The True Cost of our Oil Addiction that the US will save up to $690 billion a year.
  • By reducing energy use by 15%, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has calculated that the US will enjoy annual savings of $169 billion. If efficiency is increased to 30%, this could rise to $338 billion.

This comes to $1.7 trillion a year, which would arrive in the US economy every year as a free stimulus package, without needing approval by Congress.

It also stands to reason that since 80% of the worlds wars are fought over oil and gas supplies, if we no longer need them we could disarm 80% of the world's militaries. For the US, with a $1 trillion annual military budget, this allows a peace dividend of $680 billion a year (excluding the $138 billion counted above). If we include this, the annual stimulus rises to $2.38 trillion.

This is the annual Climate Solutions Dividend - which must be contrasted with a 20% loss of annual GDP if we fail to end our use of fossil fuels, which would cost the US $2.8 trillion a year.

Will someone now please stand up and tell me we can't afford to tackle global warming because it will hurt the economy? I don't think so.

Guy Dauncey

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