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.

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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.

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