Green Stimulus for a New Future

January 29, 2009

When a civilization is rushing down the road to ecological catastrophe, and its economy falters because its bankers and investors have tripped over their own shoelaces in their rush to make money… in this situation, does it make sense to attempt to restart the same economy, and get it back on the road to catastrophe?

That would surely be foolishness of the highest degree. This road leads directly to the collapse of ocean ecosystems, the continued loss of forests, topsoil, and species, and the warming of the atmosphere, bringing a possible two-metre sea-level rise this century, among other devastating consequences, and that will cost our economy up to 20% of its GDP.

Only a stupid, careless, scientifically-illiterate person would recommend continuing down this path - and yet that is exactly what Canada’s government is proposing in its new economic stimulus package. We are about to borrow $33 billion and spend it on tax cuts, roads, bridges, and a host of smaller things designed to get the old economy pumping again.

Maybe this is all we should expect from a government that hankers after life in the 1950s – and yet all the Liberals ask for is a quarterly progress report to make sure the economy is getting back on the road to catastrophe.

Solar panelsGreenpeace’s analysis, by Matthew Bramley, a very competent climate and energy expert, shows that out of $33 billion borrowing, only 4% ($1.2 billion) will steer us in a new direction by investing in green energy and infrastructure. 96% will re-accelerate our trip down catastrophe alley, using tax breaks to encourage Canadians to spend, spend, spend on the same old stuff. Even the home improvement tax credits carry no requirement that people should also make their homes more energy efficient.

Obama’s stimulus package is investing four times more than Canada proportionally, including commitments to put a million plug-in hybrid cars that get up to 150 mpg on the road by 2015; to double the amount of solar and wind energy that America generates by 2012 (25% by 2025); and to weatherize a million home annually.

Harper, on the other hand, is scrapping Canada’s commitment to wind energy while giving $315 million to the nuclear industry and $125 million to clean coal, technologies that will do little to get us off the road to catastrophe, but which are darlings of the oil patch. ("Clean coal is a lie. It's like healthy cigarettes" – Al Gore.)

Even Obama’s $825 billion stimulus package contains nowhere near enough green commitments. So what is required to get us off the road to ruin?

First, we need to indicate that we have understood why the economy crashed. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank and the most cited economist in the world states it clearly in his article Capitalist Fools in January’s Vanity Fair: “The truth is that most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of governments should be minimal.” At Congressional Hearings last fall, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, said, “I have found a flaw.” Congressman Waxman: “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right; it was not working?” Greenspan: “Absolutely, precisely.”

Having acknowledged this, and the utter foolishness of presuming that something as mindless as a market could be trusted to guide the direction of the economy, we need to re-empower our governments to be interventionist, to take back the reins of the economy, and to use them to steer it towards an ecologically sustainable, carbon-natural future. Specifically, we need to:

  • Retrofit every building to make it carbon-neutral by 2030 - a million buildings a year, 10 million in the USA.

  • Build enough wind, solar, and geothermal energy etc to produce 100% renewable electricity within ten years, as Al Gore is calling for, and close down every coal-fired power plant by 2020, with support for their workers.

  • Get a million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on the roads by 2015 - 10 million in the USA – and require all vehicles to be zero-carbon by 2030.

  • Help communities build enough bike trails, transit, and light rail transit to cover 50% of all our trips.

  • Help farmers and foresters to change their ways so that they store far more carbon in their soils and trees.

  • Build a high-speed train network, as Europe has done… and much more.

  • Train a new generation of workers in the new green technologies.

This activity will generate more than enough green collar jobs to restart the economy; and most importantly, lead us away from catastrophe, and towards a future that our children will anticipate with delight, not fear. The time is critical. We just have to change.

Guy Dauncey


TOP 10 CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Solution #6: Solar PV

January 28, 2009

When the Age of Fossil Fuels is over, Earth’s future historians will look back on this extremely short and exceptional period of human history which ushered in the Solar Age.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) is still new. The first cell, created in 1954, was just 6% efficient. Today’s commercially available PV cells are 20% efficient, and laboratory-based PV cells have reached 42.8%. Japan, Germany and California have been carrying the weight for the rest of world, accelerating the drive towards mass production by investing public money in subsidies and rate supports.

As a result of its Feed Law that pays 70 to 90 cents per kilowatt hour to solar producers, Germany has over 300,000 installed PV systems, mostly on rooftops, representing 55% of the world’s solar electricity (but still only 0.5% of Germany’s electricity).

The energy that Earth receives from the Sun is such that covering half of Texas - 300,000 sq km – with solar cells could generate enough electricity to meet the energy needs of the entire world, including for heat and transport.

The cost of solar has always been the hold-up. From $100 a watt in 1970, it now costs around $5, and when it falls to $2 a watt – which the industry believes can happen by 2015 - it will be competitive with other forms of electricity.

Greenpeace has estimated that by 2040, solar PV could generate 24% of the world’s electricity needs, assuming a moderate increase in energy efficiency – and not assuming any of the technical breakthroughs that are lining up, including thin-film cells that are less efficient but far cheaper because they can be printed like newspaper, and nanosolar developments.

What’s needed to accelerate things? A Global Solar Treaty, in which every nation agrees to increase its solar capacity by a set amount each year as we collectively drive towards that 24% goal, or higher. This will give investors the confidence they need to get involved.

Here in BC, we need to adopt the same Feed Laws that Germany uses, charging a small surcharge on our utility bills and using the income to pay 80 cents/kwh to solar producers – yes, ten times the going rate for power. That’s what it takes to accelerate a new technology.

The BC government is happy to pay $200 million a year to the oil and gas industry. $25 million a year to the solar PV industry would do what it takes to get us started.

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.


TOP 10 CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Solution #5: Zero Carbon Buildings

January 26, 2009

Can we heat and cool our buildings without coal, oil or gas? This is one of the big global warming challenges. One solution is Zero Carbon Buildings - super-insulated, triple-glazed buildings that need almost no heat.

In Germany, 6,000 Passivhaus buildings use 90% less energy than the Germany average – 9-16 kWh per square meter instead of 160. In winter, they need no heat when it’s minus 10C outside, and in summer when its 35C outside it’s only 26C indoors.

For heat, there are several options, including solar hot water; heat exchange from air, ground, water, and sewage; district heating using biogas from compost and sewage; solar hot water gathered in summer and stored underground for use in winter; biodiesel from wastes, algae, or seaweed; solar walls and catchments; super-efficient wood stoves, pellet stoves, wood gasification boilers and masonry heaters (in rural areas); and masonry night storage heaters that use off-peak green electricity.

The way to get there is by Green Building Codes that make it mandatory. Britain is requiring all new buildings and ten new towns to be zero carbon by 2016. Austin, Texas is requiring all new homes to be Zero Energy Capable by 2015 - 65% more efficient than the code, with protected roof space for solar PV and hot water.

BC’s new Green Building Code is to be published soon, but due to pressure from the building industry it is unlikely to go far enough. To make up for this, it must at least allow municipalities to create rules that exceed the Code: this is how the best pioneering progress is being made, by experimentation at the local level. This is how Spain came to have a law requiring solar hot water on all new buildings, for instance.

What about our existing buildings? This is a far bigger challenge. In Berkeley and San Francisco, every building is required to have an energy upgrade whenever it is sold, transferred, or renovated, which is a very smart move. By 2006, 12,000 Berkeley residences (30% of the building stock) had been upgraded, resulting in 25% - 50% less energy use.

Another approach is to get Energy Saving Companies (ESCOs) involved, financing the work from the energy saved. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a $100 million ESCO partnership is visiting all 23,000 buildings, offering free energy audits, and retrofits that can be financed through the energy savings.

Ann & Gord Baird’s solar thermal zero carbon cob house in the Highlands.

Utilities like BC Hydro can also play a role. Austin Energy provides free home-energy improvements to customers with low-to-moderate incomes and rebates for energy investments. Seattle City Light has numerous programs to assist with energy upgrades, and in Colorado, Fort Collins Utilities provides Zero-Interest Loans for Conservation Help (ZILCH).

Retrofitting existing buildings to become Zero Carbon is a big challenge, especially for baseboard-heated homes that have no ducts or under-floor pipes to distribute green heat.

One big disadvantage in BC is our very low price of electricity, which removes the incentive for people to care. The higher the price of power, the more people care about efficiency and the less energy they waste – so increasing BC Hydro’s rates and using the income to support energy saving measures including targeted programs for low income households is a very sound approach.

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.


TOP 10 CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Solution #4: Become Vegetarian

January 24, 2009

This is the inconvenient truth that most people don’t want to touch. The reality is that the world’s livestock industry is responsible for up to 18% of the total problem – more than all the world’s transport. “How can this be?” you might ask. To understand, we have to remember there are several greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere – not just CO2 from fossil fuels. There is also methane (CH4) that traps 25 times more heat per molecule than CO2 over 100 years, and nitrous oxide (N2O) that traps 298 times more. The UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow teases apart why cattle, sheep and pigs are such a large cause of global warming.

First, some background data: there are 6.6 billion humans on Earth – and 20-30 billion livestock animals. 30% of the Earth’s land is used for livestock, and of the arable land that is suitable for farming, 33% is used to grow feed for livestock. It takes 2-10 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of meat. The problem starts with CO2 from the burning forests to grow feed for livestock. 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is used for livestock pasture; the rest for feed crops, mostly soy (95% of global soy production is for animals). The burning releases 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 a year.

Then there is the fact that cows burp methane, as do buffaloes, sheep, and goats. 33% of the world’s methane comes from livestock, adding 2.2 billion tonnes when measured as CO2e.

Finally, when nitrogen fertilizer is applied to the land much of it escapes as nitrous oxide; it is also produced by animal manure. With a GWP of 298, this adds 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2e. The total comes to 7.1 billion tonnes, or 18% of the 40 billion tonnes of CO2e humans produce each year. A Japanese study suggested that each kilogram of beef is responsible for 36.4 kg of CO2e. Organic beef raised on grass produces 40% less CO2e. It is also healthier, since it contains good Omega 3 fatty acids, instead of harmful Omega 6 fatty acids that arise when cattle eat grain.

The solution is to adopt a far more vegetarian and vegan diet, and to reduce our consumption of beef, pork, lamb, and dairy. We need public education about the impact of livestock; carbon taxes that include methane and nitrous oxide; and an end to all government support for the livestock industry.

There’s an important footnote. Methane’s natural life in the atmosphere is 12 years. Its global warming potential (GWP) of 25 x CO2 is measured over 100 years purely as a statistical convenience. Methane’s GWP over 12 years is around 100 – four times more than we are allowing for. Over 12 years, which is what matters if we are to avoid the global tipping points, livestock’s methane produces 8.8 GT of CO2e, and its responsibility for global warming rises to 24% of the overall problem. Our hamburgers are far more harmful than our cars – which are also a big problem that we have to address.

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.


TOP 10 CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Solution #3: The Bicycle

January 22, 2009

BaliHow easy can this be? The bicycle is quite simply one of the best inventions ever made. With almost no extra effort, it enables us to travel at four times the speed of walking. In Copenhagen, Denmark, 33% of all journeys to work are by bicycle. In Davis, California, the number is 17%. Here in Victoria, Canada’s cycling capital, it’s only 6%.

Davis (population 64,000) started planning for cycling 40 years ago, and has two full-time cycling coordinators. It was the first to paint bike-lanes on the city streets, in the 1960s, and the entire university campus is closed to vehicle traffic. With over 100 miles of streets with bike lanes, trails, and other bike routes, and 25 grade-separated intersections keeping bikes and cars apart, Davis shows us what’s possible. As a global warming solution, cycling has to be one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective. Operating a car costs $7,000 a year. A bike costs $120 a year. A US study found that 40% of all trips are within a 10 minute bike ride, and 54% of commuters live with 10 miles of their work, a distance that takes much the same time for cars and bikes.

Cyclists are generally more fit, more alert, and more productive at work. They are also happier, and have fewer hospital visits. For shopping and deliveries, there are bicycle trailers of every size, and if you can’t manage the hills, adding an electric motor ($350 to $1,400) will costs you just 1 cent per 20 km for the electricity.

How should we proceed? Every community should have a Bicycle Advisory Committee, and 25% of each community’s transport budget should be invested in measures to encourage more cycling until it reaches a goal of 25% of all commuting trips being by bike.

The best way to get there? BC’s cycling advocates need to be far more pro-active and involved in promoting cycling as a solution to global warming.

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.


TOP 10 CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Solution #2: Hot Rocks Geothermal

January 20, 2009

The Earth has radius of some 6,400 km, and when we drill down we can use the hot water that rises to run a steam turbine – around 10,000 MW of geothermal power is generated this way worldwide. Drill down deeper, and the available energy is enormous.

In January 2007, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a study looking at the potential energy 6 to 10 km down into granite, where the temperature reaches 400 C. Their findings are quite stunning.

For an investment of $1 billion we could produce 100,000 MW of power by 2050. Exxon Mobil made $39.5 billion profit in 2006, so $1 billion is 9 days profit for one oil company.

They estimated the total resource to be 130,000 times larger and the extractable portion 2,000 times larger than the total annual consumption of primary energy in the USA; similar data shows up for Europe and Australia.

Vinod Khosla, a top investor who is very alert to the dangers of climate change, is backing its potential, alongside solar thermal power, and so is Google’s new renewable energy investment project. We need a concerted global investment effort to develop the technology in a greatly accelerated manner.

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.


TOP 10 CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Solution #1: Solar Thermal

January 18, 2009

The world’s entire remaining store of fossil fuels is the equivalent of solar energy that shines on Earth’s deserts every 47 days. Algeria alone has enough solar thermal potential to supply Europe’s entire energy needs 50 times over.

The technology consists of a series of parabolic arrays that gather the sun’s heat and concentrate it onto a pipe filled with water, creating steam that drives a turbine. The power is then transmitted underwater or over land using high voltage DC cables that have lower EMF emissions and power loss.

In the Nevada desert, a 64 MW system is producing power for around 10-12 cents kWh. At the recent Clinton Global Initiative the power company PG&E signed a deal to purchase 2000 MW over the next five years from Ausra, a company started by the Canadian entrepreneur, scientist and innovator David Mills.

Since heat can be stored using hot water, oil or salts, solar thermal power can deliver baseload power 24 hours a day.

Solar thermal power will be cheaper than carbon captured coal or nuclear power, and has the potential to deliver 90% of the world’s electricity without carbon emissions. Globally, the best locations for plants are the western US, southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, north India and western China.

One way to accelerate the technology would be commitments by nations to generate 25% of their power from solar thermal by 2020 and 50% by 2030, linked to close-down of the world’s coal-fired power plants. See and

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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