I can reasonably expect to live at least another half century on this earth.
So for me, people my age and everyone younger than me, climate change is not an issue for do-gooders, tree-huggers and self-righteous hipsters. It's a real question. What sort of civilization am I going to live in when I'm 50, 60, and 70 years old?
I'm well aware that every generation suspects the world is about to end. Not long ago it was Y2K, before that it was the "population bomb," and before that it was nuclear war. None of these were trivial or made-up concerns, but through some combination of policy, technology and a dash of dumb luck the world remains more or less intact.
But tweaking software, growing more food and refraining from nuking each other pales in comparison with reimagining the entire global economy. Even the most loyal talking-pointspouting Conservative can't deny that the polar icecaps are melting. Industry groups are preparing for a viable Arctic shipping route inside the next decade. Our military is gearing up for northern sovereignty missions in response. What happens when all that ice melts? Who knows?
Rising sea levels are one thing, but in isolation this seems like a fairly manageable engineering problem. Just build higher dikes and seawalls, right? Expensive and troublesome, but feasible. It might not be so easy for less prosperous jurisdictions like Bangladesh or below-sea-level ones like the Netherlands. The 10,000 citizens on the Pacific island of Tuvalu - which rises a majestic 15 feet above sea level - will probably just have to live somewhere else. Less than ideal, but still manageable.
But think about the amount of melted ice it takes to raise sea levels around the planet. That much fresh water will profoundly change the chemistry of the oceans, which in turn will have a profound impact on ecosystems and fisheries.
Then there are the totally unpredictable consequences of trapping a whole bunch more energy in our planetary weather system. We can expect more floods, more droughts, more famine, more conflict, more storms and probably some weird stuff we never even saw coming.
To quote Oxford-educated chemist and notorious left-wing softy Margaret Thatcher: "We have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the systems of this planet itself."
Sadly, there's a good chunk of our population that is, frankly, quite willing to let the house fall down on their children. There are also more than a few young people who just throw up their hands and try to not to think about it. The Conservative party has made it obvious they literally could not care less about conserving Canada's future if it means digging one dollar less out of Alberta, spending one dollar more on science, or even getting out of the way of countries that do want to get a move on. Evidence has always been anathema to the Stephen Harper government.
The province has had a go here and there, but I have to say things like the carbon tax and the Pacific Carbon Trust and the Clean Energy Act seem to succeed more in funnelling tax dollars to industry than actually cutting emissions. It's hard to marry a "market-based solution" to a market that really isn't interested. But hey, at least they're trying.
So while it does seem a little like swimming against a running tide, you have to salute the folks at the City of North Vancouver who have actually managed to reduce their community's emission of greenhouse gases. Not just reduce the rate of increase, but actually drag that trend line down past horizontal to point in the right direction.
Community-wide, the entire city puts out less GHGs today than it did in 2005. Municipal operations put out less than they did in 1995. So even without a whole lot of policy tools available, it can be done. Don't let anyone tell you it can't.
Much of this was achieved through energy efficiency incentives for new private buildings and high standards for new public buildings - all this without any help from the provincial building code.
Without any fanfare, city council also recently gave the green light to a plan to help make old multi-unit buildings more energy efficient, a sector that hasn't gotten much out of LiveSmartBC or other single-family home incentive programs.
Community energy manager Caroline Jackson and deputy director of community development Emilie Adin shrewdly suggested that the city start with rental apartment blocks. It's easier to sit down with one landlord than a strata council, and many rental buildings have aging heating systems. They are also prime targets for redevelopment as condominiums.
The city recently balked at the idea of subsidizing market rental buildings. It is, after all, illegal. The province was interested in making an exception for a pilot project in North Vancouver, but council wasn't interested. Adin's and Jackson's plan achieves a similar aim, almost by accident, using entirely legal "revitalization agreements."
So the landlord buys some fancy new boiler and gets a property tax freeze for a few years in return. Or maybe the owners get a price break on a Lonsdale Energy Corporation connection. The details aren't finalized, but whatever the mechanism, the value of the building goes up and the operating costs go down. These savings might get passed on to renters, but at the very least it buys a few more years for a chunk of the rental stock.
City residents spend a whopping $100 million each year on energy. Based on a very crude calculation, something near two-thirds of that goes into multi-unit buildings. Tuning up efficiency means lower costs to landlords, renters keep their homes, and the city's emissions get pressed down further.
Seems like some pretty smart policy to me.
email@example.com (Editor: Benjamin Alldritt's column will be on hold for the summer while he completes a stint with the Vancouver Sun.)
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