Archive for October, 2009

350 in Montreal

Some days, in the environmental movement, you feel like you’re some sort of small squishy creature making brave noises just before the great corporate-political-industrial juggernaut squashes you. Some days, you feel very alone.

funny pictures of cats with captions

Saturday was not one of those days.

As everyone probably knows, it was the International Day of Climate Action, where people all over the world gathered to show support for a strong Copenhagen agreement and to demand that steps be taken to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide content below 350 parts per million, the level which scientists have determined will keep climate change within manageable limits. (We’re at 387 ppm now. Not so good.)

It was raining off and on all day in Montreal. The event I was most looking forward to was the 350 Concordia Student Bike To Mount Royal, which was supposed to start at 11 am. I biked downtown from NDG, arrived at the Hall Building, and saw…nobody. Some people were setting up a sound system behind the building for an entirely different event (something to do with Uganda, I’m not sure what they were doing exactly) and other than that and a crowd of random smokers by the doors, the area was deserted. No bikes.

Rode over to McGill to check if maybe there was an email I’d missed, and got chased out of the SSMU building by a janitor who didn’t like me bringing my bike inside. (I don’t have a lock at the moment – long and irrelevant story – and don’t intend to have my bike stolen, thanks.) Biked home to NDG, checked my email. Nothing.

So I decided to head back for the next event, which was a musical event at City Hall, supposed to start at 2pm. Rode back downtown, and as I was passing the Hall Building again, spotted a cluster of 350.org signs at the side of the building with one guy sitting next to them. Apparently the bike event had been rescheduled to 2 and everyone else had gotten the email but me. Also, we were no longer biking to Mount Royal, but to City Hall, via Place des Arts to pick up another group of riders; then we were all joining the musical event, which had been changed to three o’clock.

It was still raining lightly, and the organizer wasn’t optimistic. Apparently they’d had four hundred people register for the ride, but the weather kept most of them indoors. When we left Concordia at twenty past two, there were about two dozen of us. Most were on our own bikes, a few on rented Bixis. About half were wearing helmets, and only two of us other than the Bixis had lights going. Go bike safety! Someone asked if we were going to have a police escort. It would probably have looked a bit ridiculous.

We rode to Place des Arts and milled around for a bit. There was a fair crowd there, as apparently they’d just finished doing another event. Lots of people in paper Stephen Harper masks. I don’t think we actually picked up any extra riders there, though. Eventually we got cold enough that we needed to start moving again.

We met up with Geoff Garver and a bunch of other people at the Champ-de-Mars field outside City Hall.

That’s Geoff, me and Ed. There still weren’t nearly as many people as there would have been with good weather, but at least we were enough to make a decent crowd.

Clearly the police had expected a much larger presence as well; there were five police vans parked in the parking lot. Periodically an officer wandered by to see what we were doing and how long we planned to stick around. Nobody seemed much bothered by us. Pedestrians stopped occasionally, not many.

At 3:50 pm we went out on the lawn and played the note F for 350 seconds. The guy with the guitar is Brendan, the organizer of the event.

The frequency of F is 350 Hz – okay, actually 349.23 Hz, but there’s no point nitpicking, especially since we were probably pretty out of tune anyhow, as most of our instruments were the kind you can’t really tune, like pennywhistles and things. Oh, and a musical saw.

Can you tune a musical saw? I have no idea, but it sounded awesome.

After we’d done that, we formed ourselves into a 350 shape and got our picture taken. I haven’t received any pictures of that yet, so, um, here’s a picture of people in Aotearoa, New Zealand, doing it instead.

That’s where the Moral Economy Project’s Robert Howell lives, so it’s almost as relevant.

Afterwards, someone from CTV showed up with a camera and they said they wanted to film us doing a different event entirely; there’d been another Montreal event called “Jump For The Future” where everyone went up on the mountain and jumped up and down. They wanted to put that on the TV, but it had already happened, so they got us to jump up and down instead, and filmed it. We had a small child with us, which automatically makes us look better on TV.

The CTV video player isn’t embeddable, but here’s the link.

Everyone kind of dispersed after that, and I headed home along with a few other cyclists who were going in the same direction. Herding together for mutual protection is Urban Cycling 101. The ride back through Westmount to NDG was quite pleasant, actually, once we got out of the rush hour traffic around Atwater. Lots of leaves on the ground making pleasant squishing noises as we rode through them. Montreal’s official bicycling season ends November 15, which means that’s when they’ll take down the bollards protecting a bunch of the bike lanes and let people park in them and so on. There’s so few good days left.

Did we accomplish anything? I have no idea. The slideshows on 350.org are inspirational, for sure. There are certainly a lot of people willing to come out and demonstrate about this. I have no way to measure how many of those people went to their demonstrations by car; how many of them will go home and decide not to take that unnecessary flight, or buy that new TV; how many people walked by the events, or saw them on the news, and went and looked up what they were about, and started thinking seriously about this stuff for the first time; how many politicians added climate actions to their list of Things That Will Make Me Look Good To Voters If I Do Them; how many flapping butterflies’ wings it takes to start that storm. We aren’t going to know any of that until it’s been settled, one way or the other. We just have to keep on doing our bit, and hope it’ll be enough.

In the end, it all comes down to faith.

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The CCS boondoggle

This article from the Greenpeace website was forwarded to me today by four different people, which clearly means I should post it here. Thanks folks!

International — As the seventh annual Carbon Capture & Sequestration conference gets underway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Greenpeace has launched ‘False Hope’ – a report critically examining the status and promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The conclusion is that, despite what the coal and power industries claim, CCS will not prevent more than a whiff of global warming pollution from reaching the atmosphere in the next few decades.

CCS aims to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power station smokestacks and dump it underground. Although it’s being described as a “silver bullet” solution in combating the climate crisis, CCS has yet to be used on any large-scale coal-fired power plant anywhere in the world. And, as ‘False Hope’ reveals, there are huge unknowns regarding feasibility, cost, environmental implications and liability which have not been thought through.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions needs to be halted in the next decade and emissions then need to be cut significantly. CCS will not be ready in time. Ironically, the suggestion that the technology may be made to work some time in the future is being used to justify building new coal-fired power plants without any form of carbon ‘capture’.

What makes most sense is not building coal-fired power plants in the first place. Carbon is already ‘stored’ safely underground: we call it coal. Let’s leave it there. Adapting an old phrase, “when you find yourself in a (climate) hole, the first thing is to stop digging”.

It is a perverse situation where policymakers who claim to recognise the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions are considering bankrolling the development of an unproven technology over funding proven pollution-free renewable energy sources and energy efficiency improvements.

CCS is unproven, risky and expensive and investing in it threatens to undermine the range of clean energy solutions which are available right now.

CCS not ready in time

Climate experts say the worst impacts of climate change can be averted by levelling off global warming pollution by 2015 and turning down the burner after that. But the earliest that CCS will be ready is 2030. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is even less optimistic. The IPCC doesn’t see CCS being commercially viable until even later – around 2050.

CCS wastes energy and resources

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide would be a major energy consumer, gobbling up anything from 10 to 40% of a power plant’s electricity output. So more coal needs to be mined, transported, and burned for a power station to generate the same amount of energy as it would without CCS.

Demands for cooling water also increase dramatically. Power stations with capture technology could require 90% more freshwater than those without. CCS is expected to erase gains in power plant energy efficiency made over the past 50 years, and increase resource consumption by one-third.

Storing carbon underground is risky

It is uncertain whether there is sufficient suitable space underground to bury enough carbon to have any meaningful climate impact.

Humanity has no experience of safely storing anything forever. But locking up carbon dioxide underground in perpetuity is exactly what would need to be accomplished with CCS. A leakage rate of just 1% could potentially undermine any climate benefit. Tests have thrown up unexpected results, such CO2 disintegrating storage materials.

CCS is expensive and undermines real solutions to climate change

CCS could well mean electricity price rises of between 21 and 91%. Clean energy sources, such as wind power, provide electricity much more cheaply than coal-fired plants fitted with CCS will ever be able to. The funding to get CCS off the ground – including substantial sums of taxpayer’s money – comes at the expense of real solutions. In countries it has been pursued, CCS has taken up an increasing share of energy research and development budgets whereas funding for renewable technologies and energy efficiency has stagnated or declined.

In the US, for example, the Department of Energy has asked for the CCS programme budget to be raised to US $623.6 million. At the same time, it is scaling back renewable energy research to US $146.2 million. Worse still, legislation introduced on Capitol Hill would allocate a whopping US $424 billion to a dedicated fund for CCS. Australia, meanwhile, has three research centres devoted to fossil fuels, including one committed to CCS, but none for renewable energy technology.

CCS and liability: risky business

Large-scale CCS applications pose significant and new liability risks, including negative impacts on human health, damage to ecosystems, groundwater contamination such as the pollution of drinking water and increased greenhouse gas emissions from leakage.

Again, energy interests want a free ride by being relieved of liability in return for investing in CCS. Some demand they be relieved of ownership of CO2 at the power plant gates, or that they remain liable for CO2 dumped underground for a mere ten years.

The costs of any mishaps would have to be covered from the public purse.

The extent of support offered to the recently collapsed FutureGen project in the US gives some inkling of the real costs of CCS. FutureGen was the Bush Administration’s flagship CCS project. It not only received unprecedented public funds (to the tune of US $1.3 bn) but was protected from financial and legal liability in the event of an unanticipated release of carbon, indemnified from lawsuits and even had its insurance premiums paid.

The alternative to CCS: renewables and energy efficiency

Renewable energy and energy saving have proven track records in meeting energy needs safely, cleanly, predictably and cost-effectively. The world has sufficient technically accessible renewable energy to meet global energy needs six times over.

Compare that to the risky and expensive option of CCS which is still on the drawing board.

Full details of how clean energy and energy efficiency can cut almost halve global CO2 emissions by 2050 are contained in Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution blueprint.

Countdown to 350

Eight days to go till the International Day of Action on Climate Change. There are about ten events scheduled in Montreal; I’m planning to join the Concordia bike ride. Yeah, it’s a pretty ordinary kind of demonstration, but I’m okay with that; there are plenty of wacky events going on all the time too, and we need both kinds because they tend to reach different crowds. Plus I just like bikes.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

What am I thankful for?

Ingenuity.

Integrity.

Awe.

Diversity.

Strength.

Solidarity.

Hope.

The media juggernaut continues

Wow, we are on a roll here! Check out Geoff’s new interview, where he talks about the new G20 announcement.

Interviews ahoy!

Two more interviews to post. Once again, can’t embed most players here (although big thanks to Nettie for telling me how to embed Vimeo video) so you have to click through. Sorry for the 1995-style clunkiness.

September 24: Geoff Garver on the Montel Across America radio show. I don’t know if there’s a way to auto-cue the player (little help, anyone?) so you have to scroll across to about minute 77 to get to where Geoff’s bit starts.

September 30: Peter Brown on Earthbeat. Special show about the recent Pacific disasters.

We’re a regular media blitz, we are.