The new Quebec government: environment and sustainable development priorities

With newly elected Quebec Liberal Premier today taking the reins of power with a majority government, GallonDaily thought it would be useful to review the Premier’s election promises in the area of environment and sustainable development. The Quebec Liberal Party did not publish a platform document in this election; the following election commitments are drawn from documents published on the Party’s website at http://www.plq.org/en/commitments. The commitments, in no particular order, are:

• reestablishing Quebec as a leader in the fight against GHGs, steering our economy toward clean energy and technology and making an Action Plan on Climate Change the centerpiece of our strategic approach to climate change.
• deploying the first Maritime Strategy in our history, developing intermodal transportation and coastal traffic and breathing new life into Quebec’s shipyards, with the combined goal of fostering economic growth and the reduction of the hydrocarbon emissions related to the transport of goods and people.
• seizing all opportunities arising from the development of maritime and environmental technologies.
• transporting merchandise in a safer and more ecological manner.
• assuring the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture and working with the fishing industry towards new product development with a view to expanding exports to new markets.
• sharing royalties from the exploitation of mining, oil and gas resources with local and regional communities, including indigenous communities, so that all may share directly in the development of our natural resources.
• rapidly dealing with the problems of air quality in schools.
• providing immediate assistance to companies to get their innovative projects off the ground through an Investissement Québec-administered Créativité Québec (CQ) program. CQ, which will have a budget of $150 million, will provide direct subsidies, loans and investments to kick-start in any innovative project requiring at least $2 million, including the acquisition of new technology, production process upgrades and the development of new products.
• re-launching sustainable northern development with the re-launch of Plan Nord+
• encouraging the supply of natural gas north of the 49th parallel toward Sept-Iles to serve the North Shore, the last heavily industrial region still without this energy source.
• promoting an agreement of co-investment among businesses for the opening up of the “Labrador ditch” which would advance a rail connection linking the iron ore deposits with the port of Sept-Iles.
• re-launching the coastal trade project on the North Shore, in collaboration with St. Lawrence ship owners.
• launching a promotional campaign including the establishment of an international mining economics mission so to attract foreign investment and reassure the mining sector.
• appointing of a Minister for Forests, Wildlife and Parks to improve the productivity and competitiveness of Quebec forestry; promoting innovation; and developing forestry manpower.
• investing $225 million a year over five years in silvicultural projects, of which $170 million will be in non-commercial work.
• establishing financial support for the maintenance and development of multi-user forest roads to assure safe access for all users of the forests.
• improving the new forestry regime by reviewing all regulations relating to planning of works and the functioning of the Bureau de mise en marché des bois.
• reinforcing the links between the education milieu, universities and Cegeps, to develop programs in engineering and architecture that would promote the use of structural lumber.
• revisiting the practices of the Chief Forester so that there is more transparency and information when assessing forestry possibilities.
• assisting the industry and forest co-operatives in the renewal of forestry equipment, with loan guarantees.
• assuring stable financing for the private forestry industry.
• re-affirming the concept of local forests.
• continuing to support the promotion of the forest biomass.
• supporting the industry in the marketing of innovative products from the processing of wood as architectural elements and products derived from cellulose.
• establishing a refundable tax credit of up to 20% (to a maximum of $2,500) for work done to support families who seek to renovate their homes. To be eligible, all work must have been completed by December 31, 2016 and the minimum value of the work must be at least $3,000. The current green tax credit will be maintained until that program ends October 31, 2014 and following that all renovations aimed at increasing energy efficiency will be eligible for the new tax credit.
• supporting the development of the cruise business, as much in the matter of improved facilities for visitors, as port infrastructures. This strategy will also lead to more orders for shipyards.
• taking inspiration from the German model of trade schools to better integrate internships in companies into professional and technical training programs. In Germany, professional training is very highly regarded. Some 60% of under 20s head for a system described as “dual.” This system prescribes three years of training, two-thirds of which are spent in a company setting. This approach therefore relies on a partnership and division of costs between the State and the company.
• making buying locally easier, establishing a code of conduct calling for public institutions to purchase local food, strengthening Quebec’s strategic food positioning plan.
• helping Quebec cheesemakers penetrate new markets. It will demand reciprocity in terms of packaging design and food safety standards for imported cheese in connection with the Canada Europe Trade Agreement and will support Quebec cheesemakers in negotiations with the federal government for transitional compensation measures.
• making the development of a green economy a real social project and committing to maintaining, in this sense, a carbon market
• earmarking 10% of Quebec’s marine territory as protected marine areas by 2015.

Earth Day : not enough of a celebration in Canada

On April 1st 2009 the “news for the rest of us” website rabble.ca posted a story headlined Stephen Harper announces cancellation of Earth Day. It was, of course, an April Fool’s Day joke but by 2014 it seems to have come true without any action on the part of Canada’s government. Just to conclude the April 1st 2009 reference, rabble.ca reported that “Canada’s Conservative government, said Harper, will be introducing a motion in Parliament to cancel the April 22 celebration of Earth Day, replacing it with Oil Sands Day”.

Roaming around federal websites it is difficult to find any significant references to Earth Day. Environment Canada does have a link to Celebrate Earth Day on April 22. Find out how the Government of Canada is taking action today for a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable tomorrow but when you click on it you land on a boring web page with mostly old departmental sustainable development strategy reports, hardly inspirational material. It is almost as if the Prime Minister’s Office ordered federal ministers to pay no attention to Earth Day. Even Earth Day Canada, the ngo which seeks to drum up awareness of the environment for earth day, has only a few events listed on its calendar for April 22, though a few more are listed, 56 in all across the entire country, for other days in the month. South of the border, President Obama celebrated Earth Day by warning Americans of the disastrous consequences of climate change.

What’s gone wrong with Earth Day? In Gallondaily’s opinion:

  • the lack of federal government leadership on Earth Day and on the environment has virtually killed interest in Earth Day.
  • the relative success of Earth Hour, an irrelevant turning out of the lights for an hour back in March, has overwhelmed interest in Earth Day. Competition of this kind between rival environmental ngos is crazy and ultimately destructive to their cause.
  • perhaps most significantly, Earth Day Canada’s greed, understandable in a time of reduced funding for environmental causes but still unforgivable because of its impact in quashing corporate support for, and interest in, Earth Day is slowly killing the event. Some years ago Earth Day Canada trademarked the term Earth Day and the organization now prohibits companies from using it unless their activities are in line with Earth Day Canada objectives and they pay a fee to Earth Day Canada. Non-profits are still free to use it without payment of a fee. In the US the term is considered public domain and all kinds of companies, as well as communities and ngos, promote Earth Day in some form. Earth Day needs business much more than business needs Earth Day.

It is possible that it is time to bring Earth Day to a graceful end and GallonDaily would almost certainly urge that approach if it were not for the fact that Earth Day has a pretty good profile in many other countries. Environmental solutions need global co-operation. To demonstrate environmental co-operation and responsibility, Gallondaily recommends:

  • Earth Day Canada drop its control of use of the term Earth Day.
  • businesses resume their involvement in appropriate celebration of Earth Day in 2015.
  • the Prime Minister issue a statement of support for Earth Day.
  • WWF Canada merge Earth Hour with Earth Day into a more effective celebration of the environment.

With the above suggestions implemented it is possible that Earth Day in Canada can be got back on track. If not, let’s end it and find more effective ways of mobilizing public interest in, and support for, Canada’s environment.

The above is a GallonDaily original opinion.

Map of “high risk” chemical plants in the USA

Since 9/11 governments and industry have argued that information on toxic substance storage must be kept secure in order to reduce the risk that acts of terrorism will cause the release of harmful materials. This view has reversed the trend towards community right-to-know that was evolving prior to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Whatever the merits of the two philosophies, Greenpeace USA has broken the taboo by publishing a map of what it calls “high risk chemical plants” in the USA. The map includes facility names, community, and types of chemicals stored.

Greenpeace claims that:

  • One in three Americans is at risk of a poison gas disaster by living near one of hundreds of chemical facilities that store and use highly toxic chemicals.
  • A chemical disaster at just one of these facilities could kill or injure thousands of people with acute poisoning.
  • Of the 12,440 chemical facilities that report their chemical disaster scenarios to the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenpeace has identified 473 chemical facilities across the U.S. that each put 100,000 people or more at risk.
  • Of those, 89 put one million or more people at risk up to 25 miles downwind from a plant.

Greenpeace offers the following caveats to its map:

  • All data is based on hand-written notes taken from reports issued to the Environmental Protection Agency by owners and operators of facilities through the Risk Management Program.
  • Inaccuracies may occur from human error or may be out of date as these reports are updated sporadically by companies either every five years or when a process change occurs at a facility.
  • All data is current as of October 2011.

To GallonDaily’s knowledge, no similar mapping based on current data is available for Canada.

The map is available at http://usactions.greenpeace.org/chemicals/map/

Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls for climate change boycott

In an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu is calling for “an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet”.

Tutu makes the following points, among many others:

  • We must stop climate change. And we can, if we use the tactics that worked in South Africa against the worst carbon emitters.
  • Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse. No more can it be dismissed as science fiction; we are already feeling the effects.
  • It is appalling that the US is debating whether to approve a massive pipeline transporting 830,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The pipeline will affect the whole world, our shared world, the only world we have. We don’t have much time.
  • [Our] responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it”. To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.
  • During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, using boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure.
  • Those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us.
  • People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.
  • We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.
  • It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future. To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.

The complete article is available at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/10/divest-fossil-fuels-climate-change-keystone-xl

A top ten 10 list for energy planning

In celebration of the announcement earlier yesterday that Stephen Colbert would be taking over from David Letterman as host of The Late Show, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario shared with the closing plenary of the All-Energy Conference in Toronto his top ten list for energy planning in Ontario. GallonDaily believes that the list has applicability to many other jurisdictions, so we are presenting an abbreviated version of the Commissioner’s list here:

10.Plan on the basis of all fuels. We obsess on electricity planning, which is domestically produced, but Ontario’s energy planning often ignores petroleum fuels, which are imported.
9. Integrate the cost of carbon. Even Exxon is putting a shadow price for carbon in its long term planning. Ontario should do the same.
8. Provide transparency, honesty, and stakeholder participation in energy planning. Key word: honesty. Miller argues that governments and industry should respond to the misinformation that is controlling the public policy debate.
7. Take advantage of the technological opportunities that we have, including smart grid, energy storage, and waste heat.
6. Pursue building retrofits and building energy consumption labelling seriously.
5. Support geothermal and solar hot water.
4. Seize the low carbon opportunities in transportation, especially electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and light and heavy rail.
3. Create an open policy forum in the energy sector.
2. Conservation first, everywhere: it’s the cheapest and best way forward.
1. Leadership: we need someone to show us the path forward, because we do not have a vision of where we are going.

This is a GallonDaily original post based on a presentation witnessed at the All-Energy Canada conference in Toronto on 10th April 2014.

Canadians interested in more energy efficiency

Elizabeth McDonald, President and CEO of the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance, gave a fascinating presentation to the All-Energy Canada conference in Toronto today.

In public opinion research commissioned by CEEA and undertaken by Gandalf Research:

  • More than half of Canadians (58 per cent) said they are doing some things to conserve energy, but will likely do more.
  • Just over one third of Canadians said they have done a great deal to conserve energy in the last year.
  • When asked what the benefits of conserving their energy would be, 86 per cent of Canadians said saving money; 49 per cent said helping the environment.
  • One third of Canadians said they haven’t done more to conserve energy because of cost.
  • One quarter of Canadians have had an energy audit done, or participated in a rebate program.
  • 81 per cent of Canadians said that developing technologies that reduce energy consumption is very important.

Lots more in the slide deck for the presentation which is available at http://energyefficiency.org/resources/reports .Click on All Energy Conference Presentation: Making Energy Efficiency Work.

The All-Energy Canada conference is a partnership between the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, the Canadian Solar Industries Association, and Reed Exhibitions. This article is posted by GallonDaily directly from the All-Energy Canada 2014 conference floor.

 

Canadian Renewable Fuels Association launches new bioeconomy strategy

W. Scott Thurlow, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, used an Ottawa luncheon meeting of the Economic Club of Canada today to announce a new strategic plan for the Association. Entitled Evolution and Growth: From Biofuels to Bioeconomy, the strategy acknowledges that biofuels are not just about replacing and enhancing petroleum as an energy resource but should also provide the chemical building blocks of a greener industrial economy.

Thurlow’s presentation emphasized that renewable fuels provide major economic, environmental and social benefits and that innovation within and assisted by the industry has now reached a point where renewables are now going from green to greener. Renewable fuels are now encouraging such initiatives as the modernization of industry, diverting waste from landfills, and revitalizing the forestry sector.

The CRFA is seeking:

  • a fair value for greenhouse gas reductions, meaning monetizing of emission reductions through emissions trading or a carbon tax.
  • platforms that help advance innovation and promote investment in new renewable fuels technologies in Canada.
  • increasing the federal renewable diesel mandate to ensure a 5% inclusion rate of biodiesel in diesel fuel by 2020.
  • the build-out of new refuelling infrastructure so that consumers will have more choices at the pump.
  • increasing domestic production and use of advanced biofuels.
  • building a comprehensive bioeconomy strategy for Canada.

The full report and an audiovisual presentation are available at http://www.evolutionandgrowth.ca/

The next issue of Gallon Environment Letter will be focusing on the topic of building a bioeconomy and will provide more information about the CRFA proposals. Subscription instructions are at www.gallonletter.ca/subscription.htm

Renewable energy looking good in Europe

Critics of renewable power frequently suggest that the intermittent nature of wind and solar power make it unreliable and therefore uneconomic. Energy guru Amory Lovins pointed out to the recent GLOBE conference that conventional energy sources are also unreliable. Down time from scheduled maintenance, breakdowns, distribution system problems, solar flares, and labour disruptions not only at the generating plant but also throughout the supply chain can cause conventional generating stations to go off line. Now data on renewables from Europe show how much of a role renewable can play in major electricity systems.

The European Union has a population of just over 500 million, or about 25% more than North America. According to figures just published by the European Renewable Energy Observatory, an independent organization co-funded by the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme of the European Union,

The report presents information for each European Union country with respect to windpower, photovoltaic, solar thermal, small hydropower, geothermal, heat pumps, biogas, biofuels, urban waste, solid biomass, concentrated solar power, and ocean energy. Renewable energy provided 23.4% of gross electricity consumption in 2012, employed 1.22 million people, and accounted for about $200 billion CDN in economic activity. EurObserv’ER attributes most of the decline in renewable energy investment to a decline in technology prices.

The 185 page report The State of Renewable Energies in Europe 2013 Edition may be found at http://www.energies-renouvelables.org/observ-er/stat_baro/barobilan/barobilan13-gb.pdf

A summary is available at http://www.eurobserv-er.org/pdf/press/year_2014/bilan/english.pdf

High levels of VOCs are emitted from some new baby mattresses

Environmental engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have reported that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from some crib mattresses. The problem appears to be associated with the polyurethane foam and polyester foam that is often used in such mattresses. New baby mattresses emit four times as much VOCs as old crib mattresses. Body heat increases emissions and emissions of volatile organic compounds are highest in the sleeping infant’s immediate breathing zone. One of the researchers is quoted by the University as stating that crib mattresses release VOCs at rates comparable to other consumer products and indoor materials, including laminate flooring (20 to 35 micrograms per square metre per hour) and wall covering (51 micrograms per square metre per hour).

The researchers identified more than 30 VOCs in the mattresses, including phenol, neodecanoic acid and linalool. The most abundant chemicals identified in the crib mattress foam, such as limonene (a chemical that gives products a lemon scent), are routinely found in many cleaning and consumer products. The researchers have not published the brands of baby mattress used in their research.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, not much is known about the health effects that occur from the levels of VOCs found in homes. The implications of the research are not alarming, in GallonDaily’s opinion, but the whole question of indoor exposure to VOCs certainly warrants further study and emissions from baby products containing foam may warrant somewhat more accelerated further study.

A summary of the research findings is available at http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/04/02/crib-mattresses-emit-chemicals/. The full paper, fee or subscription required, is at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es405625q?prevSearch=%255BContrib%253A%2BBoor%255D&searchHistoryKey=

Greenpeace praises some internet companies while slamming others, itself

It is not often that Greenpeace in North America praises large organizations in the private sector but that is exactly what the ngo did when flying its ‘thermal airship’ over Los Angeles earlier today. On one side the message read ‘Building the Green Internet’ and carried the logos of Apple, Facebook and Google. The reference was to the announcement by these three companies that they will power their data centres entirely from renewable energy. On the other side the airship carried the message ‘Who’s Next to Go Green?’ with the logos of Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Pinterest, four companies that Greenpeace believes are powering their operations with polluting energy.

GallonDaily cannot help but note that the ‘thermal airship’, which can accommodate as many as three people for a one hour flight or one person for a three hour flight, apparently derives its lift from air heated by a propane burner system. Last time GallonDaily checked, we found that propane is a 100% fossil fuel with greenhouse gas emissions not much better than oil. For Greenpeace to praise companies that use 100% renewable power with an airship that uses 100% fossil energy seems somewhat more than ironic.

Nevertheless, the concept of praising environmentally more responsible companies while hitting on those that are not making similar moves towards sustainability is likely one that will appeal to the internet generation. Let’s hope Silicon Valley is listening.

The Greenpeace announcement of the stunt is available at http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2014/04/03/greenpeace-flies-silicon-valley-praises-internet-companies-gone-green/