Kyotomotors is back! Check in Wednesdays for commentary on the age of abundance, climate change
and the dawning of the post-carbon eventuality...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Accidents of Design

It is easy to jump to any number of rash conclusions regarding road safety after the recent string of accidents here in Montreal that has now seen three fatalities and at least two serious injuries. In the wake of such preventable deaths and unnecessary suffering, emotions invariably run high. Among the knee-jerk reactions thrown about recently, I’ve heard the call to ban trucks, as well as a call to ban cyclists; others have chosen to curse cars all to hell or find some other way to throw the blame about. None of this is particularly helpful. The fact remains that none of these modes of transport is about to disappear any time soon. Unfortunately neither is this sort of tragic occurrence: based on statistical averages, there will be about 400 pedestrian and cyclist deaths caused by automotive transport in Canada this year. Clearly, some sort of concerted shift in both design and behaviour is needed in order to improve safety. It’s pretty clear that some shifts are inevitable, and without proactive efforts to orchestrate a culture of safety, things could easily get worse before they get better.
The Kyotomotors approach to road safety naturally embraces active transport as a major piece of the puzzle, where one’s legs do the work. After all, doing the opposite by discouraging cycling would only make it more dangerous for the few who remain determined to ride the streets. What’s more, this path would lead us further away from the objective of reduced carbon emissions.
Car sharing and public transit add further layers of safety by way of reducing traffic volume, and giving more space to the active transport users. The presence of the latter, once it reaches a certain critical mass should (ideally) have an overall calming effect on the motorised vehicles that remain in the mix. But of course there is always a potential downside to all idealised scenarios, and this is no exception. If ever we are to achieve and sustain a significant and meaningful shift to broad-based active transport, as we must if only to combat climate change, then we have to prepare ourselves for a host of emergent traffic safety challenges.
This, my friends, is what loosely defines the theme of the present blog post and at least one or two to follow, and I would like to start by stepping back, and expressing my condolences to the loved-ones of the victims in the recent accidents alluded to at the outset here. And, by extension, I would like to express my sympathies to all of my readers who have been touched by the loss of someone close, due to poor road safety.
Fatal road accidents are most tragic because they are almost always random, and certainly preventable. 
While we can’t necessarily know for sure what happens in the final seconds leading up to such a fatality, we can make some interesting generalisations as to why we’ve created such a dangerous set of circumstances. So even if we can’t say if a given death was a freak instance of bad luck, the result of fool-hearty behaviour or that of criminal negligence, we can look at what underlies such unfortunate events. I am thinking specifically of the fact that for many decades we have invested extensively in a system of infrastructure and habitual behaviour that increases the likelihood of such tragedies: the very built environment makes it difficult and dangerous for active transport to share the road with commercial traffic and an inordinate number of personalised motor-vehicles.
So, looking past the specifics of any given scenario, we can generalise about why places like underpasses are so dangerous, and look at the underlying reasons as to how we got to where we are with urban design. There are many types of features, like underpasses, that were simply never conceived of for cyclists. Whole generations of planners appear to have engineered so much of the (aging) contemporary city (suburbs included) with the sole purpose of driving in mind. I suppose it’s because pretty much everyone was doing it: why ride a bike in the burgeoning age of the automobile? In other words – to be fair – why design for something that simply wasn’t on the radar?
This of course is really just the tip of the iceberg. Look a little closer, and we come face to face with the legacy of the so called “love affair” with the car. This is just a poetic and propagandistic way of explaining the place that the automotive fleet has come to occupy in our lives. The sheer space we have allocated to it is simultaneously geographical and physical; economic and political; and finally psychological and emotional – all of which speaks volumes to the underlying assumptions about freedom and progress that we associate with all things automotive.
The love affair with the automobile is so profound that we forgive its shortcomings, which are many. One of which of course is the staggering number of traffic fatalities over the past century involving pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and passengers alike. Further drawbacks involve victims of pollution, and climate change, as well as expropriation of arable land and the physical disintegration of neighbourhoods/ communities… And yet, the love affair persists, thanks in no small part to the marketing efforts of an industry that insists on trying to convince us that the emotional bond is real.
Historically, with the love affair firmly in place, we ploughed ahead and invested heavily in the car-centric way of life – a collective decision you might want to file under “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. And of course, with the physicality of this built environment (capital investment), came a re-shaping of the collective psychological landscape (emotional investment), which brings us back to the love affair, now amplified. The result is a positive feedback scenario that leads us to believe that more of the same is always good. This explains in part why so called economic development it invariably implies more sprawl, more driving, more consumption and more destruction of natural ecosystems. So, the build-up of urban environments during the heyday of  the car clearly was achieved to the detriment of bicycle and pedestrian safety, but it becomes clear that this is only a small part of the bigger problem related to this heavy investment in one particular living arrangement. The most tragic aspect of this unbridled commitment is that a suite of unforeseen limitations guarantees that the car-centric economic arrangement is simply unsustainable.
Now, you will hear me argue from time to time that modern industrial society is a type of ecosystem – not just because it’s a truth that gets ignored by most people most of the time, but because it serves up the crucial reminder that even our celebrated technological civilization is subject to the limits of Nature – another truth that is consistently ignored. It just happens to be the only ecosystem that managed to leverage the energy of fossil fuels, which is what sets it apart from both ecosystems and civilisations of the past. Whether this is “natural” or not would be a semantic debate I am unwilling to pursue here, but that this ecosystem has become destructive on an industrial scale is pretty clear to those of us who are paying attention. It is also worth noting that, like all ecosystems, the modern industrial type has limits, and is subject to negative feedback loops.
The list of limits is long, and includes the loss of arable land, and the supply of food and water required to sustain a given population. Many limits will likely play out on a timescale that will motivate only a few to change: if recent behaviour with respect to GHG is any indication, society does not turn on a dime. So Climate change – itself a potential limit on sprawl, only stands a chance of effecting a change in behaviour through the dreaded cataclysmic weather event. Another crucial limit on sprawl and to the economy as a whole, of course has to do with the very energy supply, especially petroleum. Lastly (though there are surely many others) another limit we face – less directly, yet I would argue ultimately also a limit of Nature – is the ability of a given municipality, province or state to go into debt to service new infrastructure.
Fortunately (or not), the petroleum factor represents the one limit that looms on the horizon that will inevitably have a much more immediate effect on the future of sprawl, and of cities, and how we choose to move about the landscape. Regular readers have heard me go on about peak oil before, so I’ll not go into the details again, but the intractable fact remains that cheap and abundant liquid fuel is an increasingly dwindling resource. Consequently, many people will simply be priced out of the market of suburban living and car ownership across the board, no matter what ideological views they hold dear to their hearts.
On the upside, the effects of this fundamental economic shift start rippling through the economy, the negative feedback effect takes place in at least two ways. On the one hand our behaviour will necessarily change, and on the other, more gradually, the design of our built environment will be adjusted accordingly.  Clearly, on both fronts these changes are underway already. Despite what the car companies would have you believe, the trend is as plain as the nose on Stephen Harper’s face, and no amount of hand waving, jingle singing or factory rebates is going to change that. We may not be able to turn on a dime in this instance either, but there is much we can do to make the transition to broad-based active transport less dangerous and more reliable. Over time, citizens will quietly – at their own pace – move  toward the Kyotomotors recipe of living in the more dense urban centres, adopting active transport habits to the best of their abilities, and will otherwise be faced with exploring the public- transit and shared-vehicle alternatives to individual car ownership.
As this trend inevitably gains traction we will all be faced with new challenges of co-existence, since the proportional use of the streets is destined to shift dramatically over time. The particulars of such a trend will likely be complex, and I hope to elaborate on this at a later date. In the meantime, just recognising the general scope of the trend is the first step. With respect to addressing safety issues for increasingly shared streets, we really must acknowledge that the number of cyclists on the road is only bound to increase dramatically in the long run. Designing public space accordingly will be one of the wisest moves a community could work for these days.
As far as the ongoing struggle to address carbon emissions goes, this is a hopeful projection. However, if in fact we can collectively achieve a meaningful level of broad-based active transport that I would characterise as desirable, we would inevitably have a whole new challenge of bicycle safety on our hands: On the one hand we will be faced with the legacy of the love affair with the car, and the culture of entitlement to the road that that entails (still very much a danger to be reckoned with); on the other hand we will also be faced with a particular mentality that characterises much of “bike culture” where the rule of and respect for law is fuzzy at best. On top of this dynamic is the emotional relationship between motorists and active transport users. Setting aside the fact that the two overlap considerably, there is still a potential polarisation that does occur, pitting one group against the other. Animosity and road rage in public space is clearly not going to contribute to the solutions that we’re looking for moving forward. As with all conflict, both sides have to assume some responsibility for its resolution. How best to mitigate the emergent and amplified dangers of our future public spaces will have to wait for the next Kyotomotors blog post…. Soon, I hope.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Kudos to Neil Young, part two: "With a Caveat"

Having applauded Neil Young’s stance in support of the First Nations of the Athabasca, and in opposition to the exploitation of the region’s Tar Sands, in the previous post here, I couldn’t help but feel that there was so much left unsaid.
It was certainly worth mentioning that Canada’s future is presently hinging upon energy policy, and in particular, the politics of Tar Sands development; and to point out that there is a meme-war being waged, primarily by official propaganda, as well as by more subtle forms of auto-censorship and general denial and ignorance, where one hears the euphemism “oil sands” more often than not. The technical term is actually bitumen. The best vernacular, in my opinion, is tar sands, which, as mentioned already, I believe should be referred to as the Athabasca Tar Sands as often as possible.
Also worth repeating is the following:
Tar Sands development is happening in a particular global economic context which must be recognised. It’s called peak oil. Not a conspiracy theory, nor a myth, peak oil is the defining economic precondition for all energy policy henceforth across the globe. The fact that we largely refuse to stare this in the face (and name it) does not bode well for the future of energy policy, not to mention economics in general.
But the fact is that more often than not, if you bring up notions along these lines in polite company, you’ll be met with blank stares and immediate efforts to change the subject. I am so used to this by now, that I save most of my opinions on the matter for this blog, for better or for worse.
The issues Neil Young raises with the “Honour the Treaties Tour” are many, and only some of them are directly related to energy. So much else pertains to human rights, which in turn evokes a whole set of emotional, political and moral response. But energy is never far from the core of the matter. At the root of most energy issues, in turn, is our dependence on petroleum and sense of entitlement that stems from it.
It may be important to remember that Neil Young is a baby boomer, which is to say, he grew up in North America at a very special time in the history of modern Western industrial civilisation: the post war boom was a time of unprecedented growth and optimism, where for the first time in history, an entire generation was born into a culture of consumer affluence and freedom of expression and generally unprecedented growth. The abundance of industry flowed to the victors in the age of petroleum. No other set of circumstances could have produced the counter-culture of the youth in the 60’s in which Neil Young played a significant part. Similarly, no other set of circumstances could have produced the phenomenon of sub-urban sprawl, at once both a love affair, and a deep economic commitment to a car-oriented way of life. It should come as no surprise, then, to know that Neil describes himself as a lover of cars – big fast cars, to boot.
More recently, to his credit he has taken his love for cars and held it up to some significant degree of scrutiny: he has begun to take CO2 emissions seriously enough to turn his back on the gasoline engine. In turn, he appears to have been putting his money where his mouth is and helping to develop an alternatively fuelled vehicle that also happens to fulfil his sentimental, aesthetic requirements when it comes to the look of the car.
Now, I happen to like Neil’s aesthetic choices here, and coincidentally I like most of the music he has put out over the years – I grew up on so much of it… And I must emphasize just how encouraging it is to see a prominent baby boomer assume a role of leadership when it comes to Climate Change and the matter of questioning business as usual. According to some, this was supposed to be the order of the day as boomers retired and no longer had anything to lose. They were all supposed to become activists again (or for the first time, at least) but that’s another discussion…
So Kudos to Neil Young yet again here at Kyotomotors.
However, Neil Young’s vision for North America’s Energy future has to be put to the test in its own right, and I’m sorry to report that it leaves a whole lot to be desired. While his heart is in the right place with respect to climate change and future generations, as well as tar sands and First Nations people, his hopes for energy alternatives are at best naïve and possibly just downright misinformed.
I have listened to him speak at length about the alternatives he has explored, and envisions for the future.[You can check out one of his videos here]. Like I said, Neil loves big cars and speed, and he has put his money where his mouth is: he and his team have built the plug-in electric hybrid car of his dreams (at considerable cost). He wants to drive with a reduced carbon footprint, and has managed to do so. But there is a fly in the ointment. Neil assumes that, with his experimental success, it is now just a matter of convincing the various players to convert (presumably government, the Big Three auto-makers, and consumers) and scale the project up. In other words, he assumes two things. First, that the economic incentive to do so exists, even though  big oil inevitably will continue to assert itself in all realms of policy; and second, that the proposed technology could necessarily scale-up to meet the needs of all those people who would convert from their gasoline powered cars and “go electric”. While neither of these two assumptions is anywhere close to being given, there is an even more troubling aspect to Neil’s logic.
Neil Young does take the “Big Three” car companies to task for their apparent unwillingness to stray from a very narrow path. No argument there. But nowhere in his critical analysis of North Americans’ CO2 output does he question the pervasive habit of individual car ownership. According to him, personal vehicle commuters drive an average 35 miles a day – this established collective exercise (often taking the form of gridlock) stems from the aforementioned post-war model of sprawl that has surrounded every city on the continent. It is the essence of Western civilisation’s mode of economic activity (consumerism); to some it is the epitome of absurdity or worse; to others, it is sacred, and non-negotiable. Neil seems to be convinced that the redesigned plug-in hybrid vehicle can and should preserve the sprawl model, and save the grandchildren from the CO2 emissions at the same time.
Again, there is no argument here about the need to address the challenges of carbon emissions and climate change: certainly it is the purpose of this blog to support points of view that help in the cause…. But it is far from certain that any meaningful success in the fight against climate change is possible based on the personal vehicle ownership model, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
When James Howard Kunstler refers, as he does so often, to our futile attempt to sustain the unsustainable, I believe he’s really hit the nail on the head. Our contemporary myths of progress tend to bolster the fantasy (illusion) that we can continue with “happy motoring” with alt fuels, because that’s what we wish to do. But in terms of sheer energy output (and work accomplished) no alternative to petroleum or any combination of alternatives can measure up and achieve the same results – and that’s basic math. He is also making the point that we are very much ready to believe the lies we tell ourselves as sit on our hands and wait for “them” who are busy thinking of “something” for the future.
Neil Young has thought of something, but he’s not the first one to think of that very something. More than ten years ago, while a fringe group of activists complained about GM’s mothballing of their EV1 program (battery operated cars), many of the same were screaming loudly about the need for plug-in hybrids as the answer. Some such vehicles have finally made it to the market, at a trickle, and at considerable cost to the few consumers who are willing to go that route. Will another ten years make the difference? At the same time hydrogen fuel cells were promised to be the way of the future (remember GWB’s “hydrogen economy”? It was a vision that was sold as being about ten years off – or in other words, right about now. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a hydrogen car. Have you?
So, where are we now? Well one thing that’s different is we are about five years into the peak oil phase of the story. I’m not sure, but Neil shows no sign of being aware of the peak oil scene, but he is acutely aware of the Athabasca Tar Sands, which, as I’ve mentioned, is a peak oil sub-plot. That’s where some of the world’s energy has to come from as most people continue to cling the individual owner model of motoring around the  landscape.
Neil, is still holding on to that model himself, and apparently believes that with his choice of technology (using biofuels (ethanol) and electricity), or something similar, we won’t need Tar Sands oil and we won’t be churning out the CO2 that would otherwise adversely affect future generations.
The logic of it is seemingly very enticing and convincing –it was high on my wish list at one time too –but there is a catch, and it amounts to a glaring oversight on Neil’s part. Nowhere in his argument does he ask or suggest where all the electricity for the new fleet is supposed to come from. He only makes reference to a power grid that is simply “there” and “ready” to be used for charging one’s batteries each and every night after peak use. Now, if this plan is truly to be a sweeping replacement to petroleum (ie a significant majority of participants), there are at least two major problems: first, the night quickly becomes the new time of peak consumption of electricity as everyone recharges their vehicles’ batteries while they sleep. Second, this will also require an enormous amount of additional electricity generated. And just where does electricity come from these days? On that scale (outside of Quebec), we’re invariably talking about coal, and natural gas. In turn, when we talk about growing supplies of natural gas nowadays, we are talking about fracking, which is another peak oil sub-plot in its own right. Coal is an enormous source of CO2 emissions, and fracking for natural gas happens to be a far more carbon intensive way of extracting methane than all other forms of conventional gas production. Neil Young’s would-be silver bullet is not so shiny after all…
Fortunately there is a real, alternative way forward, and that is to wean ourselves off of the personal car ownership model of doing things. Unfortunately, it will not be especially popular for some time yet, since there is just so much in the way of established habit and expectations when it comes to energy, that we won’t change those habits or expectations until something forces us to do so. After all, we love our cars…
But peak oil guarantees that, in the long run, those changes will come, and individual car ownership will by in large, become a thing of the past. When it does, we’ll see if it happened quickly enough for the fight against climate change.
At the end of the day, the low carbon way forward is what I like to call the Kyoto Motors way forward, where the most common motor put to use is the average citizen’s pair of legs. In this vision of the future, walkable communities are essential, and bicycle culture stands to supplant car culture. In turn, urban cars are shared cars, and yes, many or most could be electric. The trains and buses of public transit will service suburbs and cities for free giving added incentive to all taxpayers to take advantage of the service.
But like most visions of the future, mine is fraught with idealisations, naïve oversights and unintended consequences, to be sure. So I will not dwell on the subject. What I will say is that as far as the Kyotomotors vision goes, it’s the present, not the future that counts. In many urban centres today, most, if not all, the elements of the alternative way forward already exist. Proven, established technologies that emit far less CO2 need only be popularised one citizen at a time.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Kudos to Neil Young!

According to the official line, the “Canadian Oil Sands” is some kind of sacred cow of economic prosperity. By “official line”, of course, I mean propaganda, which in this case uses the word prosperity with an almost smug tone to an excessive degree. Prosperity has many criteria, however, and the official version may not stand up to scrutiny, when put to the test. But of course scrutiny is not the job of propaganda. That job is up to us, including, but not limited to the likes of Neil Young.
Kudos to Neil!
In my last post here I applauded the stand taken by Montreal indie musicians, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, for their direct and unequivocal statement about corporate interests in the arts and climate change in general. Now, Mr. Young is making an even bigger scene, with the courage one would wish leaders in other arenas might one day display. An entire book could be written on the question as to why it falls on artists to be among the most prominently vocal dissenters, but more important is the question as to why there are so few artists, and so few people in general – especially of the boomer generation to which Neil Young belongs – objecting and otherwise protesting the development of the Athabasca Tar Sands. I have tried in my own way to be one of those artists, and I encourage you, dear reader, artist or not, to do the same in your daily life.
For starters, let’s cut the crap about “oil sands”. Oil, it is not – and I will elaborate on this point momentarily. A more accurate, albeit less palatable term is “tar sands”. It reminds us of the actual nature of the resource, and, by way of legitimate negative connotation, of the drawbacks associated with it. Sadly the media have capitulated on the point, referring to the stuff obediently as “oil sands” ever since the Conservatives won a majority, or so it seems to me.
By the way, I also insist on referring to the Tar Sands region as the Athabasca, and not as Fort McMurray, out of respect for the First Nations people who first named the place, and who, incidentally are among the most directly affected by the pollution flowing from the industry there. It is an obvious measure, and the very least we might do to help counter the propaganda we are being fed.

But maybe you are not convinced. Why should we take a closer, deeper look at this supposedly promising industry?

The main reason is that we, under the current “leadership”, are collectively investing in the tar sands as the backbone of our economic future. This is the dawn of Harper’s dream of the great Canadian petro-state, like it or not. The so-called prosperity, however, has a downside: many drawbacks, and unsavoury consequences that we will have to live with for generations to come. “Tar” represents thinking about this darker aspect of the so-called prosperity. “Oil” represents the wishful thinking that pretends away the problems while focusing on the money.
After all, the free market logic will always focus on the money, on the sheer volume of “oil” and on the jobs that will stem from the industrial development, effectively acting as a bribe, so as to collectively ignore the downside and consequences represented by the word “tar”. (More on the economics of “tar” below…)
But first, more on the Tar itself:
Unlike our beloved oil, this resource is not “light and sweet”. Rather, it is cruder than crude, and it sits in the ground in the most inconvenient of ways, requiring some of the most industrially intensive methods of extraction on the planet. There may be a lot of it, but the advantages of abundance, if any, are hampered by some pretty undeniable facts and hurdles of natural physics. For one thing, the drawdown of fresh water, and the resultant contamination and storage of waste water is a huge problem, increasing with every passing year whether production increases or not.
And then there’s the carbon emissions factor. Long before a litre of gasoline distilled from Athabasca tar sands (synthetic crude) reaches a gas tank, say, in Toronto, it has a carbon footprint of shame that Canadians who are still concerned about climate change should shun. A country that at one time at least pretended to care about global warming is slowly slipping down a slope toward the position as the planet’s worst emissions offender.
Of course, the crude products flowing from the Athabasca region also have to get to market, and we are currently discovering that the risks associated with pipelines and tanker trains are significant, already having blackened the shiny veneer of our new found prosperity…

Of course, if you’re on the side of the fence that reaps the economic dividends (the bribe) of the production, you’re unlikely to be convinced, swayed, or otherwise sympathetic to these expressions of dissent and opposition. There is however some serious scrutiny that challenges the conventional wisdom behind the economics of the Tar Sands project.
It just so happens that there are other drawbacks associated with tar sands production that you rarely hear about in the national energy conversation, and they are ultimately economic in nature, casting doubt on the long term viability of Tar Sands extraction in the first place.

Setting the stage: peak oil and price
Forget the hoopla surrounding the new era of energy independence and the miracle in fracking for oil. (I’ll not go on about it here, but I’ll soon touch on this with another post). Global conventional crude oil production has peaked (circa 2006). What has followed has been the predictable attempt to make up the shortfall (continued growth) through other means. The resultant narrative is the story of both fracking, and of the Athabasca Tar Sands, sold to us (by means of state and industry propaganda) as the solution to our woes. Crucial to the story though, is the price spike caused by ever diminishing supplies of the cheap and easy-to-get oil (That’s what happens after a peak). The current $100 a barrel price makes for barely profitable operations up in the Athabasca, and keeps Harper’s fantasy about prosperity afloat. But as much as it is afloat, the new era in oil ain’t like the good old days.

Flow rate
Part of the Athabasca Tar Sands fantasy was always about a 5 million-barrels-a-day rate of extraction, which has still not been achieved. Because Tar trapped in sand does not flow like crude oil, increasing flow rates is a stupendously gargantuan, and costly proposition dependent on inputs of energy and water, both of which act as limits on the ultimate output of synthetic crude. As sure as five million barrels a day is the dream, seven or ten million barrels a day is at best a pipe dream, or at worst, a nightmare scenario.

A closer look at the aforementioned “most industrially intensive methods of extraction on the planet” brings us to the issue of energy inputs, revealing the biggest economic shortcoming of the operation: In order to get to the true economic cost of the Tar Sands we have to consider something called EROEI. This acronym is a scientific measure used in the industry referring to the “energy return on energy invested”. It is useful because it effectively circumvents the abstractions and distortions you get when the economics of energy extraction are measured in money. The principle amounts to this: for every unit of energy extracted, we have spent x units of energy up front. In economic terms, it measures the true dividends of any given energy operation. As an example, light sweet crude extracted from a conventional Albertan oil field would have yielded an EROEI of anywhere from 80:1 to as much as 100:1. That’s a serious profit margin indeed. By comparison, the EROEI of the Tar Sands is a mere fraction of its light sweet cousin’s. It also happens to be harder to measure, given the complexity of the operations, but the average estimates seem to be around 5:1. Not only is this a dismal return that is unlikely to change over time, it also happens to be less than the EROEI of both wind and solar, which sit each at about 8:1.

Without an emotional investment in the oil industry, you would think the famed “invisible hand” and its partner, the rational consumer, would gravitate to other ways of investing their energy than in Tar.

We should be asking a string of hard questions.

Is this the best way in which to invest our current energy resources?  After all, with such poor EROEI numbers, it is not all certain that the benefits outweigh any further drawbacks not measured by EROEI, such as environmental impacts. Is this resource truly the backbone of economic prosperity, or are we  investing in an plan with no real dividends?

We must also ask ourselves “why do we even need it?” Or better, “why do we think we need it?” Why does the conversation surrounding energy always involve the illusion/dream of sustaining the current patterns of consumption at all cost?

Those current patterns are based on the fantasy that we can all have our own personalised car-centered consumer “lifestyle” with nothing but optimism about the future. We have been trying to realise that dream for 60 years now, and where has all the optimism gone? It left upon the arrival of a realisation that the dream comes with costs, borne first by the pocketbook, and later by the biosphere, as we force the ecosystems that support us to absorb all our “externalities”. Ultimately Nature has a say as to how much we can extract, consume and how much waste we can throw back at her.
Politically, we too have a say as to how much “oil sands” nonsense we are willing to accept. Will we have the courage to accept the costs of saying “no” to the Athabasca Tar Sands project?

More on that crucial question in a future post…