The Quinsam’s climate cost

How we get here

As a new Gabriola resident, i’m noticing things about my new home — like the marked weather difference between here and Tofino, my previous digs.

Another striking first impression for the visitor or new arrival is the Quinsam, and its central place in island life, and how dealing with the ferry — the oddball departure times; the godsend Ferry Cam; the line-up, with its stringent etiquette and elaborate positioning strategies; the pastimes whiling away the long waits — are all part of island life and lore.

Pretty much everything and everyone on the island come across on that ferry — every coffee cup and bean, every bag of chips, every litre of propane, band-aid and e-bike, along with every customer in every shop. The Quinsam is absolutely intrinsic to island life and economy.

One thing that surprised me is how much of a fossil-fuel orgy the ferry scene seems to be. The race for the line-up, the inching aboard, the 2,601-horsepower rumble of the Quinsam herself, the idling lines of disembarking vehicles … all to the sound and smell of burning fossil fuel. For a visceral sense of it, just grab a few lungfuls of exhaust as you walk or bike up ferry hill alongside a full load of 70 or so eager disembarkees gunning it up the hill.

How big is this essential service’s carbon footprint?

I started wondering about this after my first Sustainable Gabriola meeting, in which several folks expressed their concern about our ongoing, escalating, seemingly unstoppable climate crisis. How much of a carbon load does our ferry represent? And how much of it i should be taking responsibility for?

BC Ferries fuel consumption, June 2008I thought an answer would be elusive, but a quick search on DuckDuckGo (it doesn’t track you like Google) pops up a 2008 blogpost in The Tyee [“BC Ferries’ fuel records show how much new vessels guzzle”] that links to a fuel consumption table for the entire fleet in June 2008 [pic right, click to enlarge].

Math!

The Quinsam row shows that, in 30 days of service in June 2008, she made 469 round trips (an average of 15.6 per day), and used a total of 78,296 litres of fuel (which averages to 167 litres per round trip).

Assuming June 2008 was an representative month (possibly not the case in winter), this gives an annual consumption of 939,552 litres per year of “ultra low sulphur diesel,” as used by all BC Ferries vessels [source] except the LNG ones.

Now, burning a single litre of diesel emits about 2.66 kg of CO2 (carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas) [Natural Resources Canada, PFD 2pp].

So the Quinsam emits 2.66 × 939,552 = 2,499,208 kg, or let’s say about 2,500 tonnes of CO2 per year … all to get us and our visitors, groceries and merch on and off the island. Yowza!

How to apportion this carbon responsibility is an interesting question.

Arguably, one could say it’s a part of the provincial transportation system, and should just be folded into BC’s societalcarbon footprint.

Also arguably, one could say that choosing to live on an island gives one a certain responsibility for the inevitable impacts of that choice.

A full accounting would involve totting up the number of trips people take each year — resident, tourist, business traveller alike — and apportioning the climate responsibility accordingly. You’d have to factor in the relative impact (walk-on vs drive-on, small car vs large). And you’d have a simple but unwieldy accounting project on your hands.

On the other hand, given the intrinsic necessity of the ferry to the life and livelihood of every single island resident, one could justly argue that we should all share the ferry’s climate burden equally.

That’s way easier to calculate, so here goes:

More math!

Based on Gabriola’s 2016 census population of 4,033 [StatsCan], our individual ferry-carbon footprint would be 2,500 ÷ 4,033 = 0.62 tonnes per resident, per year. That much CO2 would be emitted driving a 2014 Toyota Corolla about 4,400 km [source], or one return economy-class flight from Nanaimo to Winnipeg [source].

To offset this amount at $20/tonne (e.g. at offsetters.ca) would cost each of us $12.40 a year — or $50,000 a year for the whole 2,500 tonnes.

According to some sources, humanity’s individual sustainable carbon budget is 2.7 tonnes (3 tons) per person, per year — the amount our oceans and biosphere can safely absorb. Global average emission is now 4 tonnes (4.5 tons) per person, per year. Here in Canada we average 22 tonnes per person per year, highest of all the G20 nations [source]. Ouch!

Note that in the bigger scheme of things, the Quinsam is but a drop in the ferry-fuel bucket. Its 78,296 litres was a mere 0.7% of the 10,989,383 litres the whole BC Ferries system consumed in June 2008.

Also note that these figures are from 2008, so fuel economy may be better these days.

And note, finally, that this calculation is the footprint of just the Quinsam — it doesn’t take into account our own individual vehicle use, or the embedded carbon from manufacture and transport that comes with every single thing we bring across to the island.

Climate … it’s a complicated, wicked problem. And it’s another wrinkle to think about in my new island home.

*  *  *

Banner shot of MV Quinsam by Kam Abbott, of Nanaimo, posted on Wikimedia Commons.

Canada: economic star (without vision or responsibility)

Everybody in Alberni-Qualicum got a lame-ass flyer from our MP, Dr. James Lunney, last week. It contains all of about 40 words (Dr. Lunney doesn’t like to tax his constituents with nuance) and is headlined Canada: an economic star (quoting The Economist magazine).

The above is my response on the clip-and-mail return coupon provided, urging the good doctor and his party toward some progressive — or at the very least, non-obstructionist — action on the most pressing problem of the world’s many pressing problems. Continue reading “Canada: economic star (without vision or responsibility)”

The Munk-eys debate

Hah! Did you watch the Munk debate on climate change last Tuesday (viewable online at the link, i think)?

George Monbiot, journalist, and the Green Party‘s Elizabeth May versus Bjorn Lomborg, environmental skeptic, and Lord Nigel Lawson, former financial journalist and ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, two high-profile deniers. Most instructive.

I’d say Bjorn pretty much won, by cleverly steering its focus to the word “defining” in the (poorly framed) question under debate: “Be it resolved climate change is mankind’s defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response“. He argued that there are other serious crises that deserve the world’s attention too, which the pro side could hardly disagree with. So the whole thing devolved into a wrangle about that.

Surprisingly, neither “denier” actually tried to deny that climate change is upon us; rather, they (Bjorn in particular) openly acknowledged that the climate is changing. So apparently that point is now conceded, and we now need a different word for that camp. In their eyes the wrangle is now about where we direct our effort — meaning, of course, money, which seems now to have entirely eclipsed principle, moral duty or anything else not readily summed up in billions, as the basis for our decision-making.

They say we should spend our money and effort (and money, did i mention money? They sure did, over and over) not on retooling our energy system to keep CO2 levels from increasing in the atmosphere. Instead, we should spend it in ways that will save lives now — on things like HIV/AIDS and malaria and making starving, isolated African tribes wealthy. (Bjorn’s example, not mine.) Because that will save more lives in the short run. And besides, it’s evident that we here in the West will not suffer too badly from climate change, insulated as we are by our wealth (and geography). So the same reasoning (except maybe for the geography part) should apply to the tropical world that will bear the brunt of climate change effects in the next century.

Exactly how this applies to the Maldives, for example — which are forecast to be entirely underwater sometime during this century — was not clear. Maybe everybody there will be rich enough to own a yacht. As for the millions we save now from disease, well, let’s hope they can all eat “the sand which is there” when their agricultural lands desertify. Ha ha, i kill me.

Pundits to the left of them,
Zealots to the right of them …
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six billion.

(With apologies to Alfred Tennyson.
And the whole ecosphere.)

True North censured over climate stalling

Here’s a serious piece of leverage against Canada’s stalling and obstructing on climate change (emphases mine). If i were Stephen Harper i’d be in a bit of a sweat right now. Not only do three-quarters of Canada’s population poll as being embarrassed over his stalling on climate action, but this new censure adds potential economic teeth to the consequences of his government’s inaction — something the PM will understand.

So it seems he now will be personally attending the Copenhagen conference — at which both Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao will now be present. (I read that Jintao has pledged to cut Chinese carbon intensity almost in half.)

Poor Stephen. Think i’ll give him a call tomorrow to urge him to save his own ass. Not to mention the rest of ours, here on Planet Earth.

Scientists target Canada over climate change

Prominent campaigners, politicians and scientists have called for Canada to be suspended from the Commonwealth over its climate change policies.
The coalition’s demand came before this weekend’s Commonwealth heads of government summit in Trinidad and Tobago, at which global warming will top the agenda, and next month’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen. Despite criticism of Canada’s environmental policies, the prime minister, Stephen Harper, is to attend the Copenhagen summit. His spokesman said today: “We will be attending the Copenhagen meeting … a critical mass of world leaders will be attending.”
Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are among the world’s highest and it will not meet the cut required under the Kyoto protocol: by 2007 its emissions were 34% above its reduction target. It is exploiting its vast tar sands reserves to produce oil, a process said to cause at least three times the emissions of conventional oil extraction.
The coalition claims Canada is contributing to droughts, floods and sea level rises in Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and Mozambique. Clare Short, the former international development secretary, said: “Countries that fail to help [tackle global warming] should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights.”

Full article at the excellent Guardian.

Oh, well that’s okay then

bangheadRecently received from the federal Liberal party (info@liberal.ca), in response to my email berating the party for not supporting the NDP’s bill C-311.

Dear Greg:

I would like to acknowledge receipt of your recent e-mail regarding Bill C-311, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change.

As this is a Private Member’s Bill it was a free vote for all members of the Liberal Caucus.  Those Liberals who voted for the motion did not vote against Bill C-311, but rather voted for a 30 day extension of hearings at the Environment Committee.  We continue to support Bill C-311 in principle but wish to examine it further in Committee to ensure that Canada actually achieves greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.  Currently, Bill C-311 only focuses on emissions targets but has no mechanisms to achieve them.

The Liberal Party remains focused on actual ways to reduce GHGs.  That is why we have committed to the largest investment in clean energy Canada has ever seen.  We are also working with ENGO’s, to implement a strong cap-and-trade system with hard caps, with no loopholes, that will actually achieve real reductions.

The Liberal Party is committed to an ambitious result from Copenhagen, unlike the Reform-Conservatives whose sole objective is to sabotage international progress in the fight against climate change.  However, it is clear that no progress will ever be achieved so long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Sarah Cloutier-Powell

Correspondence Officer/Agent de correspondance
Liberal Party of Canada/Parti libéral du Canada
Telephone/Téléphone: (613) 237-0740
Fax/Télécopieur: (613) 235-7208