BC’s Climate Leadership Plan

BC is quietly consulting the public on possible updates to its long-stalled Climate Leadership Plan. The deadline for submissions is Mar 25, so hurry up and tell them to increase the carbon tax! In all likelihood, the government will keep stalling until there is a federal framework in place for coordinated reductions. But technically we do have a provincial law obliging us to keep reducing our emissions (though it is basically impossible for us to hit our 2020 target at this point). You can make a submission here: Climate Action Leadership. Below is my submission.

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My Endorsement for the 2015 Federal Election

This year there were a lot of interesting policies proposed in the election, including the Green’s Guaranteed Livable Income, the NDP’s $15 minimum wage, and the Liberal’s promise to review tax expenditures (seriously, I consider that important). However, I took the approach of deciding what my own top federal priorities were first, and then evaluating the party platforms on that basis.

(I’d like to note my strong support for the Guaranteed Livable Income policy, aka negative income tax, but I feel this is more appropriately a provincial policy. Despite that, it probably would have made my top 4 if it weren’t for the fact that somehow, the Conservatives have made basic issues of governance, democracy, and civil liberties important issues in this election.)

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BC Budget Consultation 2015

I just made an 11-th hour written submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Each fall they consult the public on the upcoming provincial budget, and I figured I’d contribute my hastily-written list of pet peeves.

They have a Budget Consultation Paper that you can read for context, where they talk about government priorities (evidently: low taxes, boutique tax credits, free money for homeowners, health-care spending, and training; the last two of which I have no problem with).

My priorities are a bit different: transportation, electricity, global warming, poverty, housing availability, and transparency.

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The Thing About Congestion Is It Means People Are In Each Others’ Way

As you may have heard if you live here in Metro Vancouver, we are having a referendum this spring to approve a plan for fighting traffic congestion. We’ve heard for years that Vancouver has some of the worst traffic congestion in the Americas. So it’s time to properly fund some transportation investments as a first step to cut congestion.

I assumed that the first job would be to make the case for the specific transportation investments outlined in the Mayors Council’s plan. But a recent column in the Toronto Star suggested that congestion itself is actually a good thing. (Toronto is also considering tackling congestion.) So it may be that the case against congestion is not as obvious as I thought. Thus I’d like to address a few points in Shawn Micallef’s column, “The thing about congestion is it means people want to be here.” Continue reading

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Compass Beta Test Feedback

I’ve been taking part in the beta test of the new Compass smart-cards that Translink is rolling out to replace passes and tickets. These cards require you to swipe in when you board the bus and swipe out when you leave. Then they figure out retroactively how much to charge you based on which buses you were on previously and when. I’ve heard rumours they will also max out at the cost of a daily pass each day, and a monthly pass each month, to prevent you from over-paying if you’re not sure how many transit trips you’re going to take. Exciting stuff!

Even more exciting is the rich trip data that Translink is going to be able to collect. Once they have detailed trip-by-trip information on where people are travelling, they’ll be able to arrange bus schedules and routes to reduce trip times and add service where it’s needed. After all, when they don’t even have enough funding to maintain present service levels (much less accommodate an increasing population and ambitious mode share goals), it’s important for them to make every bus route as efficient as they can. As an open-data app developer, I’m also hoping they will share this data through their API! (In real-time, please?)

Despite how great the Compass card promise is, in practice they are a little annoying. Specifically: Continue reading

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Towards a Distributed Olympics

Nobody loves the Olympic Games more than I do. Yet even I have to admit that actually hosting the Games can be a lot of work. Even for a world-class city like Vancouver or London, the Olympics poses real challenges. To wit:

1. They build enormously expensive world-class sports facilities, and then only really use them once.

2. The transportation logistics, housing demands, and sheer crowding are overwhelming and disruptive for the people who live in the host city.

3. It’s surprisingly difficult for fans to see more than a couple of their favourite competitions, whether they’re trying to get a ticket in person or looking for an unpopular sport on television at an odd hour.

How could we address these problems? The Olympics is not as resistant to change as you might think. After all, the Olympic Torch Relay was actually introduced only recently, by Germany, shortly before World War Two. So here are a few proposals for how we could smooth things out.

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Should we heat our homes with light bulbs?

Michael Davenport recently argued in the Vancouver Sun that people with gas heaters and renewable-source electricity should use incandescent light bulbs. This would provide extra heat, reducing their gas consumption and overall greenhouse gas emissions.

This is fine for a strictly local analysis, and Davenport explicitly intends it as such. But he neglects to consider BC’s electricity exports. If we switch to efficient bulbs, that means we use less hydro power for our light bulbs and more natural gas for heat. Then we can export more hydro power to Alberta, and they can use less natural gas for their light bulbs. Does this reduce greenhouse gasses? Yes: burning natural gas directly for heat involves fewer conversion losses than a gas-fueled power plant. This is why Canada-wide calculations show an overall environmental gain from fluorescent bulbs, as Davenport notes in his article.

Ironically, this counter-argument strengthens Davenport’s underlying point: mandating technology choices has surprising results. Thus, this kind of regulation often doesn’t achieve the environmental benefits we hope for. A better policy is to penalize pollution itself, as with a carbon tax. This more general and flexible policy will improve the overall societal mix of heating technologies: gas powered heaters, hydro powered light bulbs, and wool sweaters.

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