August 2010 edition

Re: The City's inedible Golden Apple, July 2010

Six months ago, the city told us the Johnson Street Bridge could be overhauled for $30 million. Now they come back with a price of $100+ million for the same job. Do they now call for gold plating? I was a contractor in commercial/industrial/ marine for over 30 years and if a subtrade submitted a price equal or higher within the time limit of the original bid, we would have a heart-to-heart. Outside the time limit, of course, all bets are off and the proposal is reviewed in the light of changes of conditions, specs or other salient factors. Mayor Fortin tells us costs have risen drastically during the delay; Greg Bayton, President of the Vancouver Island Construction Association says construction costs are down 15-20 percent in the past year [interview on CHEK TV]. I spoke with materials suppliers and contractors, and they agreed with Mr Bayton. If I ever had a contractor resubmit at triple or quadruple the original, then it’s either April 1 or he’s trying to insult me.

Honestly folks, I hope many of you will take a hard, careful look at this huge cost increase, because if you don’t know exactly what you’re paying for, they’ll sell you a bill of goods every time. And magnitude 8.5 or 6.5 Richter? Either way you’d have a perfectly sound bridge connecting one pile of rubble to another. 

Julio Tigres

 

 

Re: The Road to Hell, July 2010

This excellent article by Katherine Palmer Gordon exposes the short-sighted, blinkered approach to sustainable transportation planning that provincial, city and regional planners are taking, and highlights exactly why we are moving one step forward and two steps back in our attempts to build an integrated system which reduces the impact on the environment and communities.

It seems that review after review, initiative after initiative, consultation after consultation—the light bulb hasn’t come on. How about starting with this statement: “building community through transportation?” There has been a big shift over the last decade from planning policies that shaped communities around cars to putting people first. But why isn’t it happening in our part of the world? For decades our communities have been affected by piecemeal solutions to fix transportation problems. Transportation cannot and should not be considered in isolation, and must be tied in to land use and how we want our communities to look in the future.

The region clearly needs to have a co-ordinated long-term vision because this present fractured way of planning doesn’t seem to be working. A Regional Transportation Authority might be the way to go.

Christina Mitchell


 

Katherine Palmer Gordon vividly reveals local auto-dependency.

“That highway crowd, if you gave them a chance, they would put a freeway through the Vatican if they figured by doing it they would save a little mileage,” says former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto in the documentary Taken for a Ride: Why Does America Have the Worst Public Transit in the Industrialized World, and the Most Freeways?

Bear Mountain and McTavish Road interchanges and the Blue Bridge replacement schemes are engines for profit, even uncompleted. Engineer contractors, cement and asphalt lobbies, auto dealers, car manufactures, habitat pavers, and gas/oil merchants trump effective public transit.

The car gets a $6000 per person per year tax subsidy. When redirected, we’ll have a modern and free public transit system in three years. Right now we could have free small neighbourhood-friendly buses. This, the quickest way to clear cars from streets, leaves room for grade-separated bike paths. That’s why Montreal and Europe have them. Urban small business would benefit from the pedestrian-friendly car-free zones.

Frances Pearson


Re: Sorry, Computers are Not ‘Green’, July 2010

It’s no surprise that computers have come to symbolize Rob Wipond’s green-tinted zeitgeist. When computers first appeared on the thresholds of the workplace, they were ushered in with promises of creating fast, efficient, paperless operations that would somehow translate into less-wasteful work environments and a greener world.

While their success in reducing paper usage is debatable, it soon became obvious they were very successful at storing and moving information quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, realizing these goals led to several unintended consequences that had little to do with making the world greener.

It soon became apparent that not only could a great deal of clerical work and product design be completed quickly and with far fewer employees, the new technology made it possible to outsource to jurisdictions with incredibly low labour costs. Ultimately this led to dramatic downsizing and not-so-pleasant outcomes for high labour-rate workforces: outcomes that will eventually lead to extirpation of the middle class.

But worse than that, because computer technology has dramatically impacted rates of technological and economic growth, it has also accelerated the speed of natural resource extraction, utilization and depletion. In doing so, it ushered in the race to the bottom of the global resource pie. As a result, labour reductions—in economic sectors which were once major contributors to the overall economy, like commercial fishing, logging and skilled technical workers—parallelled the acceptance and increased use of computers.

Although correlation is not causation, there are no doubts that computers are the tools of choice used by those leading the race.

Ken Dwernychuk


Rob Wipond does well in reminding us of that many products claiming to be “green” simply are not. However, his analysis goes astray on several key points.

Firstly, a Google search does not take more energy than boiling a kettle of water. The Sunday Times, the initial source of this factoid, has since run a correction. A single Google search actually uses 0.0003 kWh of energy—about 0.2 calories. That is about one-tenth of the energy contained in a single Tic Tac, or the amount of energy your body uses in a resting state in 10 seconds. The search produces a miniscule 0.2 grams of CO2. There are few activities more ecologically benign than a single Google search.

Secondly, switching to electronic billing has a significant positive impact, regardless of the underlying motivations of the companies involved. Producing one typical 4-gram piece of computer paper (50 percent recycled) creates over 20 grams of carbon dioxide (the five-fold increase in weight is due to carbon from paper production combining with oxygen in the atmosphere). Consider that millions of people worldwide get numerous bills every month, averaging about two pages, plus the envelope, plus the energy to mail it, and you have a massive environmental impact. Paperless billing is clearly a meaningful tool in reducing greenhouse gases that should be applauded.

Thirdly, while the production of computer hardware certainly involves large amounts of energy and resources, this is offset by their efficiencies and advantages. As more of us work from home, the computer reduces pollution from commuting automobiles. We can get our newspapers online, usually for free, saving millions of trees annually. It has the potential to help reduce poverty—a major source of environmental degradation—as anyone with computer and Internet access can sell their services and ideas worldwide.

But it is the computer’s vast and unparallelled potential to educate that is really exciting. The first free online university—the University of the People, has been officially opened. Soon people in Third World slums will be able to get university degrees, increasing their opportunities and potential exponentially. In poor countries, increased education has been correlated with rapidly falling birth rates. Reducing the developing world’s still-exploding population is a cornerstone to solving our environmental crisis.

There is simply no technology with more potential to save the world than computers. In my book, that makes them pretty green. Now let’s stop building them to fail in five years and start running them off solar batteries (which is already easy with laptops).

Mr Wipond’s logic moves firmly into the land of the bizarre when he says “Why does anyone think hybrid cars (etc.)...are steps in the right direction?” Google.org reports that a gasoline Prius produces 50 percent less CO2 than the average car. Consider that in 2004, cars and trucks in the US alone pumped 314 million tons of carbon dioxide into our already over-burdened atmosphere. Switching to hybrids would reduce this by 157 million tons annually.

If a 50 percent reduction in the CO2 produced by our cars is not a step in the right direction, what is it?

Perhaps all of these things will not be enough to save us. Fair enough. But innovations like e-billing, computers and hybrid cars offer rays of hope to be embraced, not ridiculed.

Richard Brunt


 

Rob Wipond replies:

Mr. Brunt omits a crucial element of the correction run by The Sunday Times. While the scientist’s clarification agreed with Google’s counter-claim that a “one-hit Google search taking less than a second” produces about 0.2 g CO2, it went on to explain that a more typical Google search involving “several attempts to find the object being sought” could produce 1g-10g of CO2 under different conditions. See http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article5489134.ece

My passing remark about hybrid cars is best quoted in full: “Why does anyone think hybrid cars, bottles with 20 percent less plastic, and recycling cell phones in China are serious “steps in the right direction”? The point I am trying to make here is not that using 20 percent less plastic is in no way better than using 20 percent more plastic. Obviously, I think 20 percent less is better. But I’m trying to raise a deeper question: Why does such a relatively small change apparently prompt many of us to feel that some sort of truly substantial, dramatic, deeply “serious” improvements are occurring? Is it a diversion from considering more truly substantial changes?

As for Mr Brunt’s general comments about the virtues of computers, electronic billing, etc.—they would be a good example of where my concerns lie. The factual parts of these comparisons do not range outside the very limited scope of comparing C02 emissions in very limited frames of reference. But what about productions of chemical toxins? What about resource consumption? What about connected lifestyle changes, like the omnipresence of home computers and working at home increasing the amount of time people spend online demanding a full range of data-rich services which in turn lead to vaster electronic infrastructures? In the light of these kinds of questions, it’s clear we are often replacing in-depth analysis and critical reflection with an almost religious hope that things are “improving”—a hope and belief often based simply on our personal lifestyle preferences.

Rob Wipond

 

Re: Beau’s story, July 2010

Chief Beau Dick’s wisdom deepened my appreciation for First Peoples’ culture. Chief Dick recently told me about his revered Kwakwaka’wakw relative, Elder Matriarch Ethel Pearson, dec. 1999. To Chief’s Mother she was Auntie Pearson. Her stoic and principled grand daughter lives in Victoria. Her hard working son is an addictions counsellor at the Native Friendship Centre (names withheld for privacy).

Elder Pearson was special to Chief Dick: “Elder Pearson gave consistent support in potlatching, honoured my dad at the memorial potlatch, and created a sense of security [for the young Beau Dick] in dance rites. She validated my position among the respected elders. Her knowledge was indispensable."

Chief Dick described a heartwarming example of Elder Pearson’s commitment to inclusion at a community gathering: “After leaving the washroom, she passed a young man standing alone. She asked, ’Don’t you know who you are? Why are you standing alone? Come join us.’ She was stern in her potlatch principles and reached out to include everybody.“ 

Elder Pearson told Chief Dick “who not to listen to as well. She embodied genuine reverence and did not grandstand while teaching how to live without blinders,“ Chief Dick concluded, to prevent the further “colonial demise and persecution of our people.“ 

Chief Dick remembers when Elder Pearson in 1976 culturally adopted an innocent Amnesty International First Nation prisoner. She adopted Leonard Peltier to prevent his extradition on fabricated premises from Burnaby. Sadly, it failed. Leonard has served 33 years in prison of a double life sentence, for murders of federal agents he did not commit. See Robert Redford’s free online documentary Incident at Oglala—The Leonard Peltier Story at FreePeltierNow.org. (Peltier’s Adoptive Mother Passes, http://www.yvwiiusdinvnohii.net/LeonardPeltier/1999/LPDCC991113passing.htm)

The story’s local connection: Another man was arrested in Canada with Leonard. Frank Blackhorse is suspected by Leonard’s former lawyer of being the killer Leonard is in prison for. Never extradited, he is free in Canada. Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham recalls his early RCMP days when Leonard Peltier and Frank Blackhorse were arrested (Who is Frank Blackhorse and does he hold the key to Leonard’s freedom?, compiled by Michael Kuzma, Esq., http://freeleonard.org/blackhorse/index.html).  

Please tell President Obama to grant Leonard Peltier executive clemency, WhiteHouse.gov/contact. This simple action helps affirm Elder Pearson’s vision and Chief Dick’s wisdom.

Larry Wartel

 

Re: Loss of Appetite, June 2010

I would like to suggest an exception to Gene Miller’s evocative article. In England, during the war, Britons cheerfully accepted the most stringent of restrictions—we were always hungry, petrol was not available. 

The reason? Bombs were dropping, England stood united against a common enemy. 

I think if we were faced with an alien attack from some other planet, we humans would stand as one. White or black, Christian or Muslim, our differences would dissolve in face of the enemy.

So as best I see, the new narrative—if we want to save this planet—has to be based on defending human culture—a culture whose principles are common to all our cultures. Scientists have shown us that we are one breed genetically with but minor differences and anthropologists can tell us—if we really do not know—what characteristics define our species.

Only as a team can we handle problems that are international in scope.

A. Mulcahy


Re: Reshaping Victoria's economy for a sustainable planet, June 2010

I agree with the expert panel’s assertion in Focus magazine that “Re-Shaping Victoria’s Economy for a Sustainable Planet” requires a better sustainable development strategy.…Strategy is a set of concepts for action that connects where we want to be, to where we are now. I advocate a sustainable development strategy with regenerative design (triple bottom line) capacity that: Adds value to policy and operational goals; Operationally integrates both natural and social processes; Minimizes use of fossil fuels; Recycles non-renewable resources; Uses renewable resources within capacity to self renew; Has zero waste.

We are part way there. To help make the big improvements possible, we need to validate (and correct) information before decisions are made, and then monitor actions to provide feedback to help ensure the most effective actions are incrementally taken.

In Greater Victoria, let’s build an effective sustainable development strategy with regenerative design capacity that can do all the above.

Ray Travers

 

Re: Showdown at Lime Bay, June 2010

I applaud the group of Victoria citizens who are going to court to challenge the review process with regard to the proposed marina on the Songhees shore. While I was disappointed with Transport Canada’s review, stating that it saw no safety concerns, I was not surprised, as it demonstrates the ongoing cavalier, pro-business attitude of Transport Canada officials that I have observed in my 20-plus years of civic involvement. At Victoria City Council’s Committee reviewing the harbour airport, the arrogance has been astounding, as they simply don’t show up for committee meetings, necessitating the calling of a follow-up meeting. They’ve stated that the 100 percent increase in float plane flights couldn’t possibly contribute to safety risks, and knowledgeable residents who have been monitoring and reporting infractions on the water have been dismissed and publicly ridiculed as being annoying and interfering.

As a member of Victoria’s Advisory Planning Commission that planned the Songhees area and subsequently as a city council member, I can attest that the only marina envisioned was small in scale, similar to the one across from the Empress. Since that time the amount and variety of water-based and air traffic has substantially increased—requiring a change to the assumptions that were made then.

Pieta VanDyke