March 22, 2004
Business and Sustainability
Envisaging a New Energy Future
for Greater Vancouver
The meeting was attended by 16 members, 2 friends and 31 guests.
Dr. Geraldine Schwartz, Co-Founder of the Institute for Ethical Leadership,
welcomed everyone to the conference. She briefly mentioned the role of
the Institute as a membership association concerned with enhancing the
common good. The Institute works in five theme areas, and mini-conferences
will be held throughout 2004 as follows
- Youth and Education theme on “Safe and Caring Schools”—January
- Business and Sustainability theme on “Envisaging a New Energy
Future for Greater Vancouver”—March 22.
- Stewardship and the Environment theme (Eco-Efficiency)—May
- Re-gathering (after summer break)—September 27
- Relationships and Personal Development theme (topic to be announced)—October
- Health and Wellness theme (topic to be announced)—November
The work arising from all of these mini-conferences in 2004 will form
the basis for a larger interactive conference called Connections III,
planned for February 2005.
Geraldine invited participants to introduce themselves. A broad spectrum
of people was present from concerned citizens to those actively involved
in energy issues.
Introduction to the Program
The program was introduced by Dr. Desmond Berghofer, Co-founder of the
Institute for Ethical Leadership and Chair of the Business and Sustainability
Sector. Dr. Berghofer put the issue of energy use in an ethical context
by stressing that the depletion of energy stocks by current generations,
particularly those in the world's richest countries, with no satisfactory
provision for the needs of future generations, while at the same time
polluting and destroying the natural environment, is a profound ethical
issue. He referred to growing awareness of the issue as evidenced by reports
in special interest journals, but noted that there was little coverage
in the mainstream media and no evidence that it had reached the political
agenda of any level of government.
Energy, Evolution and Civilization: The
Global Context and Lessons for the GVRD
William E Rees, PhD, University of British Columbia, School of Community
and Regional Planning
Dr. Berghofer introduced Dr. Bill Rees as the first speaker. Dr. Rees
is internationally recognized for developing the construct of the ecological
footprint as a way of measuring the impact that individuals, organizations,
communities and nations have on the natural world. He is a founding member
of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics and co-investigator of
the “Global Integrity Project.”
Dr. Rees stressed four underlying points to keep in mind:
- Energy is primary. It is the basis by which we obtain all other resources
and do everything.
- We live in a “temporal anomaly,” that is, the time in
which we live is a unique (not normal or permanent) era in human development.
- Energy is a pervasive factor in the evolution of civilization.
- The necessary steps forward towards sustainability are contradictory
to most current economic development policies of governments and to
many international agreements.
The Maximum Power Principle.
“The struggle for life is a struggle for free energy available for
work.” (Boltzmann 1905. “The Second Law of Thermodynamics”).
This means that individuals, corporations and economies compete fiercely
for available energy and in the process consume it at enormous rates.
Two Great (Energetic) Leaps Forward.
- The adoption of agriculture 10,000 years ago created a 13-fold increase
in average human population growth compared to the previous 10,000 years.
Human beings were forced into agriculture because of over hunting and
over harvesting during the previous hunter-gatherer era.
- The discovery and widespread use of fossil fuels led to a 40-fold
expansion of human activity in the past 150 years.
The Fossil Fuel Connection.
Since 1850 the use of fossil fuels has displaced human labour and the
use of domesticated animals for work to negligible proportions. Our culture
has become inordinately dependent on this one source of energy.
Is There an Impending Energy Crisis?
There are two opposing views:
- Human ingenuity will solve all problems.
- Industrial civilization has already peaked and is now running down
as it exhausts available energy supplies.
Fred Hoyle in the 1960s pointed out that our challenge is to use the
benefits of temporarily abundant fossil fuels to get beyond our dependence
on them into a sustainable energy future. As a civilization we have only
one shot at this.
History of Oil Discovery and Production.
US petroleum discovery peaked in the early 1930s. Extraction peaked in
1971. Now 80% of US recoverable reserves have been consumed.
Globally, conventional petroleum discovery peaked in the early 1960s
and extraction will likely peak by 2010. Up to half of conventional reserves
has already been consumed.
Since 1980 extraction has increasingly exceeded discovery. We are in
a rapidly declining situation.
Conflict between “Political”
and Technical Reserves Estimates. Whereas proven reserves
based on technical (geological) estimates have been declining since 1982,
“political” estimates of reserves made by economists and embraced
by politicians continue to rise, flying in the face of what the technical
experts are saying.
Natural Gas Potential.
In North America this is an even more serious problem than the depletion
of oil reserves. North American supplies of natural gas are declining
and we don't have easy access to off-shore supplies, as we do with
oil. Whereas Canada would have ample supplies to meet its own needs we
are forced under NAFTA to continue to supply the US market at equivalent
consumption rates in both countries.
In Canada extraction is now dropping rapidly. By 2010 we will be at one-third
of what we were extracting in 2000. This is the reason why arguments for
using nuclear energy are now resurfacing.
Global Remaining Reserves of Oil and Gas.
Estimates are that if we continue as we are now, oil will be gone by 2030
and gas by 2050. Of course, as shortages begin to take hold before these
dates, serious problems will develop.
What is the Position of Canadian Authorities?
Statements from official sources in Canada say there is no reason to be
concerned because supplies are abundant. In other words, they are following
the “political” estimates rather than accepting the evidence
provided by technical (geologists) experts. They also argue that rising
prices will eventually lead to substitution by other technologies and
Alternate Energy Sources
- Shale oil will never be a source of energy
- Biomass energy can make only a marginal contribution
- Solar and hydrogen will remain uncompetitive for 20-30 years
- Wind power suffers from the problem of being highly dispersed and
is available intermittently
- Most renewable energy sources produce electricity, which is not a
substitute for fossil fuels in many applications, e.g., use of fossil
fuels to increase food production.
- The bottom line is that we do not yet have a good set of
substitutes for the many uses of petroleum and gas
- All of this is solvable but we have to recognize the problem
and we are simply not doing it
A Discomforting Conclusion.
“The renewable sources of energy—direct sunlight, wind, hydropower,
biomass—are all solar in origin and are in toto inadequate for running
anything that passes for civilization. [They have] no chance whatever
of sustaining the present world's population.” (The Energy
Advocate, August 1996).
Dr. Rees said that this was not his conclusion, but it is sobering to
consider. We are definitely facing a grim challenge and what makes it
worse is that we are not even admitting that we have a problem. We are
embedded in a culture that makes absurdity an obsession (500 horsepower
SUVs to drive around town, when 5 horsepower would do). There is a 100-fold
potential for saving. The advertising industry is dedicated to making
us dissatisfied so that we buy devices that are progressively more energy
consuming than what we had before.
Steps That Would Help the GVRD.
- Ottawa: Eliminate market-distorting subsidies to fossil fuels
- Ottawa/BC: Implement a scheduled program of escalating resource depletion
taxes on fossil fuels. (Quota sales may eventually be necessary). The
tax(es) will create steady upward pressure on fossil energy prices moving
them closer to their total social cost. This will encourage conservation
and improved resource productivity, stimulate research and development
of alternatives, and make the latter more competitive in the marketplace.
- GVRD: Develop a regional energy conservation strategy, emphasizing
incentives for densification, green architecture, self-powered and public
transit. We are not doing too badly in this area, but we need the zoning
and financial incentives to do better.
- GVRD/Municipalities: Invest in sensible public transportation. The
RAV line is not sensible—too high cost for the benefits.
- GVRD/Municipalities: Conduct regional experiments in the application
of available alternative/renewable energy technologies—wind, solar
(direct and voltaics).
- Vancouver: Commit to making the SE False Creek project an exemplary
demonstration project in sustainable urban development, emphasizing
energy conservation and alternatives. This is one of the last
prime undeveloped pieces of urban land on the continent. Let us make
of it an experiment so that we can shine in the world as a beacon to
show other folks the light.
Cultural Survival: The Bottom Line.
- “Energy has always been the basis of cultural complexity and
it always will be. …the availability of energy per capita will
be a constraining factor [in achieving sustainability]” (J Tainter
1998. The Collapse of Complex Societies).
- Diversity and redundancy in energy supply is the only viable strategy
for maintaining economic security, political stability and ecological
- Conservation is key
- Are we doing what is needed? That is
the question for you to answer.
Replacing the Future: From Big Power to
Julian Darley, Global Public Media and the Post-Carbon Institute
Dr. Berghofer introduced Julian Darley as the second speaker. Mr. Darley
is a British environmental philosopher living and working in Vancouver.
He holds Masters degrees in Journalism and the Philosophy of Media and
Environmental Sociology from the University of Texas and Surrey University
respectively. He is the founder of Global Public Media and the Post-Carbon
Institute. He is the author of the forth-coming book, “High Noon
for Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis.”
Mr. Darley stressed that what we have seen in the use of energy in the
last 40 years can't continue. We are not in a position to talk about
reform of the current system, but replacement, that is, replacing big
centralized power with local systems.
A New World. The mainstream
media are beginning to indirectly report energy issues without coming
out with a clear picture of the problems of upcoming energy shortages
that face the world.
We have to realize that this is not 1973, when there was still a lot
of oil still to be extracted from the ground. There is a widespread need
for energy literacy. We need to look at mechanisms, not markets, because
markets are highly misleading; that is, we have to look at discovery (of
oil and gas), not price. The key questions are: Where is it, and how difficult
will it be to extract?
ASPO Depletion Model 2004.
That the Middle East is a safe source of supply is illusory. All supplies
of oil are in decline. The only thing that can change the picture of rapid
exhaustion of supply is a colossal economic crash.
Estimates by Exxon corroborate what other researchers outside the industry
are saying. We are getting warnings from the technical geological data,
but are we paying attention? Price signals are no use when it comes to
an issue as big as this.
In 2001 and 2002 oil companies spent more money on searching for oil
than they made from the discoveries.
For the first time in 2001-2002 natural gas discovery was less than natural
gas consumption. That should have been a clear signal of trouble ahead,
just as when the US became a net importer of oil just after World War
II should have been a clear signal. But demand keeps on outpacing supply.
When will Canada become a net importer? Sooner than we think. The Alberta
Tar Sands despite the huge reserves is very difficult to extract.
Implications. Decline in
global oil means:
- Less transport
- Less economic activity
- Less food production
- More security problems—terrorism is related to the presence
of the West in Arab lands.
All of this will lead to CONTRACTION:
- Economic contraction
- Population contraction (with horrific prospects)
Can we switch to natural gas? To some extent, but this supply is already
declining. If the US comes after its fair share of natural gas from Canada,
what will we do? Foreign supplies of natural gas are in places where the
West is not wanted.
The Situation in British Columbia.
Oil and gas extraction has probably already peaked. Global warming can
reduce production of electricity from hydro because of declining precipitation.
Also, we are committed to sending a lot of our energy south to the US.
Strategy. The only answer
is to reduce consumption (CONTRACTION) while we work to bring on stream
sources of energy that are renewable. But renewables won't help
a lot if we don't REDUCE by:
- Developing better public transport
- Developing car coops
- Using bio-diesel in public vehicles
- Ending subsidies to oil and gas
We should probably forget about the hydrogen economy as a realistic alternative.
Local energy generated by local people is the preferred strategy
- Wind is the most promising (though now wind power accounts for less
than 0.2% of energy in Canada.)
- Biomass is a possibility, but how much can we grow, and where does
the energy come from to produce the growth?
This means localization of energy production (and the economy) on a large
scale, around the world. We have to close the loop of Energy-Money-Food.
- Creating local energy banks
- Using local currencies that keep the money in the community
- Connecting energy to money
- Developing local skills with local money
- Growing more of our food locally
- Stop building on agricultural land
- Stop subscribing to the mantra that “growth is good.”
There is no such thing as “smart growth.” All growth is
- Eat lower down the food web
We have to realize that all of this is contradictory to current directions,
which means that it is highly controversial. Nevertheless, the only sane
alternative is to start planning for
Following the presentations, participants were asked to form into six
groups according to their interest to discuss the following topics:
- Transportation. “In what ways
might new forms and patterns of transportation be developed for Greater
Vancouver that shift away from and reduce the need for fossil fuels?”
- Local Agriculture. “In what ways
might a healthy and less energy intensive local agriculture be developed
to provide the food we need in Greater Vancouver?”
- New Sources of Power. “In what
ways might new sources of power be developed to supply the energy requirements
for home and industry in Greater Vancouver?”
- Building Design. “In what ways
might we design our living spaces and work places in Greater Vancouver
in order to live with less pressure on the natural environment?”
- Policy and Planning. “In what
ways might we use economic levers, policies and planning to guide energy
usage in Greater Vancouver?”
- Local Culture. “In what ways might
local culture be nourished and revitalized to foster a less energy intensive
social and cultural life in Greater Vancouver?”
Before beginning the discussion the groups were given a brief presentation
by Gerri Schwartz and Desmond Berghofer on how to use the “Hold
Fire and Think” process. The aim of this process is to generate
ideas as possible solutions. There was no intent to reach decisions or
consensus, but rather to expose a number of useful approaches that can
form the basis of projects that can be carried forward in the future.
Reports from the Groups
Following the discussion a spokesperson from each group gave a brief
Topic 1. Transportation.
- Transportation systems should be designed with greater separation
of cars and bicycles, that is, designated lanes for bikes, streets for
bikes only, more bicycle paths, storage facilities and bike lockers
for bikes at work.
- There is need to develop an energy storage medium that would be charged
from renewable sources to allow various hybrid/alternative energy vehicles
for inner city/commuter use, e.g., compressed air, battery, hydrogen.
- We need more and diverse public transportation systems, e.g., surface
light rail as in Calgary—trolley cars running on electric power
produced by wind. We need to expand the rapid transit system along the
Fraser Valley floor to neighbouring communities, like the sky train,
but with more destinations.
- We should consider a by-law in Vancouver that would tax centre of
town driving as in London. As an alternative we could have designated
days for driving downtown and allowances for drivers to encourage car-pooling.
- We need a system of incentives for lower emissions with a combination
of rewards and penalties. The regulatory structure would promote the
good and fade out the bad. Provide an incentive for car-pooling and
car co-op programs.
- Mandate lower emissions within city limits, using the aircare program
- Develop Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) lanes on the model of HOV
- We need to be less reactive and more proactive, that is, build in
less energy consumptive transportation alternatives during initial planning
and zoning. We should build our communities with pedestrian traffic
in mind and move away from the Wal-Mart society. Develop walk-to-school
programs with parents and schools.
- We need to work on the social aspect of alternative fuels, that is,
education of youth and children, providing subsidies and incentives,
release from road tax, etc.
- We need to build the infrastructure for alternative fuels—filling
stations, storage, distribution for ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, and
other alternative fuels
Topic 2. Local Agriculture.
- More manual labour and organic production that reduces or eliminates
use of pesticides.
- Maintain the existing food growing areas that exist close to the
cities—no more loss of agricultural/food growing areas. Eliminate
as much as is possible the land economic trends that allow high quality
farmland to be more valuable for housing than for food growing.
- Provide financial incentives (not subsidies toward unsustainable
practices) that include stewardship incentives, pensions for farmers,
no income tax etc. as in England and Scandinavia, where they preserve
a farming fraternity.
- In Vancouver, 30% of the land area is under roads. In residential
areas reduce the traveled portion width and use the gains in land to
plant fruit trees available to the neighbourhood.
- Promote the use of school grounds to grow food for their own hot
lunch programs or as fundraisers for their school activities. In this
way children will get an appreciation for where their food comes from.
- Eat locally grown food wherever possible. GVRD should initiate a
labeling/advertising campaign toward this. Bring back BCGrown label.
- Increase the ability to have local farmers markets within neighbourhoods,
which reduces the need to drive to get fresh foods.
- Support and promote alternative sources for fertilizers in order
to move away from dependence on petroleum based ones.
- Work toward a closed system for food production whereby the nutrients
traditionally lost to the waste stream are cycled back into the soil
system. This reduces the need for fertilizers and organic augmentation.
- Make use of available waste space. We need incentives and by-laws
that allow for rooftop gardens/food production areas. Vacant lands should
also be available to neighbourhoods for food growing, e.g., the allotment
gardens along the Arbutus rail line.
- Make building regulations that would recognize the growing potential
of siting buildings and their open space toward the sunlight.
- Create tax disincentives to long-distance sourcing of foods. Provide
a scaled energy tax on transportation according to the distance food
travels to get to stores in the region.
- Promote senior-child partnerships to encourage passing on knowledge
and skills of food growing.
- Foster partnerships with the existing pools of expertise, such as
the master gardeners at Van Dusen Gardens. Partnerships with school
districts would also be of benefit.
- Use signs to raise awareness of the food growing areas around the
region, e.g., “You are entering an Agricultural Land Reserve.”
- Use greenhouses for the intensive production needed to create a sustainable
food supply in at least vegetables, but put them on light industrial
land or in warehousing zoned areas, not on high quality farmland. Also
permit use of large flat-roofed structures for greenhousing and utilize
the waste heat from these buildings to provide some of the heating for
- GVRD should consider a food security charter for the region that
would ensure every person has an equal right to access of high quality
foods grown or manufactured within the region.
Topic 3. New Sources of Power
We proposed a lot of small solutions, which if put together could make
a definite difference. A lot of ideas already exist that are not being
taken seriously. Until we have to change, we probably won't. Decisions
on energy production and use have to address the need to live in harmony
with the environment, not just reduce the need for oil and gas. These
are our ideas:
- If wind power were fully developed in BC it could be used in the
power grid and have a capacity greater than dam-based hydro.
- The idea of tapping into the so-called “zero-point energy”
in the universe was raised, although no one seems to know if this is
- We could put power generating windmills on the top of buildings,
as is done in Holland and proposed for the new World Trade Center. In
general, finding building-integrated solutions is the best strategy,
for it reduces costs and losses due to transportation of power.
- There should be much more use of ground source heat pumps for heating
and cooling buildings as is used in the Capers building on 4th Avenue
- We can use the heat in the ocean to heat and cool buildings. We understand
there is an example of this in Halifax.
- We should generally review all aspects of our society for wasted
power that could be put to use, e.g., waste heat from industries like
the Molson Plant and Burrard Thermo and cement plants could be captured
- Conserving energy is key. This is actually a new source of power.
One obvious example is to reduce the use of over powered cars for simple
transportation. Another example is biomass sewage treatment, which does
not require energy.
- We can make greater use of passive solar energy. Use the sun to heat
in summer and the wind to heat in winter.
- We should find ways to decrease the summer heat in cities caused
by the absorption of heat by concrete buildings and roads. One way to
do this is to plant more trees.
- A lot of human power goes unused. We should consider more projects
like the Halifax fitness centre that uses the energy generated by members
on stationary bikes to power the television sets they watch while exercising.
Topic 4. Building Design
Our general idea was to emphasize the integration of commercial and residential
communities. We saw the following benefits from this approach:
- Less energy would be used in traveling for services.
- If people live and work in the same community, there would be less
commuting and more time for other things.
- Heat energy from industry that now goes to waste could be used to
heat other community facilities.
- Energy sharing reduces costs.
- There could be a standardized design for energy efficiency within
- The Rocky Mountain Institute is a good example of this approach.
It creates more energy than it uses.
- If planners and people working in industry live in the same community,
they are more likely to work together for the common good.
- Industries would have a greater incentive to use clean energy and
create less pollution in their community.
- There would be greater sharing of resources and equipment (e.g.,
lawnmowers, cars, gardening tools, power tools) resulting in less waste
and less money spent on multiples of items.
- There would be incentives to build with green and recycled materials.
- Closer knot communities build better relationships, cooperation and
creative problem solving.
- There would be support for local businesses, which would keep money
in the communities.
- More efficient use of space would be encouraged through smaller living
design for homes.
- Business offices and meeting rooms could be used for multiple purposes,
which means that less space is needed and more energy is saved on heat,
electricity and building materials.
- Green space would be included in the overall design of communities.
- Live, work and play together.
- Examples of where this is working already are Granville Island, Cranberry
Commons Co-Housing, Maplewood in North Vancouver, Yaletown, New Denver
- People come to Vancouver already to see the success of these ideas
and how they can be copied in other cities, e.g., San Francisco.
Topic 5. Policy and Planning
- There is a need to establish in law a means to prevent special interests
(such as the oil and gas interests) from exerting undue influence on
government policy. This means establishing in law how political parties
operate, similar to the statute of any organization.
- Create educational policies on how to conserve energy. BCHydro does
a bit of this, but the initiative needs government backing and funding.
If it's such a major issue, why aren't we teaching it in schools?
- Use the principle of tax-shifting, where you tax the bad and reward
the good with lower taxes.
- We need green crisis policy planning; similar to natural disaster
or terrorism crisis plans that most governments have in place now. This
would address what happens when the city suffers a major brown-out or
black-out. What happens if we can't get food into urban centers?
- While the GVRD does not currently have any mandate to support energy
conservation policies, there are three related plans: 1) The Liveable
Region Strategic Plan; 2) Air Quality Management Plan; 3) Efficient
Utility Services Plan. These are coming up for review this spring and
we should all give our input by going to the GVRD website.
- The reason for this lack of mandate is that politicians don't feel
they have the public support. What can we do? Speak out...write letters!
Let the politicians know that this is a real concern. We should approach
it from a liveability perspective because the provincial government
has this as a mandate.
- Apart from writing letters ourselves, the Institute for Ethical Leadership
(IFEL) could also create a report on effective letter writing (to be
emailed, posted on website, etc.). The suggestions were: -Letters should
be sent to Mayor in Council, GVRD Board Chair, respective Board Director
(i.e. water) and c.c. to some strategic person, such as appropriate
provincial politician or BCHydro person, or whomever would have some
stake in the issue being discussed. -Letters should always address the
issue and then let the recipient know what you want them to do! Letters
should be timed with OpEd pieces in local newspapers. We should also
network with other related organizations (e.g.. SmartGrowth BC)
- With regard to the two GVRD plans mentioned above; they are both
coming up for public consultation (details on GVRD website). Perhaps
IFEL could link to this information and even send out e-mails to its
list letting people know when there is a chance to give input. It would
not be much work for IFEL to keep an eye out and prompt its list to
- IFEL should issue a brief of the meeting we just had. This was a
great situation where a group of citizens came together and definitely
stated their opinion on what the problem is and what we can do about
it. IFEL can either create a statement on behalf of the attendees and
get them to sign it, or create a statement that just reflects the position
of IFEL and it's leaders/members (not guests at that meeting).
Topic 6. Local Culture
- We recommend that people sign up for membership with the Business
Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), which encourages link up
with local suppliers and cuts down on transportation.
- We also recommend signing up with Nature Challenge on the website
of the David Suzuki Foundation, which encourages buying locally and
living close to work.
- We should create eco-villages that are self-sustaining, co-generating,
use refillable containers, natural fertilizers, community gardens, balcony
gardens, backyard gardens.
- Emphasize co-habitation and shared resources.
- Create communities of friendly neighbours, who pool for shopping
- Encourage fair trade through ethical shopping, choosing ethical ventures
and merchants, e.g., the European model of small shops close to where
- Encourage attendance at free events, e.g. free evening presentations
- Encourage use of organic food delivered to your door. Support the
businesses already doing this.
- Marketing is an important aspect of supporting local culture. Use
the media to raise awareness that we are living in a state of crisis
and we need to engage collectively in coming up with creative solutions.
Desmond and Gerri concluded the evening by thanking the speakers for
framing the problem and the participants for providing such a wealth of
creative ideas for addressing the problem. The Institute will be following
through and contacting everyone for further input on how to move ahead
so that by the time we come to the Connections III conference in February
2005 we will have a number of initiatives underway.
Guests were invited to consider joining the Institute as a Member or
a Friend to help us continue with our important work.
The next Mini-Conference is May 31, 2004: 5:30
p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Vancouver Public Library
Theme: Stewardship and the Environment
Topic: The Benefits of Eco-Efficiency in Our Schools, Institutions and