By GUY DAUNCEY
Insects disappearing. Storms and heat waves increasing. The once abundant herring around the Gulf Islands — all gone. Unprecedented forest fires. Children going on climate strike. Adults demanding that our local forests be protected. Earth Day is coming up on Sunday, April 21, and there’s a huge amount to be concerned about.
The temperature is rising, both literally and emotionally. The children who went on climate strike are not seeking reassurances that everything’s going to be okay. They don’t want words of hope. They want action because when they learn about the climate crisis and consider their future, they feel panic.
So what does climate action look like, that we can look our children in the eye and answer their call with honesty? Greta Thunberg is the 16-year-old Swedish girl who inspired 1.4 million children in 2,000 places in 125 countries to strike for the climate in March. When she spoke to the European Union, she said they needed to double their climate pollution goal from a 40 per cent to an 80 per cent reduction by 2030. Many of the 400 cities and regions around the world that have declared a Climate Emergency are committing to 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2030. “Carbon neutral” means you can reduce your emissions by 90 per cent, provided you create ways to address the remaining 10 per cent through changed forest and farming practices that will absorb additional carbon in the trees and soil.
In Ladysmith and the Cowichan Valley, it’s the way we travel that’s the biggest contributor to the crisis. Eating industrial meat, clear-cutting the forests, consuming too much stuff, heating our buildings with fossil fuels or firewood and failing to recycle are all contributing to the cause, but it’s transportation that’s the big one, contributing 70–80 per cent of our local emissions. Can we phase out most use of gasoline and diesel by 2030? It might seem impossible, but in 1942, because of the urgency of the war, American car companies switched from making cars to making tanks and planes in just one month.
Transportation starts with walking, and one of the secrets of walking is attractive trails. Ladysmith has steep hills; could we create zig-zag trails on one or two of the big climbs, with seating, sculptures, shrubs and flowers?
Next is cycling, which requires safe separated bike lanes. The rural back roads between Ladysmith and Duncan are lovely, but without separated trails, they are not very safe for cyclists. If I had things my way, I would convert the E&N rail corridor into a long-distance bikeway, and forget about the train. A few tourists might use a restored and heavily subsidized train, but far more people would use a flat, safe and very attractive bikeway.
What about the hills? They are no problem for electric bikes. When you get to the bottom of a hill, you click the electric drive and you sail up the hill with no muscle pain. Gravity is destroyed! I recommend visiting a bike shop and asking to a try out an electric bike. For those who are getting on in years? Electric tricycles.
Then we have buses. A new electric bus costs more to buy, but less to operate, and over its 12-year life span, the cost comes out even. There are 400,000 thousand electric buses in the world, 99 per cent of which are in China. It’s a matter of political choice, not of any technical obstacles.
So that brings us to electric cars. The encouraging news is that the price of electric batteries is falling steadily. You can buy a second-hand Nissan Leaf for $20,000, and we have just bought a new Kia Soul EV with a sun-roof for $33,000, with a $5,000 incentive from the government, $4,000 from KIA and $6,000 for scrapping our old 2001 Mazda van. The cost of charging an electric car is about $320 a year, compared to $2,400 for a gasoline or diesel vehicle, and because electric engines have so few moving parts, the cost of servicing is in effect zero. Comfort, ease and acceleration are all fantastic. You save $3,000 a year, and if you trade in an existing car, a second hand EV may cost $20,000, paying for itself through savings in seven years. On a 4.45 per cent line of credit, borrowing $20,000 will cost you $74 a month plus $30 on electricity, compared to $200 a month on fuel, so you will be $100 a month ahead.
What about range? A 2017 Nissan Leaf has a 170-kilometre range; the Kia Soul, 180–200-kilometres. You can do a Level 1 (110 volts) trickle recharge over night at home; a Level 2 (240 volts) charge at home or at a free public charging station in Ladysmith, Chemainus, Crofton and Duncan in three to four hours; or a Level 3 (480 volts) quick charge to 80 per cent in 30 minutes at the Island Savings Centre in Duncan. If you want to do a road-trip and don’t want to use your EV, I guarantee you’ve got a friend or neighbour who would happily trade cars with you for the chance to try out an electric vehicle. For details, see www.pluginbc.ca and www.plugshare.com.
The planned Tesla Electric Pickup truck will have 600-kilometre range and reach 96 kph in four seconds. Electric 18-wheeler trucks are coming. Electric ferries for short trips are already operating in Norway. Electric short-haul flights are coming. We don’t need to know every detail of how we can achieve a 100 per cent reduction in fossil fuels for transportation; we just need to get on with what’s already available.
We are facing an enormous climate crisis, and an ecological crisis too, but we already have most of the solutions. The question our children seek an answer to is this: Will we have the courage to do whatever it takes? Or will we continue to play truant with the climate, as we have for the past thirty years?
Guy Dauncey is a practical utopian. He is founder of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and author of the novel Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible (thepracticalutopian.ca).