Saturday, 1 March 2014

A License to Kill

Last year the BBC called the pollution in China Airmageddon.

It looked as if it couldn't get any worse, but that was off the mark.  This year the smog in China is so bad it's actually creating a form of nuclear winter. That's right. Crops are dying because they are so polluted, and they simply can't get enough light.

Weibo was all a twitter when China's new president Zi Jinping went out and about in Beijing this week without the government recommended face mask.  It was an impressive photo-op, published in all the state-controlled news agencies, complete with the caption "Breathing together, sharing the fate."  A lot of folks figured it would be far more helpful if he actually did something about the pollution instead of mugging for the cameras.  The WHO says that safe levels of PM 2.5 (that's what they call the particulate that can cross into your blood stream and wreak havoc on your health) are 25 micrograms per cubic meter, but Beijing had well over 500 mg per cubic meter this week.   

So what IS the Chinese government doing about it?  While the particulates are at such heavy concentrations, they are advising people to wear masks.   Children and old people are supposed to stay indoors, and they are asking people to take public transit rather than cars. (!)  Also, they insist that industrial operations cut their emissions by thirty percent, and they are taking as many government cars off the roads as possible.  In the long term, they are talking about how to reduce their reliance on coal, along with the number of automobiles in use.

Which just makes sense, don't you think?  I remember well my shock as a youth when I discovered that spending  any significant amount of time with a running car in your enclosed garage is a sure and easy way to die. Our atmosphere is a closed system, too.  How can it possibly be a good idea to continue to add more cars and their toxic exhaust into the equation?  Sure the planet is pretty good at cleaning up our many nasty messes, but there's only so much strain you can place on the Earth's ecology before we all suffer the consequences, as they are rather painfully discovering in China right now.

MaoBreeze - a new generation
Actually, China has come a lot further along the path to sustainable energy development than you'd think. It has the largest wind turbine systems in the world, and it accounts for 63% of the globe's solar photovoltaics, too.  They developed significant hydroelectric facilities, so that by 2007, 17% of China's energy needs were met with sustainable sources.  Here in Canada today, that number is 16%, and in BC we're currently in the midst of a heated argument over whether or not to expand our coal exports.
 Go figure.

I always thought Canada would legalize marijuana long before the Americans did, but clearly that was misguided. I figured for sure we'd lead the world in sustainable energy development, too, but that's a laugh.  Our illustrious leader Steve is a throwback to the dinosaurs and his energy policies reflect his heritage.  Here in Canada, oil is king, and cars rule the roads. When Christy Clark was elected premier of BC, the first thing she did was to phase out air care, because heaven forbid we control vehicle emissions.  You'd think Vancouver, which strives to represent itself as a green city, would be the exception to the rule, but again, NO.

False Creek Energy Centre
Sure we've taken a few token stabs at sustainability. You've gotta like the various compost bins and organic community garden planters you see around town, along with the False Creek Energy Centre. Using a heat exchanger, it captures thermal energy from sewage and uses it to provide space heating and hot water to the new buildings in southeast False Creek.

(it's a big butt!)

Have you heard? The radiation plume from Fukushima has reached our shores sooner than expected, so the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is offering $600 radiation testing kits to folks living here on the west coast of North America so they can test the water for themselves. (And here's real irony for you.) The radiation levels measured here are well within safe levels, but

Ocean acidification is an invisible menace that threatens the entire ecosystem and it's only getting worse. Carbon emissions worldwide, and especially in Canada, continue to rise.

What. The. Fuck. Is. Wrong. With. Us.

Whilst the thinking world it tackling the most important issue ever to face mankind, we here in Canada are blithely turning a blind eye, and encouraging our population to drive drive drive itself into extinction.

How long will it be before we become a ghost of our former selves?

Here in 'green' Vancouver, it used to be that a cyclist could count on taxi and bus drivers for their professionalism, courtesy, and safety, but not any more.  The pros are waging their own personal war on cyclists these days.  I can't count how many taxis have charged at me over the last few weeks, pretending they're going to hit me as they look me in the eye.  Worse, Vancouver has actually given its bus drivers a license to kill.  Bus drivers here don't have to pay for tickets incurred when they run red lights, so it's not uncommon to see a Translink bus honk the horn and blast through a red, with predictable results.

It's crazy. Why aren't drivers held accountable for their actions? If you were to wave a gun around in a public place, and you accidentally shot and killed someone with it, the police would definitely charge you because you should have known better.  Yet all sorts of people die at the hands of motorists year after year without the deadly drivers facing any consequences at all.  It's not rocket science.  Speed kills.  Distracted driving is deadly, and yet where is the crack-down on dangerous drivers? 

Not here, that's for sure.  

In Vancouver, a motorist has an inalienable right to arrive speedily at the next red light.  And that trumps my right to arrive safely home at night. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Heaven forbid we consider the consequences of all of these cars on the very survival of our species...

With the incredible state of science and technology today, we could be building a beautiful, sustainable world for many future generations to inhabit and yet we continue to blindly drive ourselves into oblivion.


We need a leg up.   We need leaders who aren't afraid to take the difficult decisions, and we need a vision of what's possible which we can all embrace, so that together we can move toward a future worth striving for.

And we need all of these things now, before it's too late.


  1. The thing is, the energy problem really is solvable. We just need to have the political will to solve it. Put in place a carbon tax, including tariffs on imported goods according to carbon use in their production, and energy production would start to shift away from carbon. It would take decades to clean up, but it's quite possible to do it.

    1. I think it's interesting that China has been chasing the American Dream of putting everyone into cars, but now is trying to encourage people to limit their use. Seems slightly insane.

    2. The whole world has gone mad.

      China's once well populated bike roads are barren these days, more's the shame.

    3. Jon, it's true. Stanford University published a study saying that we have all of the technological know how to achieve a fully sustainable world in 20-40 years, and that it wouldn't take any more money than we currently spend, either. Their conclusion was that all we lack is the political will to do so, and that's not exactly surprising, is it, when you consider that our capitalist democracies have been replaced with corporatocracies whose sole aim is furthering the interests of the biggest companies on Earth.

      We're in big trouble.

    4. I've been reading John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up and when I saw your post the photos of China made me think of it. But then the post itself seemed to parallel Brunner's foretold world (published in 1972) describing plants that cannot grow because of the haze and people wearing masks.

  2. Thanks Babble, really informative post. Down here, as in below the NSA border, Americans get to buy gasoline at basically the cost of crude oil. Our tax system is nice enough to subsidize the difference for our oil companies. And if anyone tries to do something about it the Neanderthal Party makes sure the idea goes nowhere.

    'I always thought Canada would legalize marijuana long before the Americans did,..." New York State did it's own census in the 1800's & early 1900's. The 1865 NYS Census showed a harvest of over 15 million pounds of Hemp. Mostly for rope I'd guess, but I like to think we were once many years ahead of Washington and Colorado.

    1. What?! Since when does the NSA recognize borders...?

      We subsidize the fuck out of big energy here, too. That's why it's big. But the price of oil still shot up for all of us this week, despite all of that bending over for da big boyz.

      My understanding is that a lot of the crops grown commercially these days are actually stripping our soils of essential nutrients, but that hemp nourishes the land its grown on.... Yet we choose gmo cotton and all things Monsanto.

  3. P.S. Smog & people being told to stay indoors. Water & electricity can be brought into a house from far away. But air? Seems like the air quality indoors would be highly impacted by the air quality outside of the house.

  4. Intelligence is a property of individuals only. Groups can only simulate it, and the quality of the simulation declines as the negative square root of the size of the group. (Special branch of math - rhetorical math) Nations-size groups possess no measurable intelligence. But they claim it anyway - just like homeopathy. Dilute to zero, claim powerful 'essence'!

    You and I are each geniuses in our own way. Together we are just a bag of hammers. Pity.

    1. I'm pretty good at approximating a bag of hammers all on my own, in fact... ask anyone who knows me well. I've done a few colossally stupid things in my time!

  5. Many of us wonder if the indoor air quality in our homes or offices is really good, or not, especially if we have allergies, asthma or any respiratory problems.

    Indoor air quality testing