Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Department of Unexpected Results: Recession Means Less Green House Gases

There was talk this morning on RadioCan of a story in La Presse which recounts the horrors of congestion on the highways around Montreal. But, said traffic reporter Yves Desautels, things have been a bit better since the first of the year, perhaps because the recession has cut down on commuters.

That may be one of the rare upsides to downturns. A recent New Yorker Talk of the Town piece argues in the same direction. Writing in the March 30, 2009 issue, David Owen says that the countries most likely to meet Kyoto Agreement green house gas targets—six per cent reduction by 2012—are those of the former Soviet Union. That's because the 1990 Kyoto baseline was just before things fell apart in the USSR. Indeed, Owen writes, the countries with the best emissions-reduction records—Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic—were all parts of the Soviet empire.”

Canada which, unlike the US, signed Kyoto too, is actually running more than 120 per cent of the goal, despite millions spent on climate intiatives, Owen notes. That’s because our sprawling way of life is not being managed properly. North American green intiatives aren’t going to make a difference, he adds, if they’re don’t attack the way we live.

“A national carbon policy, if it’s to have a real impact, will almost certainly need to bring American fuel prices back to at least where they were at their peak in the summer of 2008. Electric cars are not the panacea they are sometimes claimed to be, not only because the electricity they run on has to be generated somewhere but also because making driving less expensive does nothing to discourage people from sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful.”

Public transportation, premiums for denser construction, and renewal of infrastructure with an eye to reducing sprawl and vehicular use seem to me to be badly needed additions to our discussion about economic recovery. In the meantime I‘ll walk.

Photo: Good traffic day near the Lacadie interchange, Metropolitan Expressway, Montreal


Martin Langeland said...

In defense of electric cars: By charging at night, when grid usage diminishes,the electricity used is that which otherwise would dissipate. Replacement of the entire fleet of US gas guzzlers could be accomplished without generating a single kilowatt more than at present.
Even so, restoring dense neighborhoods conducive to transport other than cars is the desirable goal.

Mary Soderstrom said...

The Walkable City, eh? I'm with you there.