Thursday, December 6, 2007

Carbon Offsets

There is a lot of interest in buying carbon offsets. I can not shake the feeling that they are sort of like buying indulgences. Somehow the concept just does not sit well with me.

The idea is the you can buy carbon offsets from companies to offset the CO2 equivalent that you produce. You can buy this from companies that have made efforts to reduce their output but have a right to produce more CO2 or from projects that capture carbon.

There is no reason to buy these offsets at the moment other than guilt. The cost seems to be running in the range of $5 to $15 per tonne of CO2. Not very expensive given that I produce about 13 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year. It would have cost me an extra $17 to $50 to have offset all my air travel and only about $130 to offset all my greenhouse gas emissions.

But what would I get for this $130? A piece of paper that I could claim less GHGs had been produced and I was allowed to claim part of that reduction by paying something to the company that made the reductions. How do I verify this? Who can be sure that there really was a GHG savings?

I know I produce less GHGs than the average Canadian, but even for the average person one should be able to buy offsets to cover 100% of their GHGs for less than $1000. Are there enough offsets for a nation of 33 000 000 to buy them?

If there is a real take off for offsets and the price rises with demand, what happens when people can no longer afford them?

I can buy offsets, but no will pay me to produce less GHGs. I already produce less than the Canadian average but I get no reward for this. Should I not be granted offsets I could sell? Say each Canadian is allowed to produce 20 tonnes and you can sell the rest. Between all of my family, we would have 30 tonnes we could sell. we should be able to get $300 for that.

I understand the concept of cap and trade and the whole idea behind offsets, I am still simply not convinced this is a route that will produce anything truly world changing.

I found this survey of late that goes someway towards measuring different carbon offset programs, but none of them are in Canada.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can I be Greenhouse Gas Neutral?

We are hearing a lot about being carbon neutral at the moment, but I believe that the term should Greenhouse Gas Neutral. We focus much too much on carbon and avoid the gases that are much more damaging - ones like methane.

I am going to look at all GHGs to see what it would take for me to be GHG neutral.

What are my sources of GHGs?

The car - we use about 2500 litres in a year, so that is 500 litres I use. This is about 5500 kg of CO2

The house - I use hydro power for my home. Large scale Hydro does produce some CO2, for this house the total would be about 900 kg, or 180kg for me.

Airplane flights - I have taken two in the last year for total of 20 000 km. The flights were effectively full and the places were new, so the fuel used for myself was about 300 liters or 3300kg

Other transit - I use the bus from time to time and the BC Ferries. About 200kg of CO2

Food - I have no idea how to calculate this. One Japanese study put the cost of a kilo of beef at 36 kg of CO2 equivalent - I will use this number for all meat. In a year I ate about 75 kg a year of meat which has a CO2 value of 2700kg.

Food transport - I can not be certain of this number, but my best calculation is that the average CO2 emission related to fresh produce is about 400 grams per kg. With packaging included, I use about 400kg of food stuffs per year. This has a CO2 value of 16okg.

Production of other foods - I am not sure how to measure this, the best I can see is that there is only a minimal impact through farm machinery, I will presume this is neglible.

Other consumer goods - I use about 400kg of consumer goods a year. The transport CO2 is about 160kg. The cost of production, very, very hard to judge, though I am using some rough numbers from the EPA in the US. I am going to call it 1.5 kg of CO2 per kg of consumer goods for a total of 600kg.

So where am I at?

  • Air travel 3300
  • Car travel 5500
  • Other transit 200
  • Meat 2700
  • Other food 160
  • Electricity 180
  • Consumer goods 760

TOTAL 12.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent

In looking around the 'net, my calculation adds in sources that are ignored. Meat consumption alone would seem to be a major source of GHGs - close to 21% of my total.

It would not take a lot for me to reduce my GHGs to about 6 tonnes a year. No long haul flights, drive less and eat a lot less meat. If I do not fly in the next year, I will fall below 10 tonnes a year. If I were to eat only 100 grams of meat a day, this would save another 1.4 tonnes. Finally, if I were to drive less this should save another 2 tonnes.

I am somewhat horrified at home much air travel creates CO2. I did fly about 20 000 km and at .015 litres per km, the numbers are there. That was only two trips.

It is the meat that really gets me. The GHGs from the meat in a quarter pounder is about 4kg of CO2 equivalent.

If I lived elsewhere I would have have much higher GHGs from home heating and electricity - another 3.5 tonnes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Innovative solutions from BC's forest industry

While so many people are focusing on all manner of ways to regulate reductions in CO2 emissions, BC's forest industry is doing some rather amazing things that will have significant impacts.

Our of Port McNeil there is a company call Sea Soil. They take wood waste and mix it with fish waste to produce a composted soil/fertilizer. Not a huge reduction in CO2, but a very innovative use of waste. It is this area of waste where the forest industry does the best.

There are conferences for people in the industry to discuss what can be done to reduce waste, how to use waste and how to make more money. In the industry it is called residual material. First of, producing less waste means that there is more product to sell. More product, more money. Second, waste is only waste if there is no way to make a buck from it. Sea Soil is one example of how to do this.

There is a lot of bark material and sawdust produced in any mill. This material needs to find a home. One way to deal with the waste is to produce power with it. There are two basic approaches to this. First is co-generation - burning the material and producing electricity. There is also the option to make petroleum products out of the waste material. There is a company called Advanced BioRefinery Inc (ABRI) based in Ontario that is working on an economical model for producing bio-oil. The prototype can process about 50 tonnes of forest biomass into about 30 tonnes of bio-fuel - a value of about $15 000.

What is really interesting about their pyrolysis unit is that it is portable. You can take out into the woods and process waste material on site. The process they use produces fuel oil, charcoal and synthetic gas. The charcoal and gas are used in the unit to dry the material before the conversion process. All that is left behind is ash.

It is through innovation that we are going to see any real shift in gasses being emitted. Through people finding ways to make money from what they have to dispose of at the moment is where the real solutions lie.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Finding solutions - Part One - Reducing

There three different approaches to how we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit. The first approach is to do less than we are doing, to stop all manner of things we do now. The second is to find a way to reduce the impact of what we do. And the third is to find ways to remove the gasses from out environment.

The first approach is very popular with people that have a problem with the affluence of our society. They remind me of the flagilationists of the medieval era - the world is wicked and we should suffer, we need to suffer, everyone needs to suffer. There is a strong connection between the mindset of the people using this as the solution to the problem as the ones that were arguing for a strong left wing government.

In my opinion, a lot of people have jumped on global warming to use it as a tool to attack the affluence of our society. People are talking about the end to flying, end to import and export, and the end to the private vehicle. It feels to me that they are using the issue to attack the lifestyles of others, to reduce everyone to an equivalent income and standard of living. There is almost a glee among the left with respect to being able to attack the lifestyles of the rich for environmental reasons.

I see an inherent problem with this approach. First of all the underlying interest is attacking affluence and not global warming. This alone will doom this approach because they will be seen as hypocrites if they do not accept other solutions and ultimately the other solutions will be much more popular with the majority. A further problem is that using the issue of global warming for a different "true" interest is deceitful and leads to loss of respect and trust.

Using this issue to further other interests will lead to the issue losing public support.

Reducing what we do has a place in what we emit, but it is the hardest one to sell the public on and I think is the least realistic one. Fundamentally to achieve it you will have to use government ability to regulate and force people to act differently. The history of this has not been very good. It is very hard to anticipate the consequences of a regulation. No set of rules can think of all the possible outcomes. I have seen this often when negotiating agreements - you can add more and more detail on hopes of capturing everything, but as you do that the text becomes so complex as to be unworkable and in that complexity it allows all new twists to avoid the intent.

You can also reduce by increasing costs, but that also has significant problems with how it all plays out. Very rarely are the full range of socio-economic and environmental impacts considered when one adds a new tax or fee to something. Ideally it is better to let an open market set the pricing and not government fiat.

The public is also not ready to give up the things that they are most likely to have an impact with:
  • Private Cars
  • Meat Consumption
  • Home heating and cooling
The public loves their cars, to think that there is anything that can be done to really expect the majority of the public to get out of their cars is quite unrealistic. If one were to increase the cost of cars I suspect that the type of car being sold will change. In the last generation the cars sold in Canada have dramatically increased the amount of luxury to them and it would not take a lot to remove that luxury and reduce the price to make up for any rise.

In the last 30 years we have seen almost all cars having air conditioning (and this in Canada?!?!?!). The average family no longer has a sedan but a minivan - virtually no trips are taken by families that require more than four seats. In 1977 you had an AM radio and cheap speakers, now you get an expensive sound system and increasingly a video system as well. I could go on for sometime on these extras but I would prefer to not write like Chomsky. The public is willing to spend a lot more for a car than ever before and if the price rose dramatically, the car manufacturers could come out with plain jane models for the same price as a 'base' model these days.

Methane has 20x the impact as CO2 on the climate. Our interest in eating chicken, pork and beef drives a huge livestock industry, and industry that is one of the most significant sources of greenhouse gasses. The one thing any person could do that would have a positive impact on the greenhouse effect would be to stop eating meat. Imagine trying to tell the majority population that they should all give up eating meat? It is not going to happen.

Meat is also very cheap these days. If one were to double or triple the cost of meat, it would still be cheaper now than it was a generation ago. There was a time when chicken was not a cheap meat. I can buy a chicken to feed a family of five for about $6 - $1.20 per person for the protein for a meal. If I go to a fastfood restaurant I will spend about $25 to feed five. For that price I could offer a chicken dinner to the family for three nights. If a chicken were to be $15, it is still not an expensive option.

Finally, heating and cooling our homes. Energy is so cheap that it does not pay for us to conserve energy. The cost to improve the energy efficiency of a house so often outweighs the savings that it does not make financial sense. I would love to construct a geothermal heating/cooling system for our new house, but the capital cost is very high and the pay back period is too long. If I went to a geothermal system, I would have almost no external energy needs to heat and cool my home (there is a small amount needed to run the pump, but that is it).

In the last generation air conditioning has taken off in Canada. This is utterly insane - but it is happening. People want their home to be 23 degrees 365 days a year and are willing to pay the price.

Reducing emissions from the general public is in my opinion an approach that is doomed to failure.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Some issues with climate change

I am still not convinced that we really understand what is happening or why with our climate. For us to understand we still need to do a lot more research, collect a lot more data and ultimately will need a lot more computing power to be able to make realistic outward projections.

Issues that are raised for me are the following:

More Plant Growth From Increased CO2

With more CO2 in the atmosphere, which we do know is there, there will be more vigorous plant growth. There has been some research done showing that the plains are getting woody shrubs growing due to higher CO2. This plant growth will lock up more carbon and should slow or reverse the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

We should see rapid expansion of forests in Canada and Russia due to this. We should also see more productive food crops.

The increased plant growth will also moderate the temperature and moisture at the surface and thereby moderate the local climate to some extent.

The Role of Methane in Climate Change

We focus on CO2 emissions, but do not spend nearly as much time on the issue of methane production. Methane has 20x the impact as CO2 on the climate, but I see almost no focus on this.

One big change that we have on the planet now when compared to 1000 years ago is the amount of livestock. The number of cows, pigs and chickens on the planet has constantly and consistently risen to a point where they are a major source of greenhouse gases. A recent analysis of the moose in Norway showed that they emit a substantial amount of methane.

No one is talking about tackling this issue. No one talks about getting people to eat vegetarian diets. I suspect that this would have a dramatic impact if it were to occur.


With a rising temperature, evaporation of water becomes quicker. Also, if the ocean level rises, the total surface area of the ocean rises as well, in fact it rises rather quickly. A 1 centimetre rise in the ocean should lead to about a 2 cm increase on the surface. This will also lead to more water evaporation.

This rise in water evaporation will lead to increased precipitation and this should lead to more productive land in many areas and therefore more plant growth. I am not sure how what impact this will have on food crops, but it should move a whole series of marginal areas into productive use.

The increase water in the atmosphere will increase cloud cover and insulate the planet. Someone needs to model how the two impacts will effect the climate.

Shift of Growing Regions

Canada and the Russia have a huge expanse of lands that should become productive if the temperatures rise. If the growing regions shift northwards by 250km, this would add about 800 000 sq km of more potential growing lands in Canada alone. This could in theory add another 55 millions tonnes of wheat - about 8% of the global harvest. Russia would add twice as much as Canada.

2 Stroke Engines

We worry about cars and planes but spend very little time thinking about all those 2 stroke engines. The boat motors, lawnmowers, leaf blowers etc.... tend to all operate on 2 stroke motors. They produce many times more carbon emissions that the same 4 stroke engine.

We should be looking at banning 2 stroke engines over all and looking at making gas powered home use equipment something of the past. There is no need to have a gas powered lawnmower or weed whacker for home use. Municipalities wishing to go green may consider banning the use of internal combustion engines for lawn and garden care.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A new passing fad?

Global warming has become such the flavour of the moment. Everyone wants to be seen to be doing something, but no one is willing to take the steps needed locally.

What can local governments do? First and foremost increase the density in the city. In the case of of Victoria this means higher density in the areas with the fewest people. Broadmead and Uplands is where it needs to start.

Where do you start? Make the minimum requirements for a lot in all areas of greater Victoria that is already covered with housing to be 4000 sq feet. You then assess the value of all lots over 8000 sq feet as if they were subdivided.

You also need to change the set backs for houses to streets. There is no reason why you should not be able to build right up to the street's edge.

You also need to make it easier to make houses into strata subdivisions.

Just one idea

CRD mulls new climate-change department

Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2007

Capital Regional District directors inched closer yesterday to establishing a new department to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But members of the CRD environment committee stopped short of adopting a consultant's Community Energy Plan report or recommending that hundreds of thousands of tax dollars be spent to meet greenhouse-gas-reduction targets.

Instead, committee members directed staff to report back on steps the CRD has to take to establish a Climate Change Service. That move would put greenhouse gas in the same category as sewage or garbage and create a CRD department to manage it.

Directors also asked for a cost/benefit analysis of developing an aggressive Community Energy Plan strategy for the capital region.

The report, developed by the Sheltair Group, estimates if the CRD invested between $990,000 and $1.3 million a year in greenhouse-gas reduction, it could leverage between $6.8 million and $15 million in partnership funding from senior governments, agencies like B.C. Hydro and the private sector.

The report, prepared last year but just received by the committee, envisions the new CRD service working with municipalities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

It sees a Climate Change Service as a natural offshoot of the Regional Growth Strategy, with six goals, including:

- Improving energy efficiency in buildings

- Increasing transportation efficiency

- Encouraging energy-efficient land use planning

- Diversifying the energy supply

- Educating residents and businesses

- Demonstrating local government leadership.

Dean Murdock, representing a coalition of environmental advocacy groups, businesses and faith-based groups calling itself the Cool Capital Coalition, urged the committee to recommend the board adopt the plan.

But the committee wanted to see more details of how local tax dollars would be spent before committing them, although chairwoman Susan Brice said a vital first step was taken.

While some committee members, such as Central Saanich Coun. Chris Graham and View Royal Mayor Graham Hill, support the principle of reducing greenhouse gas, they said detailed cost-benefit figures are needed before they could defend to taxpayers establishing a new service.

"This is a huge whale and we've got it by the tail and we're just trying to figure out where to go with this," said Graham.

Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff said a new service would be more akin to "a secretariat" than a new CRD department. It would not duplicate existing municipal services, but be a facilitator, she said.

The public is ahead of local governments in demanding action on climate change, Brice said, adding it wouldn't surprise her to see the province mandating regional governments to take action.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007


By Brennan Clarke
News staff

Apr 25 2007

Options outlined to cut local greenhouse gases

Capital Regional District environment committee members will be presented today (Wednesday) with four options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and local environmentalists will be on hand to ensure they make the right choice.

Dean Murdock, head of a group of advocacy organizations dubbed the Cool Capital Coalition, called the first option a “do nothing” approach, while options 2 and 3 call for incremental steps. Option 4, the most ambitious plan, proposes reducing greenhouse gases more than 15 per cent below 1995 levels over the next five years. Energy-saving measures over that time would reduce consumption by 2.84 gigajoules at estimated savings of $55 million a year to residents and businesses.

“The comprehensive plan is really the only one you can pursue if you’re going to take meaningful action,” said Murdock, a director of the Sierra Club’s Victoria chapter. “We don’t think the plan is perfect, but we think it’s a great first step and we want to make sure the CRD agrees and supports it. The targets in the comprehensive plan are ambitious, but they’re necessary for regional sustainability and to achieve the provincial target of a 30 per cent reduction by 2020.”

While the four options haven’t been officially released, coalition members that sit of municipal advisory committee have gleaned many of the pertinent details, he added.

Conservation measures would be targeted in six key areas: improving energy efficiency in buildings, increasing transportation efficiency, encouraging efficient land use, diversifying energy supplies, public education and government leadership.

Coalition members include representatives from churches, water conservation groups, green business owners and environmental watchdogs such as the Sierra Club, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Friends of Bowker Creek Society.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The 787

One of the major sources of emissions into the atmosphere is from air travel. The expansion of air travel has been wildly quick over the last two generations. I went to Europe with my parents in 1975 for the first time and the scope and scale of the travel at time was much smaller than today. The flight was not direct as there was not enough demand. The Airport in Vancouver was 1/4 the size of today. The Calgary airport was almost nothing. Frankfurt Rhein/Main was much smaller.

The planes of the 1970s were much less efficient in fuel usage. In the early 1970s the expectation was still that we would shortly be going to supersonic airplanes such as the Concorde. The thought made sense when one looked at the previous 30 years. In 1945 only relatively small prop transports could cross the Atlantic with maybe 80 passengers in 16 hours - something like the DC 4. By the late 1950s there were jets crossing the Atlantic with 180 passengers and covering 6000 km in just over six hours. By 1970 the 747 was in service with a seating capacity of 370.

Instead of going to the supersonic planes, as everyone thought would be next, the focus over the last 30 years has been on reducing the cost per passenger mile. This has been done by carrying more passengers on planes, owning only one type of plane (such as WestJet and their all 737 fleet), and improving fuel usage. As an example, the 1970 747 used 18.7L/km for 366 passengers and the latest uses 14.6L/km for 466 passengers. That is 300 litres per passenger for a 6000 km trip in 1970 to 188 per passenger for the same trip in the latest model.

The newest Boeing, the 787 will be able to carry 232 passengers on the long range version. It uses about 9.2 L/km - or in terms of the above calculations or 240 litres per passenger for 6000 km. It has a range of over 15000 km.

The other direction is the Airbus A380. It can carry up to 853 people 15 000. A fully loaded A380 would use under 140 litres per passenger for a 6000 km trip. A 737 can not go as far, but its fuel consumption per passenger km is about the same.

Can airplane efficiency be increased faster than the demand for air travel rises? The goal is another 25% more efficient by 2020. As it stands, the most efficient planes are now more fuel efficient than cars when fully loaded. If one assumes the airplane is 70% full, the newest airplanes are still under 4.5L/100 km - roughly the same as a Prius.

Airplanes will remain a major source of emissions, but they are clearly not as bad as cars and seemingly as an industry it would be easier to replace the old with new in a more effective manner than cars.


7.2.4. Summary of Aircraft Fuel Efficiency Improvements

Significant improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency have been achieved since the dawn of the jet age in commercial aviation. Historically, these improvements have averaged 1-2% per year for new production aircraft (Koff, 1991; Albritton et al., 1996; Condit, 1996). These advances have been achieved through incorporation of new engine and airframe technology. Changes have included incremental and large-scale improvements. Examined over several decades, however, they represent a relatively steady and continuous rate of improvement. A similar trend is assumed when fuel efficiency improvements are projected forward to 2050.

Table 7-1:Percentage production fuel-efficiency improvements (ASK kg-1 fuel).
Time Period Airframe Propulsion Total Aircraft
1950-1997 30 40 70a
1997-2015b 10 10 20
1997-2050 25 20 45 (40-50)c

a) To date, approximately 3/7 of the total fuel efficiency improvement of 70% is attributable to advances in airframe technology.

b) Based on improvement records to date and the discussion in Section 7.3.7, it is reasonable to expect an airframe production average fuel-efficiency improvement of ~10% by 2015. This percentage improvement is further substantiated in other reference material (Greene, 1995). Similarly, a 10% propulsion production average fuel-efficiency improvement is considered feasible in this time frame.

c) In the longer term (2050) compared to 1997, a total aircraft production average fuel-efficiency improvement of 40-50% is considered feasible (ICCAIA, 1997g). These levels of efficiency improvement are assumed in the 2050 technology scenarios described in Chapter 9. The ratio of airframe to propulsion production average fuel-efficiency improvement over the period 1997 to 2050 is projected to be 55/45 in favor of airframe technology developments. This is equivalent to a 25% airframe fuel-efficiency improvement.

Friday, April 20, 2007


One thing that gets more than anything else with the science of climate is how much we do not know.

All the projections into the future are based on data that has significant margins of error. The projections also make assumptions that are good guess work, but only guess work.

What I think we should first figure out is if the global climate system is one that resists change and only transitions slowly after a lot of effort to shift it, or if we have a climate that is easily changed.

It seems to me that the models and implications of what the impacts will be of the sort of changes that the models suggest are all more dramatic than is likely to occur.

What will it take to reach an equilibrium?

This week there was an interesting model released - they wondered what would happen if all the boreal forests were cut down. The impact of this action was a net cooling of the earth.

With work like this still being done, I do not think we are in a position to be able to make real projections of what may or may not happen in 50 to 200 years time. We need to have a lot more work done on climate research so that we have the data to understand what actions might make sense.

As an example, changing your light bulb in BC will not have any impact on climate change because our power is all green. But the public is still being told that they should change to fluorescent bulbs to stop global warming.

If human society were to stop using internal combustion engines, would we have any effect of climate change?

How much of the global warming is due to methane gas - cow farts? Should be end all meat consumption?

We do not have the data to make intelligent decisions and taking action without knowing is more than likely to more harmful than not taking action.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Rain and climate change

I have been reading through as much stuff as I can find on the climate models, what I am not finding is anything that is predicting what will happen with precipitation over time.

With a higher temperature, there should on average be more evaporation of water and therefore more precipitation.

With a rising sea level, there will be a larger surface area to evaporate. A one centimeter rise in the oceans should lead to a significant increase in the water surface area.

With melting sea ice, there will be an increase in open water surface area and therefore more evaporation.

The increased evaporation should lead to increased cloud cover - what effect will this have? On the one hand it can trap heat on the other hand it reduces the solar radiation reaching the earth's surface.

Global warming should lead to a lot more rain over time, how will this rain distribute itself. It should lead to a higher degree of rainfall in a number of areas that currently are marginal or worse for rainfall. This could be a huge boon for the Sahel and even extend the Sahel northwards into the Sahara.

The higher rainfall should also be beneficial to a number of areas that have very marginal snowpacks at the moment. The higher temperatures and higher precipitation will in part manifest itself as a lot more snow in the boreal forest and tundra. Most of the tundra is a desert at the moment in part because it is too cold to allow for a lot of snow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Global Climate Change

It concerns me that that the primary approach to climate change issues has become one of an almost religious approach to the issue. To ask questions is to be a heretic, to question the infallibility of Kyoto is to be outside the realm of salvation.

There are issues I would like to look at with respect to climate change and consider:

  • What do we mean by global warming?
  • What are the economic costs of doing nothing?
  • What are the economic gains from climate change?
  • How hard and in what way should be work towards stopping and reversing warming?
  • Which is more cost effective, reducing outputs or taking CO2 from the atmosphere?
  • What are examples of regions that are doing well and ones that doing badly?
  • Why work stick to Kyoto since it is so flawed?

I have many more questions and will try to explore them over time.