(“Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus” is an essay by Jon Petrie. Here he revisits the themes of his essay “Our Post-Truth Culture and Greenwash: Misinformation on a Vancouver ‘steam’ clock, a wind turbine, and carbon emissions,” published on CityHallWatch June 2013.)
Vancouver’s ‘Steam’ Clock, owned by the City of Vancouver, was renovated in the winter of 2014-2015 at a cost of about $50,000. The City plaque attached to the base of the clock containing the false statement “… live steam winds the weights … every 4.5 minutes one steel [ball] weight will travel by steam power …” has not been changed. Changing the plaque would cost, at the most, a few thousand dollars.
The renovated clock of 2015 is essentially the same as the 2013 clock — the new faux steam engine together with the renovated ball and chain mechanism driving the clock are propelled by an electric motor hidden within the clock base.
In a 2013 Twitter exchange Jeff Lee, a journalist working for the Vancouver Sun who writes sometimes on environmental issues, conceded that the words “live steam winds the weights” on a plaque attached to the clock were “not correct” but took exception to a description of the misrepresentation as an “outright lie” and implicitly defended not changing the plaque: “… it’s not a correct statement, but it’s now in costly brass.”
To my knowledge, beyond my CityHallWatch 2013 essay, no well circulated web or printed article has drawn attention to the discrepancy between the plaque’s brassy statement “live steam winds the weights” and the actuality that an electric motor “winds the [clock’s] weights.” The various city councillors who I have spoken to or written to pointing out the outright lie — or more euphemistically the misrepresentation — have shown no interest or fobbed me off.
The plaque’s misrepresentation is inconsequential and silly on one level but on another level suggestive of moral rot — the ‘Steam’ Clock is a symbol of the City — is owned by the City and is probably the most photographed manmade object in Vancouver — and the false information on the clock is an ongoing demonstration both of the City’s willingness to misrepresent and of Vancouver’s media’s toleration of government misrepresentation. (1)
(Image above, featuring famed faux steam powered clock, was part of a 2012 email from Reimer to Jon Petrie.)
2. Grouse Mountain’s “Eye of the Wind”: “A Beacon for Sustainability” (NOT)
This section of my 2013 Post-Truth essay was ably summarized in 2014 by Peter Ladner in the weekly Business in Vancouver. (Peter Ladner is a Vancouver establishment figure, a former City councillor):
“… Grouse Mountain’s Eye of the Wind turbine … was narrowly approved in 2008 by District of North Vancouver council on the promise that it had partnered with BC Hydro to be a “beacon of sustainability” and to produce enough electricity to power 400 homes. … in 2010, B.C.’s minister of energy, Bill Bennett, called it “Vancouver’s first commercially viable wind turbine” … [The turbine] produces [enough] power for [only] about 12 homes [not 400] … According to Petrie, it will be lucky to produce enough electricity in 25 years to make up for the energy embodied in its manufacture and installation. Like many other sustainability success stories we’re being asked to believe, it’s a hoax.”
Calls and emails to Grouse Mountain Resorts for comments on the Petrie or Ladner analyses do not get responses.
Beyond my own and Peter Ladner’s remarks I am aware of only one other recent published suggestion that the claimed ‘green’ credentials of the Eye of the Wind are fraudulent — not from a journalist or a ‘green’ spokesperson, as one might expect in a region with many self-proclaimed environmentalists but in a Tripadvisor review of the tourist attraction: “It is extremely rare to actually see the blades turning … the corporation that runs Grouse … [probably] wanted to be able to put in another revenue-generating attraction and knew that they would never get approval for a tower if it didn’t at least appear to have some social benefit, such as green energy.” (2)
Peter Ladner in his “hoax” column quoted above also wrote: “… researcher Jon Petrie … says the City of Vancouver’s much-lauded Greenest City 2020 Action [Plan] vastly underestimate per-capita carbon emissions. Unlike many other cities, Vancouver doesn’t count marine, rail or aviation emissions … it ignores embodied carbon in goods imported into the city (like cement produced in Delta); and it claims huge gains from potent landfill gas (methane) recovery at the landfill, even though the city’s own data shows decreasing rates of landfill gas recovery.”
As far as I know these Peter Ladner words are the only questioning in any mainstream publication, ever, of Vancouver’s official CO2e numbers.
While many North American cities do fail to make sufficiently clear that the CO2e numbers highlighted in their cities’ green house gas inventories are only a small subset of total emissions responsibility, the City of Vancouver, presumably motivated by its “greenest city” self branding and enabled by a culture that condones misrepresentation, is the worst offender amongst the supposedly enlightened North American cities in its spinning of “community” CO2e numbers.
Vancouver claims its “community-based green house gas emissions” were in 2013 about 4.2 tonnes of CO2e per capita. Seattle and Vancouver are similar geographically, economically and in consumption patterns and thus, presumably, similar in their CO2e per capita responsibility. Seattle estimates its annual emissions responsibility as 25 tonnes of CO2e per capita. Beyond my own writings, I have not seen this Seattle 25 tonne CO2e number referenced in any publication. (3) (4)
A few sentences from New York City’s CO2e inventory (2013): “Past GHG [CO2e] inventories … focus[ed] principally on [emissions] … associated with energy and transportation use, solid waste generation … [this] production-based accounting approach … fails to account for the full life cycle GHG emissions … A consumption-based GHG emissions inventory will provide a more complete estimate of GHG emissions related to activities within a city, and can serve as a valuable educational tool … Preliminary results indicate that a consumption-based approach could more than double the city’s attributable emissions, moving accountability away from producers outside of the city to consumers inside the city.” (5)
The City of Vancouver needs to make a similar statement and state that Vancouver’s per capita total responsibility for climate changing emissions is probably close to Seattle’s estimated 25 tonnes of CO2e per capita.
In November 2013 I gave Adriane Carr (Green Party Councillor, Vancouver) a hard copy of my Post-Truth essay. She wrote me a few days later: “I have read this quickly and am both intrigued to learn more, and impressed. Would you like to meet to discuss this further?” I expressed a willingness to meet anywhere in Vancouver at virtually any time. I sent a few reminders and eventually was given an appointment in May 2014. My fifteen minutes with the lady did not go well — partly due to my irritation with the six month wait for a meeting. Carr in that meeting gave me the impression that she had limited understanding of carbon footprints, of what Vancouver’s numbers measured, and no real interest in informing herself.
Councillor Reimer in a July 2014 election email wrote of a “40% drop in solid waste going to the landfill because of our new Green Bin program.” I questioned the claim in an email to Reimer, suggesting that the drop was under 10%, and received no answer. Someone with more clout than I emailed Reimer and received “clarification” (Reimer’s word): “The 40% reduction is for single family homes only.” In October 2014, months after Reimer’s private “clarification”, Reimer was still employing the 40% figure with no qualifiers. Reimer: “In just three years since the Greenest City Action Plan was adopted, we’ve seen [a] … 40 percent reduction in waste.” http://www.straight.com/news/743091/andrea-reimer-lets-keep-making-vancouver-environmental-leader
4. BC Hydro’s Deceptive CO2e Number
Buried in documents released in 2014 relating to BC Hydro’s proposed Site C dam is this BC Hydro statement: “The portion of the electricity from [Site C] … surplus to BC Hydro customer requirements … would likely be exported to external markets. [Exporting electricity] would avoid [CO2e] emissions based on the [CO2e] intensity of the generation in these other markets. The Western Climate Initiative 2008 Default Emissions calculator estimates the marginal GHG [CO2e] emissions from the WECC grid (which BC is a part of) to be 0.443 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per MWh [443 grams per kWh].” (6)
Translation: Any Site C electricity sent out of province will displace carbon generated electricity — for each kWh of exported hydro electricity a kWh of electricity will not be generated by carbon somewhere in the Northwest and 443 grams of CO2e will not enter the atmosphere.
Thus the ‘opportunity cost’ in carbon terms of employing a kWh of hydro generated electricity in BC — of not exporting that electricity — is about 443 grams.
[‘Opportunity cost’ is fundamental to virtually all decisions and intuitively understood by most five year olds. If I choose to stay in bed when its raining and the sun is shining, I will have lost the opportunity to go outside and look for rainbows.
Another opportunity cost example: In a drought year with no rainbows the direct cost to Alfred of continuing to divert water from a now meager stream on his property to irrigate his alfalfa is essentially zero but Alfred’s irrigation results in no water availability for his sister’s orchards further down that same stream. Viewed as one system — Alfred alfalfa fields and his sister’s orchards — the opportunity cost of Alfred’s upstream irrigation is no water for his sister’s orchards.
Portland Oregon is in electric grid terms downstream from BC and Vancouver. The Northwest as a whole has run out of inexpensive ways to expand hydro electricity generation, and Portland’s electricity supply is currently heavily dependent on the burning of carbon. Any hydro electricity produced in BC and not employed in BC could be exported to Portland displacing carbon generated electricity.
The carbon opportunity cost of employing BC’s hydro generated electricity within BC is not being able to employ that same hydro generated electricity to replace carbon generated electricity outside of BC — and according to BC Hydro’s testimony that carbon opportunity cost is 443 grams of CO2e per kWh.]
And if Vancouver’s “community emissions” accountants valued electricity at its CO2e opportunity cost Vancouver’s declared “community emissions” per capita would increase by about 3.3 tonnes of CO2e (from ~4.2 tonnes per capita to ~7.5.) (7) (8)
In 2014 I attempted to explain the above to MLA Spencer Herbert, NDP spokesperson for the environment. Spencer Herbert was apparently unfamiliar with the term ‘opportunity cost.’ He did show some interest in what, perhaps inarticulately, I was trying to convey.
On a different occasion I attempted to engage with MLA George Heyman, NDP spokesperson for the “Green Economy,” on the above. George Heyman in the ten minutes I spent with him appeared uninterested in what, perhaps inarticulately, I was attempting to convey.
Beyond Peter Ladner no journalist has attempted to engage with me on the issues. And the academics I have contacted have generally not been willing to engage. (9)
As of July 2015 the web version of my 2013 Post-Truth essay has had 3800 views.
NOTES — ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
- CBC in January 2015: “The clock is powered by steam from the city’s downtown centralized heating system, which drives a piston inside a miniature steam engine inside the clock.” — http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/gastown-steam-clock-more-accurate-after-refit-says-creator-1.2919411
- The Vancouver Sun, October 2014, echoing the plaque: “The Gastown clock runs by the steel balls coming down by gravity, and it’s wound up by the steam engine. The steam blows the whistles and runs the steam engine.” http://www.vancouversun.com/Iconic+Gastown+Steam+Clock+taken+down+repairs+updated+with+video/10273760/story.html
- The Wikipedia article (viewed July 2015) on steam clocks describing the Vancouver ‘steam’ clock’s mechanism: “The [steam] engine … drives a reduction gear train. The gear train drives an ascending chain lift to lift ball weights [which, descending, power] the clock.”
- The City’s web site, unlike the City plaque on the clock, avoids suggesting that “live steam” powers the clock’s mechanism: “The Gastown Steam Clock has been enjoyed as a public art piece … [since] 1977. The clock also serves as a steam vent for Creative Energy Canada, which supplies the steam that sounds the whistles.” http://vancouver.ca/news-calendar/gastown-steam-clock-undergoes-repairs.aspx (Viewed February 2015; the web page states “Oct 8, 2014 last modification”)
- And the Vancouver Sun in June 2013 did get the facts right “…the clock originally used steam from the Central Heating steam system to power its internal mechanism. Years ago, the city replaced part of the system with three electric motors after parts wore out, but the clock continues to use steam to power the whistles …” http://www.vancouversun.com/Gastown+steam+clock+wearing/8550648/story.html
2) “While it LOOKS like a wind turbine…”
3) CO2e is carbon plus other climate changing gases, notably methane, converted to their carbon equivalent. Researchers, journalists, and propagandists referencing greenhouse gasses [GHG] of cities, countries, etc sometimes employ CO2e, sometimes CO2 — CO2e in my view is a more useful measure and is often about 20% higher than the city or country number given in CO2 terms.
The Ladner BIV column again: http://www.biv.com/article/2014/7/tilting-at-mountain-windmills-and-other-empty-gree/
Misleading per capita emissions numbers comparing Vancouver with other cities were, until a few years ago, prominent in Vancouver’s self congratulatory ‘green’ publications. Recent Vancouver publications, curiously, do not give the Vancouver per capita CO2e number but that number is easy to calculate — divide ‘total’ emissions by population. For declared total emissions of 2013 see p 10 http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/greenest-city-2020-action-plan-2013-2014-implementation-update.pdf
When examining Vancouver’s “Greenest City” publications please note how much space is given to pictures and how little hard information is presented.
Peter Ladner in his “hoax” column quotes a World Bank consultant: “… lack of … consistent data on city performance is one of the biggest barriers to creating sustainable cities.”
It seems to me the biggest barrier to understanding our CO2e responsibility here in Vancouver (and thus devising rationale mitigation policies) is lazy or uncritical journalism and lazy or uncritical academics and environmentalists — and a culture that regards misrepresentation as normal. CO2e data for cities is easily accessible and like all data should be examined critically and comparatively. Lies and misrepresentations only circulate, get repeated, and become conventional wisdom because the media, the academic community, and ‘green’ groups are supine and lazy.
4) New York statement on its own GHG emissions:
And from Boston’s 2013 GHG inventory: “… An order-of-magnitude calculation based on average airline travel by U.S. residents suggests that the inclusion of emissions from airplane travel by Boston residents would add on the order of one million tons of CO2e to the annual inventory … life-cycle emissions from consumption in Boston [population ~630,000] are on the order of five million tons CO2e. Both of these calculations are very rough and could easily vary, up or down, by a factor of 2 or more.”
p 8 http://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/updatedversionghg1_tcm3-38142.pdf
(Vancouver “greenest city” publications make no mention of aviation emissions.)
5) For the 25 tonnes of Seattle, google search: >Getting to Zero May 2011 Seattle< and see p. 37. And for the ~4.2 tonne Vancouver number see p 10, http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/greenest-city-2020-action-plan-2013-2014-implementation-update.pdf — divide the community emissions number (2.585 million tonnes) by Vancouver’s population (~610,000).
Also of significance: “Consumption-based GHG emissions … for King County [Seattle is within King County] per person … 29 MT [metric tonnes] CO2e.” p 6 http://your.kingcounty.gov/dnrp/library/dnrp-directors-office/climate/2008-emissions-inventory/ghg-inventory-summary.pdf
6) Joint Review Panel: p 28 “Request Number 10: Greenhouse Gases” http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents_staticpost/63919/94438/10.pdf
7) BC Hydro’s 443 gram per kWh of avoided emissions for exported hydro electricity is confirmed, broadly, by a US estimation of the CO2e cost of new electrical generation, both nationally and in the US Northwest: “According to analysis of data from PSE [Puget Sound Energy] and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (U.S. EIA 2011), the average emissions intensity of new electricity-generation capacity will be about 0.4 MTCO2e per MW [400 grams per Kwh] … for both PSE and the national average over the next twenty years.”
p 29, note 44 http://your.kingcounty.gov/dnrp/library/dnrp-directors-office/climate/2008-emissions-inventory/ghg-inventory-summary.pdf
Vancouver’s total electrical consumption; ~five billion kWh in ~2008, from bar chart:
Ignoring the carbon opportunity cost of consuming hydro electricity and focusing only on its CO2e generating cost encourages futile CO2e mitigation efforts. If an office tower in Vancouver switches from gas to electrical heat, the CO2e cost of heating that tower will — if electricity is valued at ~25 grams per kWh — appear to have decreased dramatically. But that switch from gas to electricity will almost certainly increase total CO2e emissions in the Northwest; additional electricity will be generated by carbon and imported into BC to heat the building and/or gas or coal will be burned in the USA or Alberta to compensate for the electricity no longer exported from BC because that electricity is now providing heat within Vancouver.
Prof. Dowlatabadi of UBC believes the carbon intensity of electricity consumed in BC is significantly higher than I suggest just above: “[uncounted] burning … by BC Hydro of ~300 kilotons of woody debris … generates the equivalent of ~ 0.4 MtCO2e/y of additional impact on the climate system. This [together with imports**] raises the overall GHG intensity of electricity delivered to BC customers close to 140 tCO2e/GWH [140 grams per Kwh].” http://pics.uvic.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Lifecycle%20analysis%20of%20GHG%20intensity%20in%20BC’s%20energy%20sources%20.pdf (third page of text)
BC Hydro’s media representative in 2012 would not answer my questions about electrical imports. A well informed BC Hydro employee who wishes to remain anonymous broadly confirmed my 2013 analysis of the CO2e intensity of BC’s electricity consumption. However, that employee questioned my claim (p 9 “Post-Truth”) that ~15% of BC’s consumed electricity in 2012 was imported. Excluding electricity which is more or less simultaneously imported and exported, about 10% of the electricity supplied to BC Hydro customers in 2012 was generated outside of BC.
9) Below is a rare engagement with a Berkeley academic/ writer, an engagement that echoes themes within the main text above:
Petrie’s email: >In your book … you write: “… ecotopia … Manhattan … first in [North American] public transit usage … last in per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions.” A dangerously misleading statement — you are ignoring the embodied emissions in goods and services consumed within Manhattan and also resident Manhattanites CO2e emissions when off the island — their flights to Europe etc. Per capita incomes and total emissions responsibility are tightly correlated and Manhattanites have high average incomes and expenditures.<
Reply: >At the time of writing, I was persuaded by a paper showing that average material consumption among suburbanites was higher than city dwellers (lawnmowers, lawns, pool tables, outdoor play sets for kids, etc). However, what I had not realized at that point, was the study was normalized for income. That’s typical, but it was not until later that I came to realize how that then obscures things like flights that are connected with wealth. So, I’m now thinking more in terms of wealth as a short-cut for thinking about footprint.<
(UN study: “[W]e see a strong correlation between wealth and energy use as well as greenhouse gas emissions from final consumption. The overall expenditure elasticity of CO2 is 0.81 (i.e. a doubling of income leads to 81% more CO2 emissions).” p 11 http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/DTIx1262xPA-PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf )
Below, a report of a failure of an academic to engage:
A September 2013 academic paper — four authors, sixty four titles listed as references — estimated Metro Vancouver’s CO2e 2006 air travel responsibility as ~1.3 million tonnes, or about .6 tonne per capita. (Metro Vancouver population 2006, ~2.1 million) The paper is, to my knowledge, the only published academic estimate of the CO2e impact of flying by Metro Vancouver residents and is thus likely to be a source document for government agencies, researchers, and ‘green’ organizations. The paper claims information on actual fuel loadings at YVR is unavailable (note 6 in the paper) and uses a complicated error prone method for estimating fuel use per flight and then, relying on a survey, assumes 29% of the passenger miles flown out of and into YVR are by Metro Vancouver residents. (YVR is Metro Vancouver’s principal airport.)
From the web I did obtain YVR fuel loadings for 2007 ( ~1.6 billion litters) and then — employing the 29% share of passenger miles from YVR employed by the academic paper — conclude that flying by Metro Vancouver residents in 2007 resulted in a minimum of 2.5 million tonnes of CO2e emissions or a minimum of ~1.2 tonnes of CO2e per capita —this before consideration of the forcing effect of high altitude emissions or embodied emissions in the jet fuel itself, the CO2e cost of running airports etc.
Include the forcing effect of high altitude emissions and Metro Vancouver residents’ flying in 2007 had, at a minimum, the same effect as the emission of 2.0 tonnes of CO2e per capita at ground level — reminder Vancouver’s “community emissions” official number which excludes flight emissions (without any mention of that exclusion) ~4.3 tonnes per capita.
[The Metro Vancouver CO2e air travel paper: http://pics.uvic.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Legg%20et%20al%202013%20A%20GHG%20and%20EF%20of%20Metro%20Vancouver%20Air%20Travel.pdf — p. 128 for the 29% figure.
Fuel loadings in 2007 at YVR: http://www.bcuc.com/Documents/Proceedings/2007/DOC_15780_B-2_BMB_Fuel_Report.pdf — p 7. Fuel loadings need to be doubled to account for incoming flights. CO2e per liter of jet fuel ~2.7 kg. My calculations assumed that jet fuel employed for freight out of YVR was equivalent to the jet fuel used to fly Metro Vancouver residents from and to non YVR airports — a cautious assumption. (About 950,000 Canadian passengers flew from Seattle or Bellingham airports instead of YVR in a recent year http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Canadian+flyers+boost+Bellingham+airport+million+expansion/6858093/story.html ; and frequently a journey out of YVR does require a change of planes at some intermediate point — thus fuel loadings at YVR to fly Metro residents are only a fraction (well under 85%) of the fuel costs of Metro Vancouver residents outgoing flights from the region.)
Though the forcing effect on climate of high altitude emissions is mentioned within the academic Metro Vancouver air travel paper (p 124), the paper excludes the forcing effect in its calculations, and does not mention in its summary of results that the forcing effect is excluded. Many readers will reference the summary and not notice that the forcing effect has been excluded.
Seattle and Vancouver residents presumably fly per capita roughly the same distances annually at about the same CO2e cost. Seattle’s states its 2008 per capita flight CO2e emissions — passenger plus cargo — are 2.1 tonnes. http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/OSE/2008-community-inventory-fullreport.pdf — table 2, p 4. A more recent (2012) Seattle estimate is ~1.5 tonnes CO2e — but excluded from this 1.5 tonnes is international flying from SeaTac — http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/OSE/2012%20GHG%20inventory%20report_final.pdf — table 6, p 15 and p 16 for the exclusion of international flights — that exclusion is easy to miss. Again, the academic paper with four authors and sixty four titles as backup suggests Metro Vancouver per capita responsibility is about .6 tonnes, Seattle suggests its per capita responsibility is well above 1.5 tonnes, and my calculations, using actual fuel loadings at YVR, suggest Metro Vancouver flying responsibility, 2007, was a minimum of 1.2 tonnes per capita – with no allowance for the climate forcing effect of high altitude emissions.]
Read the original ‘Our Post-Truth Culture and Greenwash’: Misinformation on a Vancouver ‘steam’ clock, a wind turbine, and carbon emissions online or download via Scribd.
To view Falsus on Scribd, please click here.
PDF format here.
If you would like to contact Jon Petrie, please e-mail CityHallWatch (citizenYVR@gmail.com) and we will forward any queries to him.