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The Fine Print

Catastrophic Climate Change: We Caused It; We're Going to Have to Fix It.


2019.01.01

Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.
- Albert Einstein

Some Big Wins to Aim For

The first step in this process is understanding that you CAN make a real difference. Industry and the mainstream media have put a lot of money and effort into convincing you otherwise, because that's to your benefit. There is a speck of truth in painting you as a 'co-conspirator' in the current state of current catastrophic climate change: you are (were) buying what they're selling. (Yes, me too, either directly or indirectly.) However, you can choose to change and get out of the fossil fuel dependency. The oil industry cannot. Do you care enough to make a small effort to make a change which will benefit you and your family? Will you change if it saves you money? Those options are definitely on the table for you. Some examples are set out below.

Understand, Support and Benefit from a Feebate for GHG Emissions

Detractors tend to call this 'the carbon tax'. Why not? It's 2 pieces of disinformation in 3 words.

First, it's not a tax. A tax is when the government takes your money and spends it on something you probably weren't prepared to pay for yourself (like a 20% increase in housing allowances for Ontario MPPs). Something where you get no return. The GHG Feebate (in most incarnations) is designed to be 'revenue neutral', for the government collecting the fees, which means it gives the same amount of money back to consumers - in total - as was collected. So, how can it entice you to reduce your GHG emissions if you just get the money back? Because, you can CHOOSE to buy less expensive options (with lower GHG emissions embedded) to improve your standard of living than the thing which is now MORE EXPENSIVE because of GHG fee. (Sorry for the all caps, but this sort of free-market behaviour seems difficult for Conservatives to understand.) For example, if you heat your house and hot water with heating oil, and the price of the heating oil goes up by 10% (say by year 3) due to the GHG fee (say from $3000 a year to $3300), you might choose to upgrade your weather-sealing, add insulation, or add some solar heating capability to your house to reduce the amount of heating oil you use, possibly by about $1000 a year. And if you're getting an annual GHG rebate of about $1000 a year (by year 3), added to the savings (increasing each year with the fuel price), you can afford to have that work done one-time, and pocket the rising annual rebate for the rest of your life. Of course, if you would rather continue supporting foreign oil companies and let your neighbours take the annual savings, that is entirely YOUR CHOICE.

Let's take another example. If you contribute to a government pension plan, is that a tax? No, because you will get money back from the pension program at a later date. That's the definition of an investment, not a tax. Similarly, the greenhouse gas emissions fee is an investment in maintaining a planet your descendants can live on and you will be getting money back each year.

It reminds me of beer bottle and can deposit fees. When somebody buys a container of beer, they pay a small amount of money to encourage the return of the bottle or can so it doesn't just become litter and pollution (the 'polluter pays' principle). You get the rebate when you take the can or bottle back. One summer I worked doing grounds maintenance at a recreation facility where many of the patrons smuggled in beer and dropped their empties under the bleachers on show nights. Their choice was to give up the return rebate for their convenience. It was my choice to show up early for work the next day, collect all the empties and put them in my car. On my way home, I would return the empties. Generally, I made more money from returning the bottles and cans than I made in a day of work. That's like a 20% pay bonus - each week - untaxed. That's how a feebate works. If your neighbours don't want the money as a matter of their convenience, you can choose to collect their share.

Second, it's not about carbon. It's about greenhouse gases. Like methane, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. Carbon is not a greenhouse gas; it's not a gas at all. If your objective is confusion and disinformation "carbon tax" is a win-win, because both terms are misleading, and pretending it's a tax instead of a feebate program creates confusion.

The GHG Feebate is about the Polluter Pays principle. In short, if you make the mess, you clean it up, or pay for someone else to clean it up. It's like being an adult, and taking responsibility for your actions.

Personal Transportation

For many of us, this is the one where we can make a big difference with a small number of changes. In short, if you're burning gasoline or diesel fuel to move yourself around, time to downshift on your fossil fuel consumption. Assuming you have a job you commute to most days of the week, could you work from home one of those days each week or two? I know it can't work for everyone. But if you can do it, I don't think you'll miss the traffic. In my experience, it really reduces the interruption factor, and allows me to get more actual work done. It also forces me to plan my work more effectively, knowing meetings have to be on 'office' days, and I need to get the information I'm going to work with before taking a 'work from home' day. Huge bonus if I can set a 'work from home' day to accommodate some service call which would otherwise require me to take a day or half-day off.

If you have a gas or diesel fueled vehicle, get rid of it.

If you can live without your own car or truck, why carry the expense? In 2013, CAA said it costs on average about $9,500 or more a year to own a light-duty vehicle. For most of us, that's in after tax dollars. (You can try your specific case at CAA's online calculator.)

If you think you need a car (e.g. no transit option where you live), or can justify the cost (e.g. it's critical to how you make a living), then it's time to shift to a plug-in vehicle. It could be an e-bike, and electric motorcycle, plug-in hybrid vehicle or go all-in on a battery-only electric vehicle (EV). Multiple jurisdictions have said they will not permit the sale of gas-only or diesel-only vehicles by dates ranging from 2025 to 2030. So, if you have one now to get rid of, might be a good idea to trade it in earlier than later, while it still has remaining value.

There are currently 2 catches to buying a plug-in vehicle. 1) The automakers don't want to sell you one, so you are going to have to make additional effort to actually get one, and (gasp), you might have to wait for delivery because they don't have any in the showroom or sitting in the inventory lot. That's because a bunch of smart people are already buying them despite the obstacles. 2) The EV may have a higher sticker price due to the cost of the advanced battery that comes in it. If so, and you don't have the cash, finance it. Preferably at a reasonable interest rate, which probably won't be offered by the dealer. If you drive a typical amount, the fuel cost savings will easily offset the monthly financing cost.

There are a few other reasons you may still be reluctant to get an electric car. Let's go through those.

Who will fix it if something goes wrong? The dealer. Look for 8-year and longer warranties on the major vehicle components and the entire drive train. They come standard on most plug-in models.

I drive more than 600 km most days, and I don't think an EV will work for me. Wow, that's over 215,000 km a year. Personally, I can't imagine spending more than 7 hours a day in my car unless it's how I make a living. That's about 15 times the distance the average light duty vehicle goes, and way more than a taxi travels in a year. So, you have a couple of options.
1) Get a plug-in hybrid whick can do some travel in all-electric (zero-emissions) mode, and then automatically switches to liquid fuel when the battery gets low.
2) Find the fast charging stations along your route and use them. These are becoming increasingly common, and can refuel the electric vehicle in 20 minutes or less (long enough for a bio-break, pick up a fresh beverage and possibly food, check your email and stretching your muscles).
However, if you drive a more typical distance most days, a battery EV will likely fill your range needs without need for charging during the day (assuming starting with a full charge from overnight charging).

I heard driving an electric car causes more pollution than driving a gas car. I have heard that, too. However, it's simply wrong. It doesn't matter if coal is burned to make the electricity. The electric car is so much more efficient than a gas car (or diesel - no matter how much VW cheated), that an electric car is always less polluting than a fossil-fueller. This has been hashed over in study after study, but the truth can't get past the mainstream media (which rely on automaker and oil industry advertising revenue) and into the collective consciousness. Here's yet another such study put out recently by Bloomberg showing the same conclusion. Further, electric cars eliminate air pollution where it does the most harm to humans - at ground level where we live. Those emissions are easier to clean up at a single smoke stack than at a million tailpipes. Finally, while gas cars emit more pollution as they get older, the electric grid is getting cleaner as renewables continue to displace coal and natural gas in our electric generating mix - because renewables are less expensive per kWh over their lifetime than new-build coal or natural gas generating stations.

I have been driving electric cars since 1978, so I can tell you a couple of other things you may not know about them. They're peppy, thanks to the instantaneous torque the electric motor delivers at zero RPM. Seriously, it will make you smile. The effect is so common it has a name: the EV Grin. Try it. A quiet car is amazing! You have to not hear it to believe it. Many insurance companies offer discounts for owners of electric and hybrid vehicles. You can live without making stops at gasoline stations (but you will smile every time you go past one and see the price posted on the big signs). Our electric cars cost less than 2 cents a km (3 cents a mile) for the electricity cost (at conventional retail utility rates). If you live where time-of-use or interval pricing is available, electricity goes on sale every night and weekend.

When the battery wears out, it will just go to landfill. No, it won't. First, the battery will likely either be repaired/refurbished or repurposed. Moving a vehicle is a demanding application for a battery, so when it isn't good enough for that, it will get used for something else, like backup power for buildings. So far, every EV maker takes back the batteries they replace. And the materials in the battery have value, like lead-acid car batteries. Today, car batteries don't go to landfills, they go for recycling because the materials have value. The recycling facilities for advanced EV batteries are being built now, for the same reason - profit.
Myth Busted: Battery Recycling Is Already Feasible

When the battery in my EV dies, it will cost over $10,000 to replace. Almost certainly not, though the size of the battery will be key factor in determining final price to you. The price of replacement packs (and so far not many have been required outside warranty replacement), is falling. Within a decade, the industry forecasts the price of batteries will be much lower than today - likely about 75% less. By comparison, consider how much it costs to replace an engine today in a gasoline car.

So, a superior driving experience. A quiet vehicle. Lower operating, insurance and fuel costs. Most new models have plenty of range for typical driving missions. Fast charging stations are becoming increasingly common. And you can help save the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, toxic and carcinogenic air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, thermal pollution and noise pollution. There may even be purchase incentives where you live.

If you drive a fossil-fueller now, this is probably the single biggest change you can make to combat climate change. You can drop your emissions from over 4 tonnes of CO2 [the U.S. EPA says, "a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year"] (plus some NOx), to zero (at the vehicle). That is per gasoline or diesel burning light vehicle, per year. For a vehicle which lasts 20 years, that means about 100 tonnes of GHG emissions avoided - per car! No matter where you live or how the electricity you use is produced, your overall emissions WILL go down, almost certainly by at least 50%, and in those places which use no coal or other fossil fuels to produce electricity, by 100%.

Housing

For most of us, this is the second largest component of our personal GHG emissions - heating, cooling, lighting and otherwise maintain the comfort level in our homes, be they houses, apartments or whatever. Various forms of energy may be used for these functions: electricity, heating oil, natural gas, propane, wood or other biomass, sunlight, geothermal, etc. Each of these brings its own efficiency and GHG-emissions story.

One way to improve household comfort doesn't require a continuous input of energy. That's improving the tightness of the building envelope and upgrading insulation. These measures will reduce your explicit energy use for both heating and cooling. In my opinion, this is where we should all start - reducing our actual energy consumption by reducing the amount of energy escaping from our homes. Energy you are probably paying for with after-tax dollars. If your marginal income tax rate is 33%, then saving $67 on your energy bill is worth about $100 of earned income. For most of us, such savings are available, and at a lower cost than the available annual savings. Start with behavioural changes (no out of pocket costs) like remembering to turn off lights and close doors and windows properly. Get some inexpensive draft-stopper materials and reduce the drafts in your house. A draft is where energy is leaving your house. When you choose to change window coverings, get some with insulating properties which touch the interior window frame. If it's a sun-facing window and summer heating is an issue for you, find a window covering with a reflective or light coloured lining to reduce the heat gain when the coverings are drawn on hot, sunny days. So many other possibilities. In general, reducing your energy use will reduce your costs and your GHG emissions.

Of the energy sources typically used to power houses, to my knowledge, only sunlight has the distinct advantage of being free. All you need is a sun-facing window, and you can produce heat. More sophisticated solar energy systems typically require some equipment installation cost, but after that, the solar fuel is free. Not just free financially, but free of GHG emissions. Different energy forms have different GHG emissions factors associated with them. Coal is high, heating oil is less, natural gas is still less, electricity is usually even less, biomass is likely near zero and solar is zero. Look into the potential for switching to a lower GHG-intensity energy source when appropriate (e.g. a furnace is approaching end of life), or supplementing a fossil fuel with a solar energy heating system to reduce your use of priced energy.

General Energy Use

When it comes to energy use, the type of energy and where it comes from make a difference. For example, if you are looking to reduce your GHG emissions and you live in Quebec, reducing your electricity consumption won't make much of a difference. Considerably less than 1% of Quebec electricity comes from burning hydrocarbon fuels; almost all of the electricity in Quebec comes from hydro, wind and some solar and biomass. On the other hand, if you live where a lot of your electricity comes from burning coal (e.g. Wyoming see 2018 EIA report on CO2 emissions Table 9), then reducing your electricity consumption from the grid could make a significant difference.

Help Green the Grid

Tell Your Elected Officials to Remove Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Plastic Pollution

Algae Blooms

Dark Snow

This book Drawdown (2017) says we're not doomed, and includes a wide range of actions we can take to avert the worst that catastrophic climate change could bring our way.

If you're looking for some less intense and more personal things to do to reduce your GHG emissions contribution, check out the calendar with a tip per day. It's cool to start slow and small. It's not cool to not start.

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