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Monday, February 05, 2007

An Unequivocal Truth

Okay I admit it. When the issue of global warming first came up I thought, what a load of hot air (pun intended). Keep in mind when I was a kid back in the 1970s scientists were still talking about the next coming ice age.

But there has been a growing body of scientific data that makes clear that global warming has gone from being an inconvenient truth to an unequivocal one. So much so that as a resident of Victoria I am starting to eye up which hillside properties may end up as ocean front lots in another generation or two.

But as Canadians it is also worth keeping in mind that if not for the development of agriculture 6,000 years ago much of what we call Canada would currently be sitting under a mile thick sheet of ice. This is because based on the normal 22,000-year cycle of rising and falling CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in the Earth’s atmosphere we should have slipped back into an ice age a thousand years ago.

Instead the rate at which CO2 was declining in the Earth’s atmosphere was slowed over the past 6,000 years by the slash burning of forests to make way for agriculture. Then about 200 years ago, with the coming of the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, CO2 levels stopped slowly declining and began to rise at an accelerating rate.

The impact of global warming on our planet will be dramatic. The Arctic Ocean will be ice free in the summer time within the next 50 years. If much of the ice sheet covering Greenland and Antarctica slides into the ocean, the majority of the world’s population and cities will be displaced by rapidly rising sea levels. Here in British Columbia much of the Lower Mainland would be under water as would of course much of Greater Victoria.

But as consumers and as voters we still have an opportunity to slow and even reverse the rate at which we are loading CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. For example if all the cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles we drove here in Canada and the United States were all gas electric or diesel electric hybrids that alone would allow both countries to not only meet but exceed the C02 reduction targets set out in the Kyoto agreement.

I recently had the opportunity to drive with a business colleague in a Toyota Prius from Delta to Merritt and back again. We drove this distance on less than 30 dollars worth of gas. The Prius has more interior room than my Ford Mustang and burns much less gas. Now imagine a slightly re-engineered Prius where you could charge up the battery from your house the night before so the first 60 or 80 km you drove was almost all on battery power. Then have a roof, which has a photovoltaic film over it that also recharges the battery while you have your car parked or driving in the sun. Then last but not least imagine the fun of driving for days or even weeks without having to stop at a gas station.

But our dependence on big oil is not the only issue we must grapple with. British Columbia has gone from being a net exporter to a net importer of electrical power. We need to generate more electricity. Wind, tidal, solar and micro hydro are all projects we are going to have to support if we want to keep running our computers and plasma screen televisions. But we will also have to look at undertaking major hydroelectric projects such as Site C and even nuclear power.

But as my friend in the Prius pointed out, there are many other things we can do as consumers to reduce our electrical consumption. For example given how hot and sunny it gets in the Okanagan in the summer time, how insane is it that nearly everyone reading this column still uses a dryer during the summer to dry their clothes?

I was in Merritt last summer camping by Nicola Lake. The wind blew one of my towels into the lake. I didn’t even both to wring it out but just dumped the soaking wet towel on a picnic table. I came back from swimming 15 minutes later and was shocked to discover the towel was now bone dry.

In Mexico where I vacationed for a month last year, no one has an electric hot water tank. Instead they have a metal tank on their roof that is painted black. These tanks get so hot from the sun they actually have to have pressure relief valves to vent the steam that builds up in them. So would it not make sense for our houses here in Canada to have the same feature? Sure in the wintertime we would need to drain these tanks and use electric hot water tanks but again imagine the electrical savings in the summer which would help offset the electricity used in running air conditioners and fans.

Here in Victoria we have a morning traffic jam called the Colwood crawl. A $300 million investment would establish a light rail line that would allow most of these commuters to park their vehicles and ride the train to work each morning. A relatively modest investment when compared to the billions of dollars in residential and condominium tower construction set to occur in the Greater Victoria area.

So again both as consumers and as voters we have the ability to make choices that will either accelerate or slow global warming. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to make sure the decisions we make now are wise ones.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations and media relations consultant who lives in Victoria BC. He can be reached via his website at http://www.mgcltd.ca/

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