Tuesday, April 8, 2008

We Want the Best, but Pay for the Cheapest...

“We want the best, but pay for the cheapest.” That what Professor John Heywood and Stephen Ansolabehere said at a lecture called “Growing Pains – Transitioning to a Sustainable Energy Economy.”

(The Apple iTunes Store has a section called iTunes U, where you can download lectures from various universities and technical institutes in North America. The lecture I downloaded happened to be from MIT. I suggest that you search for it at the iTunes U Store.)

John Heywood is an expert in internal combustion engines and Stephen Ansolabehere in Political Science. John Heywood said that even if we were able to make all cars 60% more efficient than today (which is really hard), if we stay on the same road/car path we are on today, we will still not be in a place to see a reduction in green-house gases. Mr. Heywood went on to mention that hydrogen fuel and electric vehicle are many decades away from being practical. The main problems with hydrogen and electric vehicles are this: In a prefect world with these kinds of vehicles, the source of energy would have to from utilities that are today over-burdened. Most of those new power plants that would need to be built to support our new “green” cars would most likely be coal or natural gas burning. Once you figure in the loss from transmit the power from the plant to your car, we really wouldn’t be in a better position.

Stephen Ansolabehere went on to say that the world is sitting on up to hundreds of years of dirty, cheap coal. This is a depressing picture, I know, but this is what they suggested we can do to make things better:

1.) We need to converse energy. Little things like turning off lights when added together make a big difference. Check out BC Hydro’s PowerSmart for more information.

2.) Reduce our dependency on fuel fuels. How can we do that? Carbon Tax. Tax is such a dirty word and who want to be taxed more? I don’t. But, the MIT professors had a good idea. Instead of having income tax, we would have consumption tax. The whole idea is to set a tax for carbon causing things like driving Hummers or buying non-energy efficient stoves, so that the energy efficient version is the same price or lower. To ensure that we have the same amount of money at the end of day, our income tax would be lowered. The professors seemed to think that this would be the easiest way to do things.

In the GVRD (Metro Vancouver) 39% of greenhouse gases (GHG) comes from cars and light-duty trucks and vans. If we wanted to see a reduction in GHG, we would need to have both energy efficient vehicles and less of them on the road. How do we do that? Well, carbon tax and public transit. I would suggest that we build the public transit first because if we didn’t it would be both stupid and political suicide. If the South Fraser had as good as transit in Vancouver, we could go from a 4% mode-share to 20% or higher. If we really invested, we could get that number higher. This is all before carbon tax. With carbon tax, people that still continued to need a vehicle would be driving more energy-efficient vehicles. All this is very doable; it just needs the political will. Hopefully this will happen before Langley is underwater…

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