Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Half-Truths in Environmental Assessment

I was reading the Environmental Assessment for the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor Program - Surrey Grade Separations 192 Street, 54 Avenue, 196 Street “Combo Project”, a fun little 539 page document, and was a bit alarmed when I read the section on climate change.
During road and bridge operation, vehicle usage may increase due to population increases and the improvements in traffic conditions (i.e. elimination of level crossings and associated delays due to passing trains). The associated increases in greenhouse gas emissions will likely be mitigated by improvements in technology (including increased availability of hybrid and/or electric vehicles) that will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and decreased idling time of vehicles compared to the present situation where cars idle for extended time periods waiting for trains to pass at level crossings. (page 64)
One of the biggest half-truths that gets used to green-wash road building projects is that they reduce congestion by stopping cars from idling. This is only true if there is a minimal increase in total traffic volume. Of course all you normally get is more traffic and more congestion. The other thing that I notice in road building environmental assessments is that the authors believe that the glorious future will be able to solve all our problems with new technology. This basically amounts to dumping the externalities of these projects to future generation. The most disturbing sentence in this environmental assessment is “The overall contribution to climate change is unknown.”

There is science based research in the “Combo Project” environmental assessment, but like many other assessment reports for road projects, it seems that science can be brushed aside when it comes to air pollution.

Don’t get me wrong, this project isn't necessarily bad, but it’s high time that these reports contain actual science when it comes to climate change.

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