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  • 03 Feb 2016 1:15 PM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    The Fraser River needs your help.  LNG, Coal, Jet Fuel... numerous proposed industrial projects in this sensitive estuary hinge on tankers gaining access up-river of the George Massey Tunnel, over which only shallow or partially loaded ships can pass.  Access to Information requests have revealed that Port Metro Vancouver and Surrey Fraser Docks have lobbied the provincial and federal governments to build a bridge and remove the tunnel, and intend to dredge the river far deeper.

    The tunnel is the gatekeeper of the Fraser and all of its inhabitants, and so the Provincial government has devised a plan to remove it.  Millions were spent on seismic upgrades & shake-alarm on the Massey tunnel in 2007-09, but now they're selling us a 10-lane mega bridge for a whopping $3.5 Billion (so far), and telling us it is necessary to ease traffic congestion.  It will shift congestion a few kilometers northbound.

    Until February 15th, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) is receiving comments for the pre-Application period of the "George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project".  As outlined on the EAO website, the assessment "examines major projects for potentially adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects that may occur during the life cycle of [the project]".  These adverse effects are many.  They are far-reaching.  Some are province-wide, and some are global in scale.  And for the most part, they are irreversible. 

    The Fraser River is the largest overwintering area for waterfowl in Canada, supports the world's largest salmon run, and is designated as a Canadian Heritage River and a "Wetland of International Importance" (Ramsar.org).  Delta and Richmond farmers depend on the river for irrigation, and farm on lands that are coveted by Port Metro Vancouver for expansion of port facilities.  With industrialization, people living in communities along the river would face extreme hazards in case of spilled oil, gas or LNG, and health impacts due to coal dust.

    Luckily, this project is not a "done deal".  A group of residents and organizations from Richmond, Delta, Vancouver, and throughout the region have begun organizing to stop the proposed Bridge and the industrialization of the Lower Fraser River that the bridge is designed to enable. They organized a Rally and leafleted outside the Project's Open Houses on January 26 & 27 to protest the bridge and highlight its negative impacts on growth patterns, agriculture, fishery, wildlife, climate change, and public spending, among myriad other concerns. 

    The group (soon to be named) is demanding disclosure of the rationale and business case for the bridge, study of alternative options, and review of many studies & previous policies which do not favour a bridge, including the Regional Growth Strategy.  It is demanding meaningful consultation with municipal governments and the public, and real action to achieve Canada's global climate commitments. 

    Please tell the EAO what you think should be studied and assessed in this project.  Go to Masseytunnel.Realhearings.org for more info, and to submit your comments and ensure they are cc'd to relevant politicians. 

    Kimi Hendess from FarmWatch

    FarmWatch BC is a grassroots group of farmers and residents in Richmond BC who are concerned about the degradation of farmland and farm ecosystems.  We want to protect the ALR and end all dumping on farmland.
  • 03 Feb 2016 12:57 PM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)
    Last year, in preparation for our 45th anniversary celebration, I reviewed SPEC’s historical campaigns (1) and successfully connected with nearly 100 SPEC activists from the early days.  As I gathered names, one that repeatedly came up was Terry Chantler so I called him to see what I could learn about the early SPEC culture and work.  He graciously walked me through the work that he and others did around the earliest Energy Campaign and I came to realize why he is remembered as one of the most successful researchers in SPEC history. 

    Terry was first hired by SPEC (1971) as a graphic artist to illustrate SPEC’s public campaigns and education materials used in schools. He is a gifted artist and today is part of an artist’s collective on Pender Island where he lives.  But he also made an outstanding contribution to SPEC as a researcher in the area of energy conservation, public policy and regulatory oversight.  Cliff Stainsby (past SPEC President and ED, and close colleague of Terry’s) says, “SPEC lived off Terry’s research for decades.”  Terry describes himself as the nexus of a large network of people doing various aspects of the research, that he was merely the one that brought it all together.  But his university training in electrical engineering, his passion for detail and accuracy, his ability to see the important connections, to chase down the missing pieces and to assemble it all into comprehensive reports won him respect and acknowledgement from his colleagues. 

    Terry compiled documents that became the basis of a SPEC energy policy critique presented to the National Energy Board and to Provincial officials with highly significant results: It established that proposed hydro dams were unnecessary in terms of energy demand and, if developed, would squander both environmental resources and provincial finances.  Second, it demonstrated that BC Hydro was operating without regulatory oversight, and forced the hand of the Provincial government to change the regulatory framework and provide accountability in the public interest. 

    Gary Gallon, former SPEC Executive Director and a close colleague of Terry’s, was convinced that SPEC could prove that BC Hydro didn’t need the electricity from 45 proposed new dams and power projects and that, in fact, current production was being wasted.  Terry says, “I saw that what he was saying was right but that it would become opinion unless it was backed up by fact.  So I just collected a whole bunch of facts and put them in reports and slide shows.”  SPEC hired people to do research, tapping into government documents and BC Hydro documents, along with the research of universities and other  environmental agencies – all of which Terry collected, synthesized and focused on the case for efficiency and conservation.  SPEC had federal funding to develop “Energy Conservation” and “Conserver Society”(2)  slide shows (which Terry researched, so-wrote and composed music for) to educate the public at the same time that SPEC was pressuring the Provincial government to change the laws that had allowed BC Hydro carte blanche to develop dams, investing billions and causing vast environmental change without appropriate regulatory oversight.    

    Terry, an articulate and effective speaker, carried his research message, with others, to Ottawa and other venues including the National Energy Board, to argue the SPEC case.  He commands an impressive ability to synthesize, distill, and articulate a clear and compelling message. His research and advocacy supported a SPEC campaign that delayed the construction of the Revelstoke Dam and, most importantly, compelled the Provincial Government to take the time review the regulatory framework and require the needed oversight and approval by the BC Utilities Commission before any new dam construction (3).  Cliff Stainsby and others utilized the same research in stopping construction of the Site C Dam on the Peace River in 1984 and Past president David Cadman (‘96-03) affirmed that Terry’s research was relevant and effective 20+ years later in fighting unnecessary dam construction on Vancouver Island.  Essentially, utilizing Terry’s research, SPEC stopped the wholesale expansion of large scale and unneeded hydro dams from 1984 up to the recent approval by the Utilities Commission for the $8.3 billion revival of the Site C project.  (Perhaps we’ll do another article soon on the revived Site C project.)

    Terry and I have spoken several times by phone and in person.  It’s clear that his spec days are still vibrant in his memory and he enjoys explaining this very important era of our past.  He (and partner Kathleen Lightman (4) travelled from Pender Island to the anniversary celebration where he spoke about SPEC’s work from that era.  Terry represents the face of SPEC that is about solid research and persistent negotiation to bring about change based on reliable information and conservation ethics.  He left SPEC in 1979 and moved to Pender Island with Kathleen but he remains fundamentally engaged and committed to ecological values. 

    1. See “SPEC Through The Ages” on our website – as well as a short review of this project in SPEC Annual Report of 2014.
    2. Toward A Conserver Society – June 1978  In the SPEC Archives.
    3. The report of this project is available in the SPEC archives.  It has a complicated title but ask for the report related to the Revelstoke Dam
    4. Kathleen Lightman was also a SPEC employee and volunteer who illustrated several of SPEC’s education programs including the slideshows. 
  • 03 Feb 2016 12:00 PM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    Why is chocolate an environmental issue? Because palm oil, an ingredient used in some chocolates, is the main driver behind much of the deforestation happening in tropical peat forests of Indonesia and Malaysia, among other places.

    Tropical peat forests are home to a diversity of plant and animal species, and are important carbon sinks, which means they have an important role in climate change issues. To learn more, here is one article to get you started: Palm Oil and Global Warming (Dec 2013, Union of Concerned Scientists)

    By reading the label, you can avoid buying chocolate made with unsustainably produced palm oil, which can be a challenge. Another option is to search for information about a company’s corporate social responsibility, or palm oil charter.

    Here is a list of some to get you started. Keep in mind things change, so please follow up as best you can.

    And, Happy Valentines Day!

  • 02 Feb 2016 10:53 PM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    Phantom leaks occur when microwaves, computers, TVs, and other electrical devices continue to draw energy even when they're turned off, up to 15%.
    The solution—unplug them. 
    A convenient way to do that is to plug devices, such as your computer, and their peripherals, printers, speakers, monitors, etc. into a power bar that you manually switch off. Unplugging your rechargers for smart phones and iPads is also smart. Remember—if it's warm, it is drawing energy.

    Different devices leak different amounts. You can find out how much it at:  http://20somethingfinance.com/electrical-leaking-standby-appliance-list/.)
    Collectively, phantom leaks can account for about 10% of your household energy bill. Given the average of 30 domestic electrical devices, the cost savings of stopping that leak is many times the cost of power bars. Many of us already have them but have to climb under desks and into cabinets to use them. If you commit to making your power bars accessible, they can begin paying for themselves right away. And you can feel proud of yourself for doing your part to reduce your electricity usage for the environment. 
    Smart strips are another option. They are a type of power bar with the added convenience that they deliver electricity to some outlets while shutting it off to others. This allowing you to turn off the computer and peripherals but leave the light and/or the clock on, for example. Some smart strips can be set by a timer to turn off automatically, others sense occupancy in the room and shut off devices accordingly. However you choose to organize it. Not all are readily available, but your local store may have one for about $40.00 apiece.
    These smart strips are more expensive but offer more flexibility with savings. 
    Check out:
    Google Search: phantom energy leaks and smart strips
    Power Strips

    Image credit: http://www.energycaretech.com

    Prepared by Carole Christopher

  • 12 May 2015 10:42 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    Vancouver and Surrey ranked lowest

    Vancouver, BC - 2015 May 12 - SPEC (Society Promoting Environmental Conservation) has released the first ranking of  Canadian cities-based on solar energy policy.  Amongst the large Canadian cities - Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto were ranked best, with Surrey and Vancouver  at the bottom of the list.

    The ranking which looked at the cost of municipal requirements for installing residential photovoltaic systems highlights a significant range of regulations.  The costs in Vancouver, which has the most expensive policies, are over twenty times the costs in the the top ranked municipality.  Seventeen municipalities from across Canada were included and data was collected both from online policy statements and surveys of local solar energy installers.

    Vancouver’s place at the bottom of the list is especially noteworthy given that the city has set a target of moving to 100% renewable energy.  Prior to 2014,, Vancouver would have ranked number 10 but new policies moved it further down the list.

    Eugene Beregovoy, a home owner in Surrey who is currently installing a solar energy system, said that the municipal requirements add 12% to the system cost.  He stated that the requirements make the system, “Worthless to install.  It will take an additional 3 years for my system to pay for those costs.”

    SPEC is recommending that municipalities adopt the Solar America Board for Codes and Practices guidelines for an expedited permitting process.  This policy developed by a team of professional engineers has already been adopted by cities in both the US and Canada, including Toronto, Calgary, Seattle and San Jose.  Municipalities could also move to a low flat fee electrical permit as the city of Toronto has done. More details on this can be found at:http://www.solarabcs.org/about/publications/reports/expedited-permit/pdfs/ABCS-11_1page.pdf

    Additionally, municipalities could move to a lower flat fee for the electrical permit as Toronto has done.

    SPEC's Canadian Solar Cities Ranking 2015

    The table below ranks Canadian Cities on the cost of municipal requirements for a 5 kW photovoltaic system (standard flush mount on a residential roof).


  • 15 Apr 2015 10:44 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    By now, most people have seen photos and read news accounts of the fuel spill that occurred on April 8th, 2015 in English Bay, the impacts of which are still being determined. It is important to note that Vancouver’s waters are under federal jurisdiction and are overseen by the Vancouver Port Authority while the Canadian Coast Guard is tasked with responding to such an emergency.

    It is clear that the response to the spill in English Bay was both slow and poorly coordinated. It took over six hours for the Coast Guard to respond (from Richmond - 17 nautical miles from where the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, now closed, used to be) and 12 hours to notify the City of Vancouver. As different levels of government point fingers at each other, the bigger question remains: what would this have looked like if, instead of a grain ship purging fuel, it was an oil tanker? If, instead of 2700L it was hundreds of thousands of liters?

    The Kinder Morgan project plans to twin the Trans-Mountain pipeline and dramatically increase the number of tankers carrying crude oil from the Tar Sands through Vancouver’s waters. The resulting increase in tanker traffic poses serious threats to the marine ecosystems, people and wildlife (not to mention the implications for our climate). We support the work of the City of Vancouver as they prepare a strong case of concerns for the Kinder Morgan project which will be presented to the National Energy Board reviewing the project. We agree with the City of Vancouver that it is our right as citizens to have a say in decisions that could endanger our ecosystem, economy and food supply.

    To do our part, SPEC’s Energy Committee works to educate individuals, businesses and children about renewable energy and energy saving methods to reduce their energy footprint. SPEC offers opportunities for groups and individuals to view and learn about practical, long-term energy solutions to climate change. SPEC’s Zero Fossil Fuels Campaign raises awareness about the issues related to the use of fossil fuels in our community and educates people on how we could completely eliminate the use of all fossil fuels within the City of Vancouver using strategies that have already been implemented here or elsewhere.

    If you are looking for a way to get more involved, become a SPEC member and/or volunteer with one of our committees or programs. You can also sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date with our campaigns.

    We also encourage our supporters to check out the Georgia Strait Alliance, a citizen-led advocacy organization fighting for protection of the marine environment in and around the Georgia Strait. 

  • 20 Mar 2015 10:46 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    These past weeks what we’ve been dreading has come to pass.  The gardens, so lovingly built and tended, so integral to the community gardening legacy of Vancouver, have been ripped out.  These gardens, built over several decades going back to WWII Victory Gardens, were allowed by CPR from 1952-2001 - the entire time it ran trains on the Arbutus Corridor.   Who is this other CPR Ltd that has done this?

    Before they were destroyed.

    SPEC has long taken an interest in the corridor because “Old Blue” the beloved building we occupied at 6th and Maple from 1981-2011 was right beside the corridor and beside some of the most beautiful community gardens in the city.  One of them, Maple Garden, was started by a SPEC staffer, Barbara Atkins in 1991, and we felt a particularly heavy heart when the bulldozers took out Maple and Cypress gardens. 

    Before they were destroyed.

    After being destroyed

    Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd is in a very serious struggle with the City of Vancouver that’s been going on for most of a decade.  They want either that the Arbutus Corridor be rezoned for residential development, in order to capitalize on some very choice real estate in a very hot real estate market, or they want to sell it to the City – for $100,000,000.00 (that’s 100 Million Dollars). The Arbutus Corridor has been zoned as a transportation corridor for over 100 years and the city has so far refused to rezone it, presumably looking ahead to a time when there will once again provide commuter service along that route. They also don’t have $100,000,000.00 laying around unused to hand over to CP so they have sat on a decision.  As long as CPR was also content to sit, this worked out well.  But CP has decided to up the pressure by resuming use of the rail line and brutally removing the community gardens, hoping (I guess) the public reaction would pressure the city and willing (I also guess,) to take the public backlash.  It succeeded in pressuring the City who took them to court but the courts found for CPR and the destruction is underway.

    I’m with the city on this because of the history, both the long ago history of railroad building and the recent history of neglect by CPR that has brought us to this point.  The long ago history for this particular rail company goes back to 1881 when Sir John A McDonald wanted a transcontinental railroad built to connect eastern Canada with the west and to forestall expansionist ambitions of Americans also swiftly moving westward.  CP got the contract which eventually included 25 M acres of land and, coincidently, about $100 M in public money in various forms (cash, tax benefits, ownership of rail already built at public expense, and a duration of monopoly rights on some lines)  While the Arbutus Corridor wasn’t part of this transaction, (it was developed at the turn of the 20th Century as part of a regional commuter rail network) CPR got a lot of public money and land to start a rail business and could, if they wanted to, consider that legacy and cut the gardeners a little kindness as they negotiate with the city.  The more recent past is that CPR ran its last train on the tracks in 2001 and has since been an absentee landlord of their property. 

    A year before the last CPR usage of the tracks, SPEC  organized nearby gardeners and Montessori daycare students to stand on the tracks and demand they stop spraying Round-Up  as maintenance on  tracks.  The CPR of those days was engaged enough with the community to agree to do hand clearing in the areas adjacent to the schools and the gardens. Gardens started along the tracks as “Victory Garden’s” during WWII and were tolerated by BC Electric Railway Co until 1952 when CPR took over the line and continued to permit those gardens and, over the decades, allow others to be built.  For as long as they ran trains on this line, gardens thrived along many stretches of the Arbutus Corridor - What happened to that CPR?

    When CPR discontinued use of the line, SPEC urged that it continue to be a transportation corridor and began a education campaign to inform and solicit public input on its future.  In 2004, Ivan Bulic and I created  “All Aboard the Arbutus Corridor,” a public design context on the future use of the corridor.  It drew 75 amazing (including professional) entries which were judged by a professional panel and publicly displayed in March 2005 at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design on Granville Island where awards were given out. 

    That same year, The Arbutus Corridor Cleanup Committee was created and volunteers and sponsors came forward to help.  The overgrowth of tangled blackberries and accumulation of litter attracted rodents.  Brandan Norman first tried to get CP to do the clean-up but they were not interested.  On their first major project, volunteers removed 4 tonnes of trash in hundreds of bags of weeds and leaves in the Kerrisdale area.  Over the years, SPEC has supported other areas being revitalized as biking/walking trails and pocket parks for the public.

    About a decade ago CP Rail initiated a series of neighbourhood workshops along the corridor to solicit public input.  Workshops were well-publicized and very well attended and CP was well prepared with ample table staff and an artist for every table of participants to capture their ideas in both verbal and visual formats.  SPEC attended every one of the workshops, to provide input, to assess the feelings in the neighbourhoods, and to be a voice of correction to any future manipulation of the data.  What repeatedly came out was a desire that it remain a transportation corridor with commuter rail serving the area, but participants were open to residential housing in areas where it was compatible.  A very high percentage of people wanted community gardens to continue to flourish along the corridor and a walking path safely separated from a commuter rail.  This may be a tall order to provide, but that was the picture routinely expressed by the public.    

    I make these points not as a prelude to suggesting they give the land back.  That won’t happen.  But I do wonder at the ugly re-assertion of ownership and entitlement causing them to bull-doze gardens (albeit with court permission) that have existed along the tracks for 75 years and after walking away and leaving the clean-up of the corridor for the past 15 years in the hands of local residents who wrestled with blackberries to gain a little ground on which to grow carrots.

  • 09 Mar 2015 11:08 AM | Oliver Lane (Administrator)

    A SPEC hosted forum on March 26th

    Between March 16 and May 29, 2015, Metro Vancouverites will be facing one of the most important regional decisions affecting our and future generations: whether to approve or reject a 0.5 per cent increase in the provincial sales tax (PST) to support the implementation of multiple transit projects throughout Metro Vancouver.  Increasing the current 7  per cent PST to 7.5 per cent is estimated  to cost regional tax payers approximately $125 a year per household or 35 cents a day.  The new tax is projected to generate $250 million per year, helping fund a 10-year transit plan worth $7.5-billion in improvement projects. A list of proposed projects are outlined in the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan, and if approved, would be implemented byTransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transit authority.  A principal aim of the Plan is to shift 10 percent of current drivers off roads and onto transit, alleviating road congestion by an estimated 20 per cent. The Plan is slated to reduce congestion and air pollution while improving the regional economy and goods transportation in Metro Vancouver.

    Since December 2014, voters have been slowly mobilizing behind either the “YES” or “NO” camp. In December, the “YES” vote was  in the lead,  however,  the  “NO TransLink Tax Campaign” is gaining momentum as many express concerns over TransLink’s ability to manage new transit projects as budgeted and planned. Many question whether there are other ways to fund the transit improvements without burdening visitors and residents with increased taxes. (For current trends and resource information, PlaceSpeak is a good source.

    SPEC has a long history of supporting transit projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the health of our communities.  In the short term, the Plan hopes to expand bikeway networks and increase bus service by 24 per cent, adding bus capacity.  Over the long term, the Plan includes replacing the Pattullo Bridge, light rapid transit expansion in Surrey and South of the Fraser, increased capacity for the West Coast Express, and extension of the Millennium Line. According toTransLink, the Plan will improve service to 70 per cent of the population. Shifting drivers out of vehicles and on to alternative modes of transportation will have a positive impact on health and the economy. By reducing the number of cars on the road, we will benefit from improved air quality and commuters will experience a more active lifestyle. Both will result in improved health that could potentially reduce medical costs. Alleviating congestion is also associated with a reduction in the number of vehicular accidents and more efficient goods movement.

    At the same time, it’s important to remember the Transportation Vote is not to seek support for the Plan itself, but to seek support on how to fund the Plan. Some voters are encouraging the use of alternative funding options that were considered by the Mayors. Some residents are asking whether the Provincial Government should contribute more to the Plan given their projected budget surplus, shifting the burden of an increase in the PST away from Metro Vancouver residents, visitors and businesses.

    SPEC is committed to supporting community learning and better understanding of the Mayors’ Transportation Plan.  On March 26, SPEC is hosting a forum titled, “The Transportation Vote: Exploring Opportunities and Concerns” at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. A panel will be available to respond to questions on the Transportation Plan and provide additional information to support your decision on how to vote.  You can register for the event for free.

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