Capital Ideas

OPINION: The surprisingly good news for Victoria about the climate emergency

Huge changes are needed, urgently. The good news is they can improve our lives

By Dave Thompson
October 7, 2021
Capital Ideas

OPINION: The surprisingly good news for Victoria about the climate emergency

Huge changes are needed, urgently. The good news is they can improve our lives

By Dave Thompson
Oct 7, 2021
Multimodal transportation on Victoria's hottest day in recorded history. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Capital Ideas

OPINION: The surprisingly good news for Victoria about the climate emergency

Huge changes are needed, urgently. The good news is they can improve our lives

By Dave Thompson
October 7, 2021
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OPINION: The surprisingly good news for Victoria about the climate emergency
Multimodal transportation on Victoria's hottest day in recorded history. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

The weather and the climate are going to get nasty.  

They already are.

Think about the record drought and the wildfires this past summer. Think about Lytton. Think about a heat wave that killed more than 500 British Columbians in just a few days. 

The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that much worse is headed our direction. We’ve already “baked in” further global warming because of the lag between emissions and impacts, and things will get worse between now and 2050, at least. 

We do have a chance to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change, but only if there are "immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."

Immediate. Rapid. Large-scale.

Let that sink in.

Obviously, every place will need to do its part, including Greater Victoria. We won't be allowed to stomp our feet and point at China, whining that they have to go first.

Immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in carbon emissions

So how do you reduce emissions? Surprisingly, this is the good news part. 

It's often said we need to: "electrify everything, and clean up the grid." Put more specifically: 

we need to replace fossil fuels with electricity, and replace fossil fuel generation in the electricity grid with clean, renewable electricity generation.

Reducing carbon emissions will be relatively easy here in BC because about 95% of our electricity is already renewable (mainly hydro). We don't really need to decarbonize the grid. A lot of places face a steeper climb. Where electricity generation relies on coal or natural gas they will have to clean up the grid, and that will take significant investment.

So we need to replace fossil fuels with electricity. Good thing BC has relatively cheap electricity; the average Canadian electricity price is 40% higher than BC’s

What does electrification look like here?

In Victoria and the region overall, the two main sources of carbon emissions are transportation and buildings. Waste is a somewhat distant third.

To decarbonize transportation, can we just replace motor vehicles with electric vehicles? This may be cheaper than you think. EVs have much lower maintenance, fuelling and repair costs than fossil fuelled vehicles. As Consumer Reports notes, “total ownership cost savings can more than make up for an electric vehicle's typically higher purchase price.”

But EVs are not perfect. They take up a lot of space and are a risk to pedestrians, not to mention digging up the metals for those batteries. And it will take decades to replace the whole fleet of fossil fuel vehicles. 

We don’t have decades. We need to take other steps in the meantime. 

E-bikes are quickly taking off in this region. They are much cheaper and greener than EVs. And they are not just weekend toys; e-bikes can significantly reduce motor vehicle trips. The District of Saanich notes that “e-bike owners replaced 50% of their car commutes and 30% of their driving errands with e-bike rides.” 

We can make it easier for more people to use E-bikes, as well as other low-carbon alternatives, by investing in better transit, and walking, cycling and rolling facilities. 

We can also reduce the need for motor vehicles by allowing more homes in existing built-up areas near transport destinations. People who live in more compact, complete communities can bus, ride, roll or walk to their destinations, resulting in lower carbon emissions.

It's not a big hardship to have improved transportation alternatives available, whether EVs or otherwise.

The other big chunk of carbon emissions in Victoria and the region comes from buildings. Again, it's not rocket science. Remove oil and methane ("natural gas") furnaces and replace them with electric heat pumps. There are rebates available, and heat pumps are more efficient and cheaper over the long term.

We can also invest in more energy efficient buildings. "Electrify everything and clean up the grid" downplays efficiency. We do need both clean energy and energy efficiency.

Insulation and other energy-efficiency retrofits of existing buildings can pay for themselves in energy cost savings over just a few years (and generate green jobs). 

Energy efficient building codes ("step codes") for new buildings also reduce energy costs over the lifetime of the building. Building it right the first time is cheaper than retrofitting.

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Does this sound like a horrible way to live? No. 

It's actually not traumatic to do the things that will significantly reduce carbon emissions in Victoria and the CRD. 

What would be traumatic, on the other hand, is if we stay on our current trajectory of global carbon emissions, and experience the worst scenarios of climate change impacts.

Are there further details? Yes—the region and individual municipalities have climate strategies and plans. But the above points cover most of what is needed.

Will some of these changes take time to fully implement? Yes—which is why we need to move forward quickly with the policies required.

Pointing out the fact that climate action is doable and not financially ruinous may upset some narratives. A few people still deny the science of climate change (and science more generally) or seek to delay climate action. And others—more well intentioned—believe that we need atonement through suffering and the hairshirt.

They’re both wrong. 

But we shouldn't mock these people; we should acknowledge them, as we get on with the job. We have learned from the pandemic that we shouldn’t delay critical action just because a small group has a different view.

We can do this. Climate action is far cheaper than inaction. And the really good news is that the costs of climate action are cheaper in Victoria and the region than in other parts of Canada.

There are some initiatives underway in this region to reduce emissions. We need to accelerate many of those, and get going on more.

Quickly. 

Actually no—immediately. 

Dave Thompson is a Victoria-based public policy and governance consultant with a background in law and economics. He can be found on Twitter at
@DaveThompsonVIC.

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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OPINION: The surprisingly good news for Victoria about the climate emergency