Tag Archives: greenhouse gases

From Kyoto to Copenhagen: Will it Make a Difference?

In 1998 when I was researching fuel-efficient cars for Technocopia.com I came across the Kyoto Protocol. Already in place it was an agreement between developed countries to try and lower emissions to 20% less of 1990 standards by 2005. This amount varied depending on the country.

Each industrialized country that was initially included in the discussions was to ratify the agreement. Ratification means that they confirm their committment to or give official sanction to something. In 1997  it was adopted, and ratified in various countries over the next eight years. During that time Bush came into power and based on the advice of his Exxon comrades (that the US State Department thanked for their input into  climate change policy) did not ratify the Protocol. Uh, right. Neither did the previous Clinton government, nor Obama to date.

Once ratified the member countries would be responsible to uphold their commitment for lowering emissions and I suppose, be fined if they didn’t meet them; but by which regulating body, I’m not sure. After all, the US has gone many years without paying its United Nations dues so if there are no teeth, how do countries live up to the Protocol’s agreement? You would think because it is the right thing to do, that it could save the planet and the future health of millions.

Canada took a long time to ratify the Protocol and it took effect in February 2005. Most countries have agreed to lower their emissions by a certain percentage to below what they were in 1990. For Canada, that would be 6%. However, in the US and Canada, emissions have risen between 21-28% in recent years. That’s a whole lot more of a concern on the health of people and the continuation of many species that we depend on for nutrition and are becoming toxic to us and themselves. And that means decreasing emissions by some 30-odd percent to pre-1990 standards.

If all these countries were already aware of emission issues, then how could they let emissions rise? Because there is money in it. It is shown today that most emissions are coming from factories and agriculture. Cars actually trail behind that but they are a huge contributing factor to the overall air quality. In the past ten years we saw the advent of bigger SUVs, Hummers and trucks, which were exempt from the same emission standards as cars, because those big vehicles are farm vehicles? Right, all these people in the cities probably haven’t even seen a farm but this was a loophole for vehicle manufactures and if you buy that monster, macho status symbol, you’ll get a break in climate taxes and the manufacturers make more money. Europe’s has had tiny cars (like the Smart Car) for a very long time but the big car and oil companies were happy to have us squander money and resources.

The US being one of the most significant countries to not sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol said it was because developing countries were not being held to the same standards as the industrialized countries. So instead of making some in-roads and setting a good impression by example, they decided to play the “it’s not fair” game. They whined that China did not even have to control their emissions although China has now become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. However, it’s not that simple. Per capita, the US still emits more per person than China. Yet China and India, which between them hold a third of the world’s population must also take some responsibility.

It’s not a matter of you go first in this though. If every country doesn’t pitch in, the world is going to go down hard and we’ll all be eating soy to the end of our days, if we’re lucky. The highest emission continent is that of North America, with Canada also showing shameful controls on emissions. The Harper government started out with a plan, when they needed the votes. That’s when they admitted the environment was in trouble. But since then a minister of the environment announced that Canada had no hope of meeting its Kyoto Protocol committment and Harper has cut the funding towards such work.

In the meantime, other governments within Canada continue to look at ways to tax the individuals when it’s the corporations (including vehicle manufacturers) who are most responsible. Individuals may need to pay a bit of tax but not the continual onslaught. The government needs to bring out other ways of helping and healing the environment and that’s lacking a great deal. Raising the climate taxes on gas guzzling vehicles more would help. Yes tax money could go towards programs but I’d like to hear more about the programs and innovations such as hybrid buses and Smart cars for government employees who use a car on the job.

And Copenhagen? Well I predict that Harper will stall and refuse to change; that the US, despite Obama’s promise of change, will continue to stall on getting involved, just as they did in WWII. But they’ll still want everyone to play by their game. Will it help? Only if the countries truly commit. This should have been started fifty years ago, let alone twenty. And here we are taking ten years to ratify an agreement and maybe get around to it in another fifteen years.

I’d like to believe we’ll see change and that we can all pull together but I have seen too much obfuscation and political maneuvering of the things that matter by various governments to believe that anyone will take it to where it needs to go. And as our children’s lifespans shorten and more people get allergies, asthma and other conditions, and as many species die or contain toxins so virulent they’ll kill us, we’ll start to live in the cautionary tale of our science fiction writers. I really hope it won’t be a reality but I’m still waiting to see real change.

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Carbon Tax and Post Consumer Waste

I received my $100 carbon tax credit (govspeak calls it the Climate Action Dividend) from the BC government yesterday. Of course, they can’t just send the money but have to include some do-good hype to cover up that they’re not actually doing much that’s green. Supposedly this is a revenue neutral tax because “by law, all revenue raised by the carbon tax must be returned to individuals and businesses through reductions to other taxes.”

The enclosed pamphlet is not high-end glossy so that’s good. It’s an 8×12.25″ piece of paper, folded into fours and double sided (French on one side, English on the other). It sports four-colour printing, which is always expensive. Were the colours needed to print the pictures of a child holding a plant, two people walking in a forest or the person’s head with thought balloons of a light bulb, lawnmower and a running shoe, or would two colour have done as well? I lookied closely for the recycling logo. There is none but it says this at the bottom:

By using 40% post consumer recycled paper for this project we saved… 262 trees, 10,780 kilograms of solid waste, 98,978 litres of water, 34, 105 kilowatt hours of electricity, 19,595 kilograms of greenhouse gases, 50 cubic metres of landfill space.

Saved? Hmm.

Let’s see…only 40% post consumer paper when many other magazines and publications use 60-100%? But maybe it wasn’t good enough for printing four colour. There is no mention of using vegetable based inks. And let’s look closer at this “SAVING” aspect. The Liberal government sent a cheque to every man, woman and child living in BC. That’s approximately 4, 428,000 people as of April 1. How many trees, water and kilowatts of electricity were used for this propaganda? How much landfill and greenhouse gases were created in printing this?

The carbon tax is for all forms of fuel including propane, oil, gas, diesel and natural gas. Yet if you look at the smartchoicesbc site it says there’s a tax on natural gas but then it says there’s a PST exemption for natural gas. WTF?

Content… we must look at content because it has an important message, doesn’t it? Oh and it’s from the Minister of Finance, not the Minister of the Environment. Well we are talking about money and what you can save but aren’t we really talking about lowering greenhouse gases? It does list six things you can do, four of which apply to homeowners, one for car owners and one for anyone who wants to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs.

I’ve been trying to get my landlord to put in better weather stripping. I already have the light bulbs so will I see more of this neutral revenue in my taxes right away? I don’t think so. It’ll be averaged out. A real climate action dividend for me would have been the government saving the money by not adding this mostly inane pamphlet, but taking the “saved” costs and lowering the price of public transit. That would really help me. As it goes, $100 doesn’t cover a two-zone transit pass for even one month.

And really, did the government need to send out a brochure to give us some simple examples of “Climate Smart Action” when most people will toss the cheques in their bank accounts and spend it on whatever comes next, either bills or that next tank of gas?

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Zenn Car or Tesla Roadster

I’m sure there are more electric cars out there but I recently mentioned the Zenn Car and Tesla Motors Roadster. Because I’ve wanted to downsize since last year, and should have done it then, I’ve been looking at cars. My Saturn Ion 3 does get pretty good mileage: 600 km to a 50 litre tank, or about 30 mi/gallon. That’s highway driving. But I don’t need the space and therefore could improve on the mileage with a smaller vehicle.

Well, an electric car would be ideal, right? When I looked at the Tesla Roadster http://www.teslamotors.com/, with its 220 miles to a charge, its ability to accelerate, its green aspects, I thought yes! The catch: you have to place an order and it could take a year to get your car. The cost is $109,000, which makes it a toy for the environmentally conscious elite only. It’s only available in the US. Still, if some of the jetsetting rich folk  think beyond what they can spend on frivolities, then that’s a start. And as we know, many rock and movie stars can be role models (just look at Paris!), so let’s hope they lead by green examples.

On the other end is the Zenn car http://www.zenncars.com/ made in Canada. It’s classified as a NEV (neighbourhood electric vehicle). That’s part of the catch; it only goes up to about 25 miles an hour/40 km. Even in Vancouver, should I be puttering about at 40 km, I’m going to make a lot of irate drives in the 50 km zones where everyone goes 60 km. But it’s cheap at $15, 995 USD. Available in many states, Zenn is looking at starting in Montreal for Canada. It’s taken awhile to get through the Canadian red tape even if it is a Canadian made car. But for delivery vehicles and people who just move about the city from work to the store to home, it’s a cheaper alternative.

I can’t buy the Roadster because it’s expensive and only avaialable in the US. I can’t buy the Zenn because its goes too slow (and I drive on the highway to get to work) and it’s only available in the US. I can’t buy a Prius or any other electric hybrid car because they’re too expensive.

Now, I had even more incentive to get a smaller car because of the BC government’s impending carbon tax, to make people choose greener alternatives. I’ve already grumbled about how this would work better if we actually had real alternatives. I should have sold my car six months ago when I first decided to downgrade. I’ve looked at the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris and the Nissan Versa. All are viable as smaller cars, all are similar though one is better at pick-up, one at trunk space, one at turning radius.

My catch? I still owe payments on my Saturn Ion 3. Although it’s been reliable and good on gas mileage, everyone is scared to buy cars (let alone trucks) right now. I can’t sell it for what it’s worth, which means I can’t buy a smaller, more energy efficient car. So the government has me where it hurts with their extra tax on the already taxed gas. And soon, it will be cheaper to take the bus, but it’s still cheaper for me to drive.

Anyone want to buy a good car?

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Driving Clean: Hybrid Cars Move Up Front

This is the last of the car-related articles that I wrote for Technocopia in 2000. Some things have changed since then and Canada has an electric car, the Zenn car. http://www.zenncars.com/ You can also check out Tesla Motors. http://www.teslamotors.com/


With greenhouse gases and tailpipe emissions harming the environment, atmosphere and human health, countries as well as car manufacturers and industry are looking at ways to clean up their act.

Alternate fuels and car prototypes are being tested. Although there are several electric cars available for lease in selected cities, they have not yet caught on. Manufacturers are reluctant to mass produce the expensive electrics which have limited driving range (between fifty and one hundred miles), need at least a three-hour battery recharge, and don’t have the support infrastructure of recharging stations. California has installed many recharging stations but then it is the test bed for electric cars.

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed stating that by 2008 all signing countries would lower their emissions. As pollution becomes a problem some countries aren’t waiting. However, a loophole allows countries with lower than standard emissions to sell off their extra emissions to countries that produce more than the allowable amount.

Fuel Economy and Low Emissions
Drivers don’t want to worry about running out of a charge before arriving home. An alternative was needed that increased range but lowered tailpipe emissions. There are government restrictions that already regulate emissions per vehicle. In the search for efficiency and economy, the hybrid gas/electric car was born.

At the forefront of hybrid cars are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. Toyota’s five-passenger sedan has already sold 28,000 in Japan and will be released in the U.S. this year. The Insight was available as of December 1999. The Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 is a hybrid using electric and diesel. The driving range of these vehicles is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller, and the emissions, therefore air pollution, are reduced.

The hybrid uses an electric and a gas motor. The electric battery cuts down on fuel consumption and the gas engine keeps the battery recharged, eliminating the need to set up separate recharging stations.

In the Prius “an electric motor and a generator are attached to the transmission. The generator, driven by the car’s 58-horsepower gasoline motor, recharges the 135-pound battery pack, and can provide power for the 40-horsepower electric motor as well.” The Boston Globe(10/07/99) An all-electric vehicle’s battery weighs 1200 pounds so the hybrid’s weight is greatly reduced. Accelerating from a stationary position needs a lot of engine turning power. More efficient for providing torque, the Prius’s electric engine kicks in to supply power to the transaxle and turns the wheels. Once the car is cruising along, the electric engine turns off and the gas engine, more efficient for providing the ongoing energy, turns on. If the electric engine needs to be recharged the generator is used. An onboard computer system constantly monitors and regulates which engine will be most efficient in any circumstance. The transition is smooth and unnoticed by the driver.
The Honda Insight’s system is slightly different. A sophisticated computer also regulates which engine is best for each task. However, the Insight has a gas engine and an electric motor powered by a battery, but no generator. When the Insight hits cruising mode the electric battery is recharged.

Prius and Insight both use regenerative braking. This technique captures energy that is lost in traditional braking systems. When the brake is tapped the electric motor runs in reverse. Not only does this slow the forward momentum of the car, it generates the energy needed to recharge the battery.

The Honda Insight is comparable in size to the Honda Civic but gets eighty-five percent better mileage due to a lighter, aerodynamic body design including a plastic bottom, and a smaller, refined engine no larger than a large motorcycle’s. The dashboard display indicates which system is running and not to shift down—to save on fuel—if the electric is engaged. The two-seater should get about 60-70 mpg and will cost under $20,000 USD.

The Prius will get around 55-60mpg and sell in the low $20,000 USD range. Toyota is reported to be losing money on the Prius because it costs more to produce. However, once it goes into larger mass production the reproduction costs will most likely lower. By the time the Prius goes on sale this year, it is expected to meet California’s super-ultra-low emission standards set to go into effect in 2004.

GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have joined in research with the US government to develop other hybrid technologies. DaimlerChrysler’s Citdael is still in the test stages and is a cross between a sedan and a SUV. Tom Kizer for DaimlerChrysler said, “If you’re going to improve fuel economy, do it on the vehicles that burn the most fuel. A 20% improvement from hybridization on an SUV saves a lot more fuel than a 20% improvement on a Neon.” Fortune Magazine, Time(10/25/99) SUVs are one of the most popular vehicles in North America today and put out higher emissions than cars. IAnd as I mentioned before some government regulations let them emit more because they were classified as “farm vehicles.”

Government incentives are in place to offset the higher cost for hybrid vehicles. Until the hybrids are mass produced on a much larger scale they will continue to be pricier. What price is greater to pay, a car that continues to destroy the environment and our health or one that costs a little more out of pocket yet gives cleaner air and more miles to the gallon? Gas prices will climb as we run out of fossil fuel and it is fuel economy that will save us more in the long run.

For more information:

Honda Insight www.honda2000.com/insight/homepage.html
Toyota Prius www.toyota.com
Chevrotlet Volt http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/
Zipcars (Vancouver) http://www.zipcar.com/ 


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Fuel Efficient Cars

This was scheduled for Technocopia, but I believe wasn’t published. It was written in 2000. It’s interesting to note that when SUVs hit the market in Canada they were allowed to have higher emissions, fitting into a little caveat that had all trucks under farm vehicles. The result was that emissions, which were on their way down, shot up again as more people bought SUVs. I was driving behind a Hummer the other day, the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. The guys in it had the nerve to open their door and drop a can to the ground. A true picture of the mindset of a Hummer driver in the city.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of the car a little over a century ago the world’s pollution has increased to unbearable levels in many cities. Places like California (which has a serious air pollution problem) have “Super-Ultra-Low-Emission-Vehicle” (SULEV) pollution standards that will require 10% of all cars sold in California to have zero tailpipe emissions by 2004. That’s no pollution whatsoever.

That may not seem like a large percentage of greener cars, but it means a lot of research, testing and cost to car manufacturers. Alternate fuels like natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol and diesel, as well as alternative energy forms like electric batteries or fuel cells are being tested. In the forefront of alternate energy vehicles that we’ll see next are electric, hybrid gas/electric and fuel cells. California, Colorado, Arizona, Chicago and Vancouver, British Columbia are test beds for the new cars and energy as the world works toward a cleaner future.


Cars powered by gasoline use internal combustion engines (ICE). They average anywhere between 20-40 miles per gallon. Tailpipe emissions are high with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, lead, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide causing human health problems, smog, global warming, acid rain and greenhouse gases. There is often government regulation on the type and quantity of emissions and new cars are being developed with lower emission standards. Gasoline, though fairly cheap in comparison to other energy sources, is a non-renewable resource and as Newsday (04/25/99) reports: “Within 50 years, or perhaps sooner, experts say, the world’s supply of fossil fuels will begin an inexorable decline.” And when those fuels decline we’ll be using lower grade, “dirtier” fuels that will be more expensive.

Gasoline-powered vehicles are the most common, therefore mass-produced and of reasonable price. There is a well-developed infrastructure of car repair centers and fuel stations across the country and throughout most developed nations.

Although not known for fuel efficiency, car manufacturers are working on lowering the emissions in their gas-powered vehicles. All of Ford’s 2000 model pickups and SUV’s will have lower emissions. The “’99 LEV Ford Explorer, for instance, is 42% cleaner in terms of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon, and nitrous oxide production than the non-LEV ’98 version. Honda produces ULEV Accords and Civics (ultra-low-emission vehicles are 50% cleaner than LEVs), Toyota has a ULEV Camry, and DaimlerChrysler a ULEV Neon. And Nissan, Honda and Toyota all have gas engines that meet SULEV (super-ultra-low-emission vehicle) standards–one-tenth the emissions of a LEV. SULEV Sentras and Accords are expected to hit the market early next year.” Fortune Magazine, Time (10/25/99)

Combustion Process: air (oxygen), fuel and an ignition source are required for combustion. Lighting a fire or starting a car involves combustion. The spark from a spark plug ignites the gasoline and oxygen to create the energy to power cars.

Compressed Natural Gas

Cars built for gasoline can also use natural gas with some modifications to the fuel system. Government incentives help lower the cost of changing over. Refueling is relatively cheap and tailpipe emissions are reduced but not eliminated. The Arizona Republic (01/03/99) showed a comparison between a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria using compressed natural gas that “produced 66 percent fewer hydrocarbons than a comparable gas-fueled Crown Victoria,” and 40 percent less carbon monoxide with zero emissions of oxides of nitrogen. Natural gas vehicles are often used for transit or fleet vehicles.

There are many refueling stations but not as many as gas, so a cross-country trip needs planning. As well, a natural gas tank that has to be installed will take up room in the trunk. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel and a limited resource. Some natural gas cars by manufacturers are: Honda natural gas-powered Civic GX, Ford Crown Victoria and Dodge’s natural gas-powered Charger R/T.


Diesel engines use oil, where the air is compressed and heated and oil sprayed into the chamber and ignited. Although the engine is more expensive the fuel is cheaper and used more economically. However, diesel is notorious for its black, smelly emissions. Car manufacturers believe they can make a cleaner diesel but it is still in development. (Having been in Delhi, India, where diesel was predominant, we were black with diesel and it had saturated clothing within a matter of hours.)

Electric (Battery Powered)

Electric cars have been around as long as gas-powered cars and were considered more reliable in the early days of the car industry. They cost more than a gas-powered vehicle and are not as easy to find. At present they can only be leased. However, they cost less to run and charging stations are free for the time being. At home the cord can be plugged into a regular 110 V outlet. Battery-powered cars emit no pollutants and are completely quiet while being driven. Government incentives exist and everything from a golf cartlike vehicle to a full-sized car is allowed on the road. New developments make the electric car faster than its predecessors.

Electric cars can take up to three hours to charge and in California there are over three hundred charging stations (where the cars are being tested) but still drivers are concerned with the limited range (about one hundred miles depending on vehicle type). The batteries are lead acid and disposal is still an environmental problem. New nickel metal-hydride batteries are being used which double the driving range. Though decreasing in size, batteries increase the car’s weight and can still take up a large amount of space.

Dick Thompson, director of communications for GM’s advanced-technology vehicles says that the electric car is “transitional, leading to who knows what’s next?” The Arizona Republic (01/03/99). Some electric cars include GM’s Saturn EV1 (leased since 1997), the Honda EV Plus, Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford’s TH!NK (available in Norway). (Last week–June 2008–CBC radio interviewed Alexandra Paul in California. An actress and environmental advocate, Paul said that GM had crushed all their EV cars years ago. She has done a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car? http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/223/paul-interview.html)

Hybrid Electric

Hybrid cars will be the next mass produced vehicle using a combination of gas (also diesel or natural gas) and an electric motor. Driving range is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller and the emissions are reduced. The cars get around 55-70 mpg. Government incentives are in place for these cars, like all low emission vehicles.

The battery self-charges through a unique system that equalizes between the gas engine and the battery, using the most efficient energy for the situation, such as acceleration (electric) or driving (gas). The regenerative braking system not only slows the car down but also captures that energy to charge the battery. The battery only weighs about one hundred pounds compared with twelve hundred pounds for an all-electric vehicle. Cost for a hybrid vehicle is still higher than gas-powered cars.

Hybrid cars include the Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 (hybrid electric-diesel), Honda Insight, Toyata Prius. Ford and Nissan also hope to have hybrid electric cars in production in the next three years.

Fuel Cell

Fuel cell technology is the most revolutionary. Ballard Power Systems, Inc. in Burnaby, BC, with Ford and DaimlerChrysler are working on fuel cells for cars.

A fuel cell causes a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air, which is converted into electricity. It is similar to a battery but needs no recharging and the only emission is drinkable water or vapor. Though used in some test vehicles like DaimlerChrysler’s Necar 4 and buses in several areas, the fuel cell is still in development and researchers say we will not see fuel cell cars until 2004.

Hydrogen is highly combustible and fuel tank storage on a car, as well as refueling poses some high risks. If used with the next most likely fuel, methanol, it produces some emissions. Hydrogen can be extracted from gasoline but it is a costly process. A variety of fuels can power a fuel cell. As soon as fossil fuels are used manufacturers run into the problem of pollutants once again, although emissions would be greatly reduced compared to gas-powered vehicles. Other deterrents include the lack of infrastructure such as fueling stations. Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler are working on fuel cell cars.

Fuel cells and electric cars will lead to a cleaner, quieter run on the roads. Several problems stated by manufacturers and media holds back this future:

  • People are reluctant to change to alternate energy vehicles
  • These vehicles are too expensive to buy or lease
  • Manufacturers are losing money with each car built
  • The support infrastructure is not present for refueling
  • The cars are heavier and too slow (some top at 85-100 mph)
  • Refueling, in the case of electrics can take too long (three hours or more)
  • Some cars (GM, Nissan) use inductive charging systems while others (Honda, Ford, Toyota) use conductive—leading to a need for different charging stations

Although no one states these reasons it seems that lack of media attention, car manufacturer’s reluctance to advertise alternate energy vehichles, and the oil industry’s stranglehold on fuel may be what’s really holding back the advent of a cleaner car.

Ways to bring about the cleaner car:

  • Inform people of government incentives and make information readily accessible
  • Advertise energetically
  • Vehicles may cost more initially but they save in fuel consumption
  • Every mass-produced car started out as an expensive prototype
  • Interested people can write or call dealerships & manufacturers
  • Governments, manufacturers, communities and energy companies can make a concerted effort to build fueling stations
  • All new vehicles should have compatible fueling ports/tanks
  • Promote limited range electric cars as a good alternative for commuting and city driving

Imagine the old Pony Express—mail delivered by someone going from town to town, getting a fresh horse to move as fast as possible. Fueling stations for electric cars could supply fresh batteries, taking the used ones and recharging them for the next customer.

The future looks brighter with new energy efficient vehicles on the way. The big question is whether this race was started soon enough or will it be a case of too little too late?



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