Inconvenient truths for Earth Day

Earth Hour is a mistake, Mother Nature is the biggest oil spiller, and Vancouver's been an oil port for exactly 100 years

Earth Day quiz: What's the #1 source of oil in waters around North America? Tankers and pipelines are only 8%. You won't believe what's #1.

VICTORIA – Earth Day 2014 will likely go down in B.C. history as less exciting than last year’s event.

That was the day when, in the heat of the election campaign, NDP leader Adrian Dix announced in Kamloops that he doesn’t support the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline to its Burnaby terminal, because Vancouver shouldn’t become a “major oil port.”

As of this Earth Day, it has been an oil port for exactly a century, since Imperial Oil began work on B.C.’s first refinery in 1914, in what is now Port Moody. There were no pipelines then, so crude was moved by rail or tanker.

For 60 years, Trans Mountain has supplied the Chevron refinery in Burnaby that is southern B.C.’s last source of fuel. Some of the Alberta crude is piped south to be refined into fuels and some of that product is barged back up to B.C. to keep our traffic moving.

Today the proposal to expand and upgrade that pipeline, and to build new oil and natural gas pipelines across the north, dominate B.C.’s political scene.

In keeping with the educational aspect of Earth Day, here are some things you may not know about energy and the environment.

• A recent National Geographic report summarizes the main sources of oil in the oceans around North America. Media coverage focuses on tanker and pipeline spills, but they only account for eight per cent of the total.

Fully 60 per cent of the oil load in North American waters is from natural seeps, where oil leaks from seafloor rock. One of the world’s largest is off Santa Barbara, California, where 20 to 25 tons flows out each day. It’s mostly consumed by oil-eating bacteria that have adapted and proliferated.

The next biggest source is leakage from cars and trucks, which collects on pavement and is flushed to sea when it rains.

• Earth Day is now preceded by Earth Hour, during which we are encouraged to turn out our lights to join a world-wide gesture of conservation. Many people use the occasion for a candlelight dinner.

Given that B.C.’s power is nearly all from renewable hydroelectric sources, and that the paraffin used to make candles is derived from petroleum or coal, this feel-good ritual produces an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

David Suzuki is now promoting the idea of Earth Month, an expansion of the symbolic effort designed to “raise awareness.” This is a popular notion in the climate change industry, which to date consists mostly of government officials and activists flying around the world to conferences in exotic locations to sign agreements that lead to, well, not much so far.

• Unlike Earth Hour, B.C.’s carbon tax on fuels actually appears to be helping to reduce emissions.

An update to provincial data is due this year, but what we have shows a 5.7 per cent decrease in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases between 2007 and 2011.

Environment ministers have conceded that some of this is due to the recession that struck in 2008-2009. But since the economy has recovered and begun to grow again, emissions have continued to decline.

• There are simple things anyone can do, without gimmicks or government programs. One would be to stop protesting increased housing density in your community.

By far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in B.C., not to mention old-fashioned pollution, is transportation. By living closer to where we work, shop and play, we can exercise our legs instead of just our gas pedal foot to get around.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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