Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Canada wins Colossal Fossil Award! and The Hidden Costs of Diesel

Congratulations, Canada, for winning the Colossal Fossil Award for the third year in a row at COP15 in Copenhagen! This blog entry is to support the decision of Climate Action Network, which tallied the vote of 500 NG0s to present this dishonourable award to my country. In the spirit of Christmas, I would like to present my own informal, ad hoc local chapter's award to Metrolinx for using diesel trains as part of our government's protectionist policy toward the tar sands, contrary to all environmentally sustainable, electric transit solutions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice, have obstructed all constructive and binding agreements regarding carbon emissions to profit Alberta's tar sands at the cost of tarnishing our international reputation three years in a row. The tar sands leak 11 millions of litres of toxic water a day into the Athabasca River basin, and emit 40 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. The size of the tar sands, 149,000 square kilometers, is so vast it can be seen by satellite as a black blemish on the earth's surface.

How do our politicians' actions relate to the Georgetown South and Air Rail Link expansion? Why do you think these trains will run on diesel, when relatively non-polluting and increasingly renewable-based electricity from the Ontario grid is available at far more stable prices? This diesel rail expansion is another piece of the puzzle which shows that PM Harper was elected by oil interests, and does everything in his power to promote oil, when the rest of the world is scrambling to develop renewable, clean energy sources.

Many knowledgeable and well-informed energy analysts predict that oil will soon exceed $200 a barrel, perhaps as early as 2010. Why, in this midnight hour, are we developing a long-term piece of public infrastructure to run on non-renewable fossil fuel that will pollute the atmosphere, choke our city with fumes and particulate, and build zero resilience into our transportation system against rising fossil fuel prices? Tcktcktck. The clock is ticking, and the world was watching Canada defend corporate oil interests at all cost in Copenhagen.

There are many other hidden costs which add substantially to the base cost of this diesel 'solution'. These costs go far beyond the predicted peak of oil prices, and multiply its final tally. The diesel multiple units for the Air Rail Link are being custom built for this corridor, as well as the platinum catalytic converters to change Tier 2 into Tier 4 'clean' diesel on the larger, inter-regional, MP40 locomotives, and which will double their original cost. Neither of these are available on the market; they are being engineered solely for this diesel project as they are so far below international standards for electric trains.

In addition, there is the 5.5 m high, 10 km in total, concrete wall dividing our twelve neighbourhoods, and the cost of building and running three air quality monitoring stations to analyze the ultrafine particulate matter of Tier 4 emissions. Each of the stations is estimated to cost $500,000 per year, and is monitored by a mechanical intake device which tests the air quality. This device will alert Metrolinx on a 'Bad Air Day' to hold a boardroom meeting to consider what to tell people along the corridor when 'clean diesel' emissions are damaging their health.

As 'clean diesel' is being engineered specifically for this transit project by Metrolinx, scientists can only create computer models to hypothetically test its emissions. There is no scientific evidence beyond computer modelling that Tier 4 diesel will be any less harmful than Tier 2 diesel; in fact, there are fears that the concentrated particulate matter may be worse, and that it travels very far from its source to cover more surface area. Research is just beginning to understand the complex impact of 'clean diesel' emissions on human health, particularly the lung development of children.

Curiously, as part of the federal Rail Transportation Act, the data for mobile pollution for transit projects is not included in the Environmental Assessment, so the emissions of moving trains do not count. Why is this? This pollution still registers in my lungs. liver and kidneys as permanent and accumulating toxins. Is Metrolinx' mechanical monitoring service going to call me at home to tell me how much has toxicity has registered in my body, and to take a blood sample to verify their data? Or tell me to stop breathing entirely? Or that it is just another 'Bad 'Air Day' and to check in the mirror?

It is no wonder that the Prime Minister Harper, and the federal Minister of the Environment, Jim Prentice, can sign off on the Environmental Assessment on the diesel expansion of the Georgetown South corridor. They have already signed off on the Environmental Assessment of the tar sands. Their mandate is to guarantee, and develop the future supply and demand of oil by expanding air and rail infrastructure to support their supporters' corporate interests. In response to this government's hidden mandate for this project, the Medical Officer of Health has estimated that pollution-related health costs in Toronto are $2.2 billion, and has formally announced that to protect human health, this rail expansion must be electric, and that the Toronto City Center Airport should monitor and submit data on its increasing air pollution.

Why not just electrify this rail corridor from the start rather than continuing this absurd public relations charade to ensure diesel fuel consumption for loud, heavy MP40 locomotives? Electric trains are half the weight, half the noise, and will recoup the cost of electrification within ten years. Every other country in the world is electrifying their rail system, and curtailing short haul flights, and our government is expanding both to fulfill corporate promises to their campaign supporters.

For my part, the greatest cost has been my utter loss of faith in the federal and provincial Ministers of Environment, who have not stepped forward to protect the health of my community. My fundamental rights as a citizen have been brushed aside so that a secret memoranda of agreement may be signed for a public-private partnership between Metrolinx, Infrastructure Ontario, and SNC-Lavalin to profit from cheap diesel trains. It is just not the health of 300,000 Toronto citizens that has been ignored, it is the democratic process itself.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure Ontario, SNC-Lavalin and Metrolinx have an important choice. They can build an electric rail system, and add immeasurable value to businesses and cultural communities through transit oriented development, or they can reverse the revitalization of these communities, create a diesel ghetto, and turn back time to an industrial era when the west end rail corridor was lined with factories, rather than thriving, intelligent and diverse communities. And to cap it all off - SNC-Lavalin knows how to build electric trains. So does Bombardier. So what are we all waiting for?

My Christmas pledge to all of my readers is that I will work to shift Canadian transit policy to become environmentally sustainable and socially just. My devotion for the health and welfare of Ward 18, particularly its new immigrants building small businesses, and the progressive, green communities built around my parks - Sorauren, MacGregor and Dufferin Grove - is boundless. The twelve neighbourhoods along this corridor must not be devalued by illogical transit policy enabling the purchase of expensive, noisy and unsustainable diesel infrastructure, 10 km of retaining walls, and three air quality monitoring stations, and an extra, unneeded track for the Air Rail Link.

After Copenhagen, the world knows that there is no more time to waste. Every single decision must be sustainable.

Happy Holidays to all.

COP15 Fossil of the Day Awards at http://www.fossil-of-the-day.org/
Climate Action Network Link at http://www.climatenetwork.org/
Fat Cat Post by Franke James at http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=964
Greenpeace Tar Sands at http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/tarsands
Tcktcktck at http://tcktcktck.org/
Joe Fiorito's Toronto Star article "Metrolinx diesels are dirty, ugly and NOISY" on December 11, 2009 at http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/737504--fiorito-metrolinx-diesels-are-dirty-ugly-and-noisy
George Monbiot article "The Urgent Threat To World Peace Is … Canada" at http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-…-canada/