Resisting The Great Unravelling

FRED IRWIN – Some of you may know that I have moved from Peterborough to Hamilton, Ontario. Born in Brantford and having an undergraduate degree from McMaster University, I am fairly familiar with the area. Oh, how things have changed at Mac! The McMaster U campus is now a small city of 37,000 students with extensive medical and other research facilities, which all act as key drivers of the local economy. Although Trent U in Peterborough is smaller, the opportunity for promoting Peterborough’s self-sufficient economic growth appears strong.

My main subject here is defining what I mean by self-sufficient economic growth. First, though, a few more comparisons between Hamilton and Peterborough with the climate crisis.


When it comes to dealing with the climate crisis, Hamilton is arguably in worse shape than Peterborough. Both communities are stumbling over the homelessness issue, and don’t see it as the first sign of the climate crisis’s “Great Unravelling.” (The term is attributed to Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. It refers to the period taking hold now as the climate crisis unfolds and begins to negatively impact everything and everyone on the planet.)

In both municipalities, Tiny Homes, as part of the longer-term strategy against homelessness, have been a contentious issue. The City of Peterborough has finally built 50 units in a parking lot formerly occupied by tents. A volunteer group called Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes (PATH) are establishing what they call “sleeping cabins” as interim, tiny-home equivalents for the many remaining homeless persons in the city.

Public Transit

Hamilton is proposing a 14 km dedicated LRT and multiple new traffic solutions. Not enough. More public transportation routes and bicycle paths would take half the cars off city streets. However, few people ride bicycles and e-bikes because they feel it is too dangerous. “Heavy metal” traffic often ignores speed limits; its sheer volume during peak hours and throughout the day leaves little safe space for non-motorized vehicles.

The proposed dedicated LRT extends 14 kilometers. This is equivalent to the distance between Trent U and Fleming College in Peterborough, for which I have proposed an electric streetcar system. (See NOW IS THE TIME! Blogs 19 & 20, posted on my website.) Postponing the same measure in Peterborough will only increase costs, e.g. using City tax revenues to build more event parking in the downtown core.)

Electric Vehicles

On average, EV cars and trucks are 30 % heavier than their fossil fuel-powered equivalents. The added weight comes from the battery and the requisite reinforced frame. Recent analyses show that because of this extra weight over the lifetime of EV’s versus their internal compulsion comparatives, there is little if any net reduction of GHG emissions.

We don’t know whether the recent and ongoing slump in EV sales in Europe and North America is a result of this reality or whether it is simply a reaction to the higher prices of EV’s. In any event, the transition to EV’s has slowed measurably. I suspect that the battery life of an EV versus the useful life of an equivalent fossil fuel driven vehicle is the factor that will make the difference.

This is not to say that smaller, lighter EV’s, both cars and bikes, might eventually dominate the market. It’s just that in North America the car market has already pretty much converted to heavy SUV’s, now the preferred choice of young mothers to drive their babies safely to the nearby supermarkets!

COP 28 Dubai

Who on this planet would ever believe that a United Nations COP (Conference of the Parties) on the climate change crisis, held in one of the oil capitals of the world, would produce significant commitments to reduce GHG emissions? Simply put, it didn’t. COP 28 turned out to be a sham and regressive in our efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Greta Thunberg’s polite response to COP 28 “it is a stab in the back for those most vulnerable.” My reaction was and is that COP 28 was a complete sellout to global Big Oil. It constitutes a stark reversal and disappointing game changer for those who remain serious about targeted GHG reduction by 2030 and beyond. Big Oil and the Big Banks who fund them are complicit in this ongoing assault against humanity. The UN is an enabler.

Alberta’s know-it-all, fast-talking Premier was happy to go to COP 28 and delighted to return fully empowered to lead the parade pitting the provinces against the federal government to scrap the Canadian Carbon Tax. The sole constraint on oil resulting from COP 28 dealt with reducing GHG emissions on oil production. There was nothing about limits to its actual usage. The CO2 emissions from burning and converting the oil in its many applications were ignored.

The Big Oil take-away from COP 28 was the reinforcement of the industry’s new mantra, Drill Baby Drill! Or in the case of the tar sands, Dig Baby Dig! As a result we are further away from real global solutions to the climate crisis than we have been in the last 15 years. And, as a brief reminder, last year was posted as the hottest year on record globally. Climate change activists everywhere in the world will have to stand tall and push back hard against the insanity of COP 28.

What about Electric Heat Pumps?

Both Peterborough and Hamilton say that they are dedicated to reducing GHG emissions, mostly by switching from fossil fuels to electrical energy. Heat pumps are now preferred to natural gas for home heating. Having worked for the world’s largest air conditioning company on global assignments, I can relate that this technology has been used for decades all over the world. In Canada it did not catch on mostly because of our abundant supply of natural gas, the high cost of compressors for large space application, and heavier loads in the more severe Canadian climate. The compressor technology now matches the challenge of Canadian winters and summers.

It’s time for communities such as Hamilton and Peterborough to provide local incentives for their more rapid adoption. [EDITOR’S Note: THe city of Peterborough is preparing a heat pump program via the municipal tax system, TBA in May 2024.] This action promotes local self-sufficient economic growth or what we have called community resilience in the Transition Town movement [which gave birth to the Greenzine.] Both Hamilton and Peterborough need to further incentivize this trend in all ways possible.

What about Light-Commercial and Residential Solar and Wind Power?

I don’t see any better rate of installation in Hamilton versus Peterborough. I like to remind folks that the Provincial Conservative government is responsible for the cancelation of the FIT and Microfit programs that have been very successful in Ontario. Why are we not considering rebooting these programs in support of community self-sufficient economic growth to reduce the load on the central grid administered by Hydro One?

Community Self Sufficient Economic Growth

As one of the highest per capita energy users in the world, our most pressing focus as Canadians has to be on reducing the total amount of energy we consume and generating as much of that energy locally at the community level as is possible. There is nothing new here. Indeed, my book, NOW IS THE TIME! is full of actionable program initiatives that support this, not the least of which is local food.

Politically, the more we allow Big Oil and the Big Banks to run wild and control our economy, the further behind we fall as individuals in charge of our own destiny.

Now is the time for communities to take charge and force the change we already know we need.

Fred Irwin is the author of NOW IS THE TIME!

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