Halifax Phases Out Fossil Fuels

By Tooker Gomberg, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Tooker gave a talk on how imagination and initiative could help Halifax to lead the country in phasing out fossil fuels.

(Tooker lights up a cigarette and waits for a response from the audience.)

Attitudes change.

Twenty five years ago, who would have cared if a speaker lit up a cigarette at a public meeting? Big deal.

But times have changed, too; now it’s taboo.

What will people be thinking 25 years from now, in 2028? How will attitudes have changed by then?

Twenty five years ago, in 1978, an old newspaper was garbage. Today it’s a resource, and it’s recycled.

Halifax is a leader in North America with its innovative recycling and composting program, transforming almost 50% of what used to be called garbage into useful resources.

Jobs have been created by protecting the environment. Who would have thought it 25 years ago?

In 1969 for the first time ever, a human being walked on the surface of the moon. Tonight, I suggest to you, that our challenge is to learn how to walk on this earth. How to walk in harmony with the earth here in the Halifax region.

How do we overcome our denial that the way we are living is destroying the livability of our planet? If everyone in the world consumed as much stuff as we do in Nova Scotia, 4 more Planet Earths would be required to sustain that level of consumption. Of course, that’s impossible.

What about climate change? It’s the most urgent issue of survival facing humanity. Here in Canada, our politicians waffle and whimper about the Kyoto protocol. They say it’s too difficult to meet our international obligations to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions by 6%.

But the scientists say that to protect the earth’s climate we must reduce our emissions – not by 6%, but by 60-80%. Yet, here in Nova Scotia, the provincial government gives the green light for more oil exploration, and for expansion of coal mining. We can’t afford to burn the fossil fuels we’ve already discovered. Why look for more?

… 60-80% reductions required … In other words, we have to phase out fossil fuels in order to restore a healthy relationship with the earth. We need to break our addiction to oil, coal, and natural gas.

It’s difficult and painful to stop smoking. But the benefits are many. Likewise with our addiction to fossil fuels.

The key ingredient to reducing our burning of coal, oil, and natural gas is imagination. “Imagination”, said Einstein, “is more important than knowledge”.

So here’s my big idea: Halifax leads Canada in phasing out fossil fuels. Can you imagine reading that headline: “Halifax leads Canada in phasing out fossil fuels”?

How would we do it? By deciding to do it. By saying it must be done, and recognizing that there are enormous benefits to doing it. By deciding it’s a top priority for the next 25 years. A priority in the Halifax Regional Plan.

Denmark has committed to getting 50% of its electricity from windpower by 2030. They’re creating enormous economic opportunity by leading the way. We could do it, too.

Every new building should be tightly built so it doesn’t waste energy. By capturing the sun’s heat, and using the sun’s light, the amount of energy used in buildings can easily be cut by 50-75% with existing technology. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has been working on this for decades.

Older buildings can be upgraded, too. When the shingles are replaced, why not use solar shingles that generate electricity too? Your roof becomes a power plant! (Tooker holds up a shingle). This shingle generates 17 Watts when the sun shines!

Water can be heated by the sun. The largest manufacturer of solar hot water panels in Canada is a company called Thermodynamics. They’re located in Dartmouth. Most of what they produce is shipped abroad. Why not ship it onto our own rooftops? Imagine the job creation potential of solarizing our city.

We can dramatically cut our use of gasoline by stopping the sprawl as Vancouver, Portland, Oregon, nd many European cities and towns have done. By building shopping and medium-density housing around light rail stations, people end up driving less.

Our greatest hurdle is not money: I was a City Councillor in Edmonton and was amazed to learn that green things are almost always cheaper. For example: I helped establish a $1 million Energy Conservation Revolving Fund to upgrade city buildings. The rate of return on investment was over 30%. Investing in energy conservation saves money, creates employment and protects the environment.

When cities are designed for slower traffic and by design encourage people to walk and ride their bikes, the population is healthier and that saves huge sums of money. The costs of car crashes in Alberta alone amounts to $3 billion annually. Pro-rating that number to Nova Scotia suggests that car crashes cost Nova Scotians approximately $1 billion annually. Driving in cars is a very expensive way to get around.

Our greatest hurtle is not money; it’s imagining how things could be different.

When we put our minds to it we can accomplish great things. If we can send men to the moon surely we can learn how to respect and live in harmony with the earth. The Halifax regional plan for the next 25 years must outline how our region can grow and evolve within our financial limits. Likewise, we must address the huge ecological debt we have amassed, and grow in a way that ensures a high quality of life for us and the biosphere.

How do we get there in the next 25 years? We ensure that the plan identifies climate change as a key issue, and embraces the opportunities and the necessity of a fossil fuel phase-out. We explore the potential through debate and discussion in the media, and in our communities.

Am I dreaming? Of course I am. But what’s the alternative? We can choose to dream and work towards a community where dirty power plants are cleaned up because we care about our children’s health. Emissions go down year by year.

Or we can live with a nightmare of increasingly wonky weather, more hurricane Juans, storm surges like we’ve never seen before, and ever-increasing energy bills. We can live with the guilt of having sacrificed the polar bears and the coral reefs of the world to a dangerously out-of-control climate of our own making.

I would rather dream that things can be better. Poll after poll indicates that Canadians want to see action to protect the environment. It’s time for politicians to listen. We can take the steps necessary: one small step, and then some giant steps, for humankind and for the earth.

Can you imagine? Halifax leads Canada in phasing out fossil fuels? Why not?