Benicia and Solano County should declare climate emergency

[Editor: UPDATE ON 11 Sept – Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson petitioned her colleagues on the City Council to adopt a Climate Emergency Resolution.  The first step was on Tuesday, September 3, when Council considered whether to approve adding a discussion on this to a future agenda.  The Council chose to schedule a public WORKSHOP on the issue instead, date to be announced.  BACKGROUND: see City Council Agenda, 9/3/2019.  See the Mayor’s attachment Draft Climate Emergency Resolution(based on a resolution adopted by the City of Santa Cruz).
…FROM 27 AUG – the following article serves as a call to action for Benicia and Solano County, indeed for EVERY community.  I challenge our local and County elected officials and staff to immediately set aside time to formulate and pass the necessary ordinances to commit to the goals outlined here by Santa Clara Supervisor Cortese.  “Business as usual” must take a back seat to the crisis that is our climate emergency.  – R.S.]

Why Santa Clara County should declare a climate emergency — A bold commitment would serve as a model for other communities

Mercury News, By Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, August 27, 2019
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese is pushing the county to serve as a model for other communities in the fight against climate change. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Our county, our country and our world are in the midst of an existential crisis.

In dire times, times that require our immediate attention and action, Santa Clara County has always been a leader. The crusade against climate change is no different.

The County Climate Coalition, a project spearheaded by my office in partnership with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, affirmed the county’s commitment to emission reductions deadlines and called on counties across the nation to achieve 100 percent renewable energy and commit to the goals set forth in the United Nations’ Paris Climate Agreement — an agreement that our science-denying presidential administration withdrew from in 2017.

At the center of this agreement is the ambitious, yet achievable, goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Surpassing the climate-reduction goals enacted by California last year, the county is on track to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity for county operations by the end of this year and will be 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2045.

We have stayed on the forefront of the battle against climate change not only because we sit on the San Francisco Bay Area and have much to lose but also because we have the brightest minds in the world leveraging investment capital, research, incentives and regulatory powers. The ardent support and partnerships we have made with grassroots environmental activists have pushed us toward bold action and concrete climate solutions.

Thanks to the support of environmental groups, business associations, labor unions, public health organizations and other community groups, the county has been able to pass aggressive sustainability policies and take bold action to quickly and safely draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

These actions have included pledging that 100 percent of our electrical power originates from clean renewable sources, that our public vehicles are electric, hybrid-electric or run on alternative fuel, that county buildings are LEED certified and energy efficient, that 100 percent of county waste is diverted from landfills and then converted to energy, and vowing to employ 20,000 blue- and white-collar “clean and green workforce” trainees regionally and in the county. This confluence of bright minds and bold activism has made it possible for us to push forth policies that are essential to sustaining human life and dignity.

At our Tuesday meeting, I will call on my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to continue our county’s history of ambitious climate action by voting in favor of a resolution to declare a countywide climate emergency: a partnership with local and global advocates demanding political collaboration and the immediate mobilization of resources at the county, state and worldwide level to combat this environmental crisis.

Our planet, our livelihoods and the livelihoods of generations to come are at stake. A declaration of a climate emergency is not only a commitment to transitioning away from greenhouse gasses, it also sets a powerful example for other communities and calls upon them to join our emergency mobilization effort.

We are at an important junction in our history where folks from all walks of life are uniting behind a global mission to restore the climate for future generations. It is imperative we, as a county, accomplish this goal for the health and well-being not only of our own community but also communities around the world.

Dave Cortese represents District 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

NYTimes on oil train disasters since Lac-Mégantic: “Deadly Cargo Still Rides the Rails”

Rail Industry Publication Attacks New York Times Over Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Tragedy

DeSmog, By Justin Mikulka, August 26, 2019 (Read time: 7 mins)
Lac-Megantic oil train fire
Train burning in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada, via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Six years after the oil train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec — which claimed 47 lives and destroyed the downtown of this small lakeside town — The New York Times reviewed what progress has been made since the disaster, with a headline that noted “Deadly Cargo Still Rides the Rails.”

However, Railway Age, the leading rail industry publication, attacked The Times’ coverage in an incredibly flawed critique. The title of finance editor David Nahass’s take-down is “Clickbait Journalism at The New York Times.”

In reality, both stories miss the mark on oil train safety.

The New York Times makes a major error in the industry’s favor regarding rail safety, as well as serious omissions about the risks of moving flammable cargo by rail.

Nevertheless, Nahass claims that The New York Times “sadly exhumes and retreads the memories of those lost and the pain of those who suffered trauma in order to generate readership.”

Distorting Reality

Nahass did get one thing correct in his story, which comes across like rail industry propaganda: “The perception of progress on the rail safety front is not universally perceived.” It isn’t universally perceived because, for the transport of flammable materials by rail, progress hasn’t happened. Instead, the Trump administration is in the process of rolling back the few meaningful regulations that had been put in place in the U.S. since the 2013 disaster.

To support his claim, Nahass points to three areas that he says have seen improvements in rail safety: tank car design, positive train control (PTC), and train speed guidelines.

Nahass cites the new tank car designs, DOT-117R and DOT-117J, as an industry action to improve oil train safety. But that claim is based on the premise that these rail cars do not rupture during accidents. Three accidents involving the DOT-117R tank cars have occurred in recent years, two with oil trains and one with an ethanol train.

As DeSmog has reported, all three were major disasters.

In June of 2018, an oil train derailed in Doon, Iowa. Fourteen of the DOT-117R tank cars ruptured, spilling 230,000 gallons of oil into a flooded river. In February, another oil train of DOT-117R tank cars derailed in Canada, resulting in another major oil spill. In April, an ethanol train with DOT-117R tank cars derailed and exploded in Texas, leading to the local evacuation of a residential area and causing a large fire that burned a stable and killed three horses.

Three crashes with the new “safe” tank cars. Three major failures. Railway Age’s failure to mention these accidents can only be described as “an editorial issue” of the type Nahass accuses The New York Times as being guilty of.

The one glaring error in favor of the rail industry from the Times’ coverage is that the “effectiveness [of DOT-117 tank cars] in a real-world disaster remains to be seen.” Considering all three accidents involving these rail cars resulted in fires, spills, and evacuations, this statement is a huge error. The rail industry’s top trade magazine should have been thanking The Times instead of attacking them.

As for the claim that speed limits have improved rail safety, that claim, too, is without merit. Every major oil train accident after the Lac-Mégantic disaster has happened below the speed limits. DOT-117 tank cars appear unable to withstand derailments at low speeds, as evidenced by them failing in three out of three accidents.

The sheer audacity of Nahass claiming that the rail industry deserves credit for positive train control (PTC), a system for monitoring and controlling train movements, as a safety measure is stunning.

As documented on DeSmog, PTC was first recommended as a safety measure almost 50 years ago. The industry has fought against this critical safety technology for the ensuing five decades, has ignored a 2008 Congressional mandate to implement the technology by 2015, and continues to delay rolling out this proven safety measure. A top rail lobbyist was even given an award for his work in delaying its implementation.

Nahass says, “Avoidable death is a tragedy no one should have to bear.” Hundreds of people have died because the rail industry has been fighting PTC, which includes well-funded lobbying efforts. Avoidable deaths are not a tragedy for the rail industry but a by-product of successful lobbying and higher profits.

Meanwhile, neither The New York Times nor Railway Age mentions how new regulations to require modern braking systems on trains, which still use 19th century technology were repealed under the Trump administration.

Lac-Mégantic Was ‘a Corporate Crime Scene’

Shortly after the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster, Martin Lukacs, columnist for The Guardian, wrote a prophetic statement: “The explosion in Lac-Mégantic is not merely a tragedy. It is a corporate crime scene.”

At DeSmog — and in more detail in my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk— we have documented how this disaster was the result of lax regulation and corporate cost-cutting. Yet Nahass ignores all of that information when saying the accident was a result of three events, none of which were related to the root cause of the problems leading to the accident.

Even the Transportation Safety Board of Canada noted 18 factors that contributed to the deadly oil train accident. The fact that Nahass only listed three of these is another example of a blatant “editorial issue.”

Deregulation Caused Lac-Mégantic Deaths and Continues to Increase Risks

Nahass purports that the worst thing about The New York Times story was that “it highlights deregulation as a possible cause for the tragedy.” I have no doubt deregulation was the root cause of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy.

The accident could have been avoided if a back-up braking system had been engaged. But this system wasn’t used because the rail company, Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic (MMA), wasn’t required to and instead explicitly instructed the train’s engineer not to engage it.

The train was also much heavier than allowed. MMA knew this but instructed the engineer to ignore that fact, a sign of weak regulatory oversight. Despite attempts to require two-persons crews, the train that destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic was allowed to be operated with only a single crew member — another risk factor. No regulations required the oil in the tank cars to have been “stabilized,” removing its flammable vapors. At the time, modern braking systems were not mandatory for trains carrying flammable cargo, and while a rule changing that was put in place in 2015, the Trump administration has since repealed it.

That fateful night in Quebec in 2013, a train full of flammable material was parked on the top of a steep hill above a small town. It was left on the main tracks, with the engine running, and no safety measures were in place to address known causes of runaway trains — a problem that The Times correctly notes has gotten worse since 2013.

However, Railway Age defends deregulation as a way to improve safety, even after the recent deadly Boeing airline disastersthat also seem to have roots in industry deregulation.

At a November 2016 conference examining lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Brian Stevens, who at the time was National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, clearly cited deregulation as the root cause of the accident.

Lac-Mégantic started in 1984. It was destined to happen,” said Stevens, referring to the start of a deregulatory era for rail that continues today in both the U.S. and Canada.

These days, the Trump administration is actively working to roll back recently passed federal rules governing the rail industry. The Federal Railroad Administration has explicitly stated a focus on removing regulations and letting rail companies volunteer to implement safety measures.

Even that freedom from regulation isn’t enough for the rail industry. Its main publication wants freedom from journalistic critique as well. The attack piece in Railway Age is not just an egregious editorial failure; it represents a basic moral failure of an industry that continues to put profit over safety.

Main Image: Train burning in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada, via CC BYNCND 2.0

Climate change: Should you fly, drive or take the train?

[Editor: This story is Euro-centered, but the information is applicable here in the U.S.  — and VERY interesting…  – R.S.]

BBC News, 24 August 2019

Greta ThunbergThe climate campaigner Greta Thunberg chose to sail to a UN climate conference in New York in a zero-emissions yacht rather than fly – to highlight the impact of aviation on the environment. The 16-year-old Swede has previously travelled to London and other European cities by train.

Meanwhile the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have faced criticism over opting to fly to Sir Elton John’s villa in Nice in a private jet.

So what is the environmental impact of flying and how do trips by train, car or boat compare?

What are aviation emissions?

Flights produce greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) – from burning fuel. These contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere.

An economy-class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, according to the calculator from the UN’s civil aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

That’s equivalent to 11% of the average annual emissions for someone in the UK or about the same as those caused by someone living in Ghana over a year.

Aviation contributes about 2% of the world’s global carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It predicts passenger numbers will double to 8.2 billion in 2037..

And as other sectors of the economy become greener – with more wind turbines, for example – aviation’s proportion of total emissions is set to rise.

Chart showing emissions from different modes of transport

How do emissions vary?

It depends where passengers sit and whether they are taking a long-haul flight or a shorter one.

The flight figures in the table are for economy class. For long haul flights, carbon emissions per passenger per kilometre travelled are about three times higher for business class and four times higher for first class, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

This is because there’s more space per seat, so each person accounts for a larger amount of the whole plane’s pollution.

Taking off uses more fuel than cruising. For shorter flights, this accounts for a larger proportion of the journey. And it means lower emissions for direct flights than multi-leg trips.

Also, newer planes can be more efficient and some airlines and routes are better at filling seats than others. One analysis found wide variation between per passenger emissions for different airlines.

For private jets, although the planes are smaller, the emissions are split between a much smaller number of people.

For example, Prince Harry and Meghan’s recent return flight to Nice would have emitted about four times as much CO2 per person as an equivalent economy flight.

Aeroplane flying overhead
Aeroplane flying overhead | Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

The increased warming effect other, non-CO2, emissions, such as nitrogen oxides, have when they are released at high altitudes can also make a significant difference to emissions calculations.

“The climate effect of non-CO2 emissions from aviation is much greater than the equivalent from other modes of transport, as these non-CO2 greenhouse gases formed at higher altitudes persist for longer than at the surface and also have a stronger warming potential,” Eloise Marais, from the Atmospheric Composition Group, at the University of Leicester, told BBC News.

But there is scientific uncertainty about how this effect should be represented in calculators.

The ICAO excludes it, while the BEIS includes it as an option – using a 90% increase to reflect it.

The EcoPassenger calculator – launched by the International Railways Union in cooperation with the European Environment Agency – says it depends on the height the plane reaches.

Longer flights are at higher altitude, so the calculator multiplies by numbers ranging from 1.27 for flights of 500km (300 miles) to 2.5 for those of more than 1,000km.

In the chart above, the high-altitude, non-CO2 emissions are in a different colour.

How does travelling by train compare?

Train virtually always comes out better than plane, often by a lot. A journey from London to Madrid would emit 43kg (95lb) of CO2 per passenger by train, but 118kg by plane (or 265kg if the non-CO2 emissions are included), according to EcoPassenger.

Chart showing emissions for different journ

However, the margin between train and plane emissions varies, depending on several factors, including the type of train. For electric trains, the way the electricity they use is generated is used to calculate carbon emissions.

Diesel trains’ carbon emissions can be twice those of electric ones. Figures from the UK Rail Safety and Standards board show some diesel locomotives emit more than 90g of C02 per passenger per kilometre, compared with about 45g for an electric Intercity 225, for example.

The source of the electricity can make a big difference if you compare a country such as France, where about 75% of electricity comes from nuclear power, with Poland, where about 80% of grid power is generated from coal.

According to EcoPassenger, for example, a train trip from Paris to Bordeaux (about 500km) emits just 4.4kg of carbon dioxide per passenger, while a journey between the Polish cities of Gdansk and Katowice (about 465km) emits 61.8kg.

As with plane journeys, another factor is how full the train is – a peak-time commuter train will have much lower emissions per person than a late-night rural one, for example.

Car exhaustImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Can driving be better than flying?

Yes, if the car’s electric – but diesel and petrol cars are also in many cases better options than flying, though it depends on various factors, particularly how many people they’re carrying.

According to EcoPassenger, a journey from London to Madrid can be done with lower emissions per passenger by plane, even accounting for the effect of high altitude non-CO2 emissions, if the car is carrying just one person and the plane is full. If you add just one more person into the vehicle, the car wins out.

Coaches also score well. BEIS says travelling by coach emits 27g of CO2 per person per kilometre, compared with 41g on UK rail (but only 6g on Eurostar) – though again this will vary depending on how full they are and the engine type.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg sailing on yacht to New York
Climate activist Greta Thunberg sailing on yacht to New York | Image copyright FINNBARR WEBSTER

What about travelling by boat?

The BEIS has also put a figure on ferry transport – 18g of CO2 per passenger kilometre for a foot passenger, which is less than a coach, or 128g for a driver and car, which is more like a long-haul flight.

But ferries’ ages and efficiency will vary around the world – and a ferry won’t get you to America, although a cruise ship or ocean liner would.

The cruise industry has long been under pressure to reduce environmental impacts ranging from waste disposal to air pollution, as well as high emissions – not only from travel but also from powering all the on-board facilities.

Carnival Corporation and plc, which owns nine cruise lines, says its 104 ships emit an average of 251g of carbon dioxide equivalent per “available lower berth” per kilometre.

And, while the figures are not directly comparable, they suggest cruising falls in similar territory to flying in terms of emissions.