Saturday, June 7, 2014

Vancouver Courier Column May 28, 2014 European Sustainability

Opinion: Green with envy for Europe’s sustainability

Michael Geller / Columnist
May 27, 2014 03:15 PM
Montpellier's decorated trams glide along designated lanes, which in many areas are landscaped. Photo Michael Geller

It is a noble goal. It would be nice to achieve it. But it is so unrealistic I have to smile every time I think about it.

I refer to the mayor’s proposal to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020.

I have been smiling a lot about the Greenest City initiative while travelling around France over the past two weeks. I thought about it as I shifted the gears of a small rental car whose GPS system provided relative fuel economy for different routes. I thought about it while looking at local real estate listings and cooling some wine in my apartment’s small under counter fridge.

To be fair, a transformation is taking place in both Europe and North America. It seems they want to be more like us, and we want to be more like them. But by 2020 we are not going to be living the kind of sustainable or durable lifestyle the French and other Europeans live today. It is not in our DNA.

On the other hand, they are not going to be living a typical North American lifestyle. Indeed, while we implement new measures to reduce energy and resource consumption, they are adding solar panels to their roofs.

Look at real estate listings in shop windows in France and you will notice something quite interesting. Every listing is accompanied by a small coloured bar chart, which indicates the heating/cooling energy consumption of the property for sale.

This is now the law throughout Europe. Before selling a property, the owner must retain an independent firm to conduct an energy audit and include the measurement with the listing. 

Property ratings range from “A” Green that use less than 50kWh for heating and cooling, to “G” Red that use more than 451kWh. On average, the French use about half the energy we use in our homes.

Can you imagine a similar law in Vancouver? While I would support it, most would not. Just think about the battle over smart meters or all the strata councils who have voted not to prepare depreciation reports on the condition of their property.

To be more sustainable than the Europeans, Vancouverites would have to cut their energy consumption by about half. Many of us would need to subdivide our houses into smaller suites and possibly construct infill units on the front lawns. (To make new units more acceptable to neighbours, they could be designed to look like large hedges!)

We would have to give up our large multi-door refrigerators and trade in older washers and dryers for energy efficient models.

While most of us like European appliances, we want North American sizes. On a recent tour of laneway houses I noticed many refrigerators seemed larger than the bathrooms. 

When it comes to our cars, to achieve the fuel economy of the average French motorist, we would have to give up our automatic SUVs for smaller manual transmission vehicles, or hybrid or electric models.

While some of us are making this shift (pun intended), the vast majority is not.

If anything we are buying larger cars to feel safer on the road since so many others are driving larger cars. It is a vicious circle.

Fortunately, new transit-oriented developments will make it easier to live without a car. But not all of us want to live in a high-density apartment above a supermarket on a busy street.

Moreover, it will be a long time before Vancouver has a comprehensive public transit system like those found in most European cities such as Montpellier where colourful trams quietly glide along dedicated lanes around the region.

To conclude, we should all try to live more sustainable lifestyles. We should cycle and recycle. We should start converting the remaining garbage to energy, rather than truck it hundreds of kilometres away.

But let us not kid ourselves. Vancouver will not be the most sustainable city in the world by 2020. We probably will not achieve that distinction by 2120.

More importantly, let us not make decisions in an effort to be the Greenest City that might compromise the economic health of our city and province.  That will not be sustainable.

© Vancouver Courier

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Mel Dawn said...

Vancouver is definitely turning greener and more sustainable. I think many people have no idea what these means though. The more education and information out there to encourage people, the better. ~hardwood countertops vancouver

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