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Part 4: Economy

 

On my third day in 2030, after a breakfast of fresh eggs from Johanna’s urban chickens, we cycled downtown for the meeting she had promised me. As I had surmised on my first afternoon in the future, cycling was a lot easier than it used to be. The bike lanes were wide, and in many places clearly separated from the roadway. For about two kilometres we followed a back-street route from which cars had been banned altogether, leaving it entirely for bicycles. I saw children on bikes, grannies on bikes and businessmen in suits on bikes—all seemingly relaxed and cheerful.

Johanna was taking me to meet Heidi Hernandez, a poet, architect and now an eco-economist who worked on contracts to business and the government, helping to plan the future of the province’s economy in this new post-carbon world.

 


What will Vancouver look like in the year 2030?


Perhaps something like bike-friendly Copenhagen—but with a green economy to match.



Copenhagen Bike Lane Moments


The Danish capitol through the lens of a cyclist. Notice all the ways in which the city has put priority on the biker and not the driver.

Green Economy Pitch on Dragons’ Den


Think we have to sacrifice jobs for the environment? David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson and Sustainable Prosperity’s Stewart Elgie make a compelling pitch for a green economy to the entrepreneurs on CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den.

Eco-Equity with Van Jones


“I believe the moral challenge of the next century is to connect the people who the most need work with the work that most needs to get done,” says Van Jones, special adviser on green jobs, enterprise and innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

 

She offered us some freshly ground organic coffee, harvested from a zero-carbon cooperative in Costa Rica and shipped up to BC by sea.

In order to divert any questions about Iceland and its struggling economy, about which I knew absolutely nothing—after all, these people thought I was an Icelandic fisherman and not an accidental time-traveller from the year 2010—I asked Heidi about the ship that brought the coffee to BC. Did it still burn bunker oil?

“Not a drop,” she replied. “And that’s a first for us. It is only this year that we have been able to find a shipping line that has moved entirely over to mycodiesel as its chosen fuel.”

“Mycodiesel?” I asked.

“Yes, mycodiesel—biodiesel made from a Patagonian fungus found in October 2008 called Gliocladium roseum that almost exactly replicates the long molecular chains of traditional carbon fuels. A BC company found a way to produce the mycodiesel in bulk in Prince Rupert, which has a similar climate to Patagonia, and has been selling it to the few container ships that are still in business. Most went under when oil passed $600 a barrel.”

“Wow. Let me get this right. We’re using a fungus to ship coffee, from which the coffee drinkers’ urine will be used to generate biogas, which in turn powers the coffee delivery trucks in BC?”

“Something like that,” Heidi replied. “Don’t you love it? And when you think there were economists and peak-oilers only 20 years ago who saw no way out of our oil-based civilization and predicted total collapse.”

“The Peak-Oilers—is that what Edmonton’s hockey team is called these days?”

Heidi laughed. “The Edmonton Geothermals would be a better name—it’s a fascinating story how the oil industry kept itself in business by using their drilling expertise to switch over to hot rocks geothermal, which they are exporting to the U.S. in gigawatts. What about your homeland, Iceland—do you call it Melt-land, now that the ice is disappearing?”

I laughed and quickly changed the subject. I wanted to know how effective the carbon tax had been in creating the changes I saw around me.

“It has been extremely important,” Heidi replied. “When BC started, it was the only place in North America with such a tax, which was never really a tax anyway, since it was revenue neutral. It took a lot of flack in the early days because people didn’t realize how urgent climate change was and how important it was to internalize the externalities—to make the price reflect the pollution. It almost died in its first year due to political posturing by the Opposition, but once people understood it, they accepted it, and it became a matter of BC pride. By the time it was phased out, since the Go Zero campaign had been so successful, it had risen to $200 a ton—but people accepted it because they saw how beneficial it was in redirecting the economy into a clean, affordable, electric and bioenergy future—while generating a host of new jobs.”

“New jobs? I thought people were saying tackling climate change would kill the economy and destroy jobs.”


 



Guy Dauncey's “My Journey to 2030” in five parts:


Part 1: Home
Part 2: City
Part 3: Farms
Part 4: Economy
Part 5: History 


Heidi looked at me and then at Johanna as if to say, “Where did you find this fossilized brain?” but I quickly recovered and said, “I mean years ago, before all this started. You must forgive me—I’m a fisherman, not an economist.”

Heidi put out her hand and started enumerating on her fingers. There were jobs in the solar and wind industries, jobs making new transit systems, jobs building grid extensions, jobs retrofitting every house to become zero carbon, jobs recycling all the waste that used to be dumped into landfills, jobs on the organic farms, jobs in the bioenergy plants, jobs in the new mycodiesel industry—it went on and on.

 

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“Wow,” I said, trying hard to uphold my ignorant Icelandic fisherman line. “So did these new jobs play a role in helping the world recover from the financial meltdown and banking failure of 2008, that knocked my country back into the 19th century?”

“Absolutely,” she replied, warming to her topic. “When Obama become President in 2009, he promised 5 million new green collar jobs as part of a Green New Deal that would simultaneously fight the global depression that was looming, tackle climate change, eliminate America’s dependency on oil from the Middle East and lift millions out of the poverty that globalization had caused to American workers. And it worked. Far better than the Bush Plan, which would have simply put more money in people’s pockets, which they would have spent at Wal-Mart, making the whole problem worse. It was genius. America has recovered its place as a pre-eminent technology leader, carrying Canada with it—for our government at the time understood very little of all this.”

 



Guy Dauncey's “My Journey to 2030” in five parts:


Part 1: Home Part 2: City Part 3: Farms Part 4: Economy Part 5: History – coming soon

 

“Where did the money come from to finance all the home retrofits, new transit systems and new wind and geothermal projects? Did we continue to borrow from China?”

“No,” Heidi replied. “We took a leaf from World War II, when the government issued Victory Bonds. The BC government issued Green Bonds, offering a 7 percent return, and made the money available to retrofit buildings, servicing the bonds through the energy savings. People flocked to buy—for there was nothing else on the market that could be trusted at the time. It soon became part of the whole Go Zero movement that people who had savings would invest them in building a post-carbon future, to try to save something of this crazy world for our grandchildren.”

“And it worked…?”

“Yes, she replied, “but each dimension of the change has its own source of finance. The solar, wind and tidal energy is paid for with a small Renewable Energy Payment on everyone’s utility bill, based on Germany’s Feed-Law, which gives a guaranteed price for 20 years to anyone putting renewable energy into the grid. The transit lines and bike routes are being paid for with income from the road tolls. A lot of money has been raised in Community Bonds, which people are using to finance post-carbon projects in their communities, under local ownership and control. That makes a difference—when people see the local wind turbines spinning, they say to themselves ‘That’s my pension!’”

“I need to leave soon,” Heidi said, “I have a flight to Victoria for a meeting with the Finance Minister. We’re still struggling with the cement industry and talking about retaining the carbon tax for them with the income going into a dedicated fund that they can use to develop geo-polymeric and other alternatives. It’s quite complicated.”

Rather than use my last five minutes to learn about cement, I asked the one question that was still on my mind.

“What about flying—what will fuel that plane you are about to board?”

Algae-diesel,” she replied. “It’s being made in the interior around Kamloops. It’s a low-altitude flight, so there’s no danger of the biodiesel freezing up. And now, I must go, if you don’t mind. It’s been very pleasant talking with you. Good luck with your economy in Iceland!”

My mind was reeling, so I was happy to take a break and wander around downtown with Johanna. We had just an hour before the final meeting she had arranged for me—and then she said she really had to get back to work. My fifth and final adventure, in which she had promised I would learn something of how all this came about, was about to begin.