It’s been almost a month since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, causing an estimated 790,000 to four million litres of oil to gush into the water each day since. Some have suggested a moratorium be placed on offshore development. The problem is, we can’t ease up on oil development without addressing consumption, and here in Canada that boils down to transportation.
Getting ourselves and our stuff around this country is what’s fuelling our demand for oil. Transportation will be Canada’s highest energy consumer by 2050, according to Transport Canada. So, what do we do about that?
Electric vehicles would switch our consumption from oil to other sources, and if those sources were low-impact, I’d say electric vehicles could be part of the answer. But here in Alberta, our electricity grid is fed by coal (more than 70 per cent) and coal isn’t the answer to anything.
Switching to vehicles that consume less gasoline should be part of the solution. Canada and the U.S. announced plans last month to enact fuel-efficiency standards for new vehicles. That’s helpful, but it doesn’t affect vehicles on the road today.
What it really comes down to is getting people out of their cars. Using public transit, walking or cycling equates to less fill-ups and less consumption. And that requires a shift in attitude and a shift in public spending to support communities designed to be walkable, bicycle-friendly and public transit-accessible.
We’ve got a long way to go in Calgary. Plan It is a start — if we enact its smart growth principles. Our pathway system is fantastic, but we lack on-street cycling infrastructure. And while we’ve started investing more in public transit, we have a huge transit deficit to overcome.
Perhaps most importantly, we lack strong leadership.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wants his city to be the greenest in the world. Building on some pretty solid bicycle infrastructure, Vancouver's city council unanimously passed plans to dedicate $25 million or 33 per cent of the city’s transportation budget to bike lanes over the next two years.
Contrast that to Calgary, where less than one per cent of our transportation budget is put towards cycling infrastructure and it’s clear we’re lacking leadership. If we want to avoid the risks of oil development — from offshore or oilsands — we need to reduce our consumption and a good place to start is transportation.
Adrienne Beattie is a Calgary-born writer who has covered urban issues since 2001 and has an English degree from the University of Calgary.