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General · 29th June 2007
Barry Saxifrage
Last year I presented my concerns that our ferry won't be viable much longer because of the amount of fossil fuel it burns. Today things look even worse. We need to work together now as individuals, families, businesses, ferry folks and government to fashion a hopeful sustainable alternative in time.

How much fossil fuel does it use? Our ferry burns more fuel per kilometer than 200 Priuses. More than 70 Hummers.

Put another way, you could drive a Prius to Mexico City on the 216 litres used by our ferry each round trip. Or you could drive a Prius around the world at our latitude on amount of fuel used in five round trips.

On average our ferry carries 14.4 cars per trip. The gas mileage works out to 65L/100km per car. That's almost 5 times worse mileage per car than a Hummer...and 13 times more fuel per car than a Prius uses. If you had a car that got 65L/100km it would cost you over $600 to fill the gas tank. In Germany today it would cost $1,000.

In short, that's a lot of increasingly expensive fuel.

Fares are already increasing at a rate that will see a doubling every few years. A request for second fare hike this year (20%) was just made.

The price of gas has more than doubled in Canada in the last 5 years to over $1.35 per liter. In Europe, the price is already over $2.20 per liter. The price of oil is on a multi-year tear, fast approaching $140/barrel.

And yet fossil fuel prices are still cheap compared to what they could be soon. Driven by the twin forces of global supply-and-demand and rapidly accelerating climate chaos, fuel prices are likely to rise ever upwards.

As the saying goes, "you can't argue with the market". Supply and demand determine pricing. And we have a problem with both.

Despite record prices, global oil production fell slightly last year. George W. Bush has twice gone hat in hand to Saudis in recent months asking for more supply. Twice they said no. Global demand is now 1.5% higher than supply.

A mere 1.5% might not seem like a lot but a recent US Dept of Energy study calculated that a 4% shortfall in global supply vs demand would cause oil prices to nearly triple.

Here is what some of the big oil players predict:

$170/barrel this summer according to president of OPEC

$200/barrel within a year according to Goldman Sachs investment bank

$200/barrel next year according to Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens (now investing heavily in wind farms)

$250/barrel within a year according to president of Russian energy giant Gazprom

$500/barrel in three to five years according to former US Dept of Energy specialist Robert Hirsch.

More supply? The Saudis are the only nation on earth that might have enough extra inexpensive-to-get oil to keep up with increasing global demand for a few more years. And they refuse to tell anyone how much they have. Or to pump more. If they can.

In short, an affordable oil future depends on either significantly reduced global demand very soon...or the Saudis having lots of extra easy oil in reserve and a willingness to pump faster now at a lower price. Neither seem likely to me.

If we want a hopeful future for our families and that we can control...we must start working now to create new low-fossil-fuel alternatives for our basic needs, like our ferry.

As bad as the fossil fuel pricing news is from supply and demand, it is small potatoes compared to the price pressure coming to save civilization from climate chaos.

There is no future scenario that includes fossil fuel usage anything like what we have now. If we are foolish enough to try it we will lose the ecosystems the 7 billion of us rely on for food, water and shelter. The human use of fossil fuels will end within decades either way. It's just a matter of whether we are left with hope or misery.

In BC the law already says we must cut fossil fuel use 33% in 11 years. And 80% within 40 years. That's the political reality of last year. This year the science says 90% in 30 years will be needed. Or more. And the biggest use of fossil fuels in BC is transportation. A ferry that uses 6.5L to move a car 10km is a big square peg for a small round hole. And any new ferry we might be lucky enough to get will need to be viable decades from now in the very low fossil fuel future.

We still have a narrow window to gracefully transition our essential daily activities to a fossil fuel restricted future. Good solutions exist. But they take time, effort and money to make happen. Costs are going up and options are closing off as we delay. The Cortes community...individuals, businesses, industries and government...need to start acting seriously on our transportation systems including our ferry.

One option might be a new ship. In theory, ships can be the most efficient form of transport on the planet. "Hybrid" ferries exist that use sail, solar, electric motors combined with fossil fuel. Freighters and big ships are using high-tech kites.

Another option could be alternative power source. Some ships are being retrofitted with electric motors. The ballast replaced by batteries. The energy supplied by a clean electric grid.

Perhaps an expanded public transit system linked to a part-time passenger ferry could be part of a solution. Use a car ferry on some days/runs and a passenger ferry other days/runs.

Solutions exist but they won't appear magically, or in time, without the community being involved, flexible and aware of the very real constraints imposed by rising fossil fuel prices and decreasing fossil fuel allowances that are coming.

While it is a rational choice for individuals to use the ferry less as fares go up, it won't solve the problem. Our ferry costs about the same to run empty of cars as it does full. If ridership declines, the remaining users will just have to pay more. A nasty spiral.

The same is true if many folks decided to walk on instead of taking their cars. Same ferry fuel use, same costs. A big increase in walk ons vs drive ons means walk on fares will go way up.

A favoured solution of many, including Claire Trevena and NDP, is to have the government cover the extra costs by making it part of the "highway system". While this would be great for islanders, it seems a fantasy at this point. Everyone in BC is struggling with high transportation costs. Cost overruns are everywhere in the public transport system from bus fuel to asphalt prices. The Cortes ferry is already subsidized by around $1,000,000 dollars a year. That's a thousand dollars per resident. What are the long term chances for even more. Especially because the "have the taxpayers pay for more of it" solution totally ignores the climate chaos emissions and laws. Our ferry emits one tonne of CO2 each year per resident. That's more than the each of us can emit for ALL our transportation all year and still hope to prevent disastrous climate chaos.

The solution to our ferry is the same as the solution for our cars, homes, food, power, business and public institutions. It is to quickly switch to low-fossil-fuel infrastructure while we still can.

For those that think it unlikely that Cortes could lose it's ferry because it uses too much fossil fuel, just look at the airlines. It turns out that jetliners, just like cars, have gas hogs and gas sippers. The airlines with gas hogs, like Boeing 707s, have had to abandon hundreds of them in the last year. Perfectly good multi-million dollar planes abandoned because they use too much fossil fuel per km. This has lead to a 10% cut in flights in North America this year. Over 100 communities have lost commercial jet service this year. Hundreds more are slated to lose it next year. The airlines that planned ahead are doing fine. The ones that ignored the risk are losing billions, going bankrupt, throwing out jetliners and removing service to small communities.

Cortes is a small community with a number of fossil fuel challenges ahead of us. We can create a vibrant, hopeful future for our families, business and community if we act together, seriously, and soon on fossil fuel alternatives.

Article originally published in the Tideline
Smokey's Bicycle Shop, Quadra, owner
Comment by Smokey on 21st December 2018
The solution here lies in shortening your ferry trip. Cortes Islanders seem to resist getting a ferry connection to Lund. I will not speculate on the reasons that you'd rather have the million dollar subsidy, to travel to Campbell River via Quadra, which seems excessively onerous, rather than get connected to the Sunshine Coast and all its facilities. Do you know?