COP 17 – Durban

Right now, the seventeenth Conference of the Parties for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is happening in Durban, South Africa.

Expectations are low.

The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. States that were outside Kyoto, like the United States, seem unlikely to commit to a new treaty. Those inside the treaty but with no reduction targets for greenhouse pollution, like China, seem unlikely to accept targets. Those who have simply chosen to ignore their targets, like Canada, will probably continue on that course. The states that have made real efforts under Kyoto are dispirited by the failure of the rest of the world to build on their example.

The fact that we are at the seventeenth annual conference and have not yet gotten on top of the problem is worrisome. It is as though the world’s scientists have told us that we are all on a train heading for the edge of a cliff. After all this time, we are nowhere near stopping the train. We haven’t even begun to slow down. Indeed, through behaviours like shale gas fracking and oil sands exploitation, we are investing billions of dollars in ways to make the train go faster.

Roundabouts: faster and safer

Anyone who has lived in the UK is probably familiar with roundabouts: a type of intersection that does away with traffic signals, in favour of rotation around a central area.

They may be a bit confusing to the unfamiliar, but they apparently have large advantages in both safety and speed:

One of their main attractions, says Mayor Brainard, is safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent research group, estimates that converting intersections with traffic lights to roundabouts reduces all crashes by 37% and crashes that involve an injury by 75%. At traffic lights the most common accidents are faster, right-angled collisions. These crashes are eliminated with roundabouts because vehicles travel more slowly and in the same direction. The most common accident is a sideswipe, generally no more than a cosmetic annoyance.

What locals like, though, is that it is on average far quicker to traverse a series of roundabouts than a similar number of stop lights. Indeed, one national study of ten intersections that could have been turned into roundabouts found that vehicle delays would have been reduced by 62-74% (nationally saving 325,000 hours of motorists’ time annually). Moreover, because fewer vehicles had to wait for traffic lights, 235,000 gallons of fuel could have been saved.

Perhaps we ought to see more in North America.

Does anyone have experience in cycling in roundabouts?

Mandatory minimums and the crime bill

Depressingly, it looks like this new crime legislation will become law in Canada – bringing with it the certainty of substantial new prison costs and little in the way of likely benefits.

One aspect that seems especially objectionable is mandatory minimum sentences. I think it makes a lot of sense for a judge who knows the law and the circumstances of a case to decide what punishment is fitting. Binding the hands of a judge by forbidding sentences of less than a set amount seems like a policy can that only produce injustice. Surely, there are cases where a literal interpretation of the law would apply to someone, but where it would be unjust to punish the guilty party severely. Letting judges keep their discretion is an appropriate reflection of the complexity of the world. I also question whether the supposed problem of excessively lenient sentencing – the basis for establishing minimums – actually exists.

I also think it is counterproductive and unjust to tighten the laws on illegal drugs. Most of the harm done by drugs arises precisely because they are illegal. It would be far better to legalize, regulate, and provide treatment. That is especially true of exceptionally benign drugs like marijuana – which is probably less damaging to the people who use it than most prescription antidepressants. Besides, it is up to properly informed individuals to decide what they want to put into their bodies – not a moralizing state that has bought into the morally bankrupt and ineffective ‘War on Drugs’ mentality.

Finally, I strongly object to the lack of personal security for inmates in prison. Even criminals deserve to have their human rights protected by the state.

Housing ideas?

I am still looking for a place to live in Toronto. At this point, I am looking for a room in a house that I can get on a month-to-month basis. I want something near the subway, and ideally fairly quiet.

If you have any ideas please contact me. I am very busy with doctoral applications and other tasks, so the amount of time I can dedicate to house hunting is pretty limited.