Jane Sterk: A small window of opportunity to confront climate change in B.C.
When confronted with a letter from 200 climate scientists (including B.C. Green candidate Andrew Weaver), academics, and environmental groups, Ann Marie Hann, president of the Coal Association of Canada, is reported as saying “there is a small window for Canada to potentially take advantage [to ship more coal] of the growing opportunities in Asia.”
Increasingly loud warnings by scientists and business leaders about the climate crisis suggest the real small window of opportunity is dealing aggressively with climate change. The leaders of the world’s countries just ended two weeks of meetings at the Doha Climate Change Conference. The news is not good. The summit was “another summit of disagreement and displeasure.”
We can’t have it both ways. If we choose the window that says extract, export, and sell as much coal-gas-bitumen as fast as we can, run-away climate change is assured. If we choose the window of moving to a low-carbon economy, for the most part, at least over time, we must leave these resources in the ground.
It is no surprise that these two opposing dilemmas have emerged at this time. Our globalized economic system is failing miserably and the symptoms of accelerating global climate disruption cannot be ignored. Only massive government bailouts have kept the economy from a severe recession or, more likely, a depression. Infusion of government money has masked the reality that the global economy is unsustainable.
Since World War II, industrialized nations had the benefit of a half-century of “prosperity” made possible by cheap fossil fuels. Early in the period, still influenced by remembering the depression and the two world wars, governments exercised restraint and lived within their means. Starting in the 1960s, the legitimate desire for adequate social services and universal healthcare became government priority. Initially, these services were based on ensuring the most vulnerable were protected and they were covered within government revenues.
All that changed in the '70s and beyond. Lowering taxes as the way to prosperity became an obsession of almost religious-like conviction. Debt became acceptable as a means to greater and greater “growth” and “prosperity”.
We brag that Canada and B.C. have weathered the globalized recession better than most. It’s not really true. If we add the government debt at all levels, we are no better off than the U.S., which is about to hit a fiscal cliff.
An economic crisis of this magnitude provides us with a choice. Only the desperate would choose to do more of the same things that got us into trouble in the first place. That is exactly what our governments and industry propose, however. B.C. and Canada propose extracting as much coal, gas, and oil as possible through increasingly brutal and unconventional means. Selling our raw natural resources to Asia has become the de facto view of the way out the economic crisis. It is an impoverished choice that simply delays the inevitable.
Moving to a low carbon economy that is based in local prosperity is the other choice that’s available. That would bring profound change and a need to redefine and refine all of our thinking about what makes for prosperity and wealth. Change of this magnitude is scary but it offers all kinds of opportunities. And it is the only way to deal with the far more frightening prospect of run-away climate change.
At the moment, except for the Green Party of B.C., traditional political parties and governments seem unable to appreciate the magnitude of the climate crisis and to act on its urgency. In all likelihood, both the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP will attempt to keep discussion of climate change off the agenda of the provincial election. There will be talk about pipelines and tankers as if they are an issue separate from climate change.
The election looks to be about who is best to manage the “economy”. In truth, neither the NDP nor the B.C. Liberals can manage the economy. It will fail of its own accord.
The real question is who can manage the transition to local economies and the redefining of expectations. The answer is Greens and we know we can’t do it alone. We need to bring every good idea to the table, from every part of the political spectrum, from every community, from every individual, from industry and the social sector if we want to move to a sustainable future. And we need to do it now while the small window of opportunity exists.