NDP yet to break its silence on peak oil

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      The federal Green party's B.C. organizer wonders how committed the NDP is to climate change and addressing peak oil, especially when its provincial leader, Carole James, drives a crossover SUV.

      Ben West told the Georgia Straight he was unaware that James owns a Subaru Forester–a cross between a regular car and an SUV–but said a "crossover" SUV sounds like the "definition of hypocrisy".

      "How often does she go off-roading? I'm curious," West said.

      On November 1, the Straight reported the findings of the Germany-based Energy Watch Group's 101-page report [pop-up in PDF format] on global crude-oil supplies. EWG stated that, according to their findings, global availability of oil had peaked in 2006 and is now in irreversible decline, adding that "peak oil is here and now".

      For that story and this one, the Straight could not obtain an interview with James, and peak oil did not come up at the provincial NDP convention, held in Vancouver from November 16 to 18.

      "I haven't heard much from the NDP on the issue other than at the odd event, in some informal capacity," West said. "I have heard the words come out of [NDP MLA and environment critic] Shane Simpson's mouth and out of [Vancouver East NDP MP] Libby Davies's mouth, but I can't remember ever hearing anything out of Carole James about it. And there definitely has not been a heck of a lot of pushing for alternatives that really recognize the severity of the issue."

      Despite his interest in the potential impacts of peak oil, NDP member and Vancouver city councillor David Cadman claims it is "not a wedge issue" for James and her party.

      "I think they are probably polling, and the issues that I think come up are environment, health care, and social amenities," Cadman told the Straight . "I don't think peak oil comes up as an issue that would bring votes to her."

      Karen Campbell, staff counsel and director of B.C. policy at the Pembina Institute's Vancouver office, told the Straight that a political party taking on peak oil "is tantamount to saying we are going to take on oil and gas directly".

      "Whereas if you look at it through the lens of climate change, you end up examining the issue and all of its impacts and all of our different dispersed uses of oil and gas," Campbell said. "If you look at peak oil, you are saying we are taking on oil and gas production at its source. Given that it is the bread and butter for the B.C. economy at the moment, I think that is difficult for any political party to do."

      An on-line search for "peak oil" in all Hansard indexes and transcripts since 1997 revealed that only two-term West Vancouver–Capilano Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan–who obtained a PhD in economics at Harvard University–has raised it in the legislature.

      "Way back in 1956, Shell Oil geophysicist Marion King Hubbert, known as the father of the peak oil theory, forecast the peaking of U.S. oil production," Sultan said in comments recorded on May 7, 2007. "Many would say the same phenomenon is occurring in global supply today. You don't have to believe in peak oil, however, to appreciate that oil is getting more difficult to find, more expensive to produce, and high pump prices for gasoline are the inevitable end result."

      By contrast, NDP energy critic John Horgan took on oil conglomerates with a private member's bill that sought to protect car drivers from fluctuating gas prices, but without mentioning peak oil and the role that oil supplies have on global oil prices, which hover ever closer to US$100 per barrel.

      "There are experts who are saying that we have reached the halfway point [of peak oil], and that, from this year forward, we are going to be reducing our available reserves," Horgan told the Straight by phone. "I share that view, absent any expert telling me otherwise."

      Pembina's Campbell called Horgan's bill a "legitimate goal", but she added: "A part of me wonders whether some sort of graduated carbon tax would not be a better way of dealing with an issue like that."

      Cadman said politicians will have to start regarding peak oil with the same notoriety that they do climate change.

      "The implications of that are very profound for a society that moves around by car, that more and more ships things by sea, that more and more trucks things by truck and that more and more flies around the world."