B.C. deserves better environmental policies
As we approach Earth Day (April 22) and a provincial election on May 12, it’s time for some straight talk about the environmental policies of the two major political parties seeking your support.
The B.C. Liberals talk a good game. Premier Gordon Campbell introduced a $10-per-tonne carbon tax in 2008. It’s equivalent of 2.4 cents per litre of gasoline, which will triple to 7.24 cents per litre by 2012.
This tax, the first of its kind in North America, has been offset with an annual Climate Action Tax Credit for lower-income residents of up to $100 per adult and $30 per child. For this, the B.C. Liberals have been lauded by carbon-tax advocates such as David Suzuki, SFU resource economist Mark Jaccard, and Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson.
We think the carbon tax is Campbell’s sleight of hand to divert attention from some of his government’s other policies, which are causing environmental destruction. His Gateway Program is based on a lie that the only way to improve transit between Surrey and Coquitlam is by building a $3.3-billion bridge. He’s expanding road capacity, which will lead to greater greenhouse-gas emissions, along Highway 1 between East Vancouver and Langley for the benefit of the Port Metro Vancouver and large shippers without requiring these vested interests to pick up part of the tab. It’s typical of what we’ve come to expect from the Campbell government.
In addition, the B.C. Liberals have wreaked havoc with the transit system by forcing TransLink to support a costly public-private partnership along the Cambie Street corridor if it wanted any provincial money for a rapid-transit project. Who cares that the major transportation bottlenecks in the region are in an east-west direction? Not the B.C. Liberals. They were more concerned about impressing visitors who arrive at the airport for the Olympics. And if this required a $2-billion transit project to YVR and Richmond that would serve only a small segment of the population—even if it won’t improve the modal split between transit users and vehicle commuters—so be it.
The Campbell government has also rejected the recommendations of a legislature committee on aquaculture, which called for the phasing in of closed-containment fish pens that would stop the spread of disease to wild salmon. Moreover, the B.C. Liberal government converted a huge swath of public forestland on Vancouver Island into a private real-estate development opportunity, earning scathing criticism from B.C.’s auditor general, John Doyle. These are not the actions of a government committed to environmental protection.
But the myth has been created with the help of Campbell’s enablers in the environmental movement, including Suzuki, who refused to mention the Gateway Program or the B.C. government’s reluctance to deal with natural-gas flaring when he held a public love-in with the premier and Al Gore in September 2007 in Vancouver.
The NDP platform counters some of the B.C. Liberal government’s worst environmental excesses. It’s a relief to see NDP leader Carole James promise to return the Agricultural Land Commission to “full provincial status”. The B.C. Liberal government’s decision to create regional panels was a sneaky way to bring more local pressure on commissioners to convert productive farmland to other uses.
James has also promised to keep public forestland in public hands, to introduce species-at-risk legislation, and to implement the recommendations of the legislature’s aquaculture committee.
There’s more to applaud in the NDP platform. It promises to end the sale of pesticides for residential and cosmetic uses on landscapes, which would result in fewer pesticide-linked cases of cancer in the region. The B.C. Liberals have refused to do this.
The NDP will also halt coal-bed-methane drilling and routine flaring of natural gas. According to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, deliberate burning or flaring of natural gas and leaking or loss of gas at production facilities account for 13.5 percent of B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
However, we’re skeptical about the NDP’s promise to cancel B.C. Hydro’s smart-metering program, which will educate consumers about how much electricity they’re using. It’s a necessary step in achieving greater energy conservation. The NDP is pandering to its most anti-intellectual supporters by suggesting otherwise.
Similarly, the NDP’s rhetoric on the carbon tax misleads the public. By not targeting consumers—only emissions from industry—James conveys the impression that it’s possible to achieve necessary reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions without pinching consumer demand through higher prices. This isn’t true. We’ll give James credit for supporting a hard cap on emissions by 2010, but this is not enough.
These are serious times. Before the Industrial Revolution, there were approximately 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Now, there are around 387 parts per million. The 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists—written by several hundred attendees of an international climate conference—stated that based on current scientific understanding, global greenhouse-gas emissions must be reduced to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. This is imperative.
The “prime goal”, according to the declaration, must be to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius above the average preindustrial temperature. In the long run, the scientists stated, greenhouse-gas concentrations will have to be stabilized well below 450 parts per million to do this.
Meanwhile, NASA climate expert James Hansen has argued that we will have to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million to avoid ocean acidification, preserve alpine water supplies and Arctic sea ice, and maintain existing sea levels.
In 2004, Canada produced 2.2 percent of all global emissions of carbon dioxide despite having less than 0.5 percent of the world’s population, writes climate scientist Andrew Weaver in Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World (Viking Canada, 2008). “Each Canadian produces twice as much carbon dioxide as a German, 3.3 times as much carbon dioxide as a person from France, and more than five times as much as a person from China,” Weaver writes.
The two leading candidates for the job of premier have to do better. The status quo isn’t good enough.
Apr 16, 2009 at 10:28am
A massive building program mass producing low cost Candu ACR-1000 reactors to replace all coal fired plants and fossil fuel heat sources would do the trick. Nuclear uses a tiny fraction of the steel, concrete and environmental footprint of other green alternatives and unlike them provides steady state power that needs no so far undeveloped, unlikely, and extremely costly power storage technologies.
It would put hundreds of thousands of Canadians back to work building the units for domestic and export production.
At the same time massive research efforts into the Lifter (Liquid Fluorine Thorium Reactor) and similar technologies would allow us a few years down the road to reduce burn 99% of existing nuclear waste with the residue little more dangerous than high grade natural uranium deposits. These reactors can also be fueled with much less dangerous and more benign thorium fuels.
Also massive research into pulse fusion techs like Focus Fusion, Buzzard and Paul Allen's Trialpha Energy would give us .5 cent a kwh power in the 10 year plus era. In fact Los Alamos is about to go hot with an pulse tech trial next spring.
Messing with lightweight green tech is unlikely to get us anywhere near off Coal and Oil and that is why Big Coal/Oil sends so much money to useful anti-nuke idiots in the Green movement.
Lets get on it and actually solve global warming solved instead of just blathering about it.
Apr 16, 2009 at 10:36am
I really think that environmental organizations have done themselves a dis-favour by linking so closely to the climate change agenda. While it is by far the greatest environmental challenge of our time, it cannot be solved in isolation, and requires more than a price on carbon. Gordon Campbell is not an environmentalist. Perhaps he is trying to be, but he really does not understand (or care) about the importance of environmental integrity. His climate change policies reflect this as they still embrace big development (especially run of river).
Climate change is a symptom of our lifestyle. To think that we can solve the problem without changing how we operate as a society is a mistake. Continuous economic growth, continuous population increase, continuous extraction of greater levels of non-renewable resources does not lead us to the path of sustainability. Gordon Campbell does not get this. David Suzuki knows this but has seemingly thrown this perspective out the window all over one government policy that is unlikely to have any significant effect on the real problem.
Apr 16, 2009 at 6:55pm
Smart meters are not all they are cracked up to be. They work well for industrial users but they are not so hot with residential users in both terms of energy savings and peak load reduction versus costs.
BC Hydro’s study realized savings in a small group of highly motivated experimental-minded ratepayers but they admit that their behavior does not extrapolate to the rest of the population.
The BC utilities commission just turned down FortisBC in their application. See Link below. BC Hydro is legislated to install $1 Billion worth of smart meters with no business plan.
Here are some highlights
“FortisBC has further confirmed that, at this point in time, it is not aware of any other utilities having reported positive, tangible results for any DSM, Annual Peak Demand or Energy Load Control programs resulting from AMI [smart meters].”
While the original cost estimates by FortisBC were $31.3 million and quickly revised $37.3 million, (page12), FortisBC notes that “the concept of a “Smart Grid” is still evolving” and the additional costs of potential Smart Grid implementations could vary anywhere between $1.0 Million and $50.0 Million.”
The primary justification FortisBC uses for the implementation of smart meters is cost savings, mainly because it can lay off workers.
The BCUC “considers that the risk of exposure to unknown costs of future elements of the program outweighs the value of any savings associated with the current AMI Project applications.”
Smart meters have to be looked at critically and weighed against other options, like retrofitting homes etc. That is not what is happening with BC Hydro unfortunately.
Apr 16, 2009 at 7:39pm
I am hoping that politicians will show some leadership and will cancel the plans to double the Port Mann bridge (which will just bring more auto traffic into East vancouver and into the valley), and instead put in light rail from Vancouver to Fraser Valley Communities. We need forward-thinking transportation planning, coordinated with community planning!
Apr 17, 2009 at 10:17am
Either way, it time for a change in leadership. If we've learnt anything over the last 8 years, it that we need big scale change at provincial & federal levels if we are going to truly move move forward on environmental issues. We need to change our leaders, not just our lightbulbs.
Also, why was your cover story this week on <a href="http://www.straight.com/article-214382/doctored-crops-stir-latin-america... crops in Latin America</a>? Provincial environmental policy is the story here right now.
Apr 17, 2009 at 1:42pm
The carbon tax defies logic especially now when British Colombians are struggling and there is no need to future punish the consumer both at the pumps and in the grocery aisle as the cost of necessities rise. Thats right don't need anything further to punishment those who find them selves unemployed or the struggling homeowner who is set to go under as vancouver economic climate is non competitive with other provinces. As high cost of energy passed on to consumer along with high rents and the high cost of consumer goods as cost of transportation set to rise.
Starve the poor save the environment I don't think its necessary to go to such extremes so those that do the polluting get rewarded with big corporate tax breaks, right? Kill the economic environment with added taxes on energy set to triple while inflations ugly head has risen the worst thing you could do right now. And never mind what its done to tourism already as industry its hurting big time as cost conscience consumers go elsewhere.
Mr. Campbell has stripped the Ministries right down to the bone and this tax will ensure that many kids go with out necessities as the homeless are left to die and be slashed to death on Vancouver's streets as the homeless are burnt, shot, slashed, stabbed, frozen, poisoned, raped, tortured, beaten, ridiculed, ticketed, spat at, tasered as its what happens when you can't afford the price of rent much less food in Vancouver's streets and its doesn't matter if your a kid, or a old women or a crippled its all the same as there is no predjudice there as all are left to die?
Its baffles one how the point starve a child save the environment beat down the poor how is that good as transportation prices are also set to rise and park and ride costs you a twenty. Laughing all they way to the bank because its the poor man thats paying the price for the rich man's spoils.
Instead of handing out tax dollars to rich corporations and citizens who pollute big time make them work for it by ensuring changes in the green direction are made through R & D, green transportation, green homes, green taxable donations, green renovations, whatever as industry and citisen should now start to receive awards fo commitment to our environment while serious polluters should pay the price. Because right now the guy who is paying the biggest price is the guy who is stuck paying for life's necessities through the noise as you have the poorest in the land and getting a whole lot poorer. While others fuel up their jets and take their buds on a nice golf excursion while they bet thousands on the holes as golf carts ensure all their energy is saved for the golf swing.
And after that maybe a nice ride on the yatch as you take in the rays with an black olive to top of the dry martini. I would always get sick when it came to the water and booze so it always amazed me how these corporate big wigs keep it down while on their boats.
Those that pollute big time should pay as clearly my little specialists the recession is doing a fine job of stopping people from consuming life's necessities such as food, heat, transportation, safety, and health and although I'm certain you mean well I think your coming from a place that is dark ,clouded, misguided and terribly uninformed and predjudical.
Because this is what it adds up to the rich have decided the poor need to quit living while they live the high polluting life as give your head a shake if the middle class think for a minute there is any breaks coming down the line. For that they either have to know someone special or have something special for them like hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the deal go down as campaigns are run on big time coporate donations.
Apr 17, 2009 at 2:58pm
"I am hoping that politicians will show some leadership and will cancel the plans to double the Port Mann bridge (which will just bring more auto traffic into East vancouver and into the valley), and instead put in light rail from Vancouver to Fraser Valley Communities"
I disagree. I think the GVRD has made a mistake by emphasizing light rail to the exclusion of heavy rail. What's needed at this stage of development is heavy rail such as the West Coast Express, plus an expansion of the freeway system around the suburban areas, not just PMH1, but additional links to the North Shore through Coquitlam.
Heavy rail can serve in a hub and spoke fashion for trips from outer suburb to inner core, while freeways, with rapid buses for those without cars, can serve needs for transportation from suburb to suburb without the need to travel through the centre.
Apr 22, 2009 at 5:08pm
The _Georgia Straight_ could start by discontinuing ads for cigarettes and snuff.