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.