By Anitra Paris
In 2019, there has been a global uprising of youth concerned about climate change. Examples like Extinction Rebellion hosting die-ins, a nonviolent protest that brings attention to the unprecedented mass extinction with one million species facing extinction. And, Greta Thunberg raising her voice and leaving an impression on many of her peers.
Many may also be familiar with the IPCC report stating that there are 12 years left to act. Now one year later, there are 11 years to mobilize and make change. There is a unified voice calling urgently for change.
Most of the headlines from our neighbours to the south are disheartening, ranging from tragic mass shootings to the myriad of atrocious Trump stories. However, there are some positive newsworthy stories spattered throughout. Certain states are pulling ahead and leading the way in decarbonization and fighting the climate crisis. I have been repeatedly impressed with two states: Washington and California.
Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee has been paving the way and taking some serious climate action. The state is poised for carbon neutral electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2025. In March 2019, it went as far as banning hydraulic fracking for natural gas exploration.
California is another state that has been taking climate action in strides. It is host to many innovative renewable energy, clean tech and storage companies. For example, Tesla and its recently developed utility-scale storage solution Megapack. The City of Berkeley recently banned natural gas in new buildings, becoming the first city in North America to embrace this clear step toward building electrification.
B.C.’s successes in electrification?
In British Columbia, our electricity generation is relatively low-carbon. However, two-thirds of our energy consumption still relies on fossil fuels. We need to permeate our energy consumption with clean electricity and stop using fossil fuels for transportation, the built environment, and industrial processes. This idea was echoed in the province's CleanBC plan, released in December 2018.
There was such a large appetite for electric vehicles in B.C. that the provincial government had to cut its rebate from $5,000 to $3,000 due to the scale of uptake! The implementation of electric buses is also promising, with Translink’s commitment to build charging stations.
In line with the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the B.C. Energy Step code was established. It was developed collaboratively and has a goal of a net-zero energy-ready code by 2032; the success is highlighted in this report. When Vancouver declared a climate emergency, the City of Vancouver’s response included six big moves, including zero-emission space and water heating by 2025, as well as reducing emissions from embodied carbon.
Natural gas: differences across Cascadia
Why hasn’t there been the same push to ban natural gas in British Columbia like in Berkeley, California? One obvious answer is that the imminent physical danger differs greatly, partly due to population density. An example of this is the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion claiming eight lives. In 2018, there was a natural gas pipeline explosion outside of Prince George and the magnitude was massive, but it didn’t kill anyone.
The other piece that is missing is unlike in Washington—a state that doesn’t have a large natural gas industry—the LNG industry will bring 10,000 jobs to British Columbia. We need to have a plan to elevate clean energy jobs, and not in a boom-and-bust fashion accustomed to natural resource development like LNG. How do you ban natural gas when you are taking 10,000 jobs of the table? Perhaps movements like the Green New Deal or Canada’s youth-led Our Time will offer some clarity to a society grappling for answers.
On August 29, the federal and B.C. governments committed to an MOU to electrify the natural gas fields in the Peace region. The natural gas industry burns around one-third of its gas from extracting the product, transporting it along the pipeline with compressor stations, and liquefying it at tidewater. This process alone emits a lot of carbon and doesn’t even take into consideration the impacts of methane. While electrifying the process would dramatically reduce its emission impacts, it doesn’t eliminate them.
Having an emission-focused lens doesn’t consider the impacts that fracking and natural gas infrastructure have on First Nations like the Wet'suwet'en being forcibly removed from their land or the detrimental impacts on the fresh-water systems and land.
The energy system is complex. There is not a single right answer but it’s clear that we need to make changes. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna has written that “Tackling climate change is a marathon, not a sprint.”
It is a well-meaning sentiment: consistency and perseverance will be key. But we don’t have time for a marathon. We need to start sprinting, with everything we’ve got.