Martyn Brown: Answering the Liberals' predictable betrayal on Climate 2.0

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      If British Columbians had a lick of sense, they would see B.C.’s new climate inaction plan for what it truly is: a hollow, dishonest, and pathetic avoidance of climate leadership that is tailor-made for B.C.’s largest carbon polluters, at the expense of our children and our planet.

      It is, in fact, a carbon pollution subsidy plan that has abandoned British Columbia’s legislated carbon emissions reduction target for 2020 and that aspires to no new targets for the next 34 years.

      It is a plan that assures B.C. will never meet its target of an 80 percent emission reduction from 2007 levels, by 2050; it is a plan with no annual or short-term targets. Just mindless rhetoric and claims to climate actions that were adopted eight or nine years ago, before Clark’s cabinet ministers put the boots to the plan that they happily benefited from in the 2009 election.

      After missing B.C.’s legislated GHG reduction targets set for 2016 and 2020 through four years of inaction and negligence, the Christy Clark government has formally resolved to do nothing.

      It has offered no materially new actions to combat climate change or to hold future governments accountable for moving B.C. to a low-carbon economy.

      Nearly half of its “plan” for minimally “reducing” carbon emissions is to claim credit for replanting trees that were lost from fires or from the mountain pine beetle—a sleight of hand if there ever was one.

      After all, the carbon emissions from those dead trees were never counted in the province’s emissions inventory in the first place, yet now the government wants to claim credit for the carbon “captured” by each new tree it plans to plant.

      Never mind that reforestation is a fundamental provincial responsibility anyway, or that the Clark government has never put its money where its mouth is on its past promises of intensive silviculture.

      Like so much of its new climate “plan”, the reforestation and related plans for incremental carbon offsets is a scam, pure and simple.

      The entire fraud would be a joke if it were not so deadly serious in its devastating implications for our province and its environment.

      In one fell swoop, Premier Clark has signalled to the world that if she has her way, British Columbia will go from being a global leader to a laggard on climate action.

      She has offered a blueprint for unchecked fossil fuel development and for growing greenhouse gas emissions that ignores virtually every one of the 32 recommendations made by her handpicked advisors on the Climate Leadership Team (CLT).

      Christy Clark's myopic preoccupation with LNG took precedence over using a climate-action plan as a tool to diversify B.C.'s economy.

      Political cynicism writ large

      As a study in political cynicism and crass co-option for political advantage, the process that helped legitimize Clark’s new climate avoidance plan should be instructive for anyone thinking of serving on any future advisory body. It is a textbook example of her proficiency at empowering her critics to make themselves look hopelessly naïve and vaguely ridiculous.

      If nothing else, Clark is expert at effectively silencing her critics by ostensibly giving them a voice that she never intends to hear or heed. The CLT was no different.

      From the outset, its well-meaning environmentalists, academic, and other earnest representatives got innately co-opted by the mandate it was given.

      Which is to say, it was hopelessly compromised by the mission to develop a climate action plan that might put B.C. back on track to meet its GHG reduction target for 2050, while also supporting the government’s LNG pipe dream and its carbon-intensive economic strategy to dramatically increase British Columbia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

      For the B.C. Liberals, the whole point of that fraudulent exercise was to “liberate” its divided critics to push for a massive increase in the carbon tax that it could easily reject, while also conning those CLT members into supporting its overriding carbon emissions subsidy plan.

      They fell for it, hook, line and sinker, by calling for an annual $10 increase in the carbon tax over each of the next 32 years, starting in 2018. It was too simply too easy for the Clark government to reject that plan to escalate the carbon tax from $30 per tonne to $360 a tonne by 2050.

      Much as I support the CLT’s visions, it was not smart, politically, to put it mildly, as I argued here

      A much wiser strategy would have been to set a four-year plan to double B.C.’s current carbon tax to $60 or even $70 per tonne of emissions. At least that would have been politically doable and within the next government’s ability to control.

      Fact is, unless it has a political death wish, no government or opposition party would ever support a 12-fold increase in the carbon tax over the next three decades.

      Holding that out to the public at this point in time was obviously the surest way possible to make the carbon tax the negative political football it is now certain to become in the next provincial election.

      Clean Energy Canada has shown that B.C. will likely fall short of missing greenhouse gas reduction targets.

      B.C. Liberal apologists offer predictable reaction

      It’s no wonder the business and government representatives on the CLT were happy enough to support that 34-year commitment to annual carbon tax hikes. They knew it would never see the light of day and that it may well kill public support for any reasonable carbon tax hikes.

      It will have precisely the opposite effect intended, as the politicians trip over themselves to promise not to raise the carbon tax, perhaps even in the short term, egged-on by Big Oil’s apologists in the mainstream media.

      Already the government’s Postmedia cheerleaders have dutifully chimed in to support the Clark government’s climate inaction plan, in formal cahoots as they are with their partners in the resource sectors who tug their purse strings. Shocking, I know.

      Sadly, the CLT’s carbon tax hawks fell headlong into the government’s obvious political trap.

      In so doing, they inadvertently set back the likelihood of achieving ongoing increases in carbon pricing, as they also made it much tougher for the NDP and Greens to make the case for that imperative in B.C.’s 2017 provincial election.

      Playing nice and working cooperatively with a duplicitous government that is only interested in further dividing to again conquer its near leaderless opposition was always bound to fail.

      Getting in bed with a hostile government that is defined by its leader’s supercilious smile, by its structural alignment with Big Oil, by its penchant for playing its opponents like chumps, and by its longstanding and open aversion to serious climate action was never a prudent relationship.

      It was always a prescription for wanton abuse aimed at gratifying the government and at humiliating those who dared to trust it to take their advice seriously, in the hope of producing a viable, consensual climate action plan. [See my extensive four-part series on the Climate Leadership Team here at]

      In large measure, the government’s climate avoidance plan is also an indictment of our own collective interest or genuine concern for combating global warming.

      A sign at a Vancouver Earth Day celebration.
      Charlie Smith

      Government counts on public cynicism and selfishness

      Truth is, we talk a lot about “doing the right thing”. We yatter a lot in social media about the urgent need for meaningful climate action. But most of us are content to be comfortable hypocrites in doing nothing substantive ourselves about reducing our own carbon emissions if the alternative involves any real sacrifice or noticeable costs, ever angry as we are about taxes.

      Indeed, we may be the most selfish, self-centered, shortsighted intergenerational pool of voters that ever walked the Earth. We’re letting the Earth cook before our eyes and aren’t prepared to lift a finger to stop it until it’s a moot point.

      We’re like the frog being happily boiled to death by degree, still emersed in comfortable enough water. Actually, the scientists tell us that at some point, when the temperature gets hot enough, even those frogs will try to jump to safety. Difference is, for us, there will be nowhere to jump to, having put our own atmospheric lid on our own planetary roasting pot.

      And that is what the Clark government is counting upon—that we don’t really give a damn about climate action and that we sure don’t want to pay the price for addressing it, least of all with escalating carbon taxes. At least, not until we really internalize the problem we are creating by our own inaction.

      Judging from the public’s initial reaction to Climate 2.0 last week, she may just be right. There is a reason why concerns about climate change barely register these days in public opinion polls, as Christy Clark knows all too well.

      Perhaps it’s just the enormity of the problem and the perception that our own individual actions do not amount to a hill of beans. It’s the same argument that the Clark government and others have used to absolve themselves of the need to lead on climate change.

      Poor us. We’re just a little province of 4.5 million people whose carbon emissions are only a drop in the bucket, in the global scheme of things.

      It is a defeatist argument for ongoing climate avoidance that wrongly positions us all as innocent pawns in the life-threatening, planet-choking, carbon emissions crimes of our own making.

      And it’s a cop-out of the first order, as I wrote in this passage from the Campbell government’s 2008 Throne Speech:

      “Waiting for others to act is not a solution—it compounds the problem. Taking refuge in the status quo because others refuse to change is not an answer. It’s avoiding responsibility and being generationally selfish. The argument that British Columbia’s mitigation efforts are, in global terms, too miniscule to matter misses the point.

      Every molecule of carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere by human activities matters. It hangs there for decades or even centuries, and adds to the accumulated burden of global warming on our planet. The benefit of our actions is not negated by the actions of others who add to the problem. They are cumulatively beneficial, globally significant and scientifically discernible. They contribute to the efforts being taken by growing legions of people around the world who are acting today to prevent the problem from becoming even worse.

      We cannot be paralyzed into inaction by the scale of the task at hand. Rather, we will act now to make a real difference, and to encourage behavioural changes that will drive sustainable growth as a global imperative. Market forces can play a positive role in this regard.”

      The thing is, it takes strong leadership to make carbon tax hikes and other unpopular climate actions politically palatable.

      I certainly don’t see any appetite from NDP leader John Horgan as yet to try to make that case, as Gordon Campbell did, in the face of the NDP’s opposition back in 2008-09.

      Yet here’s what I know, as one of the architects of B.C.’s 2008 climate action plan and as the B.C. Liberals’ public campaign director in the 2009 provincial election.

      When the Campbell government brought in the carbon tax that the NDP opposed and that the Greens and so many environmentalists universally applauded, it split the vote the on the left.

      We won many crucial swing seats with the help of that vote split. The controversy over the carbon tax that was predictably castigated by the NDP actually worked to the B.C. Liberals’ advantage, as it may yet work in reverse for the NDP at the B.C. Liberals’ expense in next year’s election.

      It rightly positioned the Campbell government as B.C.’s most committed climate leader, who also had a vision to Keep B.C. Strong (our campaign slogan) by embracing a low-carbon economy. The climate action vision was, in fact, central to that government’s economic appeal, as it should be for the opposition parties next spring.

      Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver could benefit from the B.C. Liberals' decision to make the province a climate laggard, especially if the B.C. NDP sits on the sidelines.

      You can bet that Green party leader Andrew Weaver will be pushing the NDP in the upcoming election on that front, and so he should.

      The opportunity for John Horgan—especially with Christy Clark abdicating any credible claim to climate leadership—is to grab that mantle and lead like he means it. OK, so hope springs eternal.

      Strong leaders shape public opinion polls. They lead public opinion to make others followers and also-rans.

      I submit, there is a huge latent public support for climate leadership that could actually prove pivotal in costing Clark’s Liberals the election.

      By and large, most people want to do the right thing.

      With the right mix of climate action policies, incentives and political accountability measures, many swing voters and even traditional Liberals would welcome a vision that might reclaim British Columbia’s global status as a true climate leader.

      There are so many things that could be done to re-earn that reputation. A clear, bold and balanced plan for gradually increasing carbon pricing is part of that equation. It can be a winning element of many in a politically popular and far-reaching climate action plan that honours our collective obligation to future generations.

      Indeed, it’s a shame that the CLT’s recommendations focused so much on the carbon tax and offered so little in the way of substantive climate actions of the sort that Ontario has recently presented in its sweeping new climate plan.

      Therein lies the opportunity for the NDP and the Greens to steal votes from traditional B.C. Liberal voters by making climate action a key election issue.

      The Clark government’s climate avoidance plan should serve as an indictment of all the ways that it has failed British Columbians, starting with its dishonest and inexcusable betrayal of the public interest on climate action.

      It should stand as an example of its myopic preoccupation with an LNG industry that may never materialize, ironically because it is so unnecessary, so redundant, and so costly in terms of what it would impose in offsetting its incremental GHG emissions.

      It should stand as a crucible of the B.C. Liberals’ lack of economic leadership in diversifying our economy and of its contempt for leading B.C.’s needed shift to a more sustainable economy.

      And it should serve as a reminder that the Clark government is not worthy of public trust or of the pursuit of cooperative partnerships, because it doesn’t listen and its only real agenda is to stay in power by using its power to serve its party paymasters.

      If the opposition parties play their cards right, they should be able to demonstrate that the Clark government’s latest failure on climate leadership was too cute by half.

      That plan alone is reason enough not to vote for the B.C. Liberals in 2017. At least, not if we truly care about the world we are shaping and leaving to our children and to future generations.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia. He is the author of the ebook Towards a New Government in British ColumbiaContact Brown at