Climate scientist Devyani Singh hopes to topple David Eby in Vancouver–Point Grey
When Devyani Singh was growing up in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, the Himalayas were practically on her doorstep.
In this so-called Land of the Gods bordering Tibet and Nepal, Singh observed how the changing climate was altering her world.
Now as an adult, she knows that this magnificent mountain range provides water to almost two billion people living in India, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma, and Pakistan. That's because the Himalayas contain the most frozen ice on the planet after the Arctic and Antarctic.
But if nothing is done about rising greenhouse gas emissions, two-thirds of that Himalayan ice could vanish by the end of this century.
Climate change is already interrupting hydrological cycles—including monsoons upon which South Asians rely for their survival.
When Singh decided to abandon a high-paying job in the corporate America to focus on the global environmental crisis, she received the full support of her parents.
"They said that's the only thing you cared about since you were a child," Singh told the Straight by phone.
That led her to UBC, where she obtained a PhD in energy and climate policy from the faculty of forestry. Her areas of expertise include climate finance and oil and gas emissions.
Suzuki endorses Singh
Her parents, who are in India, also backed her decision to become the B.C. Green candidate in Vancouver–Point Grey.
Singh has lived in the constituency for seven years, so it was a natural fit.
"They said 'somebody has to do it. And we're glad that it is you.' They fully support me in this," Singh said. "They're the ones who give me the energy to keep fighting for this planet."
She's also been endorsed by one of Vancouver–Point Grey's most famous residents, environmental activist David Suzuki.
Despite this, Singh faces a challenge that's almost as steep as a receding Himalayan glacier: she's trying to dislodge a popular NDP incumbent and cabinet minister, David Eby, who's held the seat since 2013.
For her, it's not about the individual. It's about the NDP government's policies.
That includes the ruling party's failure to protect old-growth forests from logging, its support for the $12-billion Site C dam, and its decision to increase subsidies to the fossil-fuel sector by 79 percent over the previous Christy Clark–led government.
According to a recent Stand.earth report, the B.C. NDP government offers $350 million annually in royalty credits to natural gas producers.
Plus, the NDP government dished up another $6 billion in incentives to Shell Oil and other multinational energy companies to develop the LNG Canada plant and related pipeline infrastructure in northern B.C.
"They are not taking climate action," Singh maintained. "How can they justify being pro-climate when you continue to promote fracking?"
Climate research takes emotional toll
Singh is a postdoctoral fellow at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. She works with Arvind Ravikumar, one of North America's leading experts on methane emissions from oil and gas fracking.
In addition, Singh is a visiting postdoc at UBC and she conducts carbon-tax research as a postdoctoral fellow at Royal Roads University. On her website, she describes herself as a scientist, progressive, environmentalist, immigrant, trail runner, frisbee player, queer, friendly, and approachable.
She acknowledged that researching climate issues can be emotionally draining when governments repeatedly ignore what the scientists are saying.
She's also quite certain if the status quo continues, there will be a large number of human deaths as a result by 2100.
And those who will suffer the greatest from the climate crisis, according to her, are the most marginalized who have contributed the least to the problem.
As well, there are "the animal species and trees that are going extinct, paying the price of our greed and desire".
"But I have hope, which is why I continue fighting, which is why I am running," Singh said. "I won't lie. As a climate scientist, at least once a week, I hit existential crisis.
"I sit here telling my partner: 'Why am I even doing this? The government won't listen. People won't act. We won't change.' And then I realize that it's okay. This is why I am here. This is why I am fighting—because there is hope. If we don't take action today, we can take action tomorrow."
Eby defended LNG project in debate
So with such a busy schedule, why run for the legislature?
"I just could not sit back and watch and keep having politicians continue to ignore science," Singh replied. "And so I figured if the politicians won’t listen to science, then I would bring the science to them."
It came to a head earlier this week when the UBC Alma Mater Society hosted a very civilized debate between her and Eby over Zoom. (Liberal candidate Mark Bowen was invited but did not participate.)
This was her first political debate and a chance to take the science to Eby, one of B.C.'s most powerful cabinet ministers over the past four years as the attorney general.
"I think he understands the nature of the problem," Singh told the Straight, "but I don’t think he will take the action because the NDP doesn’t care about it. It’s talk but it’s not action.”
During the debate, Eby defended the LNG Canada project, describing it as "financially significantly net positive for the province".
"You keep talking about it as if government is paying money to build this project and then you’re going to take that money the government is paying and redirect it to other things," Eby declared. "But the subsidies you’re talking about is the industrial electricity rate that’s available to all industry in British Columbia. And so if they’re not buying the electricity, it’s not like there’s some kind of magic money.
"We’re selling electricity at a loss to the United States because of decisions by the previous administration to give long-term contracts to their friends and donors for run of the river projects without adequate environmental oversight," he continued. "These are the stakes in the election. This is how the province was run before.”
Singh pointed out that the $6-billion subsidy includes deep well credits, corporate tax breaks, cheaper electricity, as well as direct investment in infrastructure and technology, capital expenditures, project financing, and also some cash payments.
Eby didn't address the degree to which the LNG Canada plant will gobble up B.C.'s carbon budget by 2050. Nor did he respond to Singh's comment in the debate about low LNG prices in Asia—and the potential impact on B.C.'s LNG industry.
Eby did, however, express respect to Singh for her passion for the climate, as well as the work she's doing in this area.
"It’s a passion shared by many, many people in the constituency," Eby said. "It’s a huge priority for me and my family, and it should be a priority for everybody.
"But it’s not fair to simplify the issue to the point that the NDP—so incorrect—doesn’t care about climate," he maintained. "This is the largest private sector investment in British Columbia history."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pegged the entire cost, including associated infrastructure, at $40 billion.
"It creates jobs all on the pipeline, $2 billion dollars in contracts for First Nations, who support the project, and government is not paying for the project," Eby said. "It’s paid for by private money. So these are complicated decisions."
In addition, Eby accused Singh of "simplifying" issues—a characterization that she later rejected in her phone interview with the Straight, saying she's more than willing to discuss the complexities of the NDP's climate policy with the attorney general.
Eby closed that section of the debate by purporting that the LNG Canada plant "fits within the climate plan endorsed by a Nobel Prize–winning scientist (Andrew Weaver)".
In fact, last year, Weaver told the Straight the exact opposite—the CleanBC climate plan will not achieve its goals because of the LNG plant.
Meanwhile, Premier John Horgan likes to describe liquefied natural gas as a "bridge fuel to a cleaner future". That's because he, like former premier Christy Clark, claims that it will result in less coal being burned in China.
Singh, on the other hand, said that if natural gas is being viewed as a bridge fuel, that could only occur over a 10-year time horizon, and not over the lifetime of an LNG project.
"If we are going to provide cheap gas, we need to make sure it is not replacing renewable initiatives and projects that might be undertaken rather than replacing coal," she added, citing a report written by Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
"There are still two billion people in the world who don't have electricity access," Singh emphasized. "So we have two options: either help these countries go on a low-carbon pathway—which the developed countries didn't do—[or] let them have a tie-in or lock-in of the fossil-fuel industry."
According to Singh, it's very expensive for countries in the Global South to decarbonize their economies without financial, technological, and human-resources help from the developed world.
"We have to have the political will and we need to think of the world as one," Singh said. "I know, around the world, the right-wing nationalists’ sentiment is rising.
"But if we really have to tackle the climate crisis, it is bigger than all of us. We have to work together as a planet and it starts in British Columbia."