Jane Sterk: A small window of opportunity to confront climate change in B.C.

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      When confronted with a letter from 200 climate scientists (including B.C. Green candidate Andrew Weaver), academics, and environmental groups, Ann Marie Hann, president of the Coal Association of Canada, is reported as saying “there is a small window for Canada to potentially take advantage [to ship more coal] of the growing opportunities in Asia.”

      Increasingly loud warnings by scientists and business leaders about the climate crisis suggest the real small window of opportunity is dealing aggressively with climate change. The leaders of the world’s countries just ended two weeks of meetings at the Doha Climate Change Conference. The news is not good. The summit was “another summit of disagreement and displeasure.”

      We can’t have it both ways. If we choose the window that says extract, export, and sell as much coal-gas-bitumen as fast as we can, run-away climate change is assured. If we choose the window of moving to a low-carbon economy, for the most part, at least over time, we must leave these resources in the ground.

      It is no surprise that these two opposing dilemmas have emerged at this time. Our globalized economic system is failing miserably and the symptoms of accelerating global climate disruption cannot be ignored. Only massive government bailouts have kept the economy from a severe recession or, more likely, a depression. Infusion of government money has masked the reality that the global economy is unsustainable.

      Since World War II, industrialized nations had the benefit of a half-century of “prosperity” made possible by cheap fossil fuels. Early in the period, still influenced by remembering the depression and the two world wars, governments exercised restraint and lived within their means. Starting in the 1960s, the legitimate desire for adequate social services and universal healthcare became government priority.  Initially, these services were based on ensuring the most vulnerable were protected and they were covered within government revenues.

      All that changed in the '70s and beyond. Lowering taxes as the way to prosperity became an obsession of almost religious-like conviction. Debt became acceptable as a means to greater and greater “growth” and “prosperity”.

      We brag that Canada and B.C. have weathered the globalized recession better than most. It’s not really true. If we add the government debt at all levels, we are no better off than the U.S., which is about to hit a fiscal cliff.  

      An economic crisis of this magnitude provides us with a choice. Only the desperate would choose to do more of the same things that got us into trouble in the first place. That is exactly what our governments and industry propose, however. B.C. and Canada propose extracting as much coal, gas, and oil as possible through increasingly brutal and unconventional means. Selling our raw natural resources to Asia has become the de facto view of the way out the economic crisis. It is an impoverished choice that simply delays the inevitable.

      Moving to a low carbon economy that is based in local prosperity is the other choice that’s available. That would bring profound change and a need to redefine and refine all of our thinking about what makes for prosperity and wealth. Change of this magnitude is scary but it offers all kinds of opportunities. And it is the only way to deal with the far more frightening prospect of run-away climate change.

      At the moment, except for the Green Party of B.C., traditional political parties and governments seem unable to appreciate the magnitude of the climate crisis and to act on its urgency. In all likelihood, both the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP will attempt to keep discussion of climate change off the agenda of the provincial election. There will be talk about pipelines and tankers as if they are an issue separate from climate change.

      The election looks to be about who is best to manage the “economy”. In truth, neither the NDP nor the B.C. Liberals can manage the economy. It will fail of its own accord.

      The real question is who can manage the transition to local economies and the redefining of expectations. The answer is Greens and we know we can’t do it alone. We need to bring every good idea to the table, from every part of the political spectrum, from every community, from every individual, from industry and the social sector if we want to move to a sustainable future. And we need to do it now while the small window of opportunity exists.



      David Schreck

      Dec 13, 2012 at 4:39pm

      Isn't it voters, not political parties, that determine what issues are important to them in elections? Parties may try to determine the "ballot box question" but successful parties only do so by listening to and/or polling voters so as to focus on salient issues. Sadly, most polls rank environmental issues way down the list when it comes to what is vote determining.

      john twigg

      Dec 13, 2012 at 5:24pm

      Well if GPBC really does understand the magnitude of so-called climate crisis they would admit that BC alone can do virtually nothing about it and denying energy exports from BC would only worsen everyone's problems; converting BC to better energy sources and creating more local jobs would be a good thing but it does not require curtailing exports. Indeed taking revenues from those exports and investing them in new energy technologies and other good green projects would be the smartest strategy for BC now.

      Philip Stone

      Dec 13, 2012 at 9:55pm

      Most polls rank environmental issues way down the list because society is awash with propaganda, mass marketing and direct manipulation aimed at convincing everyone that it'll all be fine as long as we keep on shopping. There is simply far too many corporations and complicit governments hell bent on drowning themselves in money to ever hope that the environment will become the 'ballot box question'. Voters are being assaulted by the status quo and will continue to be as long as a single drop of oil is left in the ground.

      That's why grassroots leadership on climate change and re-shaping our economy is imperative. History repeats itself only until there is a revolution. And that's what is urgently needed, a Green revolution.

      If you imagine political relics like socialism and capitalism are going to bail us out then there's a brand new 10-lane bridge I bet you could get a price on too.

      Kathryn-Jane Hazel

      Dec 13, 2012 at 11:05pm

      And here I thought our political representatives were supposed to provide leadership on important issues...silly me!

      David Pearce

      Dec 14, 2012 at 8:41am

      The media can hlep the discussion giving more coverage of the non-traditional parties. Bravo, Georgia Straight!

      Lee Leeman

      Dec 14, 2012 at 10:25am

      Phillip Stone...
      'Most polls rank environmental issues way down the list '...

      Well that much is probably true. The reason is in no small part due to the decades of grossly exaggerated claims coming from the environmental scaremongers like Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and that old warrior Greenpeace. Non profits huh? not bloody likely.

      It is fortunate that they have all at one time or another done good and necessary work but having them or zealots like yourself holding the levers of power in any society .. now that would truly be scary.

      Able Willing

      Dec 14, 2012 at 2:23pm

      The climate crisis is a dire one for humanity indeed. It's likely given the current state of affairs that humanity could go extinct by 2100 due to the many risks inherent in global warming. We've never faced a more serious crisis, except perhaps for global nuclear winter or an asteroid impact. Unfortunately, it seems self-protective traits like being truly conservative, prudent, and pro-active are undervalued in our capitalist culture. People say that multiple disasters will shake humanity up enough to change their behaviour; but we can see by the senseless ongoing American shooting massacres that with incidents too isolated and random that a nationwide consensus for gun-control there has yet to emerge. With climate change we're also experiencing detrimental changes and weather disasters which are too random, seemingly disconnected, and currently distant from our urban perspectives (except for New York and New Orleans). The severity of disasters and famine which might force humanity to change behaviour is truly frightening. By then, of course, it will be too late. I think at this time it will take moral leaders with foresight in our institutions and our communities to stand up, to courageously face down ridicule and opposition, and communicate positive visions of life without fossil fuels. With our corporate-controlled governments and media, I really don't think most people have even been exposed to the possibilities. We're on the brink of a Renaissance, with oil-soaked politicians like Dark Age priests leading us to doom and damnation, while the best and brightest of humanity step forth with bold ideas to lead us to a survivable and glorious future. The BC Libs/NDP/Cons have all demonstrated a complete lack of leadership and foresight - maybe the Greens would be different, who knows. As our current system rewards career politicians who don't rock the boat too much, we can't expect real leadership to rise up out of our electoral system. And I doubt the Greens will soon be able to demonstrate any different way of governing (despite the positive example of Elizabeth May who's remarkable for the only federal politician who seems to represent Canadian interests). I think now only honest grassroots democracy, regrettably involving disruption and conflict, is the only way forward and the only way we'll learn who our true leaders are


      Dec 16, 2012 at 1:52am

      I'm more inclined than Jane Sterk to believe Adrian Dix's NDP will talk up action on climate change, although whether they will reveal policies that hold up in the light of day is another question.

      I was shocked when, under Carole James, the NDP said they would scrap the carbon tax (one of the best tools for lowering greenhouse gases) in the last election. NDP's environmental roots proved pretty shallow.

      Vox Fuerte

      Dec 16, 2012 at 12:02pm

      Well done Georgia Straight for giving a voice to the Green Party of BC.
      Now if everyone reading this also helps to spread the word about the GPBC and the consequences of climate change, I believe we can start a grass roots movements that can really affect the outcome of the next election.
      Let's put some Green Party members into the Legislature of BC.
      We can use the power of the internet to level the playing field.
      So readers it's really up to you.
      Do something, send out a message of FB, and Twitter to start.
      Let people know that there is another option other than the bcndp and the bc liberals.
      Ask them to vote Green

      Brennan Wauters

      Dec 16, 2012 at 11:35pm

      I'm running for the GPBC in Vancouver-Hastings. The NDP, Libs, and Cons have failed to address the issues that have far deeper implications to society and our common future than gaining immediate and short term voter attention. The discussions have not been thorough, considered, or even balanced. The economic indicators have been equally manipulated for short term voter attention by the traditional parties. There is a deep crisis in our democracy, along with misguided priorities that have culminated in a population of voters concentrating on short term investments at the expense of long term stability and success. This is in no small part due to the political concentration on elitism rather than stepping back from the issues and suggesting that alternative ways to guide our economy are entirely available and at hand without sacrificing prosperity in any way. Energy use reduction and consumption is a priority overlooked because it strikes fear into voters that somehow a reduction in energy use (consumption) would somehow have a negative impact on life fulfillment. This is precisely why at the federal level the Greens have titled one of their primary efforts, “Smart Economy”. You simply don’t export your problem because you’re not really exporting your problem, you’re just delaying the problem for voters of a different era. The deferment of problems to appear appealing to the voting population at the expense of future stability and prosperity is reprehensible. As a Green, I wish not to see this deferment but rather open possibilities to solve our problems now while recognizing the amazing accomplishments and opportunities BC has to contribute; leading by example is a priority we must undertake no matter the enormity and scale of the problem. Without the solutions beginning somewhere, we are doomed to be followers of misguided principles and beholden to ideas that do not suite our needs and the needs of those we hold charge and responsibility for; namely our current BC population and future generations.