Hundreds march on Douglas Street to call for climate action

Hundreds of climate strikers took over Douglas Street on Friday afternoon to demand the province put an end to subsidies for liquefied natural gas extraction.

The protest was one of many around the world — in places such as Australia, Hungary, South Korea and England — demanding tougher action on climate change. The demonstrations come days before a global climate conference starts in Madrid.

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In Victoria, youth organizers targeted the province’s financial investment in natural gas with a rally outside city hall and a march to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources at the corner of Herald and Blanshard streets.

Grace Sinats, 14, said organizers are calling out the provincial government for putting money into a fossil-fuel producer that could instead be invested in climate-change action.

“We’re telling them they are not doing enough. We are getting together and saying: ‘You need to be doing more’ to the B.C. NDP,” Sinats said.

B.C. provides hundreds of millions of dollars in fossil-fuel subsidies per year, according to a recent report by a Winnipeg-based environmental think tank. The report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development says the province continues to create new subsidies, including significant support for the LNG industry.

“It really just says that they’re not taking climate action seriously,” said 17-year-old Emma-Jane Burian, one of seven youth organizers of the strike. “It shows that their words mean nothing, and it’s really frustrating when their words don’t live up to their actions.”

Demonstrators shut down the northbound lanes of Douglas Street as they made their way to the ministry, where they heard from youth and adult strike organizers.

Mayor Lisa Helps personally paid for a speaker system to amplify the youth organizers’ voices.

“It was important for me to do that to show them in a meaningful way — with more than just words — that I support them and I believe in them,” Helps said.

Patrick Schreck, a member of Climate Justice Victoria, which helped organized the strike, questioned the idea that natural gas is a clean-energy alternative.

“LNG emits tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change,” said Schreck, a high school teacher who took the day off work for the strike.

The ministry did not engage with protesters, but said in a statement it respects the right to engage in peaceful protest.

It said provincial subsidies, which it called a “fiscal framework,” for the $40-billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat — the first major Canadian liquefied natural gas export terminal, now in its preliminary construction phase — areintended to create employment opportunities in the province.

The ministry also said the LNG project will produce around $23 billion in public revenue over its life.

Werner Antweiler, a University of B.C. business school associate professor who studies environmental and energy economics, said the development of a natural-gas industry is essential to support a global transition away from coal to renewable energy.

But he also applauds climate strikers for demonstrating, because it raises awareness of climate change and puts pressure on politicians.

“We won’t get there without, actually, awareness of the issues and the emphasis on the fact that we do have a climate crisis,” he said.

David Boyd, an associate professor of law, policy and sustainability at UBC, echoed Antweiler, saying the strikes are a powerful indication of public support

“Combined with the ever-increasing scientific evidence of the severity of the global climate emergency, politicians have both an opportunity and an obligation to accelerate the shift to a clean energy future,” he said by email.

Boyd, who is also a United Nations special rapporteur or investigator on human rights and the environment, attended Victoria’s climate strike.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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