On the surface, the news that Premier Christy Clark has convened a climate leadership team is cause for optimism. We desperately need a climate action plan given that B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions are going up when they are supposed to be going down.
Taking meaningful steps to defend B.C. communities from the impacts of climate change could put B.C. back into the international spotlight as a climate leader, as we were when the carbon tax was first introduced. But take half steps, or continue backward, and this government goes down in history as the one that ignored the science and failed to act.
Climate change is already affecting our economy for the worse. Experts say increasingly large and frequent wildfires, such as the one blazing out of control near Prince George, are being driven in large part by climate change. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has hit forest-dependent communities hard, contributing to mill closures and job losses.
Shellfish aquaculture has been affected by increased ocean acidification; last year, 10 million scallops were wiped out, along with the jobs they support. And the epic drought in California is driving up the cost of produce and threatening our food security.
The reality is stark; however, responding to climate change is an opportunity to create jobs and strengthen communities.
Clean energy creates far more jobs per dollar of investment than the extraction, processing and distribution of fossil fuels. For every million dollars invested in clean energy, 15 jobs are created. In fossil fuels? Just two.
Already, more Canadians are employed in the clean-energy sector than in the oilsands. It’s clean energy that can be our economic engine, not the oil and gas industry.
Yet here in B.C., taxpayers subsidize the oil and gas industry to the tune of half a billion dollars each year. We are subsidizing an industry that creates relatively few jobs and is the source of the vast majority of the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change.
Any meaningful response to the challenge of our times will require us to invest instead in renewable-energy alternatives, building retrofits to conserve energy, sustainable transportation and local food production. The alternatives are known and possible, and can be scaled up to support resilient communities and diverse local economies.
Yet it’s difficult to imagine the climate leadership team will recommend shifting subsidies away from oil and gas, when the team includes the top lobbyist for the liquefied natural gas industry. David Keane heads up the B.C. LNG Alliance, an organization that represents the corporations that want to expand fracking in B.C.’s northeast and export liquefied fracked gas to foreign markets.
The premier has made it clear that the climate leadership team will advise on how B.C. can meet its emissions-reduction targets at the same time as it pursues its LNG agenda. But the math simply doesn’t add up: Exporting fracked gas is incompatible with reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions.
The government’s agenda — to build three LNG terminals in the Great Bear Rainforest — will result in an extra 36 million tonnes per year of greenhouse gases (more than a 50 per cent increase on B.C.’s officially reported emissions), and make it impossible to achieve our emissions-reductions targets.
Washington state just joined California in declaring a drought emergency. Historically low snowpack levels are causing serious water shortages that will result in agricultural crop losses. Is B.C. next?
The need for a climate action plan is urgent. But to be a plan that is up to the challenge — and the opportunities — at hand, this much is clear: it cannot be a plan with LNG expansion in its midst.
Caitlyn Vernon is campaigns director at Sierra Club B.C.