Island Voices: Sleepwalking into the future with Bill 10

In the aftermath of disaster, it is common to undertake what experts call “root cause analysis,” a fancy term for the identification of the conditions that gave rise to the disaster. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for example, is often cited as the root cause of the First World War.

I’ve been thinking about this a good deal since the B.C. legislature passed Bill 10 late last week because I believe we are witnessing an alignment of conditions that imperils our future. Years hence, we might look back on these days and rue our failure to recognize the patterns taking shape.

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All the more poignant now as we seem content to sleepwalk into a dark and uncertain future, blithely unaware that it will be nothing like the past.

The concessions to the liquefied-natural-gas industry contained in Bill 10 make a mockery of the “Clean B.C.” plan introduced just four months ago. As a quick refresher, Premier John Horgan described Clean B.C. as a plan to put “our province on the path to a cleaner, better future — with a low-carbon economy that creates opportunities for all while protecting our clean air, land and water.”

To be clear, giving incentives worth up to $6 billion to LNG is not a recipe for a low-carbon economy. Expanding the unconventional gas industry in B.C. will increase greenhouse-gas emissions, making the province’s climate-action goals unattainable. While proponents of LNG cite it as the cleanest burning fossil fuel, the process of extraction (fracking) and exporting (including liquefaction, shipping, re-gasifying and piping the gas to its final destination) enlarges its GHG footprint considerably.

Put simply, developing the LNG industry in B.C. will contribute to global climate change and continue the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

For British Columbia, the costs of climate change — by any measure — could be stark. Whether it expresses itself as flooding in low-lying coastal regions, threats to the province’s timber supply or health problems caused by deteriorating air quality, the financial cost of climate-change impacts is measured in billions. The B.C. situation is, of course, the thinnest edge of a much larger wedge. Nationally and globally, the costs are frighteningly larger.

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ scientific panel on the subject, released last October, should have been a wakeup call for elected officials, citizens and others. It did, after all, state that humanity had just a decade to decarbonize the global economy, lest the impacts of climate change become both irreversible and catastrophic.

To underscore the urgency of making the right decisions, the report said avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.” And yet here we are, giving financial handouts to an industry that is effectively killing us — and we all know it.

Jem Bendell, in a recent paper released by the University of Cumbria (U.K.), goes so far as to describe the current state as one in which we “need to reassess [our] work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change.”

At a time when we should be making important investments to enable the necessary transition to truly resilient communities and clean economic prosperity, the concessions to the LNG industry represent an unacceptable social-opportunity cost. Our elected officials should be showing ethical leadership and laying the groundwork for a sustainable, low-carbon economy — one that provides present and future generations with the opportunities they need to enjoy healthy and fulfilling lives.

It is sometimes said that unless you’re prepared to give up something valuable, you will never be able to truly change, because you’ll always be controlled by the things you can’t give up. As a province, we have for too long hitched our economic wagon to various forms of extractive resource development, with LNG being just the latest example. And as citizens, we have become accustomed to a way of life that is predicated on an out-sized ecological footprint. Bill 10 perpetuates this pattern.

The throng of youths who recently stood on the front steps of the legislature calling for immediate action on climate change are asking for us to give up something we value to secure the future — theirs and ours. Anything less is to keep sleepwalking into the future.

Rob Abbott is a global sustainability and strategy consultant, and an associate faculty member in the School of Business at Royal Roads University.

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