rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Climate justice and B.C.'s political moment

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: 350.org/Flickr

The following is based on a talk at the Bring Your Boomers election forum on April 3 at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, the fourth in a series of inter-generational dialogues from Gen Why Media, and was co-sponsored by the CCPA, Get Your Vote On, LeadNow and Vancity credit union. I was asked to set the stage for a conversation on climate justice between three youth and five politicians seeking office in the coming election.

B.C.'s 2013 election comes at an important moment in history. Worldwide, extreme weather events from drought to floods to powerful storms and record-breaking temperatures are making a powerful statement that climate change can no longer be denied.

Down under, Australia recently added new colours to its weather maps to accommodate higher temperatures of up to 54 C. Arctic sea ice has shrunk dramatically and hit a new record low last summer. The U.S. is entering is third year of a drought that has devastated crops and led to massive wildfires.

Costs are piling up, with one recent estimate of $1.2 trillion per year in global damages already from climate change, and related environmental disasters and impacts from a carbon-intensive economy. These huge costs are often imposed on people who have done the least to contribute to the problem -- a fundamental matter of justice.

B.C., too, has experienced climate change first hand in the form of wind and hail storms, landslides, floods, and perhaps most notably the devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle because temperatures are no longer cold enough in the winter.

We know that humans are causing climate change by taking carbon in the form of fossil fuels from underground, and releasing it into the atmosphere. Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing us towards ever more destructive ways of accessing dirty energy, such as bitumen and shale gas.

We subsidize fossil fuel extraction through our tax system, cheap electricity and public infrastructure. And we're not just an addict; we are a dealer: B.C. exports twice as much carbon as we combust in province.

But the painful reality is that 80-90 per cent of our known fossil fuel reserves constitute "unburnable carbon" -- if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change. On the basis of this math, students in the U.S., and now in Canada, are leading a new movement calling for divestment from fossil fuel stocks.

B.C.'s crossroads

The good news is that, starting in 2007, B.C. took some important first steps on climate action. BC brought in a law requiring greenhouse gas emission reductions -- 1/3 by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. We introduced North America's first carbon tax; aimed to reduce and offset emissions in the public sector; provided subsidies for energy efficiency; integrated emissions into official community plans; and, set out a clean energy mandate for BC Hydro.

Between 2007 and 2010 (last year for which we have data) B.C.'s emissions fell by 4.5 per cent. Much of this may be due to the recession, but B.C.'s climate policies arguably deserve some of the credit. And there's no evidence that those policies have caused economic harm.

Unfortunately, new developments threaten to lock us in to a carbon-intensive development path. Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline to connect Alberta bitumen to Asian markets has sparked protests across the province.

Of note, Alberta's tar sands are powered in part by B.C.'s natural gas. The advent of "fracking" has enabled record gas production, but has raised concerns about the impact on water supplies, earthquakes and leakages of methane. Plans to build the Site C dam on the Peace River would provide new power for fracking and mining operations.

B.C.'s Natural Gas Strategy envisions a doubling or tripling of fracking in the Northeast, to feed a new Liquified Natural Gas export industry. This development would be like putting 20-40 million cars on the roads of the world. And even though most of those emissions would occur outside of B.C., it would mean that B.C. would not be able to meet the targets enshrined in our GHG law.

Here in Vancouver, plans to dramatically expand exports of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, from the Port have met local resistance. As have plans from Metro Vancouver to build a new garbage incinerator.

These projects are all connected to climate change, but are also about the inalienable rights of B.C.'s First Nations, and protection of our natural heritage. They create very few jobs, at a heavy environmental price.

Still, we find it hard to say no because resource extraction has been so successful in making B.C. a wealthy part of the world, and because fossil fuel companies have disproportionate influence in the corridors of power. Our governments are wedded to a vision of the province and the country as a quarry for foreign interests, from whose favour come revenues to backfill the public service needs of tax cut politics.

B.C.'s climate actions have also stalled: funding has run out for energy retrofits of B.C. homes and public institutions; the government has stated it will not continue with annual increases to the carbon tax or expand it to exempted industrial sectors; B.C. built the widest bridge in the world to ease car traffic, while public transit funding is in crisis; and B.C.'s claims of carbon neutral government have been exposed as an accounting fiction.

Searching for climate leadership

There is still time to return to strong leadership on climate and energy. This is about what kind of economy B.C. has in the future, and what role B.C. will play within Canada and on the world stage. But we can't have it all: we can't be a climate leader and at the same time make huge investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure.

That's why this election is so important. CCPA's Climate Justice Project issued an open letter in February, signed by 66 organizations from a wide range of civil society, calling on all B.C. political parties re-commit to our provincial GHG law and table actions that get us to our 2020 target. Leading environmental groups have called for a Better Future Fund that increases B.C.'s carbon tax to build public transit and clean energy solutions. A coalition of labour and environmental groups has called on parties to table a bold Green Jobs plan.

The path to a zero carbon economy is rooted in ensuring renewables power our daily needs, but also dramatic improvements in the efficiency with which we use energy. It is in the development of zero waste policies that dramatically reduce waste generation and GHG emissions in a move to a closed-loop economy. And over the longer term, it is in the development of complete communities, where people live closer to where the work, shop, access public services and play.

A zero carbon B.C. is do-able, and would create tens of thousands of jobs, and a province where all jobs are green jobs. It is a project with a purpose, one that will occupy a whole generation. What has been lacking so far is the political will to embrace real leadership and a new vision of what B.C. can be. This election season we need a race to the top among our political parties, and an end to the view that doing the right thing, by tackling climate change, is a political loser.

Photo: 350.org/Flickr

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.