February 28, 2011

Panic and climate change

Now that the Liberals have chosen a new leader, the Gordon Campbell era is almost over – 27 years, from City Alderman to Premier.  It will take many more years before history makes its judgment, but in one respect, he will be seen to have been both prescient and courageous.  He identified climate change as an issue that justified going against the tide of opinion and even the ideology of his own party.  B.C. was the first jurisdiction in North America to bring in a carbon tax – something even the NDP did not support.

And I don’t think he’ll stop adding his perspective even out of office.  A few weeks ago, at a workshop for Port Metro Vancouver that assembled some key executives in carbon-intensive industries, Campbell said:

We will panic over climate change if we don’t constructively respond.
I had never thought of it quite that way: unless action is taken at a time when response still seems rational and possible, society’s response when faced with the full and inevitable consequences of climate change may be panic.  And not in a good way. 
And Campbell was saying that to a room where many of the listeners were unable to conceive of a world that was not based on ever-escalating growth, in turn based significantly on the consumption of fossil fuel. 
Now we’ll see whether his successors have the same kind of courage.

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  1. The sky is falling – are you people in Vancouver really as stupid as you seem to want us to believe? I am torn between whether to classify you as an eco-marxist or just a plain old eco-moron.

  2. Anyways….

    While Campbell may have introduced a Carbon Tax (and I’ll give him credit for that) with one hand, he essentially reversed any progress that could’ve made by continuing to fund an expansion of what Gordon Price refers to as “motordom.” The massive expansion of highways and road infrastructure inherent in the Gateway Plan will lead to a corresponding increase in greenhouse gases.

    If the provincial government were serious about responding to this issue they would’ve used the gateway money to build alternative transportation and encourage suburban municipalities to use smart growth techniques. Besides, the proceeds from the Carbon Tax haven’t even been guaranteed to go to alternative transportation, or other energy saving measures. A strident anti-Liberal like me can tip my hat to the first step of introducing it in the first place, but it’s a very flawed first step and it makes his proactive comments seem less than genuine.

  3. And if the Gateway wasn’t bad enough, the massive increase in coal, oil and gas extraction under Campbell’s reign have far increased BC’s contribution well beyond anything the flea bite carbon tax might have achieved. The carbon tax, like the incredibly silly “Hydrogen Highway” (see many hydrogen cars lately?) was simply window dressing – a distraction technique, misdirection by a practiced performer to disguise what was really going on. Campbell should have fallen much earlier in his career – and if he had been on the other side of the political spectrum the local main stream media would have ensured that. But somehow he survived scandals and disgrace, and we will be paying the price for that for years to come. The only good thing I can see from this weekend’s charade is that Falcon’s parade got rained on.

  4. Summary of Clark’s statements to date on carbon, climate and renewable energy http://conservationvoters.ca/news/which-candidate-for-premier-best-represents-bc-citizens-on-climate Not that anything said in a campaign should be confused with policy to be implemented.

    Regarding that Campbell quote, mitigation is a pretty poor response if you’re concerned with public panic. Building resilient public services by legislating for walkable ‘hoods, and encouraging short supply chains in food and transport – that is the best government response. Carbon taxes are irrelevant, or even hurtful, without road space redistribution (BRT is cheap) and transit investment.

    Carbon taxes + Gateway is confused madness, not courage.

  5. I agree with Stephen and David. Campbell’s government saw a systematic movement to subsidize oil and gas exploration with tax breaks, royalty reductions and special incentives to ensure that every cubic meter of gas, no matter how economically marginal, was pulled out of the ground and burned somewhere. Much of that gas has even been flared, never reaching markets at all but simply wasted into the atmosphere. British Columbia’s total ghg emissions continued to increase last year, even as emissions nation-wide are on the decline. The carbon tax simply cannot make up for millions in give-aways to gas companies.

    I’ve long been disappointed by politicians who say one thing and do another. On this topic, Campbell has done exactly that. The carbon tax was a political tool. I expect it was designed more to divide the opposition and win support for something that was largely symbolic and had little negative impact on his base, because it clearly will be a long time before it has a noticeable impact on climate change.

  6. The carbon tax was a major success, a North American first and a useful precedent. Sure, it served a political purpose of dividing the left – but what else would ever motivate a centre-right party to introduce climate change fighting measures, if political gain is ruled out?

    Yes, Campbell continued many negative “business as usual” policies like expanded oil and gas exploration, and he probably accelerated freeway expansion beyond the business-as-usual trend. His overall legacy on the environment is mixed.

    But that’s different from saying that “the carbon tax is useless” or purely symbolic. At $20 per tonne currently, it’s currently the same as the floating market price on European Emissions Trading Scheme.