This shouldn’t be necessary. But I’m going to acknowledge that the new federal Environment minister John Baird at least made the connection between the wind storm that devastated Stanley Park and climate change.
“Weird weather … is a ‘wake-up call,’ ” Baird is reported as saying in today’s Sun. “‘It’s another reason why we have to act on climate change.”
We’ll see if appropriate policy follows, but at least we have a responsible politician making some connections – unlike Gordon Campbell, our provincial Premier, who has managed to be almost totally oblivious on this issue.
I pursue that theme in my column in the latest issue of Business in Vancouver.
I think we just had a Katrina Moment – a weather event so sudden, so severe, it disturbs not just the landscape but the status quo.
The December 15 windstorm, the third in a week, reinforced the usual fear about the vulnerability of our technological web and added the fear of retribution. Was nature’s wrath a consequence of the progress that has made us fat and happy? Has the climate-change issue turned personal, and moral?
At this point, it is compulsory to note that a single extraordinary event does not an argument make. Even those who believe that the science is clear on climate change will issue that standard disclaimer.
But the burden of proof has shifted. Now it’s the skeptics who are obliged to argue that an event consistent with climate-change theory that projects more extreme weather is not a cause for worry of worse to come. With every Katrina Moment, it becomes tougher to defend indifference.
Most politicians would prefer to avoid addressing global warming and are so far doing an excellent job of it. The B.C. Hansard of 2005 shows a total of two paragraphs devoted to climate change. I asked a selection of people, some of whom are Liberal supporters: “True or false – Gordon Campbell has had nothing to say about climate change.” Without exception: “True.”
It’s understandable. Why take on climate change when the danger is distant, the costs unknown and the global difference we would make almost insignificant? The 3-D strategy of doubt, deny and delay has worked pretty well so far. But the evidence keeps getting worse. With each Katrina Moment, more and more people wonder how our leaders are going to respond to our anxiety. Normally dry debate over “sustainability” is turning emotional.
Marc Jaccard, the author of Sustainable Fossil Fuels and a past chairman of the B.C. Utilities Commission, recently wrote that our provincial politicians will be asked: “What did you do for the atmosphere, Daddy?”
“My bet is,” he concluded, “that B.C.’s cabinet ministers will avoid telling their children about the difference they could have made.”
Jaccard was questioning the province’s decision to allow coal-burning power plants with no carbon capture. To do so, given available technology, is like saying, not only are we ignoring climate change, we don’t believe there will be any unexpected economic consequences over the life of the project.
That’s pretty much the position of Don Potts, the executive director of the Joint Industry Electricity Steering Committee, who represents the major industrial users of purchased electric power in B.C.
“To reject these facilities now,” he argues, “sends a costly message to those in the private sector who may want to help supply the growing need for electric power in B.C.”
That’s an astonishing position, given the likely economic retribution that will occur as other jurisdictions take action.
California is considering prohibiting the state’s investor-owned utilities from buying power from any source that emits more carbon dioxide than does a modern natural-gas power plant.
Says Jaccard: “This will force coal plant developers to move more quickly to coal plants with carbon capture and storage – which will still be cheaper than natural gas plants, nuclear and most renewables.”
In the next few weeks, a new energy strategy will be announced by the province. The premier, who has had nothing of consequence to say so far, will have his chance. A leadership vacuum, like a natural one, does not remain unfilled.
Gordon Price is the director of Simon Fraser University’s city program and a former Vancouver city councillor. His e-mail address is email@example.com. His column appears monthly.