EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey
DEAR FELLOW citizens of British Columbia:
Now that my government has been in power for almost a month, I feel compelled to report on an urgent reality that received little real debate in the election.
I will come straight to the point. I am talking about global warming. Since taking office, I have been handed many reports, many labelled “urgent.”
Some merited the title, especially those on homelessness and affordable housing, but even these pale into insignificance next to the report on global warming.
I am not going to debate the science, for it has become abundantly clear that the debate about the causes of global warming is over. Any continuation will only delay the action that is so urgently needed.
During the election, we argued the merits of a carbon tax versus cap-and-trade. Both are important, but neither is sufficient to the urgency of the crisis.
Let me be clear. Because of the world’s continuing use of fossil fuels, our planet is on a warming trend that may see temperatures rise by 6º C by the end of this century. The last time the planet was this warm was during the Permian period, 251 million years ago, when 95 percent of all species became extinct. Most ecosystems took between four and 30 million years to recover.
If we continue burning fossil fuels and destroying our forests, farmlands and grasslands, most of the world’s coastal cities will be submerged by the end of this century. A third of the planet’s land area will be uninhabitable desert. Most agriculture will cease and most humans who survive will become refugees, desperately seeking a new place to live.
US Secretary of Energy Dr. Stephen Chu told the Los Angeles Times recently that 90 percent of California’s Sierra snowpack could disappear, eliminating the water storage that is so vital to agriculture. “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California. I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going… I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen.”
Here in BC, unless we build a sea wall three metres high, most of the Lower Mainland will be under water, submerging parts of Richmond, Delta, Tsawwassen, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, the Vancouver airport and BC’s entire marine shipping infrastructure along the banks of the Fraser.
How should we respond? This is the question that has kept me awake at night. It has become clear that the goal adopted under the last government – a 33 percent reduction in our carbon emissions below 2007 by 2020 (10 percent below 1990) – is nowhere near enough. In the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate conference this December, the call is for a 40 percent reduction below 1990 by 2020.
As British Columbians, we live in one of the most advanced societies in the world. We should not sit back and hope that some other country will take the lead.
As your government, we can dream up big policies. We could allow only the purchase of zero-emissions vehicles after 2020 and hopefully incentivize the market to produce sufficient electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars. We could require that every new building be zero-carbon, starting in 2016, as Britain is doing. We could close down BC’s coal, oil and gas industries, using your dollars to compensate the companies and retrain their workers.
Unless there was widespread consensus that such measures were needed, however, they would soon become political footballs, their merits lost in the storm of partisan debate.
The wisest way forward, therefore, is to ask you, my fellow British Columbians, what we should do. To that end, we are launching a three-month festival of imagination, ideas and solutions, designed to make BC a zero-carbon society by 2030, both domestically, and as much as possible, for our imports and exports too.
I am not the incoming premier, but if you send me your ideas, I will reprint the best of them in this column and on the BCSEA’s website, and I will also forward them on to the real premier. Please send them titled “Festival of Climate Solutions” to firstname.lastname@example.org
Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.www.bcsea.org