5 Green Fights For The Future of British Columbia

British Columbia Relief Map
BC Relief Map via Wikimedia Commons

British Columbia (BC) is a fabulous place to live. The province's largest city, Vancouver, is consistently rated as one of the most livable cities in the world, and a visit to the fertile Fraser Valley and Gulf Islands will quickly demonstrate why the 100 Mile Diet germinated here. North and east beyond the highly populated southwest corner of the province lies multiple mountain ranges, a river and lake filled interior, grasslands, deserts, and a vast northern stretch dotted with resource towns. Not to mention an extensive Pacific ocean coastline. This varied landscape, and attendant resources, have been a boon to the economy and citizens of BC, but changing priorities, economies, and, ahem, a changing climate have given locals much to reflect on. After the jump we present five big issues that will define the future of British Columbia. The list we've compiled is by no means exhaustive, it doesn't even touch forestry or mining and the recent push to establish provincial endangered species legislation. Here they are, in no particular order.

Fish Farm Protest

Broughton Archipelago fish farm protest Image: Union of BC Indian Chiefs

Open Net Salmon Farming

Sea lice, chemical treatments for sea lice, disease, algae blooms, marine mammal deaths, marine debris, waste build up on ocean floor, escapes, alien species, and unsustainable inputs like a high volume of fish-meal in salmon feed. That is the list of environmental impacts of salmon farming according to the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) based in Vancouver.

Sea lice has been shown to be a major cause of the decline, and possible demise of wild Pink salmon on the mid coast. A study published in Science demonstrates the problem.

Rather than benefiting wild fish, industrial aquaculture may contribute to declines in ocean fisheries and ecosystems. Farm salmon are commonly infected with salmon lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), which are native ectoparasitic copepods. We show that recurrent louse infestations of wild juvenile pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), all associated with salmon farms, have depressed wild pink salmon populations and placed them on a trajectory toward rapid local extinction. The louse-induced mortality of pink salmon is commonly over 80% and exceeds previous fishing mortality. If outbreaks continue, then local extinction is certain, and a 99% collapse in pink salmon population abundance is expected in four salmon generations. These results suggest that salmon farms can cause parasite outbreaks that erode the capacity of a coastal ecosystem to support wild salmon populations.

Add to this a host of social concerns, highlighted by negative impacts on BC's indigenous communities and an obvious conflict of interest between local residents and corporate owners, and controversy is unavoidable.

The current provincial government is an ardent supporter of open net salmon farming and up until a BC Supreme court decision this past February, that handed authority to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, regulated the industry.

Why are open net salmon farms bad for BC?
What it really shakes down to is that wild Pacific salmon are the backbone of the BC coast and fish farms are threatening the existence of wild populations.

Why are open net salmon farms good for BC?
Monetary profit and jobs.

Alaska has banned finfish farms, and so should BC.

Carbon Emissions Tail Pipe Image
Image: Jenn Pentland

Carbon Tax

We're in the midst of a provincial election campaign here in BC. While the economy is always top of mind at election time, the environment and how to deal with global warming are also getting a lot of play. The biggest debate so far is focused on the carbon tax.

The sitting, Liberal, provincial government introduced a carbon tax that, like any new tax, was panned by most residents. As Mathew reported, the tax came into effect at a time when prices at the pump were soaring and the mayor of William's Lake, a resource town in Northern BC, was quoted as saying, ""The last thing [residents of his community] need now is a tax on top of these soaring prices to add insult to injury."

Despite the fact that the tax is still a mere fraction of the cost of a tank of gas (the tax is also attached to home heating fuel), maxing out at 7.24 cents per litre (27.25 cents/gallon) by 2012, it has become a very hot button issue this election. But perhaps not for the obvious reasons.

The debate is raging over the, traditionally left leaning opposition party, NDP's platform to "ax the tax". The initial outcry from the green community was picked up by Lloyd at the start of the election campaign. Lloyd quotes from Jim Hoggan at DeSmogBlog, who have come out against the NDP's plan, and expresses a concern that many on "the left" have felt.

For the record, this puts us in an interesting and unfamiliar position. As long-time and trenchant critics of the climate change (non-)policies of the Bush Republicans in the U.S. and the Harper Conservatives in Canada, we at the DeSmogBlog frequently have been castigated as somehow "left-wing" — as if caring about the environment we leave to our children is the stuff of communist conspiracy. Since the start of the election, however, the NDP's defenders have started calling us "right-wing" — in one reference, someone even called us "neo-cons."

The NDP have tried to present an alternative for the tax, but it is seemingly lost in the muddle of quotes like the following from NDP leader Carole James.

[Premier] Gordon Campbell's gas tax is unfair and it doesn't work. Working people pay, while big polluters are let off the hook and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The NDP will scrap the tax.

What the NDP propose is a shift to a cap-and-trade system to manage carbon emissions. Writing on the Sightline Insitute website, Alan Durning takes a swipe at this proposed solution.

The New Democrats claim that they care about curbing climate change: they say they will replace the carbon tax shift with a cap-and-trade system that only covers big, industrial companies. Of course, the [Liberal] Campbell government has already legislated the province's participation in the Western Climate Initiative -- the largest cap-and-trade system in development in North America.

A further criticism of the NDP campaign is that they have intentionally confused voters. Scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki also weighed in on the debate in a front page story in The Globe and Mail (via The Hook).

"If [Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell] goes down because of axe the tax, the repercussions are the carbon tax will be toxic for future politicians. No politician will raise it. That's why environmentalists are so upset."
Mr. Suzuki said he supports both a cap-and-trade program and a carbon tax. Of the tax, he said, "it's clean, simple and if there are inequities in the way it's applied, then change it." He called on Ms. James to show the flexibility that Mr. Campbell showed in shifting to accommodate native concerns and shift her position. He suggested the NDP could neutralize the debate at little political cost by backing off their opposition, but acknowledged that things are probably too far gone now for that to happen.

And just for the record, BC's Green party proposes that they would increase the tax. And Suzuki sees the party as a "credible" alternative.

Why is the carbon tax bad for BC?
It may not go far enough to modify carbon intensive behaviour. It is only effective if coupled with a cap-and-trade, or similar plan.

Why is the carbon tax good for BC?
It puts a long overdue price on carbon emissions. If the proceeds from the tax are used wisely, say for public transit, the power of the tax will be multiplied.

Puntledge River Comox Valley BC photo
Puntledge River, Comox Valley, BC Image: Jenn Pentland

Run of River Power

Another hot election topic, run of river power (RoR) is dividing BC's green community as much as the carbon tax vs. cap and trade debate. Writing on The Tyee, environmentalist and RoR opponent Michael M'Gonigle explains the concept.

At first glance, run-of-river power seems pretty benign. Without recourse to large dams, RoR diverts stream water into turbines, and then returns it to the river downstream. In many rural areas, such projects have been in operation as small-scale sources of power for generations.

OK, sounds good. No coal, no natural gas, just harnessing the raw, natural force of BC's mighty rivers. M'Gonigle continues:

But as proposed in B.C., RoR is on a far larger scale. And its numerous side effects are now well known: Destructive construction in wild rivers and intact habitats, new roads and penstocks carved through wilderness areas, long transmission lines.

The list of concerns for RoR in B.C. goes on: the potential privatization of up to 500 streams and rivers, the realization that the systems will work well only during spring run-off, the gold rush mentality that has identified some thousands of potential sites across the province, the industrial scale of most of the projects, and the government/industry push that eschews careful planning by removing local decision-making authority.

The main voice on the other side of the RoR debate is Tzeporah Berman. Berman's organization, PowerUp Canada, works to make Canada a leader "in the fight against global warming." In another Tyee article Colleen Kimmett sums up Berman's take on RoR.

Berman and others on her side say B.C.'s regulations are strong enough to insure that approved run-of-river projects will be environmentally sound.

Where the difference really starts to show when the debate turns to growth. Berman says,

We're going to try and identify some recommendations to address public policy concerns related to environmental impacts. But at the same time, (we're) looking at how we can continue to expand.

M'Gonigle counters.

Increasing efficiency and generating new "alternative" sources of supply will never get us past the climate crunch because they confront a central contradiction: continuous economic growth that will just swallow up whatever gains are made, all the while upping the environmental impacts.
Can someone please explain how we can get past this contradiction except by reducing total energy demand, and developing economic strategies that will allow us to do so permanently?

Why is Run of River power bad for BC?
It focuses on new sources of as opposed to reducing demand at the same time as it allows large scale industrial power projects to encroach on wildlands. And it passes public land into private hands.

Why is Run of River power good for BC?
It creates new, clean(er) sources of power to allow for continued growth.

5 Green Fights For The Future of British Columbia
British Columbia (BC) is a fabulous place to live. The province's largest city, Vancouver, is consistently rated as one of the most livable cities in the world, and a visit to the fertile Fraser Valley and Gulf

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