The BC NDP government's insistence on promoting LNG production and export is a dead giveaway that it is not really serious about doing its share to tackle the climate crisis.
THE PLANET IS NOW ON THE BRINK of runaway heating, meaning disappearing glaciers, exponentially bigger and more numerous wildfires, more fatal heat domes and even greater periods of highly destructive flooding. Global temperatures are now expected to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next few years, and appears to be heading much higher, in part due to “tipping points”—irreversible, unstoppable changes to the climate.
On May 17, 2023, the World Meteorological Organization warned that there is now a 66 percent chance of the annual near-surface global temperature reaching the 1.5 degree threshold for at least one year between 2023 and 2027. And Canada is warming at twice the average global rate. The Arctic is heating up faster still, at three times the global rate.
Damage and repairs at Bonaparte 1 Bridge in Cache Creek, BC. The changing climate is costly in a myriad of ways, including flooding, landslides, droughts, heat waves and wildfires. (Photo: BC Ministry of Transport)
Once we reach 1.5 degrees, it is highly likely that the global temperature will hit 2 degrees by 2050.
A group of Swiss-based researchers has proposed a novel way of demonstrating how our lives will change in a 2-degree world. Vancouver and everywhere else in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere will soon experience the warmer climes of places further south. On this view, southern BC’s average “climate velocity” would be 20 km per year, or around 2.25 meters per hour, according to the research, published in the July 2019 issue of the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE. In reality, of course, it is the climate that would move north, rather than the geography that would travel south.
But it’s one way of reminding us that our local climate is no longer static.
The tipping points
Even at the current level of 1.1 degrees, the planet may already have passed no fewer than five tipping points, leading to the collapse of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, die-back of the Amazon, the shutting down of critical Gulf Stream currents off Canada’s East Coast, the loss of nearly all mountain glaciers, and melting of permafrost—releasing yet more carbon into the atmosphere and pushing temperatures even higher.
In turn, passing those tipping points can increase the likelihood of crossing others, warns Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In an interview published in September 2022, Rockstrom noted the danger of crossing multiple tipping points: “To maintain livable conditions on Earth and enable stable societies, we must do everything possible…”.
Adding to the worry is a coming natural event. On May 17, the World Meterological Organization, a United Nations Agency, reported on the effects of an expected El Niño beginning later this year. “A warming El Niño is expected to develop in the coming months and this will combine with human-induced climate change to push global temperatures into uncharted territory,” said Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a May 17 statement. “This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management and the environment. We need to be prepared.”
Thanks to those tipping points, the world is now on a path toward global heating of between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius, according to research led by British academic David Armstrong McKay, published in Science on September 9, 2022.
The location of climate tipping elements in the cryosphere (blue), biosphere (green), and ocean/atmosphere (orange), and global warming levels at which their tipping points will likely be triggered. SOURCE: Science, September 9, 2022, D. Armstrong McKay et al. (Link to article abstract is here.)
Armstrong McKay and colleagues warned that even if all net-zero pledges and national targets are implemented as promised, global temperatures could reach just below 2°C, they said. “This would lower tipping point risks somewhat but would still be dangerous as it could trigger multiple climate tipping points.”
Just what a dying planet needs—more LNG
Despite the dire warnings from the WMO and environmentalists far and wide, an outsider could be forgiven for thinking that British Columbia isn’t at all worried about the climate crisis. I am not counting the government’s insightful public advice about how to avoid dying in the next heat dome (“Don’t go out in the heat”). Car dealers are still pushing carbon-spewing, Hummers and Lincoln Navigators. John Horgan stepped out of the premier’s office into a cushy job with one of the province’s dirtiest fossil companies. And the BC government is planning to dole out even more of taxpayers’ precious dollars for more LNG plants.
Longtime environmentalist Bill McKibben recently suggested a simple rule when deciding what to do: “If something makes climate change worse, then we shouldn’t do it.”
Environmentalist Bill McKibben: “If something makes climate change worse, then we shouldn’t do it.” (Photo: Storyworkz)
Forget all the distractions of irrelevant measures such as emissions per capita and emissions per square feet—both of which are routinely reported by BC’s environment ministry as showing climate progress. Forget ramping up fracked gas wells, while claiming that carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon offsets will let the fossil industry carry on trance-like through the coming apocalypse it caused. Don’t bother with those strictly false claims that the oil and natural gas industries can soon be “net zero.”
Instead, in coherence with McKibben’s rule, published in the May-June 2023 issue of Mother Jones, pay attention to just one issue: Does the policy make climate change worse?
In the case of LNG, regardless of whether the compressors that turn the gas into liquid are gas-powered or electric, the answer is a resounding yes.
Why? Because approximately half of the life-cycle emissions from LNG do not occur in BC. Rather they occur where it is regasified, transported to the generating station, and then burned. So claiming that LNG liquefaction plants powered by electricity approach ”net-zero” is next to irrelevant.
In March, the Environmental Assessment Office advanced the Ksi Lisims LNG project to the next step.
In addition, Woodfibre LNG in Howe Sound and Cedar LNG in Kitimat are in the offing, as well as a doubling of LNG Canada’s output beyond its first phase, now under construction in Kitimat.
How does the government justify such a huge expansion of one of the world’s dirtiest industries? So concerned was it about negative reaction to its March 13, 2023 issuance of an environmental assessment certificate for Cedar LNG that it issued an 8-page Ministers’ Reasons for Decision, signed by environment minister George Heyman and energy minister Josie Osborne. Cedar LNG is a partnership with a majority ownership held by the Haisla Nation.
“We understand Cedar LNG is a key element of Haisla Nations’ economic and social development strategy,” wrote Heyman and Osborne, “and it would create jobs, contracting and other economic opportunities for Haisla Nation, the local community, Indigenous nations, and the northwest region of BC.”
The construction workforce would peak at “up to 500 full-time equivalent workers,” and 100 over the facility’s 40-year life. Not only that, said the ministers, the project would result in contributions to BC’s GDP of $257 million, including indirect and induced effects.
The ministers did not mention how many of those precious jobs would actually be in China—as many were in the case of nearby LNG Canada—nor that promised indirect and induced GDP effects are often wildly exaggerated.
In a May 2023 report for the David Suzuki Foundation, Concordia University researcher Daniel Greenford writes that the science is unequivocal. “LNG is a fossil fuel and producing it in Canada and shipping it abroad for combustion—even if it replaces coal—will increase the likelihood of missed emissions targets while exacerbating the climate crisis at home and around the world,” said Greenford.
Climate policy fails to deal with, er, climate
But not to worry: The BC government is on it.
In the latest report on the progress of its much-touted Clean BC flagship climate policy, the government boasted of helping wealthier voters buy electric vehicles and heat pumps. Even more intriguing, in the latest version of the Climate Change Accountability report, published November 23, 2022, the government announced it has “eliminated the largest fossil fuel subsidy in the province.”
But what exactly is BC’s “largest fossil fuel subsidy?” The November 23 news release didn’t say.
Has the government finally woken up and kiboshed its $6 billion subsidy to LNG Canada? Not exactly. In fact, not only is the government considering allowing this carbon-spewing monstrosity to continue, courtesy of BC taxpayers, it is considering allowing the consortium of foreign fossil companies to double in size. Worse still, both the pending expansion of LNG Canada and all future LNG projects have been promised similar handouts, credits, reduced Hydro rates, and cancelled LNG tax.
Fortunately, the progress report itself sheds light on the mysterious large fossil giveaway: It’s the infamous fossil fuel royalty program, which has doled out untold billions to help fossil corporate welfare bums, as they laugh all the way to the bank.
So did the government finally wake up to the absurdity of the multi-billion royalty dole? Not quite. In fact, despite repeating the claim that it “has eliminated” the program, it has done no such thing. For one thing, the myriad fossil-heads who already have the royalty credit can keep getting it from existing wells, unchanged, till September 1, 2024, less than 2 months before the next BC election, scheduled for October 19, 2024. And even then, it doesn’t end. The royalty credit program is merely being replaced with another one that does similar things, albeit at a reduced level, and for fewer types of wells.
BC’s legislation requires the province’s emissions to fall 40 percent from 2007 levels by 2030. How are we doing? In short, abysmally.
In 2020, the last year for which figures are available, BC’s GHG emissions totalled 64.6 megatonnes (Mt) of CO2e. This amounts to a drop of 0.9 Mt from the 65.5 Mt emitted in 2007, or 1.4 percent. In other words, by 2030, our emissions are required to fall a further 25.3 Mt. This amounts to chopping approximately 39 percent from our current emissions by the end of the decade. Progress to date is hardly encouraging.
The myth of steel-making coal
What to make of former premier John Horgan’s move to join the board of Elk Valley Resources, currently part of Teck Resources Ltd, a would-be oil sands developer and infamous polluter of local waterways? Coal is among the dirtiest of fossil fuels, and countries with any semblance of climate consciousness are rushing to get out of it. A Teck subsidiary was fined more than $16 million this year for failing to control selenium and nitrate pollution in the Fording River in southeastern BC.
Yet Horgan’s move sits in perfect harmony with the NDP’s sleazy exclusion of environmentalist Anjali Appadurai from last fall’s NDP leadership race. (Horrors! A small-g greenie as premier!) As well, there’s Horgan’s 2018 out-Liberalling the then-BC Liberals in handouts to the LNG industry. Not to mention his deliberate lawbreaking in 2020 by violating the legislated fixed election date for the last BC election, ensuring that his New Democrats remain entrenched in power, without having worry about co-operating with their former partners, the BC Greens.
Though Horgan has boasted that he no longer gives a flying fig about what anyone thinks, he did toss out a morsel of supposedly climate-related justification for his new role: Elk Valley Resources will be digging coal out of the ground only for steel-making, not for generating electricity.
The Globe and Mail reported in April that Horgan said that while there are other ways to generate power than coal, there are “limited ways to make steel.”
Several sympathetic commentators helpfully noted at the time that steel is used to make windmills, the obvious implication being that Horgan’s new job involves supporting environmentalists with their goals of boosting renewable energy.
As it turns out, Horgan was wrong to imply that steel-making requires coal.
Just three weeks after Horgan’s comments, on May 21 the New Zealand government announced a grant of up to $140 million to NZ Steel Ltd for an electric arc furnace, designed to replace coal in making steel at its Glenbrook plant in south Auckland. The purpose is to reduce that country’s carbon emissions. And the concept is hardly new. The electric arc steel-making process has been known since the end of the 19th Century, though it has become more commercial in recent decades. So commercial, in fact, that the American Iron and Steel Institute reports that electric arc furnaces now account for more than 70 percent of US steel production. Hardly “limited.”
Perhaps Horgan’s just motivated by the money. The plan to split off Elk Valley Resources from Teck is now on hold, so to gain insight into Horgan’s likely pay range for his new director job we need to examine Teck directors’ pay.
According to documents filed April 3, 2023 with securities regulators, in the year ended December 31, 2022, Teck directors serving the entire year were paid from $248,000 (at the lowest level) to $647,000 (for board chair Sheila Murray) in total compensation. Given Horgan’s impressive resume, it would be surprising if his Teck pay falls in the lower part of that range. To pick the mid-point, let’s say the former premier is now collecting $448,000 annually from the coal miner. Combined with the legislature pension—approximately $153,000, based on 70 percent of his best three years—Horgan’s total income is likely in the neighbourhood of $600,000. (All figures are rounded to the nearest $1,000.)
The silent ones
Two MLAs stand apart from the others by speaking up about the government’s MIA climate policy: Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau and her house leader colleague, Adam Olsen. Both have been unrelenting in their criticism of the government’s half-baked climate actions, Furstenau referring to the government’s Clean BC climate plan as a “shield,” used to deflect criticism that the NDP’s climate policies have gaps large enough to drive a coal train through.
In a May interview with Focus, Furstenau said she has long puzzled about the collective silence of other MLAs in light of how dire the current climate situation is.
Sonia Furstenau: BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau: “We need people to stand up and say what they think--I want better from my colleagues.”
“I am mystified,” she said. “We need people to stand up and say what they think. I want better from my colleagues,” added Furstenau. “I can’t begin to speculate what goes on in the minds of other MLAs.”
Stuck in a system that apparently requires them to be loyal to their party may make the jobs of those other MLAs more stressful, Furstenau suggests. This is in contrast to how she and her house leader colleague act.
“Our jobs are quite easy,” says Furstenau. “We say what we think.”
One politician with an especially stressful job may be premier David Eby. In his first speech as incoming premier, in October 2022, Eby outlined his agenda. Included was this: “We cannot continue to expand fossil-fuel infrastructure and hit our climate goals.” Yet just five months later, in March 2023, Eby continued to expand fossil-fuel infrastructure by giving implicit thumbs-up to three new LNG plants, and to doubling LNG Canada's planned output. The total annual output of those four new LNG sources, if approved, amounts to an additional 21.1 Mt of LNG beyond the 14 Mt expected from the first phase of LNG Canada. Adding the output of LNG Canada’s first phase brings BC’s total potential LNG exports to 35.1 Mt annually.
And where are the rest of our 85 present MLAs? (Two legislature seats are currently vacant.) Not one of the other 83 has stood up in the legislature or other public forum and said: “Hey, this is serious. BC needs to stop approving new LNG plants, halt the handouts to fossil fuel firms to clean up their own messes, stop allowing former premiers to join polluting coal companies, and create and implement a real climate plan that explains exactly how we’re going to urgently reduce emissions.”
Did all 83 drink a special potion that convinced them that climate science is bunkum? They are implicitly acting like some 1960s kids who jumped out of tall buildings because they were convinced the law of gravity didn’t apply if they were stoned enough.
All is not lost—maybe
In the last few years, dozens of books on the climate crisis have been published. Nearly all are intelligent, well-researched and skilfully written. But most are less than rosy about our prospects, even their titles. For instance, one of the most detailed is the 2020 book by British author Mark Lynas: Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency.
One of several exceptions is No Miracles Needed: How Today’s Technology Can Save Our Climate and Clean Our Air, the February 2023 book by Mark Jacobson, who directs the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University. The earth could actually be saved, if we act quickly, says Jacobson.
His solution is for civilization to promptly switch to what he calls WWS: wind, water (hydro) and solar. “The world needs to eliminate 80 percent of climate-relevant emissions by 2030, and the rest soon after if we are to avoid the harshest consequences of global heating,” Jacobson says.
How relevant is Jacobson’s thesis to BC? For starters, there is the pending approval of three new export LNG plants, as well as the doubling of LNG Canada’s output, as noted above. A basic thesis of the BC government’s attitude to the exports is the claim that natural gas is a “bridging fuel.” By selling the liquefied gas to Asia, the claim goes, it will displace much dirtier coal-burning electricity generating plants till cleaner energy processes come along.
Jacobson has a firm response to this claim: “When used in an electric power plant, natural gas substantially increases, rather than decreases, global warming compared with coal over a 20-year time frame.” The reasons are to do with the fact that methane—the main component of natural gas—is a much more powerful planet-heater than carbon dioxide over 20 years. And more natural gas leaks to the air during mining, transport and processing than it does in coal mining.
A further reason is that burning coal releases more nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide than does gas combustion, substances that produce cooling aerosol particles that offset much of coal’s global warming over a 20-year period. (See this paper for Jacobson’s analysis.)
Admittedly, over 100 years, coal is slightly worse than natural gas. But we do not have 100 years. BC is required by its own legislation to reduce its emissions by 80 percent from 2007 levels by 2050—just 27 years from now.
The planet is already well on its way to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and the more LNG we produce, the sooner we will exceed that worrisome threshold.
What we do have, Jacobson argues, is already-existing technology that can replace the combustion-based energy we now rely on with 100 percent clean, renewable energy from wind, hydro and solar power, along with storage. Presently, 95 percent of the required technology is now commercially available, he says, and we know how to build the rest, mostly using hydrogen fuel cells to power long distance ships and planes.
We do not need miracle technologies to solve the problems of air pollution, global heating and energy security, says Jacobson. “[But] we need the collective will power of people around the world to solve them.”
Is the BC government doing its part? Or is it ignoring Bill McKibben’s advice and making climate change worse?
Russ Francis won Webster Awards for his Focus environment reporting in 2021 and 2022. He holds advanced degrees in physics (Duke), philosophy (Toronto), and public administration (Victoria). His major project for the MPA degree at UVic examined performance management and program evaluation in the BC government.