This is a personal essay of exploration, not a formal statement of the BCSEA’s position.
During the first three parts in this series, I found that becoming a 100% renewable energy region is mostly possible, but when it comes to long-distance trucking, shipping and flying it will need some technological breakthroughs, supported by regional and international cooperation.
But so what? We could become an 80% or 90% renewable energy region on our own provincial efforts, and a government that chose to make it a priority could play a powerful leadership role in helping the world to tackle the larger problems that we’ll need to overcome to get to 100%.
We need such leadership urgently. Climate change is already hitting communities and entire states with dramatic forest fires, superstorms, and 1000-year floods or droughts—and it’s only going to get worse. In mid-August, a senior NASA water scientist estimated that the entire state of California could run out of water within 12 to 18 months. “Without a few successive winters of above-average precipitation,” he wrote, “we have only enough water in storage to get through the next 12 to 18 months, and that's it.” And the impacts we are witnessing today are the result of carbon emissions from fossil fuels and forests that were burned forty years ago, back in the 1970s. In forty years time, our children and grandchildren will reap the storms that we are priming today whenever we drive into town or turn up the oil- or gas-fired heat.
If we can’t yet get to 100%, what will it take to reach 80% or 90%? That’s the critical question. We need major change on three levels:
Level One: Widespread Popular Mobilization
In spite of the growing crisis, we have not seen much climate mobilization in BC—nowhere near the level needed to educate voters and make stronger government action possible. The current campaigns against the tar sands bitumen pipelines are the closest we get as a proxy for climate action. The Dogwood Initiative’s pursuit of a ‘Let BC Vote’ citizens’ initiative to demonstrate that most people do not want the Enbridge pipeline has all the indicators of success, with 211,000 signed up supporters and thousands of trained volunteers.
The secrets to their success, as well as hard work, are a black and white issue and a clear and simple ‘ask.’ Tackling climate change and achieving 100% renewable energy is so much more complicated—it covers a host of issues from buildings and transportation to fossil fuels extraction, forest management, farming, and even the food we eat. It’s kind of complex.
We don’t all need to become policy wonks to cut through the complexity, however. We just need to assemble a powerful package of actions; give it clear, strong branding; persuade prominent people and organizations to endorse it; and choose a window to launch.
With a clear ask in hand we could mobilize thousands of people to write letters, pick up the phone, and push for action. Prior to an election, we could contact every candidate to see if they supported the package, and they would use their influence to turn it into reality.
Effective mobilization to make BC a 100% renewable energy region will need far more than a one-time shot, however. It will need a whole army of people who will continue to push for action over an extended period of time.
Circles of Five
After years of engagement in the climate movement, it would be great to develop a new form of activism. People are experiencing a growing sense of desperation as they contrast the grim future that climate change threatens with the apparent absence of action to tackle it. We see the storm approaching, but we don’t see anything remotely like an adequate response.
To mobilize effectively we need thousands of small circles or gatherings where people would meet weekly in person or by Skype to plan and carry out new initiatives, from meeting an MLA to speaking at a local council meeting, or helping local cyclists get better bike lanes. If a circle of five grew to ten it could split into two circles, keeping them small to nourish friendship and support. We need such circles globally, giving us the ability to exert pressure wherever it is needed, engaging major global networks such as 350.org, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.
As soon as the government begins to act on the goal of making BC a 100% renewable energy region we will need a second mobilization, much larger than the first, with everyone seeking ways to save energy and replace carbon-based energy with renewable energy in their homes, businesses and places of work.
We know from our history that we can achieve this level of mobilization. When World War II broke out people in Britain and Canada who were initially unwilling to accept that war was coming went to incredible lengths to do whatever it took to achieve final victory. This is the level of public engagement we will need to see again, as we strive to become a 100% renewable region, in response to the climate crisis.
Level Two: Effective Actions
What kind of actions could the government embrace? We already have a small but effective carbon tax, and willing participation in the Low Carbon and Renewable Energy Fuel Standards; we have a municipal Climate Action Charter signed by 180 of BC’s 188 municipalities, who are moving ahead with many initiatives; and we have a carbon neutral commitment being pursued by hospitals, schools, colleges and local governments across the province. We had a government-led climate launch in 2007, but maybe we need a re-launch every three or four years, to keep us focused and on the ball.
As a beginning, the package of actions to make BC a 100% renewable energy region might include the following:
- 20% of the energy used in BC’s buildings could be required to be renewable by 2020, as they are requiring in Europe. We could go further, making it 80% by 2025 and 100% by 2030.
- All new buildings could be required to be super-efficient and zero carbon, as Britain requires by 2019.
- All existing buildings could be required to be upgraded for greater energy efficiency and zero carbon energy before sale, following the example that Berkeley and San Francisco have shown since 1980.
- All multi-unit residential buildings could be required to undergo an energy efficiency audit every ten years, with low-interest loans for landlords and condo-owners to help with the cost of a retrofit.
- There could be multi-million dollar grants to local governments for progress on safe cycling and public transit, funded by an increased carbon tax and selective road-tolls.
- There could be major support for electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure, following Norway's example, with tax-breaks, cash incentives, free parking and free ferry rides throughout the province.
- BC and the Pacific Coast Collaborative could embrace Europe’s ever-advancing standard for reduced CO2 from new vehicles, pushing towards zero grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2030.
- BC’s vehicle insurance could change to be based on the annual distance travelled, providing a financial incentive to travel fewer miles.
- Every railway line in BC could be electrified.
- New railway opportunities could be opened up, including the Interurban line from New Westminster to Chilliwack.
- Every trucking company in BC could be encouraged to join a load-sharing network to reduce costs and emissions.
- There could be a steady annual increase in the carbon tax, with the new income being used to support actions that help shift our energy-use from fossil fuels to renewables, instead of being returned as a tax-break.
- The progress of BC’s economy could be measured in terms of Genuine Progress towards greater happiness and sustainability, alongside the existing measure of GDP, which assumes that money spent on divorce, deforestation and disaster cleanup is just as beneficial as money spent on positive activities.
- All proposals for new fossil fuel pipelines and rail transportation could be rejected.
- BC’s coal mining and natural gas extraction industries could be steadily phased out, with support being given to retrain workers and re-invigorate affected communities.
- Fugitive methane emissions from BC’s oil, gas and coal industries could be taxed on a comparable basis to the carbon tax.
The full list could be much longer—enough to give all but the bravest brain-freeze. The magic is in the packaging, the endorsements, and the evidence that the actions will create jobs and direct BC’s economy into a better future, using renewable energy in place of fossil fuels.
We need to turn people’s minds away from the mistaken belief that without fossil fuels the economy will collapse—that “there is no alternative,” to use the infamous phrase. There is in fact a great alternative, which promises a far healthier, more resilient, more sustainable future. Maybe TIAGA! (There Is A Great Alternative!) would be cool branding.
Level Three: Strong Government Commitment
The third level of change that’s needed is strong government commitment, backed by MLAs and ministers who have a really good grasp of the logic, the numbers and the costs and benefits of a shift to 100% renewable energy as a primary response to the climate crisis. We need to give our political leaders real confidence about the prospects for a strong green economy, so that they have the green jobs numbers and the names of BC’s successful cleantech companies at their fingertips when they are knocking on doors or appearing on radio and TV, along with the reasons why action on climate change is such an imperative.
With well-educated voters behind them there is so much that a committed government could do. Our province’s current actions deserve the praise they receive, which are a lot more than most other provinces are doing; but they are only the beginning of what is possible, and what is needed.
We need province-wide mobilization. We need a bundle of actions that could get us close to being a 100% renewable energy region. And we need a strong commitment to leadership by the government.
It is not as if BC would be alone in undertaking this goal. There are businesses, regions and governments throughout the world pursuing the same goal to become 100% renewable energy regions. As regions and nations begin to act together there might be even a justifiable hope that our children’s future will not necessarily be the catastrophe that otherwise awaits them.
You can find Part 1 in this series here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.