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The Premier's Green Dreams

The surprising benefits of a good night's sleep

Dear Diary, 

OMG. Gordon Campbell, my predecessor as Premier of British Columbia, has been appearing in my dreams. Not once, but several times.

The first time he was showing me this book, The Weather Makers, by an Australian climate scientist called Tim Flannery. You should read it, he said.  It’s ten years old but it’s still among the best, he said, pushing it at me even though I was wearing my pajamas—and riding a bicycle.

So I did. My assistant found me a copy and I read it between meetings. On some level, I knew climate change was real. There has been plenty enough media about the shrinking glaciers, the melting arctic ice, the pine beetle infestation, and now the drought in California. But maybe I hadn’t connected the dots, or realized how frighteningly real the problem is. I can see why Gordo responded the way he did, bringing in the target to reduce BC’s emissions, along with the carbon tax and the carbon neutral requirements for government.

But then he appeared again! This time he was holding a placard and pushing it in my face, and I was super-conscious that I hadn’t got my make-up on. Dreams, eh. QUEBEC, APRIL 14th, the placard said. That’s all. It’s the date of the Premier’s Climate Summit, when climate change will be the only item on our agenda. Apparently there’s going to be a huge rally the Saturday before. But here in BC we’ve got our carbon tax, I thought. Everyone will be praising us and asking how they can learn from us. Yes, I thought, we’ve got that one handled.

But no, he was not happy at all. The next night he appeared again, this time all friendly. We were walking along the shore of Lake Okanagan and he had his arm around my shoulder. “It’s not enough,” he was saying. And then he dumped a huge pile of papers in my arms, six feet deep.

How Could We Hit our Provincial Climate Target?

Not enough? So I arranged a discrete ask-around to see what more we could be doing, and how we could hit our provincial climate target - a 33% reduction in emissions by 2020. Maybe the six-feet pile represented all the reports sitting on shelves that Gordo wanted me to read?

What will it take? I asked them. And while I was at it, what would it take to eliminate our carbon emissions altogether, go to 100% renewable energy? And if we did, what would it do to our economy? I’ve never been one for half-measures. If I’m going to do something I want to do it properly. But I don’t want to tank the economy by doing so.

So what do I get back?

Create a really big program to help people use less energy in their homes and businesses and reduce their energy bills, they said. It’ll generate lots of jobs, strengthen the economy, and reduce our emissions as people switch from oil and gas to the latest heat pumps. Design it so that 5% of the buildings get done each year, they said, and phase out the oil and gas that is used for heat by 2035. That seems doable, I thought. Anything else?

Tell BC Hydro you want their electricity to be 100% zero-carbon by 2025, they said, replacing the few remaining gas-fired power plants with renewable energy—wind and solar, things like that. It’s an easy fix, and there’s no political downside. Okay, I thought. What else?

Everything needs to go electric

Transportation, they said. Everything needs to go electric—buses, cars, bicycles, trucks. Is that possible? I asked. Yes, when you do it over 25 years, they said: but you’ve got to start now. Buy an electric car for your work in Kelowna and do the same for the government cars in Victoria. The price is falling steadily, and they could cost the same as a regular car by 2020. Seize the lead, they argued. When our electricity is 100% zero carbon our transportation will be too. It’ll be cheaper for everyone, too, they said: electric cars cost a sixth as much to run and a third as much to service and maintain, and as people spend the money they save, it will generate new jobs.

And go for a big expansion of transit and cycling, they told me, like they want to do in Metro Vancouver. It’ll be far cheaper than building new roads and bridges for the extra million people who are going to be living here soon. It’ll save you a lot of money in the long run. And electrify all the railways: that’ll be a good investment, too.

Living will become cheaper as we tackle the climate crisis, and better for the economy? That’s a new thought. Why aren’t my paid advisors telling me this stuff? What else?

The carbon tax, they said. Keep on increasing it the way you were, by $5 a year. It’s doing good work, and it’s a benefit all round. And extend it to methane: it’s carbon too—CH4. And methane traps 34 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. 84 times more if you measure the emissions over a 20-year period.

O-k-a-y, I thought to myself slowly. I expect we could increase the carbon tax. The greenhouse growers will squeal, but someone always squeals, whatever you do. And methane? Interesting thought. Anything else?

Forests, they said. BC’s forests are losing 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year: far more than the carbon tax is saving. You’re lucky no-one’s talking about it, or it would be a political hot potato. So what should we do? I asked. Invite BC’s professional foresters to give you their best advice on how to store more carbon, then back their advice with legislation.

Just like that. They make it sound so easy. They should try sitting in my seat for a day. Anything else, I asked?

My LNG—the promise of our future economy

They coughed. Nobody wanted to speak. Go on, I said—I won't bite your head off.

More silence. Then a young woman spoke up, rather nervously. It’s about the LNG, she said—the plans for all the LNG export facilities. My LNG—the promise of our future economy, the centre of everything we’ve stood for since we were elected. What about it, I asked? It’s going to reduce our emissions globally. It’s clean. It’s going to displace China’s use of coal. It’s going to create 100,000 jobs. It’s a good thing. What’s not to like about it?

Nervously, she said, it’s not true. It’s not true what they’d been telling me, that if BC exports LNG it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally because it will displace the use of coal in China. On a 20-year basis, she said, it will actually increase emissions by 27%, not reduce them, and over 100 years it will only make for a 7% improvement. For at least 50 years it will make things worse, not better. And who’s to say it will displace coal? It could also displace wind energy, or solar.  And here in BC, she went on, it will send our greenhouse gases through the roof. It will blow away all the good work our carbon tax has achieved and it will trash any chance of meeting the 33% target. Oh, and by the way, she went on, her courage up, we should also stop exporting America’s coal through Texada Island and the Fraser Surrey docks. 

That, I did not want to hear.

So if you want me to scrap all the good work we’ve been doing on LNG what should we do instead to build BC’s economy? I asked this exalted group of advisors, expecting to shut them up. Not so, however. There was this bright spark who seemed to have all the answers. Package all the climate solutions as Plan B, he said. Show how many jobs they will create and how it will benefit the economy, and pitch it as a responsible back-up strategy in case the low price of oil and the global glut of LNG cause Plan A not to happen. You need a Plan B, he said, or you could have political egg all over your face.

It’s not such a bad idea. What do you think about that, Gordo?

But would I now I have a dream in which Gordo buys me champagne and we feast on fresh champignons? No such luck. Guess who shows up in my dreams this time? Rich Coleman, fit to blow a fuse. Towering over me, like a genie let out of a bottle. Poof, he went, in a massive cloud—and he was gone. What did it mean? Was he furious, or was he bowing out?

Quebec, April 14th, 2015. The Premier's Climate Summit. I’d better get on, since we’ve work to do. BC leading the pace in the switch to renewable energy, generating new jobs and building our economy? It’s got a nice ring to it.