Why Vote Green?

Green PartyIn the fight against global climate change, we are currently approaching the endgame.

The time for compromise has come and gone. A certain temperature increase is inevitable — already “locked in” — but if we are to have any chance of preventing runaway global warming and the destruction this would entail, then we need to start saying no right now to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. Either we stay below the two-degree warming threshold or we don’t. Politicians who only get us partway there are no better than those who don’t even try.

This is the issue of primary importance during the election campaign underway here in British Columbia. Environmental questions are the ones with the most profound, far-reaching, and long-lasting impacts. Air, water, land, food, climate. These are not frivolous, “post-materialist” concerns that we have the luxury to think about only when there’s nothing else on the radar. They are inescapably wrapped up in our collective survival.

In this context, limiting our consideration to just the NDP and the Liberals won’t cut it. We British Columbians must “think globally” while we vote locally. It is time for us to embrace the Green Party.

No one is perfect, but a brief look at the party’s platform makes it clear how the Greens got their name. They alone in the electoral field support raising the carbon tax, and they are the ones most consistently opposed to oil pipelines. On natural gas, the Greens provide a lone voice of skepticism towards LNG and propose a moratorium on new gas developments. They even go so far as to endorse relocalization and to question our current economic model of perpetual growth.

On non-environmental issues, the Greens favour the creation of a Guaranteed Livable Income as a means of poverty elimination, ensuring that no one in BC falls below the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off. This would amount to a major raise for those on welfare or disability, while at the same time reducing administrative costs by combining all social assistance programs into one. The Greens also propose a living wage for public sector employees, a phase-out of BC’s regressive MSP premiums, and a drastic reduction in post-secondary tuition fees. They support an end to drug prohibition (which is, strictly speaking, a matter of federal jurisdiction, but provinces do have the freedom to set their own policing priorities). And more than any other party, the Greens are committed to a deepening of democracy through free votes in the Legislature, campaign finance reform, electoral reform, and an expanded use of citizens’ assemblies.

So why vote Green? Why vote for a party that is not Liberal or NDP, not one of the two main contenders? A party with a reputation for being marginal, minor league, no more than a protest vote? Simply put: because the Greens have the strongest policies on the issues that matter most.

Considering all that is at stake, why would one vote otherwise?

This post appears on rabble.ca.

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What the NDP Is and Isn’t Promising on the Environment

Adrian DixIn the wake of the NDP’s Earth Day announcement unveiling its environmental platform in Kamloops, BC’s environmental movement has been falling all over itself in praise of the party sure to form the next provincial government. Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, a vocal NDP critic in the last election, has now offered her enthusiastic endorsement of the party — this in addition to previous votes of confidence of a more qualified nature from the likes of Mark Jaccard and Rafe Mair. And let us not forget former Sierra Club BC executive director George Heyman, who is running as a candidate for the NDP in Vancouver.

So what exactly does the NDP have to offer on the environment? Well, let’s look at what it said in Kamloops yesterday. Contrary to media reports, leader Adrian Dix did not quite assert his unwavering opposition to Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline “twinning.” But he came closer than he ever has before. As stated in a release on the NDP website:

The Kinder Morgan proposal as we understand it, would dramatically transform what that pipeline does and would dramatically transform the Port of Vancouver. The Kinder Morgan pipeline would become a pipeline designed for oil sands bitumen export, with [sic] increasing dramatically the barrels per day passing through the Port of Vancouver via tankers.

We have to wait to see a formal application, but I don’t think that the Port of Metro Vancouver, as busy and as successful as it is, should become a major oil export facility.

We will conduct a made-in-BC review of the Kinder Morgan proposal and decisions will be made here in BC.

Our position is clear: we do not believe any proposal should transform Vancouver into a major port for oil export.

Read over that statement again. If Adrian Dix had wanted to pledge explicitly that an NDP government would block Kinder Morgan’s application, then he would have done so. But he and his team are choosing their words carefully. Without doubt, the party’s increasing negativity of tone with respect to the pipeline proposal is reducing the future government’s wiggle room (and environmental groups are right to celebrate this small victory), but some room for manoeuvre does remain.

This fine line being walked by the NDP is reflected on other environmental issues as well. In contrast to their Kinder Morgan position, Dix and co. are unequivocally opposed to the more well-known Enbridge pipeline proposal. They also favour a ban on cosmetic pesticide use. They have promised to broaden BC’s carbon tax to some (not all) currently exempt industrial emissions, and to devote a portion of its revenue to initiatives like public transit, but they will not raise the tax rate. On natural gas, they are calling for a review (not a moratorium) on the practice of fracking, but their position on liquefied natural gas development and export is otherwise mostly indistinguishable from that of the Liberals, despite evidence that BC will fail to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets if current plans go ahead.

The NDP has certainly come a long way since its “axe the gas tax” campaign of 2009 (and an even longer way since Premier Glen Clark called environmentalists “enemies of BC” in 1997). Without question, New Democrats are now miles ahead of the governing Liberals on environmental policy, and their announcement in Kamloops yesterday is justifiably greeted with cautious optimism.

But now is not the time to ease up the pressure. Environmentalists must remain vigilant against all who seek power. In fact, barring some truly spectacular flip-flops over the next three weeks, enterprising voters would do well to remember that there are more than just two parties competing for their votes on May 14.

Party Positions on BC’s Carbon Tax

Carbon taxWith the release today of the NDP’s fiscal plan in advance of the May 14 election here in British Columbia, we are now finally able to assess where the major parties — Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and Conservatives — stand on the province’s carbon tax. In my opinion, there are four primary questions by which their respective carbon tax proposals are to be judged:

  1. Will the tax be raised?
  2. Will the tax base be expanded?
  3. Will the tax remain revenue neutral?
  4. How will equity concerns be addressed?

This is not to say that these four criteria are the only relevant ones in carbon tax policy. But I believe they are the most important.

First off, the only thing that needs to be said about the Conservative position is that the party opposes the carbon tax and plans to eliminate it in the unlikely event that a Conservative government is formed. A similar policy was adopted by the New Democrats four years ago, which did not end well for them. I can’t see it going any better for the Conservatives. ‘Nuff said.

Raising the Tax

As for the other three parties, let’s start with where they stand on raising the carbon tax. The Liberals — who introduced it back in 2008 at $10 per tonne, raising it incrementally until it reached $30 in 2012 — have now promised to keep the tax frozen at its present rate for five years to allow other jurisdictions a chance to “catch up” to BC’s “leadership.” The NDP’s fiscal plan indicates that the likely next government will be taking roughly the same position. Only the Greens (full disclosure: I’m a party member) are pledging to increase BC’s carbon tax to $50 per tonne and to continue nudging it up from there until it gets the job done.

Expanding the Base

On the subject of the tax base, let’s note that the carbon tax, as currently constituted, applies to only about two-thirds to three-quarters of emissions in the province. Exempt are certain mostly industrial emissions coming from oil, gas, cement, aluminum, and other sectors. The Liberals have announced no plans to change this, while the NDP says it will expand the tax to some areas (such as oil and gas) but not others (such as cement and aluminum), and the Greens promise to tax all greenhouse gas emitting industries.

Revenue Neutrality

The issue of revenue neutrality is one which I think is not nearly as important as it is commonly assumed to be. So, counterintuitively, here is a lengthy digression on the subject:

Currently, the carbon tax is required by legislation to be revenue neutral (it’s actually revenue negative, but who’s counting?), with every dollar coming in going back out in the form of tax credits and cuts to personal and corporate income taxes. The rationale is something along the lines that if people are aware that their tax burden will be no greater (on average) with a carbon tax than without, then they will be more likely to support it because, after all, everybody hates taxes. What the Liberal government did not count on, however, was that many would not be convinced of the carbon tax’s effectiveness unless they saw its revenue being put to productive use. There is a certain poetic justice in the idea of a tax on greenhouse gas emissions being used to pay for public transit and other eco-friendly projects.

Political optics aside, the best argument for revenue neutrality is that the base for a carbon tax (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions) should be declining over time, assuming that the tax is doing what it was designed to do. Such an unstable revenue source will not provide reliable funding for important government services — green or otherwise — so it is better not to depend on carbon taxes for revenue at all.

On the other side, opponents of revenue neutrality might acknowledge that perhaps carbon taxes are not ideal sources of government funding, but we are not exactly spoiled for choice. Not nearly enough is being invested in green initiatives at present, so why not exploit whatever revenue we happen to have at our disposal, regardless of how imperfect it might be?

Personally, I consider both these arguments to be about equally convincing (or unconvincing) and find myself in the rare position of being pretty much neutral on revenue neutrality. I support carbon taxation and I support green government spending, but what do I care whether or not funding for the latter comes strictly from the former? I could simply go either way on the issue.

BC’s political parties don’t quite see things the same way. The Liberals seem to be holding the line in favour of revenue neutrality (even if their latest budget has altered the tax cuts which were originally part of the revenue neutral deal, but never mind), whereas the New Democrats have long supported investing carbon tax revenue in public transit and other such projects. The Greens, officially, are on the side of revenue neutrality, but they have indicated that they might be open to compromise.

Equity

Finally, there is the question of equity. Carbon taxes on their own, like all consumption taxes, are well known for being regressive, meaning that on average the poor have to pay a larger percentage of their incomes (although lower absolute amounts) than the rich. For this reason, most fair carbon tax proposals include some kind of mechanism to compensate for this regressive element. BC’s carbon tax includes a low-income tax credit meant to do just that, but unfortunately, a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that the current program does not go nearly far enough and that our carbon tax is still, on balance, regressive.

I have not heard the Liberals or the NDP say anything about changing this. The Greens meanwhile have promised to “exempt” (whatever that means) people below the low-income cut-off from the carbon tax. The lack of detail on offer from parties across the spectrum suggests to me that the issue of equity is not being treated as seriously by opinion makers as it deserves to be.

Final Assessment

  • Green Party: B+
  • New Democratic Party: C+
  • Liberal Party: C-
  • Conservative Party: F (or I for Incomplete)

Note, these grades reflect the parties’ carbon tax proposals only. Carbon taxation is not the sole dimension of a comprehensive climate policy, but it is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. I find it encouraging to see three of the four major provincial parties openly embracing an idea which is still considered taboo on the federal level. That being said, it would be even more encouraging if they would step up their game. Climate change is the key challenge of our generation, and a well-designed, progressive carbon tax ought to be considered part of any reasonable set of solutions.

So hop to it, BC parties! The stakes are high and time is short.

Bring Your Boomers: How BC Candidates Fare on Climate Change

Enbridge pipelineAlthough the writ for the upcoming BC election won’t be dropped for another two weeks (yes, this campaign has been going on forever), I had the pleasure yesterday of attending an all-candidates meeting on climate change organized by Gen Why Media.

The forum seemed geared primarily towards the young ’uns, despite being billed by organizers as part of their ongoing “Bring Your Boomers” intergenerational dialogue series. A few older voices in the audience could be heard complaining about the darkness of the venue and the frenetic Twittercentrism of the onstage decorations. And though I am ostensibly still part of the youth demographic (I think) for whose benefit all this was being done, even I felt that the ambient electro-rock band Au4 which opened and closed the evening, while very talented and entertaining, was a bit loud for a political event.

Window dressing aside, however, it was a lot of fun. Five candidates running in the upcoming election from across the province shared the stage with three young people (Sam Harrison, Caleb Behn, and Andrea Curtis) who drilled them on their environmental commitments. Former Quebec City Bureau Chief for CTV Kai Nagata served as moderator.

The consummate star of the evening was independent MLA and former New Democrat Bob Simpson from Cariboo North. He drew by far the most applause by coming out strongly against both the Enbridge and the Kinder Morgan pipelines, and declaring the phrase “green LNG” (liquefied natural gas) to be “nonsensical.”

Green Party leader Jane Sterk seemed like somewhat of a kindred spirit, and it is no wonder she is not running a candidate against Simpson in his riding. She unsurprisingly took the strongest environmental stances of the four party representatives onstage, echoing Simpson on pipelines and natural gas, and adding that a Green Party government would raise BC’s carbon tax from thirty to fifty dollars per tonne.

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming got his fair share of love from the audience too, but he had to put up with some minor heckling whenever the room noticed him waffle on an issue. While the Enbridge pipeline got a firm “no,” Kinder Morgan was a “maybe,” pending a new review process. He spoke favourably of liquefying natural gas for export using renewable energy, so as to avoid the in-province emissions that would result from the current government plan, and stressed the potential role of BC gas in weaning China off of coal, a common claim by both major parties which critics find questionable.

More than a few eyebrows were raised by punk rocker and Conservative candidate Duane Nickull. Running against the Premier in her riding, he touted the importance of geothermal energy and repeatedly emphasized that the BC Conservatives are not the Harper Conservatives.

Finally, drawing a large majority of the evening’s heckles was youthful first-time provincial candidate Gabby Kalaw of the governing Liberals. He definitely came across as the phoniest of the bunch, the way he earnestly greeted everybody onstage by name and kept transparently trying to “relate” to people. He also had the toughest job of anyone at the forum, considering the palpable hostility that virtually the entire audience felt towards his party. But I was unable to shed a tear for him once he started spouting nonsense about using a “Prosperity Fund” of natural gas revenue to help us finance the fight against climate change in some unspecified way.

The high point of the evening came at the very end. Since the main event ran long, there was not as much time for questions from the audience as expected. So when Kai Nagata began wrapping up, a revolt almost broke out. One sweet little old lady in the back had her hand up for a very long time, and members of the audience began insisting that she be given the chance to speak. Nagata apologized, informing us that there just wasn’t time, and the audience’s displeasure grew more and more feverish. Finally, Nagata gave in and allowed the sweet little old lady in the back to have the last word, whereupon she stood up and, in her sweet-little-old-lady voice, launched into a rambling, incoherent proclamation about chemtrails.

Best. Ending. Ever.

Of Petrostates and Patriotism

Alison RedfordIf Alison Redford gets to define Canadian patriotism, then I don’t want to be patriotic.

The Alberta premier yesterday accused federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair of “a fundamental betrayal of Canada’s long-term economic interests” after the latter took a trip to DC in what is being widely interpreted as an effort to convince the Americans not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta.

Other Conservatives at the federal level have adopted the same rhetoric. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — of “foreign-funded radicals” fame — implied that the Opposition leader was unfit to govern, stating, “Governing means standing up for Canada’s interests and Canada’s jobs.” Heritage Minister James Moore taunted, “It’d be nice for once if the NDP leader could put the country ahead of his own ambition.” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, meanwhile, went for the trifecta, accusing Mulcair of “bad mouthing Canada,” “trash talking Canada,” and “running down Canada.”

The message is clear: because he is not quite as keen on expanding the tar sands and exporting bitumen as the red-and-white Tories of Edmonton and Ottawa, Thomas Mulcair is nothing but a Canada-hating socialist antichrist.

Patriotism is usually defined as love of country, but fossil fuel enthusiasts prefer to conflate the notion with love of whatever the government happens to be doing on the international stage. This redefinition, historically, is a common one, eagerly leapt upon by all who agree with the government line and seek an easy way to demonize their opponents.

Others take a different approach, conceiving patriotism as something more akin to identification rather than unquestioning acceptance. A true patriot, in other words, identifies with her country to such a degree that she feels proud of its accomplishments and, equally, remorseful for its wrongdoings. A patriot believes he shares responsibility for all that his country does in his name. A patriot refuses to stay quiet when her government puts climate stability and the well-being of future generations at risk. By this definition, protest is patriotic. Critical thinking is patriotic. Dissent is patriotic. Under some circumstances, even civil disobedience is patriotic.

In the words of Ralph Nader, “A patriotism manipulated by the government asks only for a servile nod from its subjects. A new patriotism requires a thinking assent from its citizens.”

It is clear which kind of patriotism Alison Redford et al. stand for. How about you?

An Open Letter to Barack Obama and John Kerry

Dear President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry:

As a concerned Canadian, I am writing to urge you to reject TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline for purposes of transporting dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the United States.

I assure you that not all Canadians are quite as eager to export climate-busting bitumen as our federal government seems to be. Many of us recognize that the high energy demands required to exploit this unconventional resource give it a dangerously large carbon footprint. For this reason, we consistently oppose similar projects, such as proposed pipelines to the Canadian West Coast by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

According to estimates of greenhouse gas trajectories needed to avert runaway climate change, global emissions need to be peaking right about now (if not earlier). That means that we as a planet need to start drastically decreasing our use of coal, oil, and natural gas. At a bare minimum, we must not engage in further expansion of existing fossil fuel infrastructure — especially when it involves something so exceptionally dirty as tar sands bitumen.

Many Americans seem to recognize this too. Barely a week ago, tens of thousands gathered in Washington for the country’s largest ever climate rally. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club agreed for the first time in its 120-year history to adopt the use of civil disobedience. Any jobs that may or may not temporarily be gained from the proliferation of pipelines are more than outweighed by the jeopardization of the climate system upon which agriculture, forestry, and our very ways of life depend.

So please reject TransCanada’s application once and for all. To do so would benefit both of our countries, as well as the world at large.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver Sun Letter

LetterPlease see today’s Vancouver Sun — or click here — for my latest letter to the editor. This one is about BC Premier Christy Clark’s efforts to raise government revenue via liquefied natural gas production. As regular readers might expect, I am not exactly on board.