Category Archives: British Columbia

Canadians support a carbon tax … for British Columbians

Hard to make sweeping conclusions based on a poll asking Canadians at large about one province’s policy for its own people, but I’ll go as far as calling this encouraging:

When told that the government of British Columbia had recently introduced “a carbon tax on fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” 72 per cent of those surveyed in the poll said that this was a positive step versus 23 per cent who thought that it was a negative step. The poll surveyed 1,009 Canadian adults across the country between April 29 and May 9, 2008 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Jason Doud, a research analyst at McAllister, said he’s not surprised at the results since his firm’s recent polls have consistently revealed that Canadians are more concerned about the environment than other issues.

“The support for B.C.’s carbon tax is fairly uniform across Canada,” he said. “Six out of 10 people definitely support it when you look at the numbers.”

Green tax-shifting in action

B.C.’s doing it, imposing a low but rising tax on fossil fuels — from gasoline to home heating oil — and cutting personal and business taxes to make up the difference. Tax the bad stuff, reward the good.

I’m not sold on a carbon tax as the best way to tackle climate change, but (1) it’s a hell of a lot better than shrugging helplessly, and (2) if you’re going to do it, this is how.

We’ll have to see whether Finance Minister Carole Taylor, or her successor, pushing the tax beyond $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent when it reaches that upper limit in 2012. With any luck, the benefits of the move will be manifest by then, though, and it might be easier to sell.

Campbell’s next move

Photo credit: “Fraser River Rainbow,” Flickr/name.invalid

While the feds are still screwing around, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is charging ahead, making deals to join carbon-trading systems worldwide:

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell joined politicians from around the world in signing a partnership agreement that would create a global carbon market for trading the environmental damaging emissions.

Campbell was Canada’s only representative and signatory at the ceremony Monday, but he said he doesn’t see his attendance at the Lisbon conference as overshadowing the federal government’s actions on climate change.

“I don’t expect this is a surprise to the prime minister,” Campbell told reporters on a telephone conference call.

The lead on the story overstates the case a bit: the International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP) is really an agreement to share best practices and whatnot, not to actually establish a market, though that is the long-term goal. From the news release:

ICAP will provide an international forum in which governments and public authorities adopting mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cap and trade systems will share experiences and best practices on the design of emissions trading schemes. This cooperation will ensure that the programs are more compatible and are able to work together as the foundation of a global carbon market. Such a market will boost demand for low-carbon products and services, promote innovation, and allow cost effective reductions so as to allow swift and ambitious global reductions in global warming emissions.

I am, I don’t mind saying, pretty surprised that Gordon Campbell is leading the Canadian provinces on this file. I scrummed Campbell more than once during my short stint working on the west coast, and he struck me, close up, as a British Columbian Mike Harris with a pronounced tendency toward goobishness. Business-friendly populism to the max, and for all B.C.’s reputation as a land where granola grows on trees, it’s a place heavily reliant on mining and forestry and other high-intensity primary industries.

But maybe Campbell’s more forward-looking than I gave him credit for and sees where the money’s to be made in decades to come. (Or maybe he’s just seeing the messages the pine beetle’s leaving behind as it chews through B.C.’s forests at a prodigious rate.) The Lower Mainland has a fledgling high-tech industry, and if B.C. can get in on the ground floor of a genuine carbon-trading scheme, with its built-in cultural predisposition toward green energy and vehicles, it could lead Canada’s green economy of the future.

The holy strive to be holier

Smaller businesses taking it upon themselves to be more planet-friendly is something I really want to like, particularly in the wake of last week’s post complaining about how bad governments are at working with them for anything very productive.

But this project, a “carbon-neutral working group for small businesses” organized by an outfit called Ecotrust out of British Columbia, seems like the choir going out with the priest of a Sunday afternoon and thinking about ways to be more holy. Definitely not a bad thing, but equally definitely not a world-changer. Sponsored by the Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute, among others, the 13 participants include an organic-and-local-food delivery service, a green-building consultancy, and a bus company in hippy-dippy Tofino.

From the news release:

Three workshops will show companies how to calculate and reduce their carbon footprint, and learn about strategies to market their climate-friendly products and services. The Pembina Institute and David Suzuki Foundation have developed innovative software to help these businesses calculate their carbon footprint. The Pembina Institute will also provide one-on-one technical assistance.

The Carbon Neutral Workgroup will also help entrepreneurs to understand the complex and emerging market to purchase carbon offsets. “We need to create a local carbon market whereby companies and consumers can purchase offsets that reinvest money into climate change projects in their local communities,” says Gill with Ecotrust Canada.

What we’d need are a regular delivery service, a traditional architecture firm, and the Vancouver bus company signing up, to really make a difference. A bunch of green businesses committing to be green doesn’t seem to warrant a headline like the Vancouver Province‘s: “Small businesses accept green role.” Nor do I get the idea of creating a local carbon market, except as an exercise of some kind. It only works if even those for whom it’s inconvenient — the emitters we really have to worry about — are compelled to participate.

Ultimately, it seems Ecotrust hopes to expand the information program and maybe distribute some sort of free software package to help less devotedly environmentalist companies improve their operations. Best of luck to them. That’s when they’ll make a difference.

(Via Green Options.)

Hasta la vista, CO2

Vancouver skylineBritish Columbia’s greenhouse-gas emissions dropped so much in a newly released batch of stats that even the provincial government is surprised, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The new figures from Environment Canada, covering 2004-05, say that in that year emissions fell 1.6 megatonnes, to 65.7 megatonnes from 67.3 megatonnes — and it happened during a period of significant economic growth: emissions fell nearly 2.4 per cent as the economy grew 3.7 per cent.

Some of the reasons for the reduction included a decreased use of personal vehicles, which saw emissions drop 5.2 per cent, or half a million tonnes.

Boating also saw a major decrease of 7.4 per cent, or 200,000 tonnes and manufacturing decreased by 11.7 per cent, or 750,000 tonnes.

“We’ve actually seen people driving less,” said [Environment Minister Barry] Penner. “Higher gasoline prices likely encouraged people to reduce unnecessary trips in their personal automobiles and/or move to more efficient vehicles,” he said.

“And we’re hearing anecdotal evidence that boaters are just not burning as much fuel on the water.”

Penner attributed the decrease in greenhouse gases from manufacturing primarily because of changes in efficiency, such as reductions in power consumption by Alcan at its giant aluminum smelter in Kitimat. He also said there was a decrease of 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases coming from landfills thanks to new technologies to burn off methane gas.

The announcement happens to come on the same day that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, probably the highest-profile green pol in the United States, hit B.C. during his whirlwind tour of Canada. Stroke of luck, eh?

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell seems to have rebranded himself and his government along Schwarzenegger’s lines, making a dramatic cut in B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions, to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 a top priority. (The Sun kind of botches this point, but never mind.) The province still has about 22 megatonnes to go, but at least it’s headed in the right direction.

Campbell and the Governator signed a nice but meaningless (“This Memorandum of Understanding is not intended to be legally binding or to impose legal obligations on either British Columbia or California and will have no legal effect”) agreement to emphasize each other’s green credentials today.

The emissions drop just reported, however, actually happened before Campbell went green. It just happened on its own, as a result of individuals and industrial companies making decisions to burn less fuel to do what they needed to do.

Incidentally, this is a convenient illustration of the arithmetical sleight-of-hand that intensity-based greenhouse-gas emissions caps can do. By my math B.C.’s “real” emissions drop is 2.4 per cent, but when you factor in the economic growth, it’s a drop in emissions intensity of nearly 6 per cent. Amazing how a bit of growth can exaggerate even a small change in reality.

Eating local is hard, even in B.C.

Buy BC logoIf there’s anywhere in Canada you’d think you could make a whole meal out of locally grown and raised food, you’d think it’d be Vancouver. Possibly Niagara, at harvest time.

Well, the crown is Niagara’s to lose, this story from the Vancouver Sun‘s Chantal Eustace suggests:

“It was just too expensive to do for a group of 100 people,” said Heather Harrison, one of the organizers of Sunday’s community workshop, Eating Locally, Thinking Globally, held at the University of B.C.

The event attracted more than 100 people — including professors, farmers, activists and concerned shoppers — to discuss how eating locally can help save the planet.

Harrison said she tried contacting numerous caterers for the lunch but couldn’t find any that met the 100-mile specifications at a reasonable price.

Instead, people paid $15 each for sandwiches, chips and vegetables, provided by UBC’s campus caterers. While the tomatoes, cucumbers and sprouts were local, Harrison acknowledged the lettuce and the sandwich bread didn’t fall within the diet’s guidelines.

Of course, it’s a lot more difficult to feed 100 people with food from less than 100 miles away than it is to feed a single family. Realistically, I’d think the only way to source most things locally, given today’s long-distance economy, is grow them yourself.

One person’s vegetable garden isn’t going to cut it for the produce, let alone the salt and yeast and sugar and flour going into the bread. You need stuff in bulk, and it’s a real niche market: even for sandwiches and salads, you’re not likely to find someone who can provide you with 20 loaves of bread and cold cuts and tofu and hummus for the vegans and 100 tomatoes and 15 heads of lettuce and so on, and be able to guarantee that not one of the ingredients in any of the more complex items comes from a processing plant in Nebraska.

I’d also expect this sort of thing will get easier with time, particularly if the price of fuel to ship things continues to rise. Local agricultural economies will diversify to take up the slack if it’s no longer possible to get Mexican tomatoes in early spring for $3.69 a pound. Easier, but not cheaper, mind you, since it’ll only be economical to try growing the stuff locally once the prices of the distant foodstuffs rises out of sight.

Or, possibly, if we get properly freaked out by what’s going on in some of the places where today’s cheap food comes from. Also in the Sun, from columnist Jonathan Manthorpe, there’s an assessment of all the stuff that’s, well, potentially poisonous coming out of China these days.

(Incidentally, before we get to Manthorpe, there’s a mild line from the Reuters story, the second link in that last paragraph, that I think is worth repeating: “The Chinese authorities say they have toughened their customs rules to try to stop contaminated products reaching world markets.” In domestic markets, apparently, you takes your chances.)

Manthorpe’s found some perturbing cases:

U.S. officials especially have become alarmed because imports of food from China are growing at a phenomenal rate. In the first three months of this year, for example, imports of fresh fruit from China grew 279 per cent over the same period last year.

Yet Food and Drug Administration inspectors are able to test less than one per cent of the traffic. But even with this almost non-existent testing regime FDA inspectors turned back 257 shipments of food from China in April, far more than from any other country.

A high proportion of these rejected shipments were fish and seafood such as shrimp, mahi-mahi, eel, tilapia and yellowfin tuna. In Alabama alone the discovery of banned antibiotics in catfish from China led to the seizing of over 300,000 kilograms of the fish.

Aside from seafood, FDA inspectors found contaminated dried apples, dried peaches, candy, bean curd and herbal teas. Non-food items found to be too dangerous for humans to be allowed on the shelves included lip gloss and medical catheters.

His conclusion: Chinese manufacturers are dangerous because they’re cheap. He dismisses a conspiracy theory that has China sending contaminated goods to countries that have ticked Chinese leaders off, by supporting Taiwan for instance.

No, Manthorpe figures, the basic problem is that it’s only barely worthwhile to grow and make things in China and ship it to the rest of the world, so they really can’t afford quality and safety standards. If they had ’em, their stuff wouldn’t sell. This bodes ill, if you expect shipping costs to keep rising.

B.C. business group calls for road tolls

The B.C. Chamber of Commerce — “The voice of B.C. business” — endorses road tolls as a way of making users pay for consuming a public service and, incidentally, keeping traffic from getting any more out of control than it already is.

The proposal is, as I read the Vancouver Sun‘s story, subject to approval by the chamber’s members at an annual general meeting.

“The chamber realizes that while this may be unpopular for many we cannot fool ourselves any longer, there is a need to look to the greater good and that greater good is ensuring that the road network facilitates the movement of goods and people,” John Winter, chamber president, said in a statement.

And it’d help make public and shared transportation more competitive with driving single-occupant vehicles on massively subsidized roads and discourage sprawl by imposing some of the public costs of distant development on the people who choose to live in it.

This actually might be less controversial in British Columbia than elsewhere, for two reasons. One is the abysmal state of traffic in the Lower Mainland, particularly along Highway 1 running up the Fraser Valley (one long road serving essentially all of Vancouver’s suburbs). Trains and HOV lanes help, but not enough.

The second is that B.C., being crisscrossed with rivers and canyons, is already heavily laden with toll bridges and fee-charging ferries. Drivers are accustomed to paying to use expensive public infrastructure, since levying these charges was the only way a lot of it would ever have been built.

Road tolls for major stretches of highway — already charged on the Coquihalla in the mountains — are just applying this thinking to the next level of infrastructure down.