Local MLA Adam Olsen said the provincial economy must undergo “substantial changes” in the coming decade if British Columbia wants to be serious about fighting climate change.
‘The province needs to get away from relying so heavily on our economy of the past [rooted in resource extraction] and start looking at what the economy of the future looks like,” he said. The Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands made that observation against the backdrop of several looming political and ecological deadlines.
The 2015 Paris Agreement states that signatories, including Canada, must help reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to 25 gigatons in 2030 if the global community wants to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists argue that limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 C prevents the worst effects of climate change. The public, however, recently heard that the global community is on the path towards more than doubling GHGs by 2030, with several countries failing to meet plans deemed to be unambitious in the first place.
Current projects peg the global temperature rise at anywhere between 3.4C and 3.9C compared to pre-industrial times, figures with catastrophic consequences for human and non-human life.
A 2030 deadline also looms for British Columbia to meets its own GHG emission targets. By its own accounting, the provincial government will fall short of reducing GHGs by 40 per cent. (A 2018 report says the province will meet 75 per cent of its emission goals by 2030 with additional plans to be announced at a later date).
When asked about the 2030 deadline, Olsen said it is going to be “pretty tough” to meet.
“It is going to require us to make some substantial changes,” he said. “It is not going to require us to lose necessarily. It’s going to require us to change how we see things and how we think. There is as much as opportunity as there is glum.”
Calls for a substantial transformation of the prevailing economic system in British Columbia and elsewhere in the western world happen against the backdrop of resistance from resource-rich regions concerned about the loss of jobs and broader social decline, as currently evident in parts of British Columbia that have long relied on the exploitation of resources. This phenomenon appears especially evident in the provincial forestry sector across parts of the province, including Vancouver Island, where Mosaic Forest Management announced an early winter shutdown of timber harvesting operations, leaving some 2,000 people out of work indefinitely.
Olsen acknowledged that aspect, but nonetheless defended the need for a transition, with appropriate levels of support.
“To some extent, we can’t see ourselves doing something else, and I think that there are so many other opportunities for us to be embracing,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have to be losers in this. But we have to find ways to support the communities that are in transition. We have to find ways to support people.” Such measures include provincial support for lifetime learning, he added.
Ultimately, British Columbia cannot continue down its current path, said Olsen, in criticizing the gap between the rhetoric of the provincial government and its actions.
While the New Democratic government under Premier John Horgan might highlight the size of British Columbia’s high tech and innovation sector — 2017 figures peg it at just over 100,000 employees — his government has also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on subsidizing fossil fuel extraction, said Olsen.
“It’s this really uncomfortable juxtaposition,” he said. “On one hand, we celebrate this [tech] industry, which we are not doing anything to support, and on the other hand, we are talking about addressing climate change, while subsidizing the biggest emitters.”
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