Sadly, B.C. is still waging war on nature

(Published as ‘Sadly, B.C. is still treating nature as resource to be exploited”)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

19 October 2021

701 words

In this series of columns I am exploring the UN’s call for humanity to make peace with nature. Last week I noted that B.C.’s government is failing to act, or is taking inadequate action, on climate change. This week, I look at B.C.’s continuing war on nature, focusing on the second of three global ecological crises noted in the UN report – biodiversity loss.  But I also look at its failure to address the wider economic, social and other transformations needed if we are to make peace with nature.

In a May 2021 biodiversity report card, Ecojustice and the Wilderness Committee described B.C. as “a ‘poster child’ for the biodiversity crisis — it has the richest biodiversity in Canada, but also the highest number of species at risk.” In fact, the B.C. government’s 2021 update to its Red and Blue List found 782 ecological communities, native species and subspecies in B.C. are at the greatest risk of being lost (Red List) and a further 1,141 on the Blue List that are ‘of special concern’ (vulnerable).

Yet the government reneged on John Horgan’s 2017 commitment to bring in a Species At Risk Act. As a result, B.C. is “one of the few remaining provinces without a stand-alone law to protect at-risk species and the habitat they need to survive and recover”, the biodiversity report card notes. This was one of the four out of five areas considered in the report where B.C. earned an ‘F’ grade.

And then, of course, we have the B.C. government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Old-growth Strategic Review and put in place a moratorium on the cutting of the tiny fraction – about 3 percent, according to a May 2021 report from three independent forest management experts – of the high-quality old growth big tree forests in B.C.

Also in May, the Wilderness Committee released a report based on publicly available data showing a 43 percent increase in cutblock approvals in the year following the government’s receipt of the Old-growth Strategic Review. Moreover, “eighty per cent of this logging was concentrated in the medium and higher productivity forests.”

In an article on the old-growth issue in The Tyee in June, Michael M’Gonigle – who among other things held the eco-research chair in environmental law and policy at UVic –was blunt: “Horgan’s government of New Democrats shows no will to take up the struggle. It is incredible that, as biodiversity collapses globally and locally, no substantive discussion exists of what a transformation away from [the] inherited political economy might look like.”

The inherited political economy he refers to is rooted in a 19th and 20th century worldview, an industrial society and economy that treats nature and people as a resource to be exploited in the pursuit of continued economic growth. I agree with M’Gonigle that the fundamental problem is that the NDP, like the Liberals and Conservatives to its right, is still rooted in this worldview. From that perspective, what matters is jobs and money – and votes – today, with no sense of long-term responsibility. The only real difference between the parties is about how equitably the spoils and the power are divided.

But the UN Environment Programme is very clear, in its February 2021 report ‘Making Peace with Nature’, that “economic and financial systems can and should be transformed”. Specifically, the report suggests ditching GDP, noting that “Yardsticks such as inclusive wealth (the sum of produced, natural, human and social capital) provide a better basis for investment decisions.”

This is another example of where the NDP could and should have led in the shift to making peace with rather than war on nature – and failed to do so. Its formal agreement with the Green Party in 2017 set up a workgroup to look at developing an alternative to GDP for B.C., but the whole project seems to have been shunted aside and made to disappear into the bureaucracy – no report has emerged, so no significant changes were required and no old thought patterns were harmed.

Clearly we can’t look to B.C.’s government for action on making peace with nature. So in future columns I will look at what ‘making peace with nature’ might mean here in the Greater Victoria Region.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy


BC fails to take adequate action on climate crisis

13 October 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

701 words

By recognizing that “humanity is waging war on nature”, the UN arrived at the idea of making peace with nature. Regrettably, the BC government pays little heed to calls to make peace with nature, whether from the UN or its own citizens. On the contrary, it continues to make war on nature even though, in the words of the UN Secretary General, this is suicidal.

This week I consider BC’s inadequate action on the first of three global ecological crises the UN recognises – climate change. Next week I will look at BC’s inadequate action on biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as on the wider economic, social and other transformations needed if we are to make peace with nature.

The BC government produces an annual greenhouse gas inventory; the last one, published in August 2020, covers the period from 1990 to 2018. It charts progress in meeting the “legislated emissions reduction targets (a 16 percent decrease by 2025, 40 percent by 2030, 60 percent by 2040, and 80 percent by 2050)” – all compared to the baseline year of 2007.

In 2018, our emissions were 7 percent above 2007 levels, having risen four years in a row, suggesting we are not likely to come anywhere near a 16 percent reduction by 2025, never mind the one third reduction by 2020 that was set by the Liberal government in 2007.

In a critical article in January 2021, Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Co-Director of the Climate Justice Project, pointed out that the modeling and assumptions in the NDP’s 2018 CleanBC plan are inadequate and that “CleanBC does not include any planning to meet BC’s 2040 and 2050 emissions targets.”

Even worse, he notes, “the biggest flaw in CleanBC is that it permits LNG development.” When LNG Canada opens in 2025, he writes, it “will become the province’s largest point source emitter of GHGs the day it opens” and its future emissions “will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for BC to meet its 2040 and 2050 targets.” Note this is only for the emissions created in extracting, processing and transporting the fuel for export, not the emissions that result when these exported fossil fuels are combusted elsewhere.

On top of that, an independent review of BC’s natural gas royalty system, released in September, concludes: “The BC royalty system for natural gas and oil is broken. It does not support and contribute to government and societal goals,” which include supporting BC’s climate commitments. Specifically, the report notes the production rate incentives, introduced in 2001, encourage low-production wells to keep operating, which “does not help meet GHG targets.”

While not really this government’s fault – this is a failure long in the making – it does suggest continuing to provide supports to this industry that are not then adequately recovered through royalties is throwing good money after bad.

Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the NDP continues to support fracking and other fossil fuel investments; indeed, it has almost doubled its support since coming to power, to $1.3 billion annually, according to a September 2020 report from Stand.Earth.

This in spite of the fact that one of the important actions proposed by the UN is to “eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies”, which includes fossil fuel subsidies. Instead, says the UN, “redirect that support to low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions and technologies”. Meanwhile support for Clean BC in the April 2021 budget is only $506 million. So we could triple the support for Clean BC by shifting all that fossil fuel support there.

Moreover, these supports are not popular with the public. As part of its “Stop Funding Fracking” campaign, the Dogwood Initiative recently released the results of a survey conducted by Insights West. The survey found 58 percent of BC respondents are opposed to BC offering financial support to oil and gas companies, while 62 per cent would like to see subsidies reduced or eliminated altogether.

So if BC really wants to be a climate leader, it need to get serious with its Clean BC program, shift all its fossil fuel supports to low carbon solutions and stop funding fracking. Those would be good first steps in making peace with nature.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

‘System-wide transformation’ needed to rebalance ourselves with nature

6 October 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

697 words

Last week I mentioned the UN’s call for a ‘peace plan’ and a ‘post-war rebuilding program’ as central to our need to make peace with nature. This week I delve into the plan, which is presented in the February 2021 UN Environment Program report ‘Making Peace with Nature’.

After laying out the scale of the problem, focusing on the three crises of climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution, the report is clear and blunt: “the current expansive mode of development degrades and exceeds the Earth’s finite capacity to sustain human well-being.”

The report is equally clear on the response: “Only a system-wide transformation will achieve well-being for all within the Earth’s capacity to support life, provide resources and absorb waste.”

System-wide transformation – think about that for a moment. The report says we now need “a fundamental change in the technological, economic and social organization of society, including worldviews, norms, values and governance.” In other words, a major cultural shift away from the dominant worldview and ideology that is the source of the problems we face and that has brought us to this critical juncture.

But regrettably, the report notes, “the types of transformational change needed have often been thwarted by vested interests that benefit from preserving the status quo.” We have seen that, of course, in the persistent opposition to action on climate change from the fossil fuel industry and its political supporters. And just last month, three independent UN special rapporteurs on human rights issued a joint statement expressing concern with the adverse influence of the corporate sector in the world’s food systems, leading to a whole host of ecological and social problems.

If the system as a whole is the problem, then tinkering with it and making marginal changes – which is all any of the current political leadership in Canada and, for the most part, around the world, is offering – will not be enough. Indeed, it plainly has not been enough, or we would not be in such a fix after what the UN describes as “decades of incremental efforts.”

A key transformation is to “put human well-being centre stage”, while recognising that human well-being depends ultimately on the ‘well-being’ of the Earth’s ecological systems that are our life support systems.  Meeting the challenge of the climate change crisis alone will require “rapid transformations in areas including energy systems, land use, agriculture, forest protection, urban development, infrastructure and lifestyles.”

But in addition, meeting the crisis of biodiversity loss will require making biodiversity conservation and restoration “integral to the many uses of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems”, which will profoundly change the way we use these systems.

Among other things, the report states, this will require reduced consumption of resources in wealthy countries and by wealthy people, so that those who need more – low-income countries and people – can have more. This means a marked shift from seeing the good life as being rich in consumption of ‘stuff’ to seeing it as rich in terms of relationships with others and with nature.

In terms of economic transformation, the report is clear this means replacing GDP, which “fails to properly account for gains or losses in the natural capital that underpin many vital economic activities or for environmental quality and other non-monetary factors that contribute to human well-being.” Instead, we should look to measures such as ‘inclusive wealth’, which integrates several forms of capital – natural, social, human and produced (human-created), or the Genuine Progress Indicator.

The report also calls for significant investments in nature-friendly water, energy, food and other systems, and at the same time the removal and re-direction of environmentally harmful subsidies towards nature-friendly alternatives. Environmental degradation, an important source of inequality, must be reversed, and inequalities resulting from shifts in production, taxation and subsidies must be remedied.

While BC has prided itself on being ‘Super Natural’, it in fact has a high ecological footprint and has recently been described as a ‘poster child’ for the biodiversity crisis. Troublingly, BC is failing to act, or is taking inadequate action, in many of the areas of transformation called for in this important UN report. BC’s continuing war on nature will be the focus of next week’s column.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

How do we make peace with nature?

29 September 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

700 words

I find myself increasingly drawn to the UN’s framing of our current situation as being at war with nature, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it in a landmark speech at Columbia University in December 2020.  For an organisation that is, after all, intended to be the world’s peacekeeper, the response was obvious: “Making peace with nature”, he went on to say, “is the defining task of the 21st century.”

A report from the UN Environment Program (UNEP), three months later, began to fill in some of the detail as to what ‘making peace with nature’ means in practice. So in this and several subsequent columns I will explore what is involved in doing this, with particular emphasis on local examples. I will look at BC’s recently announced third UN Biosphere Region (Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound), UVic’s ‘green’ civil engineering program, the Municipal Natural Assets program that began in Gibsons, and the work of local architect Christine Lintott in bringing ideas of bio-mimicry into architecture.

I am interested in learning about and profiling other local examples of making peace with nature, so please e-mail me about any you know of. Perhaps over time we can make the Greater Victoria Region a leading model of what it means to make peace with nature.

But first, let’s be clear what the war on nature is. The UNEP report focuses on three global ecological emergencies: Climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. A wider framing is provided by the concept of ‘planetary boundaries’, first put forth by a team led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre in 2009 and then refined in 2015.

They proposed a set of nine Earth systems “and associated thresholds which, if crossed, could generate unacceptable environmental change.” In addition to the three identified in the UNEP report, these include ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, global freshwater use, changes in land use and atmospheric particulate aerosols. Staying within these planetary boundaries keeps us within what they called a ‘safe operating space for humanity’.

In the 2015 update to their work, they found that at a global scale we have already passed the suggested boundary for species extinctions and phosphorus and nitrogen flows, and are in a zone of increased risk and approaching the suggested threshold for both climate change and land use change. Back then we were within the ‘safe zone’ for freshwater use and ocean acidification (although the latter was worsening, and has continued to do so), while stratospheric ozone depletion provided a rare success story, in that we have stabilized and are slowly reversing that trend.

Worryingly, they could not even determine a threshold for atmospheric aerosols or for what they called ‘novel entities’: “chemicals and other new types of engineered materials or organisms not previously known to the Earth system.” These include not only chemical pollution – particularly the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that bio-concentrate up food chains and are found now in our bodies – but also heavy metals, GMOs and nano-particles.

Of even greater concern, the 2015 review identified two of the Earth systems – climate change and biosphere integrity – that “should be recognized as core planetary boundaries through which the other boundaries operate.” This, presumably, is why the UNEP identified these two as planetary emergencies, along with pollution, which not only kills at least 9 million people annually, but has an unquantified – and perhaps unquantifiable – planetary boundary.

So yes, we are at war with nature, across multiple fronts simultaneously. But in his foreword to the UNEP report, Mr Guterres extended the analogy of making peace with nature. He suggested we need to see nature as an ally, that we need “a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”. But let’s be clear; seeing nature as an ally does not mean changing nature to work better for us, it means changing ourselves and our society to work better for nature.

What is our peace plan? What does our post-war rebuilding program look like? That is what I intend to explore, starting next week by examining both the UN plan and the need for a local expression of that as a core part of what it means to be a One Planet Region.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy