B.C. government’s LNG infatuation makes it dangerously radical

19 April 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock

698 words

BC likes to claim it has a wonderful, world-leading climate action plan. So it is perhaps surprising that the Sierra Club BC announced in February that it is taking the B.C. government to court “for failing to present plans to achieve several key climate targets, as required by its own climate change legislation.”

Represented by Ecojustice, their suit alleges not only that B.C.’s 2021 report, required by the Climate Change Accountability Act, “falls woefully short, by failing to include a plan for the 2025, 2040 and 2050 climate targets”, but that “it also omits the government’s plan to cut carbon pollution from the oil and gas sector, which could rapidly grow in coming years – fuelled largely by the B.C. government’s support for fracked gas.”

In fact, the Sierra Club BC notes, “the B.C. government continues to support and subsidize the expansion of fracking operations”, adding that the LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat “and other proposed LNG terminals would almost certainly make it impossible to meet 2030, 2040 and 2050 targets.”

One factor that helps increase production is the extensive subsidies and other financial supports the fossil fuel industry receives from the federal and provincial governments.  A February 2022 report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) found that among the provinces B.C. was the second highest subsidiser after Alberta, providing at least $492 million in royalty relief (more than Alberta), $232 million in various tax measures and $41 million in direct transfers, in the 2020/21 financial year.

While some of the tax relief and direct transfers may have been due to Covid relief, the IISD report notes that they could not count all the supports provided, as they are buried in other budget lines or programs. So their estimate is conservative, IISD states, and “provincial subsidies to fossil fuel production and consumption are likely much higher.”

All in all, the report concludes, “provinces are diverting significant public funds to incentivize fossil fuel production that may not otherwise occur, and provincial governments are missing out on millions in uncollected royalty and tax revenue from fossil fuels” (although it is to be hoped that B.C.’s still to be completed royalty review may change that somewhat).

Unsurprisingly, this is aided and abetted by a large and active lobbying campaign by the fossil fuel industry. In 2021 the Wilderness Committee started it’s @BCGasLobbyBot, a Twitter bot account that lets the public know every time a new lobbying activity is registered. In December 2021, the Wilderness Committee reported that “In total, the gas industry lobbied the government 768 times as it prepared its royalty review.”

A particularly pernicious aspect of the industry’s lobbying is providing classroom ‘education’ materials to schools in BC. In March 2022 Open Letter to the B.C. Minister of Education, the B.C. branch of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, supported by almost 100 health, education, and other groups, called for a ban on such fossil fuel promotion.

Specifically, they called on educators and School Divisions across B.C. to “reject the use of the FortisBC Energy Leaders K-12 curriculum”, an industry-focused curriculum that “is carefully constructed to promote and normalize the use of fossil fuels to children of all ages.” The letter states “the lessons are solely focused on natural gas, normalizing its use” and falsely touting it as a clean and renewable energy source.” In particular, the letter adds, there is “no mention of the negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing, burning natural gas, or methane emissions on human health, climate change and the environment.”

Importantly, a March 2022 report commissioned by the IISD found that wealthy oil and gas producing countries such as Canada must reduce production by 74 percent by 2030 and phase out production entirely by 2034, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

So if we are to meet our obligations to future generations, private sector lobbying has to be reined in and fossil fuel subsidies and supports have to go, as do misleading private sector ‘education’ curricula for school children. Failure to do so will earn the B.C. government the sobriquet of being “dangerous radicals” engaged in “moral and economic madness”, as the UN Secretary General recently put it.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

thancock@uvic.ca

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

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

Are our governments dangerous radicals or merely mad?

12 April 2022

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

Right now, globally, we have experienced global warming of about 1.1°C, and we saw last summer here in B.C.  what that can mean. Two recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paint a grim picture. And it’s probably worse than these reports state, because the IPCC necessarily presents a conservative picture as its reports have to be approved by all 195 government members of the IPCC. So think of what follows as the best-case scenario.

In February the IPCC Working Group 2 (WG2) reported on the impacts of climate change on people and the planet. Said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC: “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet.”

The WG2 report also reports on the steps being taken to adapt to the changing climate, and on the vulnerabilities that are apparent. So far, noted the IPCC press release, “there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks.” Moreover, “these gaps are largest among lower-income populations.” As a result, “The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C.”

Then this month, the IPCC Working Group 3 (WG3) released its report on mitigation – how we can reduce or stop climate change. The IPCC press release is clear: “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.” The report notes that “the continuation of policies implemented by the end of 2020” results in “global warming of 3.2°C by 2100.”

Keeping warming to “around 1.5°C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 percent by 2030”, while keeping it below 2°C also requires emissions to peak by 2025, and to be reduced by a quarter by 2030. But the IPCC notes that lifetime emissions from existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure will take us to 2 degrees. So as a May 2021 report from the International Energy Agency’s recommended, there should be no new investments in fossil fuels.

Less constrained as he is by the need to protect national fossil fuel industries, and able to speak instead in the interests of the world’s people and nature, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been blunt in his response to these reports. Responding to the WG2 report, he called it “a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” In a speech in March he commented, “The 1.5-degree goal is on life support. It is in intensive care”, adding “if we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach.”

Then in a speech following the release of the WG3 report, he referred to it as a “litany of broken promises” and a “file of shame”, putting us “firmly on track towards an unlivable world”. And in a separate Tweet he stated: ““Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

Meanwhile, back in Canada, in defiance of all logic and sense, both the federal and provincial governments continue to support fossil fuel expansion. A December 2021 report from the Canada Energy Regulator projects oil production will continue to increase until 2040, while gas production will increase by 40 percent by 2050. And just a day after the release of the WG3 report, the federal government approved the Bay du Nord deepwater oil  field. It beggars belief that Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault can say with a straight face the project  “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

Here in B.C., the Sierra Club and Ecojustice are suing the government because it is “failing to present plans to achieve several key climate targets, as required by its own climate change legislation.” And it remains wedded to LNG and fracking, of which more next week.

So are our governments dangerous fossil fuel radicals, morally and economically mad, or both?

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

thancock@uvic.ca

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

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

Victoria’s new housing policies will benefit health

(Published as “Speeding development of non-profit housing is good for health)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

5 April 2022

701 words

Housing is fundamental to health. That should not be a surprise, especially in a country with Canada’s climate. The health impacts of being homeless or living in poor quality housing are well understood, and must be obvious to anyone.

But it is not just homelessness that is a concern, there is a much larger problem of affordability; lack of affordable housing can markedly affect people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. In a July 2021 report commissioned by the City of Victoria, local housing and homelessness researcher Nicole Chaland noted: “Homelessness exists against the backdrop of the affordable housing crisis. Shortages of affordable housing for the lowest income group cause new inflows to homelessness and prevent exits from homelessness.”

She reported that according to 2016 census data 10,480 households in the CRD with an income of less than $23,536 met the definition for extreme core housing need by spending half or more of their income on rent; a further 2,500 households with incomes between $23,536 and $44,456 were also in extreme core housing need.

The situation is particularly severe in the City of Victoria. An October 2020 report from the CRD noted 61 percent of Victoria households are renters, the vacancy rate is low, rental costs have risen over the past 15 years and there has been “little development of new primary rental market units”.

The problem is simple, and hardly news; there is not enough affordable housing for low and moderate-income families in this region. Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the federal government, which abandoned support for social housing in the early 1990s. This resulted in “drastic reductions in the amount of affordable housing available”,notes the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

In Canada, the right to housing has finally been legally recognized in the 2019 National Housing Strategy Act, notes the National Right to Housing Network. The Network adds: “This means recognizing that all people have the ‘right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity’”, as the UN puts it.

The Act “requires the government to implement reasonable policies and programs to ensure the right to housing for all within the shortest possible timeframe. It also means priority must be given to vulnerable groups and those in greatest need of housing”, and it establishes a National Housing Council and a federal Housing Advocate.

But securing the right to housing is not just a national problem, it is also a local one, as University of Washington professor Gregg Colburn and his colleague Clayton Aldern point out in a recent interview with the Sightline Institute in Seattle about their book ‘Homelessness Is a Housing Problem’.

“Homelessness needs to be understood as a problem driven by a lack of access to housing”, they state. “It is a market failure. People are forced out of stable housing or are unable to access it when housing markets don’t provide sufficient and affordable options.” Put simply, inadequate increase in housing stock drive prices up, which is particularly problematic for low-income households.

So it is good news that the City of Victoria’s Rapid Development of Affordable Housing bylaw is going to a public hearing on April 14. The City notes they have heard the current approach, by adding time to the process, “adds risk to a project and increases costs and makes it challenging for non-profits to deliver homes to those most vulnerable in our community.”

So they propose changes to streamline the process specifically for the fairly small number of proposals each year for “housing that is wholly owned and/or operated by a registered non-profit residential housing society or government agency”.  

In essence, proposals for such developments that meet design guidelines, fit within existing residential zoning and do not exceed the density allowed by Official Community Plan could be approved by “the Director of Sustainable Planning and Community Development, and not go to Council.” Together, these changes will result in “time savings of three to nine months”.

This addresses one key aspect of affordability, and will help to improve the wellbeing of the most vulnerable and low-income people. It will be followed by policies for “villages and corridors” and the “missing middle”, which will help further.  More on that soon.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

thancock@uvic.ca

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

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

WHO’s focus on planetary health is timely

Dr. Trevor Hancock

29 March 2022

700 words

Thursday April 7th is World Health Day. The theme this year is ‘Our Planet, Our Health’. WHO wants to “focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being.” 

This theme is very timely, reflecting a growing global concern about what we are doing to the Earth, and what that means for humanity – not to mention what it means for all the other species with whom we share the Earth. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said it well, succinctly and bluntly in December 2020: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.” He has talked since of the ‘triple crisis’ of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The WHO “estimates that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes. This includes the climate crisis, which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The climate crisis is also a health crisis.” 

We have certainly experienced that here in BC. In the past year alone we have experienced a heat dome that contributed to the deaths of 525 people in a one-week period from June 25 – July 1st, according to the BC Coroners Service; for comparison, the Service reported 2,224 deaths in all of 2021 from a suspected illicit drug overdose.  In addition, the heat caused the deaths of more than one billion seashore animals, according to UBC marine biologist Chris Harley.

Meanwhile fires entirely destroyed Lytton and killed two people there, while also burning buildings in other communities and causing much harm to our forests. In addition, massive floods – exacerbated by deforestation – inundated farms, killing tens of thousand of animals, and destroyed highways and other infrastructure.

And this is before climate change becomes really serious! In a March 21st speech to the Economist Sustainability Summit, Mr Guterres told the attendees the world is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” and that meeting the goal of keeping global warming to under 1.5degrees C “is on life support. It is in intensive care.”

But the real threat is not just climate change, it is the combination of massive and rapid global ecological changes rooted in a way of life, driven by high-income countries, that is unsustainable.

Which is why the WHO wants to focus our attention on the urgent actions needed to create societies focused on well-being. The recent Geneva Charter from WHO defines such societies as “committed to achieving equitable health now and for future generations without breaching ecological limits”.

The WHO has some strong suggestions for what that means in practice, including keeping fossil fuels in the ground; stopping new fossil fuel exploration and projects; stopping fossil fuel subsidies and taxing the polluters. It also recommends repurposing agriculture subsidies towards sustainable and healthy food production and taxing highly processed foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and unhealthy fats – and much else besides.

Here in BC on World Health Day, Doctors for Planetary Health (D4PH) will be releasing and presenting to the BC government and all the MLAs its full Code Red Action Plan. Motivated by a concern for the wellbeing of the people of BC, and of the world, the Action Plan calls on the BC government to declare a climate and ecological emergency and develop and implement a transformative emergency plan; take action on climate change; protect and restore nature; create broad transformative change focused on human wellbeing in balance with nature and ensure a Just Transition.

In addition, an article by D4PH to be released on the Healthy Debates website will outline what health professionals can do in their roles as care providers, patient advocates, part of the health care system, and as citizens. And it will urge them to take the Planetary Health Pledge and share videos of themselves doing so, an initiative that is fast becoming a global movement.

The pledge is a commitment “to work to protect the health of people, their communities, and the planet . . . and all of its life forms for current and future generations”. It is a pledge that all our political and corporate leaders need to take, for our planet and our health.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

thancock@uvic.ca

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

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