Column: Coal and controversey
After climate scientist-turned-Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver had a taste of debate in the B.C. legislature, I asked him for his impressions on that and other issues. Excerpts from that discussion:
TF: You did a study comparing burning all the world’s coal reserves and all oil reserves, showing how big coal really is. The federal government says that when you add up what’s actually being used in North America, carbon emissions from coal are about 30 times more than from oil.
Now we have a symbolic coal export ban in Vancouver, which doesn’t apply to Port Moody or Point Roberts or Prince Rupert. Do you think there’s any significance to this?
AW: There is no question that the biggest issue around is coal, because coal use is on the rise world-wide. Not in the United States, because they’re converting [power production] to natural gas. This is why American producers are saying, let’s ship it to Asia. California says no, Oregon says no, Washington says no. Vancouver says no, British Columbia, not sure.
It’s pushing us to start thinking about what I think is going to be the greatest industrial revolution the world has ever seen, which is transformation of energy systems away from our combustion approach, which is essentially what we’ve been doing since we were in caves. We’ve gone from burning wood to now fossil wood, and fossil plants and fossil algae, to a much more modern era of production of energy through natural means, solar, wind, geothermal etc.
TF: Liquified natural gas. The NDP says they are absolutely in favour of that now.
AW: I have questioned the economics of it from day one. There’s a market differential that exists now. There’s that small window because Japan is moving from nuclear to natural gas. But we’re way behind everyone else.
TF: Thirty years ago, Japan played Australia and B.C. off for metallurgical coal. Those northeast B.C. coal mines are back up and running again, but you’re seeing a similar thing here?
AW: Yes. And if we start shipping natural gas to Asia … the Asian price comes down, the North American price goes up. British Columbians haven’t been told that.
TF: How has the legislature session been for you?
AW: I sit there and watch the two parties. Rhetorical question, condescending answer. Rhetorical question, condescending answer. And I hope more British Columbians watch this, because this needs to change. And I think it can change.
TF: The NDP opposition decides when you and Delta South Independent Vicki Huntington get your occasional moments in question period?
AW: Yes, and if I’ve asked it’s been no problem.
TF: Grudgingly no doubt. If the NDP had their way, the closest Green Party member would be in Holland.
AW: [Laughs] Yes. Certainly not in North America. There’s this sense of entitlement within the NDP to the ‘green’ vote. And I sense that the B.C. Liberals very much like our existence, as being not NDP. The reality is, we take as many Liberal votes, if not more. It’s because what it means to be ‘green’ has moved out of what the NDP view as green, which is a tree hugger. It’s kids going to school, talking about conservation, and going home to talk to their parents. That's where our votes are coming from.
TF: Are you going to be found standing in front of a coal train any time soon?
AW: No, never. They asked me to, and I said no, because I don’t believe in civil disobedience.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com.