Comment: Promoting LNG undermines B.C. tourism

The Times Colonist | Caitlyn Vernon | January 24 2018

Given B.C.’s spectacular beauty, marketing our province as a tourism destination is undoubtedly more joy than challenge.

The numbers show how successful we’ve been at selling “Super, Natural British Columbia” around the world.

In 2015, tourism generated $15.7 billion in revenue, sustained 18,938 businesses and employed 127,700 people, paying $4.5 billion in wages. Tourism’s contribution to our gross domestic product exceeded that of any of our resource industries, including oil and gas. And $1.1 billion in tax revenue was generated from tourism, helping fund schools, hospitals and other vital public services.

Premier John Horgan says one of the goals of his current trade mission is to promote tourism in China, South Korea and Japan. Good on him.

Yet on the same trip, he’s meeting KoGas, Mitsubishi and PetroChina, members of the LNG Canada consortium that wants to build a fracked-gas export facility in Kitimat. The premier’s message, in his own words: “We’re OK with LNG development” and we want your business.

That’s a problem, because our climate — and with it, our tourism industry — can’t survive LNG development.

“Super, Natural B.C.” will become “Come visit B.C.’s scorched earth and experience a real live wildfire!” Or: “Come see where the salmon used to be!”

This will be our unfortunate future if we don’t act now to slow climate change. Wildfire season is lasting longer and is more destructive, as last summer’s historic fires demonstrated. An October 2017 headline in the Quesnel Cariboo Observer summed it up: “Tourism operators devastated by wildfires.”

And what happens when climate-induced disasters become more and more frequent?

What does it do to our tourism prospects if the iconic orca whales or spirit bears are starving because they can’t find salmon, since shifting climate conditions mean salmon aren’t making it up the rivers to spawn? What does it mean for coastal tourism that carbon is already acidifying our ocean to the point that shellfish are in trouble? And really, who would want to visit a place prone to disruptive, frightening wildfires?

By promoting LNG in Asia, our new B.C. government is adding fuel to the wildfires that scorched B.C. last summer. Fracking and the export of liquefied fracked gas will contribute to climate change, making wildfires more common and even more severe in the future. LNG Canada alone would use up more than three-quarters of our entire remaining greenhouse gas emissions as legislated for 2050.

Not only is promoting LNG in Asia entirely incompatible with meeting B.C.’s legislated targets to reduce climate pollution, it’s also incompatible with promoting B.C. tourism. To keep B.C. safe from climate impacts and beautiful for tourists (not to mention those of us who live here) and to support all the local businesses and economies that depend on tourism throughout the province, we need to stop the fracked-gas frenzy.

This government campaigned on promises to apply stringent conditions to any LNG development and to take seriously the need to do more in response to the climate crisis. Promoting LNG in Asia is doing neither.

No premier wants to market the burned landscapes and disaster tourism that would inevitably be the result of continued fracked-gas exports. Instead, by demonstrating government leadership to defend our communities and our economy from climate change, Horgan could be inviting people to come visit a place that is still “Super, Natural B.C.” — a place where water is protected for people and wildlife rather than contaminated by fracking, a place with old-growth forests and orca whales, a place with resilient microgrids of clean-energy infrastructure, accessible public transportation and leading-edge buildings designed to reduce energy use.

Not only would this sell better, it would be a heck of a lot better for those of us who call this place home.

Step No. 1 is to stop promoting LNG. Then let’s support resilient communities, build a clean-energy economy that employs British Columbians with good green jobs, and keep B.C. beautiful.

Caitlyn Vernon is Sierra Club B.C.’s campaigns director.

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