Martyn Brown: Unpacking B.C.’s “Russian doll” of lies on LNG and climate action

The Georgia Straight | Martyn Brown | January 27 2018

I am picturing a Russian nesting doll, comprised of multiple, identical two-faced figurines, all of diminishing size and stacked upon each other.

On one side, they are wearing green sweaters emblazoned with the words “climate action!” On the other side, they are wearing navy blue suits with lapel pins that say “LNG!”

They bear the faces of British Columbia’s current premier, John Horgan, and of his immediate predecessor, Christy Clark.

I will leave it to your imagination to decide which side is which, or whether their images are interchangeable.

On those two issues, I agree with B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver that the only thing that distinguishes those two leaders and their parties is their public positioning on the “LNG-means-climate-action” lie, which also invisibly unites them.

What is one to make of these three-dimensional studies in deception?

As “Russian” dolls, they are by definition, not to be trusted.

As works of art, their deeper significance begs to be found in the hidden truths that are buried within their superficial impressions. Which, in this case, are all about the layers of lies that are betrayed by their subjects, by their objects for action, and by their clever construction.
 

LNG and climate action.

They are the lies that the B.C. Liberals and New Democrats have promulgated, moulded into shape as it were by Big Oil, in an attempt to reconcile two messages and two faces of ostensibly different directions in government that are innately irreconcilable.

Only B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver has had the guts and conviction to properly point out that obvious truth.

Once again, he has exposed the great lie that is at the heart of that two-faced imaginary Matryoshka doll, which Horgan is currently peddling in China, Japan, and other Asian markets, not unlike his predecessor.

Even today, the NDP government’s “climate leadership” website continues to brag that “Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) represents an incredible opportunity for B.C. to help the world reduce emissions while growing B.C.’s clean economy.”

That lie would have us believe that “liberating” B.C.’s latent export potential by increasing natural gas production and processing activities that will dramatically increase B.C.’s carbon emissions is somehow compatible with the goal of cutting B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions.

You don’t need to be a Nobel Prize-winning-contributing climate scientist, like Weaver is, to recognize that preposterous enterprise for the pure lie it is and always was.

It just doesn’t add up, as Weaver has so widely tweeted. 

He points out that British Columbia is now annually emitting about 64 megatonnes (MT) per year of greenhouse gases. By law, those emissions have to be reduced by 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050, to some 12.8 MT per year.

Even a single large LNG plant would increase B.C.’s emissions by about 10 MT per year. That would oblige us to cut all other GHG emissions by 96 percent to meet those legislated targets.

It is patently dishonest and ludicrous to imagine that somehow B.C. could ever meet its statutory GHG reduction obligations while also adding to its emissions inventory with major new LNG facilities that would dwarf B.C.’s other worst industrial polluters.

Horgan knows that full well. So does Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, who used to scream so loudly from the rooftops in his former capacity as executive director of the Sierra Club.

Their credibility is now on the line, in presenting a climate strategy that doesn’t take us all for fools.

Ditto for Merran Smith, the executive director of Clean Energy Canada.

She sat on former B.C. premier Christy Clark’s climate leadership team and now serves as cochair of Heyman’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council.

In a recent six-part tweet, she cited the modelling that Navius Research submitted to Clean Energy Canada back in 2015, which did much to inform the Clark government’s pathetic climate action 2.0 plan before the last election.

Based on that questionable research, she argues that it might be technically possible to still meet B.C.’s legislated targets for 2050. Albeit, she concedes, with aggressive measures like a carbon tax of more than $80/tonne, as compared to B.C.’s existing $30/tonne carbon tax that is now scheduled to rise by $5 a year through 2021, to $50/tonne.

It is a spurious sleight of hand, I suggest, given that Smith’s colleagues on Clark’s climate action team called for the carbon tax to increase by $10 per year, every year, through 2050. It would have obliged successive governments to increase the carbon tax to $360 a tonne to meet its legislated targets.

That is more than seven times what the NDP has so far agreed to support, at the Green party’s behest, and clearly not at all in the cards for most taxpayers or politicians.

That carbon tax increase is only one of many, many tough actions that would be needed to offset the unconscionable increase in greenhouse gas emissions that are part and parcel of even the “cleanest”, most “world-class” LNG vision.

As Smith also suggested, that trade-off and the vision it speaks to now need to be honestly debated and addressed.
 

Whopping LNG subsidies will produce relatively few jobs

How much more are B.C. taxpayers willing to bear in added carbon-tax costs aimed at neutralizing the added emissions that LNG would impose, if indeed that pipe dream that both Clark and Horgan have advocated is widely embraced by British Columbians?

How much more are ratepayers willing to pay in higher-than-necessary electricity costs, all to effectively subsidize electrical-drive LNG options aimed at minimizing the collossal carbon emissions that would flow from the new plants otherwise powered by their own dirty fossil fuel?

Is it all really worth it, given the relatively minuscule numbers of permanent jobs that any such plant would generate, after the pipelines are built?

We are talking a few thousand direct and indirect jobs at best that would be associated with operating those plants, as Marc Lee’s excellent analysis for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives revealed in 2015.

Most of those plants’ modular components would, after all, be built in other countries—China especially—and not in B.C. Even much of the labour used to build them and their associated pipelines would be imported from other countries, whatever “fair share” of work the NDP hopes to hive off for B.C. construction workers.

It is high time we finally had an honest discussion that starts with a transparent acknowledgement of how we are already collectively failing our climate action imperatives, the law, and our planet.

I mean, it’s not like there isn’t already a glut of LNG on the market in meeting the global demand that other countries beat us to the punch in filling.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook for 2017, suggests that while demand for LNG will certainly grow, there will be no shortage of supply in an ever-more competitive global gas market that is increasingly delinked from oil prices.

The real future is obviously in renewables, not fossil fuels, which the IEA estimates will account for two-thirds of global investment in power plants to 2040.

Relatively newer LNG suppliers, like those in Australia, are taking it on the chin, in terms of trying to even hold China and other markets to their contractual obligations.

Australia is only now coping with the environmental and social consequences of its ill-conceived LNG “gold rush”, which has also done so much to aggravate unwanted offshore investment and to compound its own affordable housing problems.

The whole “climate action!-through-LNG!” deceit is just one damn lie piled upon another.

At the base of it was Clark’s “grand lie” that LNG would wipe out B.C.’s debt and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. We knew full well it wasn’t true, but in 2013, B.C. bought the bullshit anyway.

On top of that is the lie that B.C.’s LNG will help the planet’s environment by displacing dirty coal-fired plants in China and elsewhere.

Right. Vladmir Putin couldn’t have put it any better. In fact he has made the same argument in promoting his own Russian LNG doll projects at home and abroad.

All any new LNG production in B.C. would do is further add to the planet’s carbon-emissions burden by putting more fossil fuel that is not needed on an already oversupplied global market, and will only perpetuate the world’s reliance on fossil-based energy.

It would only further suppress LNG prices and make that nonrenewable, carbon-based energy source more competitive with other renewable energy options.

If anything, we should be doing everything in our power to promote those forms of energy instead, especially in B.C., as both Weaver and Horgan have said, only the former of whom apparently really means it.
 

Sweet deal locked in future governments

The “Petronas precedent” was yet another big lie.

It maintained that we needed to offer the world’s largest oil producers 25-year tax breaks, permanent LNG subsidies, and unprecedented regulatory concessions. All to supposedly “land” the Pacific Northwest LNG project that both the NDP and Greens rightly opposed.

Why has that legislated sweetheart deal that both of those parties opposed in opposition not yet been repealed? It should be. Now. As a precondition for the Greens’ ongoing support of the NDP’s commitment to climate action that was part of the GreeNDP confidence and supply agreement.

That outrageous tax and autonomy giveway that the Clark government enshrined in law sure didn’t work as planned with Petronas, thank God.

The worst of it isn’t just the hidden costs it would effectively impose on taxpayers, but rather, how it would prevent any government from properly pricing carbon emissions for the LNG industry.

With the stroke of a ministerial pen, any oil company could now get the same ironclad benefits that Petronas has mercifully forfeited.

If any special carbon tax is imposed by any government at some point in the future on any such LNG producer, B.C. taxpayers will have to paying whopping “compensation” awards to further pad the pockets of Big Oil.

It is scandalous.

Yet presumably, that Petronas precedent still forms the basis for the NDP’s current efforts to encourage the world’s largest oil producers and richest state-owned enterprises to proceed with LNG projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert.

The truth is, even Andrew Weaver has done little to pressure the Horgan administration to repeal that law. He needs to get aggressive on remedying that, but fast.

When I urged the new government to embrace that initiative as a priority for action last July, Weaver countered that it probably wasn’t necessary. He suggested that depressed LNG prices probably make any such “greenfield” projects uneconomic in the near term.

Perhaps with prices notching up and with Horgan’s renewed pitch for B.C. LNG, Weaver is now a little less confident about that fact.

As it is, the premier has added a new layer to the former government’s Russian doll of LNG lies.

He is still trying to pretend that it can be achieved in keeping with the NDP’s past promises: that it is possible to at once embrace LNG and to also meet new legislated targets to cut B.C.’s carbon emissions by 40 percent, by 2030.

The NDP was sneaky, to say the least, in quietly posting the province’s latest greenhouse gas inventory on a Friday, without any press release or public, as DeSmog Canada’s Judith Lavoie so expertly outed.

Far from meeting B.C.'s legislated target of a 33 percent reduction in GHGs by 2020, which the previous government had grudgingly admitted would not be met, the latest inventory shows just how far off the mark we are, due to its negligence.

After a sizable initial emissions reduction, following the Campbell government’s climate action measures in 2007, B.C.’s emissions are now only 2.1 percent lower than in 2007.

NDP contradictions abound over LNG and carbon taxes

LNG can only compound that problem, with or without the NDP’s vaunted four-point plan for “responsible development”, as articulated in its election platform.

Included in that plan was Horgan’s commitment to “complete a made-in-BC environmental assessment, and achieve the highest environmental standards while respecting our commitments to combating climate change”. [Emphasis added.]

The impression the NDP deliberately left was that it would act to restore B.C. as a leader in climate action with a carbon pricing policy that "doesn’t need to make your life more expensive".

“Carbon taxes are meant to encourage people and industry to make choices that have a lower impact on our climate. They aren’t meant to make life harder for families like yours,” the NDP platform assured us.

Indeed. So how does that square with the much higher carbon taxes that would be needed than would be otherwise warranted, just to offset massive new LNG-related emissions?

If even one or two LNG plants were created in B.C., that new fossil fuel industry would be easily our largest single-source provincial emitter.

How does continuing to offer whopping tax breaks, regulatory concessions, and institutionally weakened environmental oversight—all guaranteed by the Petronas precedent—do anything to meet the NDP’s supposed commitments to taxpayers and to our environment?

All that will do is reward the B.C. Liberals’ “rich friends” in Big Oil. At the expense of most taxpayers, of our environment, and of truly sustainable economic growth predicated on renewable energy.

It is all a bunch of lies stacked upon lies that are well-masked and variously painted pro-environment green, or pro-jobs conservative blue, depending on the target political audience.

Yet the basic, sorry, and contemptuous truth of those lies remains, as Weaver rightly argues: you simply cannot credibly pursue both LNG and serious climate action at the same time, because the first goal directly contradicts the second.

What is Weaver prepared to do about that? That is the question now on many voters’ lips.

Anyone who doubts his commitment to climate action is either ill-informed, underestimating his resolve, or a fool. It's his highest personal calling, of that I am sure.

Many pundits doubt that Weaver would ever make good on his latest threats to bring down the NDP minority government if it continues on its current apparent path to promote LNG.

They should give their heads a shake.

Yes, proportional representation is important to him and to his party. But not nearly enough for him to ever sell out his abiding lifelong and professional commitment to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

That imperative is his life’s mission. It is more of a crusade of conscience than his skeptics, detractors, and cynics might ever imagine.

If you believe otherwise, you do not know Andrew Weaver. I believe him when he says that he only got involved in politics in the first place because of how Christy Clark was failing her predecessor’s globally lauded vision for climate action leadership.
 

B.C. Greens gather momentum

Know this as well.

The latest poll shows the Greens are more competitive than ever, supported by 27.6 percent of decided voters.

That’s way up from the 16.8 percent they won in the election last spring.

That support base is real and mostly a credit to Weaver’s leadership on issues that cut across traditional party lines and that deeply matter to British Columbians.

Suppose for just a second that the Green party’s candidate, Robert Stupka, finished second—or somehow, miraculously first—in the Kelowna West by-election.

If that obliges you to suspend disbelief, it should be no harder than doing so in imagining that LNG can be compatible with climate action.

Now, remember that the Greens have just received a cheque for $418,483.75, courtesy of B.C. taxpayers.

It is only the first of two such payments they and all parties in the legislature will get this and every year, as part of the NDP’s new system to ban corporate and union donations.

To the discredit of the NDP who promised not to do any such thing without prior public debate, it met its vow to ban big money in politics by instead filling the parties’ coffers with public subsidies.

Granted, the Greens' take is less than half of the $995,965 that the Liberals received in their first installment, or of the $994,882.50 that the NDP were just paid by B.C. taxpayers.

Still, with a new B.C. Liberal leader who will be beset by his or her own struggles to maintain party unity after a divisive leadership race, Weaver might not fear his party’s odds in a snap election.

He might well be tempted to push his hand with Horgan while the new Liberal leader struggles to get his or her house in order. Especially with one as seemingly inept as Dianne Watts, as inexperienced as Michael Lee, or as vulnerable as either Mike de Jong, Todd Stone, or Andrew Wilkinson.

I very much doubt that Weaver fears any of those contenders, and believes he could eat them and their party for lunch if given the chance to fight an election anytime soon.

All parties would be on a much more even keel, funding-wise, to fight a campaign, which Weaver might welcome before that historic financial imbalance starts to re-emerge.

The Libs and Dippers are both still deep in debt, a condition that will only be eroded in future years by their superior fundraising capacity and by their larger absolute dollar value in public subsidies.

Would Weaver’s Greens dare force an election if Horgan’s NDP jumps holus-bolus behind the B.C. Liberals’ LNG pipe dream?

You bet your ass they would, if push ever came to shove.

That is, if Weaver could only convince his two colleagues in the legislature that the principle at stake and the Greens’ vision for B.C.’s environment and economy were more important than their party’s strategic interest in proportional representation.

Much to the chagrin of the Fair Vote crowd and other champions of electoral reform, he has made it crystal clear that PR is not his ultimate hill to die on—climate action is.

Plus, there is a good reason why the Greens are doing so well these days in the opinion polls.

Weaver’s leadership in opposition has easily outshone that of current B.C. Liberal heavyweight and interim leader Rich Coleman.

Weaver’s position on banning foreign home ownership in B.C., similar to what New Zealand has just undertaken, is a huge winner with most voters.

So is his leadership on bringing ride-hailing to B.C., to say nothing of his principled stands on Site C, Kinder Morgan, LNG, and climate action—all of which are key vote drivers for those who share his convictions.

Do I think it likely that Weaver will push for an election any time soon?

Not at all.

On the contrary, I think it is more likely that Horgan might be tempted to call Weaver’s bluff by doubling down on his LNG gambit, reasoning that he would likely win a massive majority as things stand, and that more voters than not support his qualified support for LNG.

Certainly that is Horgan’s implicit message, in his direct rebuff of Weaver’s threats, as Global’s Keith Baldrey reported on Friday’s 6 o’clock news and via Twitter.

More likely than a snap election, in my view, is that Weaver’s anything-but-hollow threats might actually positively impact the NDP’s policy in respect of LNG.

By putting the minority government on notice that it should not take him or his party’s support for granted, Weaver has got Horgan’s undivided attention. Weaver has certainly conveyed in no uncertain terms that he’s not for wavouring on climate action and LNG.

Unless or until a green light is finally given to a final investment decision on one of B.C.’s remaining prospective LNG projects, there will be no “crisis” of confidence, as such, to avert. Which is a good thing for B.C.

I sure hope that Horgan and Heyman get their priorities straight.

I hope they recognize that their first obligation is to protect our environment and to seriously cut B.C.s’ carbon emission, and not to further pad the pockets of Big Oil or compromise our climate action imperatives with loopy new LNG developments.

Weaver’s words likely surprised Horgan, just as Horgan's position on LNG surprised Weaver, consistent though it surely is with the premier’s long-standing and vocal support for that industry.

Regardless, Weaver’s timely comments on the future of LNG have brought some much needed profile to an issue that is so much more than a political football.

At the base of that “Russian doll” is a great lie about an economic vision based on increased fossil fuel production that is inextricably anathema to B.C.’s climate imperatives.
 

The ball is in Andrew Weaver's court

One wonders what Weaver might do next to test the NDP’s mettle on climate action and LNG.

Keen as he is on following innovative measures proposed or adopted in other jurisdictions, his most ardent Green supporters might hope he introduces his own version of a recent initiative by Ireland's three elected members from the far-left People Before Profit party. They are now trying to ban any new exploration for oil, gas, or coal in Ireland.

Interesting aside. Those individuals, whose party’s manifesto is not terribly dissimilar to the Leap Manifesto in its ideological prescriptions for progressive change, were elected under that country’s proportional representation electoral system. That is by virtue of the single transferable ballot (STV) that British Columbians narrowly rejected in 2005 and overwhelmingly rejected in 2009, but which the Greens supported.

Might B.C.’s Greens go so far as to table a similar private member’s bill, calling for a legislated ban on new natural gas exploration and development?

I wouldn’t hold my breath and certainly wouldn’t recommend it; but it sure would generate a good deal of national interest and international attention.”

For years, the Straight’s Charlie Smith and I have been among those trying to help illuminate that fact. Charlie has written more stories and columns on the need for climate action than most of his contemporaries, as has the Tyee’s Andrew Nikiforuk.

I have offered countless words, links to resources, and no end of proof points. Like this column, they were perhaps always destined to fall upon deaf ears. [Also see the related-stories links on this page or this four-part critique on the DeSmog Canada website.]

Yet anyone who gives the slightest damn about the global threat of climate change and the dishonest relationship between LNG and climate action would do well to engage in this debate, starting with what the experts have to say.

If you do nothing else and want to really understand what makes Weaver tick, watch Running on Climate, a feature-length documentary. Or check out any of his numerous interviews and speeches on Vimeo and You Tube.

You might also read the Sierra Club’s latest exposé, or the expert analyses published by the Pembina Institute or by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

If you want to know more about how climate change is threatening our planet, read any of the myriad works that David Suzuki has authored or that his foundation has published.

This recent climate assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research program is also illuminating. If it doesn’t convince you that time is running out to act, I don’t know what will.

Then again, if you are of a mind to read an alternative take, you could always check out this story published in Business in Vancouver. It relates to a study reported as being from John Hopkins University that was actually from the University of Calgary. 

I am sure that Andrew Weaver could rip it apart, including for its misrepresentations of the study’s content and conclusions.

That study, moreover, includes this telling line that should lead readers to question its objective rigour:

“We are grateful for the financial contributions from the Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative at the University of Calgary and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.” Bingo.

I can only hope that Weaver will publish his detailed rebuttal to that story and study, which LNG hawks will surely now hold out as "scientific proof" that the added emissions they champion are somehow a net benefit to our environment.

Post away, Andrew.

The false “truths” about LNG and climate action that you have done so much to expose need your voice and expertise now more than ever. 

It’s time to smash B.C.’s “Russian doll” of lies on LNG and climate action for good. And for all time.
 

Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at bcpundit@gmail.com.

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