In a week in which most of the attention in B.C.'s capital was focused on the governing Liberals' new budget, the legislature's lone Green Party MLA delivered his reply to the Throne Speech – and a pretty compelling response it was.
In fact, it could be argued that Andrew Weaver's address was the singular most persuasive rejoinder offered by an opposition politician all week – it's just too bad it received so little attention. Had people been listening, they would have heard the acclaimed climate scientist completely destroy the government's argument that its nascent liquefied natural gas industry is good for the world's atmospheric environment.
According to the Throne Speech, LNG production will reduce China's greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 90 megatons a year by replacing the country's reliance on coal with a cleaner-burning fuel. According to Mr. Weaver, no credible international climate body would ever offer greenhouse-gas reduction credits to a jurisdiction for producing greenhouse gases. But that's only part of the problem with the government's climate logic.
In 2011, B.C. emitted 62 megatons of GHG emissions, 19 megatons more than the target the province is legislated to meet by 2020. If five LNG plants start up in the province, which is, at minimum, the province's hope, they would emit about 73 megatons of carbon pollution every year. According to Mr. Weaver, that alone is nearly double the province's 2020 target and more than five times its 2050 legislated mark.
"Selling LNG to China so that it might decrease its carbon emissions means that we in B.C. will have no choice but to throw our own targets out the window," Mr. Weaver told the legislature. "Forget the laws. Forget the rhetoric. The science says it's impossible. We will be throwing away the certainty of our own climate targets for the possibility of theirs."
Mr. Weaver then went on to attack B.C.'s export of thermal coal, currently an amount that totals 20 megatons a year. The vast majority of the coal is shipped in from the United States and Alberta and so consequently doesn't contribute to B.C. jobs the way metallurgical coal does. While U.S. states such as Washington, Oregon and California are saying no to thermal coal sales, B.C. will double its exports over the next two years.
"If we look at reliable, scientific estimates," said Mr. Weaver, "the 40 megatons of thermal coal we will be exporting will add 100 megatons of carbon pollution to our atmosphere each year. The fact is, while we could possibly reduce Chinese emissions by 90 megatons, we will certainly increase emissions from coal exports to 100 megatons. Forget 90 megatons in savings, we will have just increased net global emissions by 10 megatons from coal exports alone."
Mr. Weaver has had a quietly impressive start in his turn as a politician and de facto head of his party. (There is no official leader at the moment). He's been lauded by many for taking a more practicable approach to environmental issues, a fact highlighted by his recent admission that he's open-minded to David Black's Kitimat oil refinery proposal.
Some have interpreted his remarks as expressing full support for the project. He says that is not the case. He is 100 per cent against Northern Gateway. That plan, he said in an interview, is dead. He is against any scheme that would see raw crude shipped across B.C. and then sent across the ocean in tankers. Too risky. The obvious appeal of Mr. Black's plan is that it would refine the crude before it is shipped, dramatically reducing the environmental risks associated with any type of spill.
"What I'm saying is the project has some merit," said Mr. Weaver. "It would still need support from First Nations in the region. And there are a lot of other considerations. But it's far better than the alternative. This stuff could get shipped by rail and there is little we could do about it because of common carrier obligations."
It's been nine months since Mr. Weaver left the comfy confines of academia to try out politics. He didn't know what to expect. To his surprise, he's discovered he loves it, so much so that if the leadership of his party was being held in six months' time, he'd go for it. However, he won't make a final call on that front until the two-year mark of his term.
"For me, it's not about the sound bite or the pithy quote or the snappy headline," said Mr. Weaver. "For me it's about the substantive foundation behind an issue. That's what excites me. That's what gets me excited about politics and this job. We'll see how it goes."
I don't know. With that kind of attitude, I'm not sure he'll survive.