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A rendering of the Site C dam on the Peace River in B.C. A report from Amnesty International says the project infringes on the human rights of indigenous people.
A rendering of the Site C dam on the Peace River in B.C. A report from Amnesty International says the project infringes on the human rights of indigenous people.

opinion

Why construction of B.C.’s Site C dam should be scrapped Add to ...

Dr. Warren Bell is a past founding president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and founding president of Wetland Alliance: The Ecological Response. Dr. Amy Lubik is a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

The famous German physician Rudolf Virchow said politics is “nothing else but medicine on a larger scale.”

Perhaps B.C.’s Liberal government should follow the medical dictum “First, do no harm” because there are clear-cut harms associated with the illogical, destructive pursuit of the Site C Dam.

Christy Clark continues to move ahead with this $9-billion project despite mounting evidence against it, as well as opposition from such diverse groups as First Nations, farmers, Amnesty International and academic scientists.

According to a large group of concerned Canadian scientists, “The Joint Review Panel stated explicitly … that it did not have sufficient time or resources to properly assess certain key issues, including the costs of the Site C project and greenhouse gas emissions, and thus recommended that [the project] be referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission, which has not occurred.”

So why then the rush to build Site C?

This megaproject will displace First Nations who have lived in the Peace River Valley for thousands of years. A joint federal-provincial environmental impact assessment concluded it would “severely undermine use of the land, make fishing unsafe for at least a generation, and submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites.” Amnesty International currently has a petition online signed by 65,000 Canadians asking for a halt to Site C because it is grossly unfair to Canada’s First Nations.

Further, continuing with this project would bring international embarrassment by decimating Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park, named to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1983 because of its natural majesty and significance for endangered species.

As farmers also fight to keep their homes and livelihoods, approximately 12 per cent of B.C. households are experiencing food insecurity, putting children and adults at risk for malnutrition, chronic disease and depression. At the same time, due to climate change, the areas we most depend on for food are experiencing prolonged droughts. It makes very little sense then to flood farmland that could potentially feed one quarter of B.C.’s population with healthy produce.

The Liberal government argues that we will need the energy from Site C as demands increase, but B.C.’s energy use has been flat for years, and experts involved with the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) and the Sierra Club argue that B.C. Hydro can meet additional need by increasing energy efficiencies within the system. Further, if the increased demand for energy does materialize, BCSEA estimates that clean technologies, such as wind, solar and geothermal, could cover the demand, while creating more long- and short term-jobs.

Further, recent science calls into question how clean hydroelectricity really is.

Hydroelectric dams generate huge amounts of methane gas, a greenhouse gas approximately 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years. The Union of Concerned Scientists has calculated that other forms of alternative energy, such as solar, are much cleaner than hydroelectricity, especially when the latter is built on very fertile ground (the Peace Valley has the best agricultural land in the province).

Set against all these logical reasons not to build Site C, why would Christy Clark’s government want to develop the most expensive megaproject in B.C. history?

In communications with B.C. Hydro, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers promised as long as a decade ago to purchase most of the energy from Site C for use in B.C. and Alberta in order to power fossil fuel operations with supposedly cleaner power.

But this is not the only bizarre feature of B.C.’s energy policy. At the same time she’s coveting Site C to power the fossil fuel sector for ephemeral overseas profits, Ms. Clark has closed Hydro’s 900-megawatt Burrard Thermal Plant, the cleanest operating natural gas standby plant in North America, costing $20-million a year, while shelling out $55-million annually to a private company on Vancouver Island that can produce only 275 megawatts, can’t reliably deliver energy to the mainland, and has no advanced pollution controls.

An old adage says: “Don’t carry on making a mistake just because you’ve spent a lot of time making it.”

As evidence mounts of negative human rights, health and climate and economic impacts, when indeed will enough be enough?

Editor's Note: A previous version of this column said the Association of Major Power Customers of B.C. is now an opponent of the Site C dam. In fact, while the group questioned the economic need for the project several years ago, it has not publicly taken a position since 2014.

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