The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

Carbon Series Reporters Unravel Complex Knot

Tyee Solutions Society project probes real results of BC's stated climate policies.

By David Beers 23 Nov 2011 |

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

This series was produced by Tyee Solutions Society (TSS) in collaboration with Tides Canada Initiatives Society. Funding for this series was provided by the Bullitt Foundation and Hospital Employees' Union. All funders sign releases guaranteeing TSS full editorial autonomy. TSS funders and Tides Canada Initiatives neither influence nor endorse the particular content of TSS' reporting. To republish articles from this series, please contact TSS editor Chris Wood here.

image atom
Series lead reporters Christopher Pollon and Tom Barrett: Years of experience.

The series launched Monday here on The Tyee started with a question: Where have Gordon Campbell's carbon reduction policies taken B.C.? That simple sounding query turns out to have many answers requiring complex investigation -- the kind of journalism relished by the project's two veteran lead reporters, Tom Barrett and Christopher Pollon.

After weeks of interviewing politicians, economists, environmentalists, policy wonks and others involved in the province's carbon emissions reduction agenda, Barrett and Pollon have produced a detailed but easy-to-track road map of where we've been, where we've arrived and where the forks in the road ahead could lead.

If you are a regular reader of The Tyee, you will probably recognize those bylines. Tom Barrett was for decades a reporter at the Vancouver Sun, covering the political scene from Victoria and Vancouver. Then he became one of the Tyee's first contributing editors and, four years ago, when then premier Campbell rolled out his agenda for climate policies in B.C., Barrett covered the moment closely. Chris Pollon, too, is a Tyee contributing editor. Widely published in magazines and newspapers, Pollon's focus for our pages has been on industry and the environment. Most recently he produced a multi-part series on the push to make B.C.'s northwest more accessible to mining.

A project of the Tyee Solutions Society

"BC's Quest for Carbon Neutrality: Reports from Canada's Climate Policy Frontier" is a project of the Tyee Solutions Society (TSS), a non-profit organization that creates journalism in the public interest and makes the resulting articles available to other publications beyond The Tyee. This project was supported by funding from the Bullitt Foundation and the Hospital Employees' Union. All funders sign releases guaranteeing TSS full editorial autonomy. Likewise, funders do not formally endorse any of the particular findings of TSS's work.

In a time when resources for in-depth journalism seem to be increasingly scarce, Barrett and Pollon say they appreciated the opportunity to explore so deeply a question with big ramifications not just for British Columbians, but far beyond our borders.

"The overall Climate Action Plan is certainly unique in North America if for no other reason than the carbon tax," notes Barrett. "And the extreme ambition of the whole plan -- whatever you think of the political sincerity behind it -- certainly made it rare in the world, if not unique."

Barrett focused most of his reporting on the official goal of making B.C.'s own government carbon neutral. "The strategy's emphasis on offsets sold by a government-run corporation makes it distinctive worldwide, if not unique."

The deeper Barrett got into the details, the more he was convinced "the whole thing needs a good look. I think a public debate about some key questions -- are offsets valid in principle? Are the Pacific Carbon Trust offsets in particular valid? Does the program cover enough emissions to really qualify as 'carbon neutral'? -- would be a good thing."

Seeking facts, context

It's a good thing Barrett and Pollon are experienced reporters, because carbon emissions politics seem to produce clouds of spin.

"The most spin," says Pollon, "is found at the very heart of the whole issue: The question of whether humankind is causing global climate change. If you don't believe we have a hand in the crisis, there can be no coherent discussion of 'carbon reduction,' or anything else that needs to be done.

"I was also surprised at the extent of misinformation among the general public and media concerning B.C.'s carbon tax. I have seen many references to the carbon tax, both in media and in angry letters to the editor, as a government 'cash grab.' Many do not realize that the government gives the money all back -- most of it in the form of tax cuts." 

Barrett and Pollon began their research and interviews in the summer, when it seemed likely that a fall election would be called by Christy Clark, who replaced Gordon Campbell when he stepped down as leader of the BC Liberals and premier of B.C. The journalists were struck by how much the political landscape had been shifted by the global economic downturn and Campbell's doomed embrace of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

"As I say in my carbon politics story," says Barrett, "Christy Clark has gone from being an avowed climate change champion to the oil and gas industry's biggest booster. The climate plan has been replaced by a jobs plan -- and that was probably inevitable. Experts say it's possible to reconcile economic development with the climate, but so far we haven't seen how the government plans to do this."

The politics are fraught, agrees Pollon, but he notes that B.C. is not alone in attempting carbon reduction initiatives. "The premise of this series from the outset was that B.C. had enacted policies that made it a leader in North America when it comes to battling climate change, and this remains true. What came as a surprise was how many nations in the world have either already taken action, or are planning to very soon. Federal politicians in North America often portray developing countries -- particularly their emerging trade rivals China and India -- as laggards who are increasingly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. Yet China will have a nationwide emissions trading system by 2015, and India will set an emissions cap for its 500 or so biggest polluters by 2014. 

"Meanwhile in North America, Obama's national cap and trade system has been killed, climate denial has become mainstream, and Canada is happy to follow whatever the U.S. does -- or doesn't do.  Meanwhile," says Pollon, "Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and most of the EU have successfully put a price on carbon. And the sky hasn't fallen yet, either."

'Our most pressing issue'

Reporting the series could be an up and down experience, both Barrett and Pollon admit.

"Sometimes I feel like the only people who care about this issue are a few climate nerds. That's frustrating," says Barrett.

"You can divide the world into three camps: Those who think we are causing climate change, those who think it's all BS and those who don't care -- and there's significant overlap with the latter two schools," says Pollon. "In North America, I see the latter groups gaining traction, and I'm not sure what can be done about it. This growing denial/disengagement has direct political implications -- as we have seen with the six U.S. states pulling out of California's cap and trade system, or the U.S. Republicans derailing Obama's plans for a nationwide cap and trade system. 

"It's getting to the point where rational discourse on climate change -- or more pointedly, what to do about it -- is not possible. The only thing that will change this may be for the climate impacts to worsen to the point that deniers change their minds. But by then, it's likely too late."

The role of the Tyee Solutions Society journalist is not to make the case for any particular policy, both Barrett and Pollon agree, but to provide as much solid context for public discussion as possible, so that citizens and their leaders can form sound judgments.

Pollon thought of his five-year-old child often as he pursued the questions in this series. "The situation in North America -- where it has become politically unacceptable to confront climate change in any truly serious way -- is bleak. It's particularly difficult to have young kids and to ponder that their future is so uncertain. Climate change is our most collectively pressing issue, so it's necessary to scrutinize how we're confronting it." 

Look for more reports in this series from Tom Barrett and Christopher Pollon, as well as Tyee reporter Geoff Dembicki, in the weeks ahead.

For more information on Tyee Solutions Society, including how to re-publish this or other TSS series, go here.

[Tags: Politics, Environment.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Environment

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll