The BC NDP released its “StrongerBC” plan in February, shortly before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Neither is an easy read.
The IPCC report is 3,675 pages long, heavily documented and written in academic terms. StrongerBC is 40 pages, heavily illustrated and written in buzzwords: inclusive, supporting, affordable, clean, resilient, competitive, reconciliation (“true, lasting and meaningful,” as if other kinds of reconciliation might be possible).
But the plan’s language is also orthodox neoliberalism, in which the government presents itself as just another corporation greenwashing its image.
The giveaway term is “investing,” as in: “Investing in people and families to make life more affordable.”
What would be the return on such an investment, if not higher taxes paid by people and families? And how would investment make their lives “more affordable”?
The NDP and the IPCC deal with very similar topics, but in very different ways. The NDP offers a bulleted list of bafflegab:
- Driving innovation in areas like clean hydrogen, the forest-based bio-economy and negative emission technology.
- Making all new buildings zero-carbon by 2030.
- Adopting nation-leading targets for zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and 100 per cent ZEVs by 2035.
- Supporting research, development and commercialization of new clean energy technologies.
Look closely, and the nice words get slippery.
Innovation isn’t always a solution, and the 2030s are well beyond the likely life expectancy of the Horgan government. “Nation-leading targets” means B.C. will make bigger promises than anyone else. “Supporting” means subsidizing businesses that will make the government look good, and make money, whether they achieve anything or not.
So we’re going to build 114,000 new affordable homes? Will they be cool under heat domes, warm in blizzards, safely away from flood plains — and affordable even for young workers in low-paid jobs? Will they be built on Fraser Valley farmland? Will those zero-emission vehicles also lack non-exhaust emissions from brake wear, tire wear and road surface wear?
StrongerBC’s concept of Indigenous involvement in our economic future is virtuoso hypocrisy:
We are working with Indigenous Peoples to address barriers to their full participation and leadership in all aspects of B.C.’s economy; supporting First Nations control over their own land and resources; acknowledging, respecting and upholding Indigenous rights and First Nations title; and building enduring and productive forums for Indigenous Peoples to lead and contribute to economic development initiatives.
In plain English: we’ll eventually talk to you about why we’re the barrier to your involvement in the economy. You can control your own land unless it gets in the way of one of our projects. Sure, we know we’re on unceded land. Happy to say so. And we’ll also be happy to create talk shops where you can spend your time composing memorandums of understanding with our civil servants now and then.
Right from its title, StrongerBC deals in vague comparatives: stronger than what? Will “stronger” be strong enough for the next wildfire season? Will “cleaner” industries be clean enough to significantly reduce emissions?
Back to 2019
StrongerBC makes an implicit promise to take us back to 2019, only done right: better jobs, cheaper housing, low-guilt transportation and mildly preventative measures against climate change. The IPCC report, however, dismisses such promises. It’s too late to prevent anything, the report says; the job now is “to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Rapid, deep cuts will be very hard for B.C. to do when we’re trying to sell as much LNG as possible overseas, and Roberts Bank Superport shipped around 29 million tonnes of coal last year alone. With the current bans on Russian fossil fuels, demand for ours will surely rise.
Adapting to climate change while also achieving true, lasting and meaningful reconciliation will be even harder if the NDP insists on pushing through the Coastal GasLink pipeline while Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs rightly insist on control over their own land and resources and Indigenous rights and First Nations title.
It’s notable that this IPCC report dedicates a lot of space to reliance on “Indigenous Knowledge” as critical to climate adaptation. It’s knowledge that B.C. has usually dismissed. The report’s chapter 14, on North America, makes this point:
Indigenous Peoples throughout North America have experienced five centuries of territorial expropriation, loss of access to natural resources and in many cases, barriers to the use of their sacred sites.... Climate change is now creating additional challenges for Indigenous Peoples....
Indigenous knowledge has gained recognition for its potential to bolster western scientific research about climate change. Many recent examples demonstrate the scientific value of IK for resource management in climate change adaptation and mitigation. For example, Indigenous practices have not only contributed to the present understanding of North American forest fires, but also that the practice of frequent small-scale anthropogenic fires, also called cultural burns, is a key method to prevent large-scale destructive fires....
Indigenous relationships with the land are commonly informed and guided by a cultural ethic of “responsibility-based thinking.” The Indigenous cultural ethic informs and mediates personal and collective conduct with a sense of duty or responsibility toward human and other-than-human relations. The Indigenous responsibility-based outlook stems from a cultural paradigm that understands that it is human beings who must learn to live with the land.
This way of thinking instills in its adherents an inherent awareness that the other-than-human realm is capable of existing and thriving without humans. Thus, it is for our own sake (as humans) that we learn to live according to certain, ever-shifting, parameters, requiring us to remain acutely attuned to our physical surroundings. This Indigenous cultural precept is perhaps among the most significant contributions of Indigenous Peoples to the rest of humanity in the face of climate change.
Learning to live with the land would require a radically different approach for every settler government in Canada.
That’s equally true of “responsibility-based thinking,” which would have wrecked the business plans of many Alberta oil companies.
Governments think the land is there to be exploited, repurposed to provide jobs for workers and votes and donations for politicians. Their worldview, as a 2021 article describes it, is “consumptive-assumptive” — we are here to consume, and the more we consume the happier we will be. We assume we will consume more tomorrow than we did today. Economic growth is good, because without it we would have to consume less, and we would all be very unhappy to see the end of growth.
So StrongerBC offers this as a solution to the pandemic, toxic drugs, wildfires, floods and heat domes:
Too many British Columbians lack access to the economic opportunities that are a pillar of a strong and resilient society. In a world where the skills, talents and ambitions of people are one of B.C.’s most important assets, expanding economic opportunity through inclusive growth is both a moral and economic imperative.
StrongerBC sees people as mere assets, and economic opportunities support a “strong and resilient” society that can resist and rebound from future disasters — disasters caused by the very growth the NDP considers “imperative.”
John Horgan and his government will no doubt get a summary of the IPCC report at some point. I hope it includes the following passage from chapter 14:
Resilience in the literature has a wide range of meanings. Adaptation is often organized around resilience as bouncing back and returning to a previous state after a disturbance. More broadly the term describes not just the ability to maintain essential function, identity and structure, but also the capacity for transformation.
It is increasingly clear that we can never return to our previous state, nor should we want to.
What we need is transformation into a low-consumption society that can care for all its members while also protecting its environment from the disasters we have unleashed upon it. It will be a society of equals, stronger because it will draw upon the wisdom of all, not just the buzzwords of the current power elite.
That kind of transformation would be a truly innovative measure.