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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 2, October 2004

Environmental record of B.C. Liberals

by David Chudnovsky

Teachers have special reasons to care about the environment. Teachers rely on clean air and water like everyone else, and, given their profession, teachers have an extra interest in the kind of world being left for their students.

What will that world look like, at least in B.C.? A year ago, B.C.’s environmental community came together to launch BCFacts.Org, a web-based tracking of environmental decisions, both good and bad. The initiative was launched to stay abreast of changes to B.C.’s environmental laws and regulations, and to track whether the B.C. government is keeping its promise of environmental management based on sound science, cleaner water, and sustainable practices.

As it turns out, that promise has been systematically broken as the government has weakened nearly every environmental law on the books and cut monitoring and enforcement staff.

Take climate change. B.C.’s climate is already changing in negative ways. Mountain pine beetles are infesting vast areas of B.C. forests because we have not had cold winters to kill them. B.C. is experiencing record forest fires and droughts consistent with a warmer climate. And, B.C. is experiencing floods consistent with more extreme weather events predicted by climatologists.

What has been the B.C. government’s reaction? First it opposed Canada’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol, then it set about implementing an energy policy that aggressively promotes the production and consumption of fossil fuels, the burning of which causes climate change. As a result, B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions are going up instead of down. Moreover, the Campbell government wants to lift the federal moratorium on drilling in B.C.’s sensitive marine ecosystems, a move that would not only increase B.C.’s contribution to global warming, but also expose B.C.’s sea life and pristine beaches to the risk of oil spills.

As to whether our students will grow up in a province with spotted owls, grizzly bears, and marbled murrelets, the B.C. Liberal’s record on endangered species is dismal. The government has overruled its own scientists in permitting logging of the habitat of spotted owls when there are fewer than 25 breeding pairs left. The moratorium on hunting grizzly bears was overturned, and logging the habitat of other species in decline like marbled murrelets is routinely permitted.

On air pollution—a great concern to kids with asthma—while the government has continued B.C.’s opposition to the Sumas II power plant across the U.S border from Abbotsford, it has extended the life of polluting beehive burners in communities around B.C., promoted gas-fired power plants on Vancouver Island, and even opened the door to coal-fired power plants as Ontario is phasing theirs out.

On water pollution, the government rolled back legislation that would have required B.C.’s pulp mills to clean up their act. B.C.’s mills now have weaker water-pollution laws than much of Europe, and weaker air-pollution laws than the U.S. B.C. leads the country in the discharge of dangerous dioxins and furans, mainly from the pulp-and-paper industry.

On parks, following cuts by the B.C. Liberals, B.C. and Mississippi are the only two jurisdictions in North America without a parks interpretation program, depriving future generations of learning about nature in nature. The government has also passed legislation allowing the environment minister to permit commercial operations within park boundaries instead of at their edges, making it clear that all of B.C. is "open for business" regardless of where that may be.

Has the government done anything right on the environment? Yes, the BCFacts.Org site commends the government for helping to protect Burns Bog, for extending logging moratoria in key areas of the Great Bear Rainforest, and for investing in sewage treatment upgrades around B.C.

But, overall the environmental record is dismal. Whether this becomes an election issue in 2005 will likely depend on whether B.C.’s citizens get to hear much about this record. You can spread the word by sending your colleagues, friends, and relatives to BCFacts.Org.

David Chudnovsky teaches at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School, Surrey.

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