VANCOUVER, B.C. - Canadian environmentalists are achieving climate change progress on a province-by-province basis in response to the complete intransigence of the conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper regime in Ottawa, another example of decentralized pacts similar to those led by California against the climate-change-denying fossil fuel and religious fundamentalists in Washington.
Here in British Columbia, a carbon tax was passed in 2008 along with a fuel efficiency standard amidst dire warnings from those who seem to believe God created all those resources ten miles below us as a challenge to chemical engineers. Nothing came of the faith-based prophecies about those job-killers. Instead, BC's carbon tax has risen from $10 per ton of carbon dioxide in 2008 to a current $30 per ton, while remaining revenue-neutral. Fuel use in BC has dropped 16 percent compared to a three percent rise in the rest of the country. That BC achievement is almost triple Canada's pledge of a six percent reduction in twenty years made at the Kyoto talks a decade ago.
Like California's catalytic influence on other US states, the BC model is in the process of being replicated in Alberta and Quebec. In Ontario, which is the largest Canadian province in terms of population and economic activity, there is "reason to be optimistic", say environmental sources, because of the recent re-taking of power by the Liberals. Rounded off, those provinces together represent nearly ninety percent of Canada's entire GDP. Despite the federal government tacking to the right, Canada's economy is being driven towards clean-energy policies adopted by provincial governments.
Under Governor Jerry Brown, California enjoys formal low-carbon energy pacts with BC, Quebec, Washington state, and Oregon, vastly expanding the population and sectors evolving towards a green energy economy. In New England, ten states have formed their own regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Gov. Chris Christie removed New Jersey in 2011). Consistent with the binational approach, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec have observer status, along with Pennsylvania, in the New England consortium.
Since 2007 the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord has begun to develop its own green economic belt too. Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are joined by Manitoba in a bloc representing a total GDP of $1.6 trillion. Combined with the West Coast and Northeast, the cumulative "green-oriented GDP" is over forty percent of the American economy, and expanding.
That's a list of US states with a total GDP of $6.4 trillion. Combined with Canada's green-oriented sector, that's a North American GDP influenced by green policies of $8 trillion. The pace of all this can be considered too gradual or too shallow, but it simply cannot be ignored. Nor can the speed of these developments, which were hardly on the policy horizon three decades ago. The overall process will go through lulls, as BC environmentalists say of their province, but the pattern is mostly forward. Any reduction of greenhouse gas emissions anywhere is a part of a larger whole. Local organizing is the catalyst of a chain reaction that sometimes is hard to see or time.
The reactionaries on climate change hold sway mainly in the coal states and regions steeped in wars, slavery and the fierce defense of dying doctrines. Internationally, the fossil fuel forces also are strongest in countries controlled by monarchs, oil oligarchs, plutocrats or religious nationalisms. The emerging conflict over resources cannot be separated from class, religion, cultural and political divides. The Koch Brothers, for example, are protective of their fossil fuel holdings but also a wide range of conservative causes. They are working furiously to invest in opposition to decentralized solar energy programs, which allow consumers to become in effect their own utility providers. (43 states, including California, require utilities to back excess power from solar users.) Destroying their utility monopoly requires a broad-based environmental movement powered by a spirit of grass-roots democracy. Step by step the green economy is planted, with the Edison Electric Institute warning, "It may be too late to repair the utility business model."
The fight already is sometimes bloody, and the politics are always precarious. But if there is a "new world" it is being created in the places and spaces where environmentalism is closely connected with the struggles for democracy, human rights and liberation from poverty.