Say ‘no’ to oil and gas, Sierra Club director tells audience

  • May. 28, 2003 7:00 p.m.

People on the islands were an inspiration to the whole country over the fight for South Moresby/Gwaii Haanas in the 1980’s, and they should do it again by saying a resounding no to oil and gas exploration offshore. That was the message Sunday evening in Tlell from Elizabeth May, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, herself once active in the fight to save South Moresby as a policy advisor to the federal environment minister.
“Haida Gwaii has been a place where key decisions have been made, where lines have been drawn against devastation of the environment, and where visions have been created, and where they have been established,” Ms May said.
She offered up an ABC of climate change and its relation to the burning of fossil fuels, as well as giving some suggestions as to where we ought to go energy-wise, as she spoke to about 50 people gathered at Cacilia’s B and B.
The climate is already changing because of burning fossil fuels, she said, adding that over the last 20 million years, the atmosphere contained about 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2), and that today, it’s about 375 ppm and rising. “Scientists are worried”, she said, “we are changing the atmospheric equilibrium.”
Avoiding doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is essential she said, while admitting that the figure of 550 ppm was arrived at arbitrarily.
“There is a whole lot of published (scientific literature) that suggests that if we allow CO2 Â…to double, we’ll lose the western Antarctic ice shield, and that would cause sea level to rise not by the accepted consensus of 1 to 1.5 metres, but by 4 to 5 metres. Big, big differences,” she said.
Ms May pointed out that while average global temperatures are rising, ‘nobody lives in the average’. “We have seen specific localised events that are much more disturbing than the average”. The rate of warming in Canada’s Arctic is three times the global average, she said, and Inuit people have already seen the permafrost start to melt, found traditional hunting activities more difficult, and have even seen robins for the first time, a bird which does not even have a name in their language. “There have been very dramatic changes (in one community) to the point where some people think they will have to move,” she said.
Ms May discussed the Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse gas emissions, which Canada has signed. It commits the country to a 6-percent reduction based on 1990 levels, but since emissions have been climbing since then, it means about a 20-percent reduction on current emission levels. And she said even when Kyoto is fully implemented, all it does is buy time. “Kyoto delays the doubling by six to ten years. Kyoto is a first step in a much longer process to change our energy use globally, so we are much less dependent on fossil fuels,” she said.
Even though Canada has agreed to Kyoto, Canada continues to act as an oil and gas producing country, selling fuel to the US, more now than Saudi Arabia. “We are acting as America’s gas tank. We will pump it, we will drill it, we will sell it. We will sell it cheap,” she said.
How can Kyoto targets be met and exceeded? Ms May points to a recent study which focuses on conservation. If conservation measures are implemented, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut in half by 2030Â…, “and we would become so energy efficient that we could close all our coal plants and all our nuclear plants, and need no new hydro,” she said. One example she offered are the ‘very boring’ but efficient electric motors. If all electric motors in the US were replaced with the most efficient type, electric demand would fall by 50-percent, she said.
Her conclusion-conservation and efficient use make a lot more sense than oil and gas exploration, especially when the oil and gas found will “destroy the climate. Can’t we do something better, and can’t we do something different,” she asked.
Ms May, a ‘lawyer in recovery’, pleaded for “holistic thinking that says, ‘if you have a sustainable community-based activity, protect itÂ….If you are going to destroy coastal British Columbia to be part of the last use of fossil fuels on a planet that’s making a shift, ask why?” she said.
And she ended by calling on islanders to take the lead. “Â…I am throwing it back to you, the people of Haida Gwaii, to show leadership to the rest of the world and to say ‘no’ to oil and gas. And by developing community based solutions that work for everybody,” she said.
Ms May spoke at a meeting organized by the islands chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been active in recent years in improving energy awareness on the islands.