Highway dustup in British Columbia highlights gap between talk and action on climate change

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One only has to go a few miles northwest of B.C.’s capital in Victoria to see what governments are really doing about global warming.

While provincial Finance Minister Carole Taylor was finalizing her “go green” budget, governments at the federal, provincial and local level were taking steps that guarantee sprawl, gridlock and greenhouse emissions will continue to spiral.

Since April, 2007, peaceful protesters have tried to save an area of old-growth forest from becoming a highway interchange that would give developers easier access to a mountain, where they mean to replace a natural forest with roads, highrises and commercial buildings.

The dispute peaked recently when 60-odd Royal Canadian Mounted Police pounced with dogs and assault rifles to roust six tree-sit demonstrators engaged in a non-violent protest. There were three arrests, and even as the police attack was underway, crews began felling trees for the huge clover-leaf.

The reasons given for stopping a road and saving trees are laudable, especially in this time of escalating climate change – to protect First Nations’ sacred ground, to arrest sprawl and to expand transportation options, among others.

A few local politicians – federal, provincial and local – have criticized the harsh treatment of the protesters, but none has said anything about stopping the interchange or reining in the growth and development that drive global warming.

The interchange site is in Langford, one of a dozen municipalities in B.C.’s capital region. It was Langford’s mayor who inflamed the issue by calling in the RCMP swat team. Then he followed up by instructing municipal lawyers to consider legal action against the penniless protesters.

Now, in addition to that pointless expenditure of tax dollars, Langford is borrowing $25 million to fund the bulk of the $32 million projected cost of the interchange!

You are what you do, according to the old adage. And what Langford is doing here is abusing taxpayers by subsidizing infrastructure expansion for developers. In a sense, so are the feds, who are ultimately responsible for the hysterical behavior of the RCMP.

Nor should we forget the province, which enjoyed favorable reportage recently for introducing a new tax on gasoline and home heating fuel.

A new tax, however, isn’t a climate-change plan. Budget documents, for example, show fossil-fuel consumption is expected to rise in the immediate term. Also, provincial subsidies for oil and gas exploration are increasing to more than $300 million this year. So the trough just keeps getting bigger.

Stanford entomologist Paul Erlich once remarked to me that “Politicians go where they are shoved.” Right now the big shove comes mainly from the corporate elite of big oil and gas, auto manufacturers, and developers.

That’s how we got into this fix and it’s what’s keeping us there.

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