Environmental activist groups see opportunity as the global challenge of greenhouse gases rises to the top of the public agenda

By Glenn Bonn, Vancouver Sun
The emerging leaders and older veterans of B.C.'s feisty environmental movement pursue different campaigns and employ different tactics, but one all-embracing global challenge binds them together for a common cause: Climate change.

Environmental activists who have followed the global warming debate for a decade or more say the time for talk is over. They're demanding new legislation, and firm deadlines for cutting the air pollutants and greenhouse gases that the United Nations and most climate scientists say are fueling human-induced climate change.

They see a window of opportunity opening this year, while the environment is at the top of Canadians' awareness, and remains one of the declared priorities of mainstream political parties.

"It's a fascinating time right now," said Lisa Matthaus, a climate change campaigner with the Sierra Club of Canada. "The polls keeping showing how strongly people are thinking of the environment, putting it at the top of their minds."

Donna Morton, of the Victoria-based Centre for Integral Economics, says the challenge of delivering on sustainability is so great that it really isn't up to the environmental movement any more.

"Climate change, for example, is so huge and global that it will require system-changing strategies," she said. "It has to be a multi-sector effort, including working across the left-right political divide."

Many environmental groups have already broadened their focus, away from site-specific or single-issue campaigns.

The 27-year-old Wilderness Committee, for instance, still lobbies for the conservation of never-logged forests and wilderness areas, but is also involved in campaigns to persuade the federal government to comply with the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"There was a time when you could draw lines on a map and be reasonably assured biodiversity was protected inside the lines," said Wilderness Committee executive director Andrea Reimer. "With things like toxins and global warming, that's just not possible anymore."

The environmental activists profiled in this story were all interviewed before B.C.'s Liberal government promised to reduce the province's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020.

This week's throne speech also included a pledge to adopt California's automobile emission standards, starting in 2009.

Before hearing those promises, Matt Price, coordinator of the Conservation Voters of BC, said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had "raised the bar" last year when the state approved the toughest greenhouse gas curbs in the U.S.

Price also slammed proposals for two new coal-fired power plants -- facilities that the B.C. government now says it won't okay unless 100 per cent of the emissions are pumped and stored underground.

"The piecemeal approach is not getting our emissions down," Price said.

To activists, climate change is the common thread that runs through a myriad of environmental concerns and campaigns, from endangered runs of wild Pacific salmon to the B.C. government's $3-billion Gateway project, another public investment in blacktop for greenhouse gas-spouting cars and trucks. "Climate change is the mother of all environmental issues," Price declared.


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