May 22, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

The Green Rift 

Has the Environmental Movement Been Torn Apart?

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Reasons for the split cited by some of B.C.'s most prominent environmentalists point to people and events revolving around the recent election - one that differed vastly from those that came before. In the 2005 election the environment barely figured as an issue.

A search of the news archive for CBC's "B.C. Votes 2005" website doesn't turn up a reference to the environment in a single headline. The only time the word "Green" appears is to announce the failure of the party to gain a seat.

A search of the Vancouver Sun 's 2005 archives yields a similar result. The environment figures as an issue in some ridings but doesn't hit the news stream with the same fervour as it does today. No mention of a carbon tax, cap and trade or green energy.

Back then, and in years previous, the environment simply didn't play as an issue the way it does now. Where once the operative words in B.C. politics were "jobs," "health care" and "Fast Ferries," today "carbon tax" and "run of river" have been added to the fray.

Gordon Campbell, it should be said, didn't exactly jump on the environmental file as soon as he took office in 2001. Back then he changed the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Air, Land and Water Resources - the ministry of "Earth, Wind and Fire" as some activists derisively called it.

He appointed New Westminster MLA Joyce Murray in charge of the file, and interviews suggest her ideas didn't always gel with cabinet. In a 2008 interview with the Ubyssey she said the government "wasn't convinced" that the environment was a top priority at the time - at least not big enough for Campbell's Liberals to support Kyoto.

Today, things have changed. Al Gore's documentary " An Inconvenient Truth" unleashed a Pandora's Box of fear about climate change in 2006 and even the Premier signed on. The 2007 Speech from the Throne announced Campbell's intention to bring B.C.'s emissions to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. That commitment was followed months later by a "magical mystery tour" that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to B.C. The two signed a memorandum of understanding to significantly reduce emissions and build a "hydrogen highway" from B.C. to Baja California.

Green hit the mainstream and British Columbians were stunned. Barbara Yaffe at the Vancouver Sun called them an "environmental odd couple." Alan Ferguson at the Province said Schwarzenegger had won his respect - and that he'd take him any day over a "sackcloth-and-ashes brigade of breast-beating enviro-fanatics."

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