Lost in a deep Darkwoods

The Kootenays have been receiving some provincial attention lately, though perhaps not the kind of attention we'd like

With the recent Auditor General’s report shining a light on the Pacific Carbon Trust and its questionable carbon offsets projects, the Kootenays have been receiving some provincial attention lately, though perhaps not the kind of attention we’d like.

At the heart of the probe surrounding the Crown corporation are the legitimacy of its two key carbon offset projects thus far: EnCana’s underbalanced drilling project in northwestern B.C., and The Nature Conservancy’s 55,000 hectare Darkwoods area in the Selkirk Mountains. Both projects supposedly veer from the busines-as-usual scenario to the extent that carbon dioxide which would otherwise be released to the atmosphere and contribute to climate change stays locked away, underground or tied up within the biomass of a healthy forest.

Emerging carbon markets around the world depend on this principle, called additionality, to prove that a project itself plays some small role in preventing the warming of our atmosphere. It’s a nice idea, but it’s hopelessly idealistic. While carbon offsets, and their related emissions cap-and-trade proposals are a good idea in principle, they’re far too prone to manipulation. They easily fall prey to the subjectivity of the various accounting systrems used to determine just what constitutes an “additional” action taken to keep greenhouse gases at bay.

There’s a far better option for tackling climate change, and it’s one that B.C.’s already a leader on: the carbon tax. Rather than attempting the complicated counterbalancing of good environmental actions versus bad, the carbon tax simply tells it like it is: all emissions from tailpipes, industrial processes and even home heating systems come with some  small, almost negligible, cost. When tallied on a national and global scale, those emissions add up to some pretty stark realities in terms of future droughts, floods and economic impacts, which are much cheaper to deal with now rather than waiting until later.

The Darkwoods project isn’t the outright climate swindle that some skeptics might claim it to be, and the most recent news about sources used in the Auditor General’s report suggest there might have been some anti-scientific bias involved.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Pacific Carbon Trust likely had the right intentions, but offsets projects will always be lightning rods for criticism.

Due to the possibilities that corners will be cut and profits will be made at the expense of actual progress on tackling climate change, the province should simply step away from offsets projects and continue with the tax that provides a free enterprise solution while dealing with the problem in a meaningful way.