In the recent BC provincial election, Green party leader Andrew Weaver drew unprecedented attention when he found his relatively small party holding the balance of power in a coalition with the New Democrats, allowing his Greens to get some of their policies onto the government’s agenda. Weaver, like his friend and colleague Katharine Hayhoe, is a Christian and world class climate scientist, and has been vocal in his commitment to ecologically sustainable public policy. Earthkeepers: Christians for Climate Justice blogger Gord Coulson interviewed him by phone on December 8th, 2017. We learned more about his faith, the status of the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval, and how we can preserve a healthy future for our children and for the planet.
AW: Is Earthkeepers associated with a particular Christian faith?
GC: No. I happen to be an evangelical, and others are Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox…
AW: I’m an Orthodox [Christian].
GC: I wanted to ask you. The person that started Earthkeepers—Reverend John Hainsworth–known as Kaleeg…
AW: How do I know that name…?
GC: He knows your mother.
AW: My mother is very involved in the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox church here in Victoria and was president for the association for many, many years. Is he Orthodox then?
GC: Yes, he is.
AW: I know John Hainsworth then.
GC: He helped found Earthkeepers and has been kind of a guide for us from time to time as well. Is it ok for me to include that part in the story?
AW: Oh sure…my wife in fact is Greek—it’s very interesting actually—my mother is Ukrainian. She’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox. Ukrainian Orthodox is actually called Ukrainian Greek Orthodox. It’s essentially the Greek Orthodox Church in the Ukrainian language. So I was christened Ukrainian Orthodox, but there was not an Orthodox church, per se, a regular one, until recently. So I grew up in the Anglican Church, because that’s where I was an altar boy, and that’s where we went on a regular basis. But my wife is Greek, she’s Greek Orthodox, and our kids are all christened Orthodox. But there is now a Greek Orthodox Church—the Ukrainian priest isn’t here anymore either—so we go to the Greek Orthodox Church in Victoria. I’m happy to include that.
GC: Fantastic. What we’re trying to do is connect with churches to work with them to get on board with climate justice. It’s biblically correct, and theologically correct, and that’s kind of our cross that we’re bearing.
AW: It’s interesting…I actually have lots of discussions with ecumenical organizations. I’ve participated in the North American Dean’s Conference with Anglican deans across North America. I’ve spoken there. The United Church of Canada–I’ve participated in organizations there. What’s interesting is, do you know Katherine Hayhoe…
GC: I know who she is, yes.
AW: She and I have talked about this a lot…
GC: Oh fantastic, you know her…
AW: Yes, very, very well–we’re good friends. So she, as you know, her husband is a pastor. And she’s an evangelical Christian in the U.S. and so she’s been a very effective voice…
GC: In Texas of all places.
AW: She’s had a lot of people that are very upset. But the issue that she runs into is, within the Christian community, there’s an element that–I don’t know how one can convince them–they believe that any environmental degradation is actually God’s will.
So it’s really pre-ordained as to happen the way it was meant to happen. And our role here is to extract resources at our leisure and pleasure, as opposed to a more stewardship role. There’s two general views: we’re here as stewards as opposed to the view that this is our playground and we can do with it as we wish.
GC: And we’re going to get raptured anyway, and it’s all going to be burned up, so what does it matter?
AW: Exactly. That’s the debate. I don’t pooh-pooh people who believe that, because you can’t. As a matter of faith, if you believe something, it’s critical that you recognize that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do good now, even if you believe that down the future.
GC: Sure. If I asked you to look after my house, and I came back and it was destroyed, and you said, “I thought you were going to build a new one.” And I said, “No, I said I was going to renovate it.”
AW: Exactly. Good analogy.
GC: So there’s a huge problem there. People will listen to Katherine Hayhoe, but they won’t listen to Al Gore, right?
AW: Part of the problem with that–Al Gore–there’s pros and cons with Al Gore. We have this debate when I taught at U. Vic, all the time. It’s a very good debate: “Be it resolved, that Al Gore has done more harm than good for trying to deal with global warming,” because in terms of…
GC: How so?
AW: Well, you could make a very compelling argument that he’s been an incredible international spokesperson, bringing awareness through his movies, through his writings and his talks, as to the importance of dealing with global warming–that’s a very powerful argument. But on the contrary, you could argue that perhaps he was not the best spokesperson because he was a few hanging chads away from being President of the United States and clearly he came from–a life-long politician–from the Democrats, and as such, you know, there in the U.S. at least, his issue has been branded as a Republican versus Democrat issue when it’s really not. Republicans naturally are suspicious when it’s coming out of a presidential candidate’s mouth.
GC: So your upbringing in the church, did it have an influence on you in terms of your career and your passion for social justice and climate justice?
AW: Well of course! I was raised in a Christian family–we raised our kids in one as well. I’ve always believed that it’s important that we do unto others as we expect others to do unto us. We do what we can to help people in need. We do what we can to ensure that we’re thinking about the consequences of our behavior on others, and we have a fundamental responsibility for future generations to leave behind that which we inherited, so absolutely it had an important influence. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what, but when you’re raised in a family with Christian values, of course it is.
GC: Why should Christians care about Kinder Morgan, and what are the contributions people of faith can make to the movement for climate and ecological justice?
AW: First off, the whole issue of global warming, I’ve always argued, is this: whether or not we deal with it boils down to one question. Do we, the present generation, believe we owe anything to future generations, in terms of the quality of the environment that they inherit, that they leave behind? That is not a scientific issue—the question. That is a purely value-based societal question, where faith plays an important role in terms of what you believe.
I think most people, most people of most denominations, most faith-based groups, the overwhelming majority of citizens, believe we do have a responsibility to leave behind to future generations, an environment that is not worse off than what we inherited from our parents. Why that’s important for dealing with the issue of climate change is we know that the implications of the decisions you make today manifest themselves on generations to follow. And it requires bold leadership now, because waiting until the climate has changed is too late. Because of the inertia in our socio-economic systems, our inertia in the ocean–which means that for decisions made today, the ramifications of those don’t play out for decades. And therein lies the political conundrum, of course, because our political leaders are often thinking in terms of four year election cycles, as opposed to decadal—the long term consequences of their decisions.
So the reason I say this issue boils down to inter-generational equity is, the scientific community can calculate then, if we make these decisions today, what will be the consequences on emissions, and how will that play out in terms of climate change in decades to come? We can’t say what those decisions are or should be, but we can say what the consequences will be—with probabilities attached to them.
So we know right now, the Paris agreement has been signed collectively by, essentially, the world’s nations, and they’ve agreed to keep warming substantially, below two degrees. That was the goal of it. Well, we also know we’ve already warmed by over a degree, and we know if we do no more than keep existing greenhouse gas levels at the levels they are, we’re going to warm by about 0.6 degrees. Plus, we’re going to have about 0.2 – 0.3 degrees from permafrost carbon feedback. So we know that the world will warm between 1.8 – 1.9 degrees—essentially irregardless of the decisions we make today. So what its saying is, if we want to actually meet our Paris targets, and the consequences are substantial if we don’t, then we need to act now.
And so coming back to Kinder Morgan, because we already know we are committed to something like 1.8 or 1.9 degree total warming, and we know the result of our decisions today play out in decades ahead, if leaders internationally knew what they actually signed in Paris, then what they’re signing was saying this: effective immediately, there will be no new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure that will last decades to come. Because now is the time to transition from dirty to clean energy systems.
So upgrading Kinder Morgan, tripling the [pipeline] capacity, and increasing tanker traffic in the harbor is about spending billions and billions of dollars of capital investment today, whereas that investment should be in other sectors of our economy. And there’s people waiting to do it.
You don’t build a coal-fired electricity plant today, for example, to tear it down tomorrow. You build it to last fifty years, or so. So that is why, you know, this whole silliness about LNG, and the silliness about exporting diluted bitumen—it’s such that it undermines our already agreed-upon efforts to take steps now to limit warming, because we’re concerned about the environment we leave for future generations. And that is, I would argue, a value-based system that Christian values have a lot to say on, in terms of inter-generational equity.
We know that we are subsidizing. In BC, we have something called the Deep Well Credits for natural gas exploration. They’re so egregious that companies—they used to pay 40% of the cost into royalties. Now, it’s like 4%. We earn so little from natural gas because we’ve given away these [credits]. There’s 3.2 billion dollars of unclaimed credits on the books. This is taxpayer money, as we subsidize the industries of yesterday, instead of recognizing that we don’t need to subsidize yesterday’s industries. What we need to do is remove these and allow today’s industry and technology to advance forward.
Other jurisdictions in the world are doing that, and my concern for British Columbia has been, and continues to be, that we are letting the rest of the world get ahead of us, whereas we were, under Gordon Campbell, and could, if we take action, be leaders in this transitional economy. And that is what’s going to produce wealth and prosperity for all of us—if we get with the program. If we are continuing to produce widgets, or we’re continuing to produce things that others are getting themselves off of, it does not bode well for the economy of tomorrow when suddenly, we have to start buying the things that others are producing because they don’t want what we were selling.
GC: Like China getting way ahead of us on [renewable energy] technology.
AW: India, Europe… And British Columbia: we have such incredible potential because we are the most beautiful place in the world to live, and we are in a very stable democracy. So we can attract the best and brightest from anywhere in the world to our jurisdiction because of the quality of life we can give them, and the stable, good schools, great education system. We have one of the best education systems in the world. So we can offer employers access to a highly skilled, educated workforce that we know we can attract and retain, because of the quality of life we can give.
And we also have access to boundless renewable, sustainable resources in terms of energy, and water, and fiber in the form of wood. This is the foundation on what we should be building upon a 20th century economy, using our access to renewable energy–which is being squashed by Site C–to attract manufacturing that wants to brand itself as clean in the modern 21st century economy, like they’re doing in Washington State.
You know, we have a rail line between Prince Rupert and Chicago, that we should be building manufacturing on that railroad, between Terrace and places like that—close to the production of renewable energy; attracting and retaining highly skilled workers, and being able to ship it to the mid-east market, as well as to the Asian market, through our efficient rail system. That is the modern economy. It’s bringing the tech sector together with the resource sector. But unfortunately, we’re having a difficult time in BC as many of our political leaders are grappling with what to do with this 21st century economy.
In Part II we will ask Dr. Weaver about the Kinder Morgan approval process, the economic validity of the project, his proposed Species at Risk legislation, and his hopes for the future.