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Where’s the Green Wave?

Dene Moore: Given mass protests and polls indicating people increasingly worry about climate change, it’s surprising that federal and provincial Green parties can’t take advantage.
The trick is showing up on election day.

Glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising. Forests are burning, and invasive species continue to devastate trees left standing. Once-in-a-century flooding now happens once a year.

The signs of a catastrophically warming planet that scientists have been warning us about for decades are now part of daily life in British Columbia and around the world.

Beyond the immediate crisis of the pandemic, climate change is the No. 1 issue facing the world. A youth climate strike last year shut down schools across this country and 150 others while Extinction Rebellion protests shut down airports, railways, government buildings, banks, and roadways from New South Wales to New York.

So the recent provincial election was a litmus test of sorts: does that movement belong in the political arena. And the answer was no.

For a party whose core purpose is to advance climate action in the halls of power, three seats when the world is burning is a failure.

That’s not a criticism of the three BC Green MLAs elected, and certainly no criticism of Sonia Furstenau, whose performance at the leaders’ debate was pretty universally recognized as the night’s best.

But it is reason to give some critical thought to whether the Green Party’s continuous hurtling of itself upon the electoral rocks is ever going to move the needle. The voters have spoken. Again, and again, and again.

There was no pandemic during last year’s federal election. There was a warning from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world had already breached the 1.5C increase in global temperatures we’d been warned about, and we’d failed pretty much every milestone for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

With that backdrop, the federal Green Party elected three MPs, and won 6.55 per cent of the total vote.

After Furstenau became leader just a week before the snap election call, the provincial party saw record fundraising. But despite its best election bank balance ever and the profile boost from a leadership race on the cusp of the campaign, the party didn’t even have candidates in every riding.

Green supporters often point to their share of the popular vote: 6.5 per cent federally in 2019 and 15.29 per cent in the recent B.C. election.

It’s not insignificant – and maybe that’s the problem.

Climate change is a concern for most British Columbians, even if we differ on what we’re willing to do about it.

By drawing the more stringent environmental voters out of the parties that have any real chance of forming government, does the Green Party dilute the public pressure on those parties to take climate change seriously Because both mainstream parties have failed to meet any targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A poll by Abacus Data last year found the cost of living and climate change were virtually equal as the top issues for Canadians.

Twenty-five per cent said they thought about climate change often and were getting really anxious about it; 49 per cent said they thought about it sometimes were getting increasingly worried about what impact it will have.

In British Columbia, 21 per cent said they thought about it often and were getting really anxious and 56 per cent said they thought about it sometimes and were increasingly worried.

Forty-two per cent of British Columbians said climate change is an emergency and 46 per cent said it represents a major threat to the future of their children and grandchildren.

So it’s not a question of whether climate is important issue to voters. It is.

The question is whether the energy, focus and funding that goes into Green Party electioneering might be better spent forcing the political hands of parties with more pull.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.