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Talking climate change on the federal campaign trail

Liberal candidate Pamela Goldsmith-Jones holds climate discussion in Whistler



As the 2015 federal election draws near, the issues that will define it are beginning to take shape.

If the buzzwords of the past year or so are any indication, this election will be one focused on terrorism, taxes and the economy.

In the lead up to the election, Liberal candidate Pamela Goldsmith-Jones hopes to bring those issues to the forefront of the discussion through her speaker series Democracy Talks, held in Whistler to discuss climate change on June 17.

Guests for the evening were journalist and author Richard Littlemore and Whistler Blackcomb (WB) mountain planner Arthur De Jong.

"Democracy Talks has been able to attract people like Arthur and Richard not because of partisanship, but because these are important issues," Goldsmith-Jones said.

"It's been a real privilege to be able to discuss these away from the cut and thrust of campaigning."

Presenting to an audience of about 50 people at Millennium Place, De Jong and Littlemore took turns discussing the current and future trials presented by climate change.

"At WB, we've spent a lot of years trying to understand how we can get our arms around such a macro issue and break it down into workable parts," De Jong said.

In WB's case, the issue can be broken down into three critical phases — assessing the problem, mitigating the damage and adapting to a changing climate.

"Our goal with our WB mountain operation is to become a zero operating footprint, meaning no carbon emissions, no other emissions, no waste," De Jong said.

"Often when I speak to audiences elsewhere they look at me like I'm some idealistic, middle-aged, hairless pothead hippie from Whistler. (They say) it's not possible. It is."

Since the year 2000, WB has dropped its waste by about 70 per cent, De Jong said, and new technologies like hybrid groomers could help drive emissions even lower.

"Two thirds of our fossil fuel emission with our mountain operations are from our groomers, so that will be a major impact in that we could reduce our fuel consumption by about 20 per cent," De Jong said.

Continuing to place lifts higher in the alpine and enhancing summer offerings are key to WB's adaptation strategies, De Jong said.

In his own address, Littlemore told the audience he's been "near hysterical about climate change for 20 years."

In 2006, Littlemore helped found DeSmogBlog — a website devoted to exposing climate change deniers.

"Basically it was the full frontal attack on climate change denial," Littlemore said.

"If a denier popped up anywhere that we could find, we would ask the three DeSmogBlog questions, which were: is this person an expert... are they doing any reasonable research on climate change, and thirdly are they taking money from a poisoned well."

In the five years he worked for the blog, Littlemore and his partners couldn't find a single climate change denier who passed their test.

"We called people liars, which is a terrible word. Your mother would slap you for it, and your libel lawyer would tell your boss to fire you," Littlemore said.

"Except our libel lawyer said 'no, no.' You can say that about that guy, because he's lying and you have proof."

Despite their best efforts, Littlemore and DeSmogBlog were never sued.

Littlemore said it was encouraging to be discussing climate change.

"I'm delighted to be hearing people talk about adaptation — how do we adapt, how do we make policy — rather than is it even a problem?" he said.

"Yes it's a little bit complicated, but we're adults here. We do lots of stuff that's complex. We can lick this."

For Littlemore's money, there is "no better mitigative strategy" than a carbon tax on polluters.

Goldsmith-Jones said this type of discussion — even among people who may disagree — is essential for democracy.

"We polish ourselves on each other. We sand off the rough edges and we get to something really, really special," she said.

And in terms of the issue itself, Goldsmith-Jones holds no delusions concerning the challenge ahead.

"We have a serious challenge in front of us with regard to how (mitigating climate change) can work," she said.

"I think Canada could be a renewable super power. It shoud be."