Mayor Walt Cobb. Tribune file photo

OPINION: Municipal climate lawsuits are a bad idea we need to let die

Anyone who suggests the climate isn’t changing is just not paying attention

Walt Cobb

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

Anyone who suggests the climate isn’t changing is just not paying attention. As the mayor of a B.C. Interior resource town I can attest that all B.C. municipalities are already having to adapt to the impacts of climate change – in the form of extreme weather, drier summers, forest fires, and flooding.

The question is: how are we taking on the work of adapting to the changes – and how are we paying for it?

Municipal governments in B.C. have been receiving letters from West Coast Environmental Law for the last couple of years trying to convince us to write demand letters and launch lawsuits calling on the world’s largest oil and gas companies to send us cash to help pay for the impacts of climate change in our communities.

It is an absurd proposal.

Unfortunately, some urban municipalities are jumping on the bandwagon, apparently ready to make political points without doing their research. They even brought motions to the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in September. Those motions were soundly defeated, as common sense won the day.

The proposed motions are hypocritical and self-defeating. These same municipalities continue to use fleets of vehicles that burn gas, use natural gas to heat their buildings and to power infrastructure, and purchase plastic products made from oil.

We are all the end-users of oil and gas and cannot currently operate without it, so we should be looking in the mirror before considering a lawsuit against the companies providing us with these products. More than that, if the lawsuits should ultimately be successful, the energy companies would have to pay for the legal and settlement costs the only way they can – by increasing the prices we all pay for their products.

Read More: EU, Germany welcome ‘continuity’ on climate change with Liberal minority win

The impacts go deeper than that – into the relationships we all depend on to keep our cities and towns going.

Whistler lost in a big way after sending legal demand letters in response to this campaign. Whistler council now knows well that, as they rely on tourism and conference business coming in large part from industry, industry would not take such letters lightly. Whistler’s mayor issued a videotaped apology after industry associations and companies started cancelling conferences in their community.

Whistler council was also reminded it was suing the very companies it relies on to provide the fuel heating its chalets and powering patio heaters in winter. This is a shortsighted approach and shows a lack of understanding of their dependence on oil and gas.

If the science tells us we need to stop using oil and gas, we can use that as a rational basis for change. The way to do that is through science and working together to solve the issue over years and decades, not legal action.

The latest spin West Coast Environmental Law is putting on its campaign after losing big at the UBCM conference is that the lawsuits will somehow open up dialogue with these big companies about how to work together on the issue. It is absurd to suggest that suing a company will get them to talk to you, that it somehow builds the goodwill required to work together, when in fact lawsuits destroy any remaining goodwill and actually prevent parties from sitting down and working together while court action is underway.

Canada’s resource companies are already some of the greenest and most innovative in the world, already taking steps to make their work ever more sustainable and already sitting down with interested municipalities, like mine, to find solutions together.

The bottom line is that the only way to take on the effects of our changing climate in our communities is through collaborative efforts and real work involving all levels of government, industry, and anyone else with a stake in the matter. Legal action will only divide, and only the lawyers will win.

Thank goodness most of B.C.’s municipal politicians understand that.

Walt Cobb is the Mayor of Williams Lake.


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