Q&A with MLA John Rustad: Why I can’t support B.C. Liberal climate policies

Governments should not be promoting Net Zero policies, such as curbs on nitrogen-based fertilizer and reduction of cattle herds, that will make life less affordable for British Columbians

In mid-August, the B.C. Liberal Party expelled 18-year-veteran MLA John Rustad from the caucus for republishing a Tweet by climate realist Patrick Moore that did not support the party’s alarmist policies.

Rustad, born and raised in Prince George, was first elected in 2005 in the riding of Nechako Lakes. He has served as a Liberal cabinet minister for Aboriginal Relations and for Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. He has also been Official Opposition critic for Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. Before his election he had worked in the forest industry for more than 20 years, including as a forestry consultant.

At the end of August, Rustad met with members of Climate Realists of Victoria to discuss his ouster from the party. Below is an edited version of this discussion.

Climate Realists: Why were you kicked out of the B.C. Liberal Party?

John Rustad: I was suddenly ousted from the B.C. Liberal Party, after being involved for 22 years, because I retweeted a Patrick Moore tweet (see image below) noting that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was not dying, as we are told, but actually growing; the Moore tweet was also critical of climate alarmism and the media’s failure to report this good news.

But party leader Kevin Falcon decided that nobody should be able to talk about climate-change issues; we should hold to the dogma of the day and try to prove ourselves as a party to be climate leaders.

But with policies coming down that are going to intentionally hurt my riding, I could not be quiet. So the leader phoned me and said, “Well, if you can’t toe the line then you can’t be part of caucus any more.” I said OK, hung up, and half an hour later was  kicked out the party.

Climate Realists: Did you know you were risking your political career when you made your retweet about climate-change policy?

Rustad: I knew from some previous posts years earlier that what I did would be a little edgy. I’d hoped to create some discussion and debate within our caucus, although I knew I wasn’t going to be successful in the end. Unfortunately, we just skipped the discussion and went straight to the end result.

Liberal policy would hurt people in Rustad’s riding

Climate Realists: So, knowing the risks, why did you speak up?

Rustad: On the climate issue, I look at my riding. It used to be about 40% forestry, about 20-25% mining and about 30% agriculture. Forestry has gone down and agriculture’s come up, mining is still in there, there’s a smattering of other activities: manufacturing and tourism and other things in the riding, but agriculture is a big piece.

The policy that tipped me over into taking a stand was the federal government’s proposed policy on reducing the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer and the reduction of cattle herds. When I looked at that policy and what it did to Sri Lanka, I went, wait a second—this is going to have a real negative impact.

Sri Lanka implemented this policy and it caused, within the first year, a 30% reduction in its rice yields and an 18% reduction in tea, the country’s primary export product. That caused hardship among the people and food prices went up dramatically. People couldn’t afford food, there was starvation, this policy caused civil unrest, 28 politicians’ homes were burned, the president had to flee the country.

So I thought, OK, that’s Sri Lanka: it’s off in a far corner of the world. But the Dutch government is also implementing this anti-agricultural policy in The Netherlands, which has sparked massive protests there and throughout Europe in support of the farmers. The government says this policy will reduce the number of farms by 20% because they just won’t be able to survive economically, and it will reduce Dutch cattle herds by 30%.

people are starving, yet we’re trying to reduce food production

The Netherlands is one of the larger exporters of food and so when we start looking at that, we should be thinking, wait a second here: we’ve got 345 million people in the world who are facing severe food insecurity, who have trouble getting enough calories per day, and we’re talking about policies that are going to reduce food production!

I thought, OK, that’s still Europe. And then last December—and I didn’t find out about this until just this spring—the federal government put out a paper proposing to do just that: reduce nitrogen-based fertilizers by 30% and reduce cattle herds, and it’s categorized under farm-emissions reduction or whatever they’re calling it now.

I realized this policy would have a devastating impact on my riding. The majority of the agriculture in my riding is cow/calf operations. People in my riding, the farmers, are already struggling just to get fertilizer because of availability problems. And if they can get fertilizer, the prices are so high that they sometimes don’t even know if the effort is worth it on top of fuel prices and everything else that’s going on. So I thought, I’ve got to stand up and talk about this. This is just not right. We should not be supporting policies as a government, whether in government or opposition, that are going to intentionally hurt people.

Policy is hurting people intentionally

And the key there is intentionally.  This harm isn’t an unintended consequence of the policy; this is a known consequence. There will be a reduction in food and it will cost more. Go to your grocery store and look at the cost of organic versus non-organic food: there’s about a 30% price difference. If we eliminate nitrogen-based fertilizer, we’re talking about making virtually all farm products organic, which is going to significantly increase food prices. Yet 50 per cent of the people in British Columbia are already struggling to put food on the table.

If we eliminate nitrogen-based fertilizer, we’re talking about making virtually all farm products organic, which is going to significantly increase food prices.

It makes no sense to be doing this, and then I started looking at the overall argument, at our war on fossil fuels and what that’s doing. I mean, 2.4 billion people in the world have been lifted out of abject poverty because of affordable energy. But we’re now trying to reverse that with a war on fossil fuels and by refusing to support fossil fuels going out to the developed world.

In Africa, 620 million-plus people don’t even have electricity. And we’re saying, well, they should use renewables. They can’t afford it! Their concern isn’t carbon emissions; their concern is being able to keep their people fed and to try to get them out of the dark ages and into a modern society.

Taking on the problems with climate science

I realized I was also going to have to take on the broader issue of the validity of climate science. If you talk about these anti-agriculture and anti-fossil-fuel policies in terms of the impact on people, you also have to take on the issue of CO2 emissions, which is of course the reason driving those policies. And, hence, I got myself into a little bit of hot water.

My background is in forestry and technology. I’ve done a lot of research on the climate issue, looking at a wide variety of perspectives. I started out in 2007-2008 when [former Liberal leader] Gordon Campbell became religious about climate change—global warming it was called back then. I did a bunch of reading and bought into it and supported the carbon tax then. I thought, well, I do support consumption taxes if it means reducing income taxes and I don’t have a problem with that, it makes sense to me.  

But when the carbon tax becomes just a revenue stream for the provincial government—it brings in $3-billion a year now—it’s pretty clear it’s not about the climate, but it is a very convenient way to persuade people to be happy about paying another tax. As I did more research, I realized that the climate policy itself doesn’t make sense, especially when the government moved away from the carbon tax actually being “revenue-neutral,” as promised.

Political Response must cross party lines

Here’s the real problem: in politics, people are tribal. They want to belong to something, they want to belong to various groupings, whether it’s NDP or Green or Conservative or Liberal or whatever. To counter something like climate alarmism, because the issue has become so emotionally based, we can’t fall back on traditional party lines. Our response needs to be much broader.

Climate alarmism, the fear of global warming, has become a strong belief for many people: people fear impending doom, the world is coming to an end, nuclear war, or whatever it may be. People are fearful! So a realistic counter-response needs to cross party lines, must become something emotional that people can attach themselves to in place of climate alarmism.

In the 1970s, when the concern was global cooling, the average person didn’t pay a lot of attention. In the ‘80s and even into the ‘90s, when the issue was global warming, people didn’t pay much attention to that, either. But what changed the game was Y2K, the coming of the Millennium, and everybody then was worried that something was going to happen and whether it was the computers all stopping or whatever, there was this fear. And of course along that line out came all these predictions about the end of the world, of doom, cities under water, floods, all these climate predictions.

Because of Y2K, people were naturally more susceptible to these predictions of doom and they latched on to global warming, to the point where you can’t counter this fear with fact. You bring out facts and people just glaze over: “Ah you know they’re just a denier: that scientist is lying, that report’s false, that’s fake news,” whatever it may be, it’s dismissed.

We must move beyond a belief system based on fear

You have to find a way to touch people on an emotional level so they can move beyond this belief system, this fear that they have today. I think it was Mark Twain who wrote that it is far easier to convince people of a lie than it is to convince people that they have been lied to. And so without giving the people something emotional to attach onto to ease them out of these climate-doomsday fears, the battle is not winnable.

That said, I believe the issue of food production and inflation and the destruction of our quality of life is and can be an emotional issue, could get people saying, “Well, you know, I’m really concerned about climate but we shouldn’t be causing starvation; I’m really concerned about climate but we really shouldn’t be causing hurt.” It gives people a new way to look at the issue and consider new approaches.

And then if you can get enough people thinking about climate policy from a new emotional perspective, you can support this new belief system with fact. But until then, people will ignore the facts, so that’s where I think ultimately climate realism needs to go, by presenting the harms of the current climate policies to the public.

Climate Realists: What would you recommend as government policy on climate change going forward?

Rustad: To be really simple: when you’re talking about climate change, the question is, can mitigate [stop] climate change? And the answer is, you can’t. You have to adapt to it, with policies that make sense, that aren’t designed to hurt people but are designed actually to support people.

I’ll give you an example. You want to get people out of vehicles and to stop driving? Why do we have all of our industrial centres and our commercial centres in little hubs? With technology today you could very easily distribute that work out to smaller communities and get people out of their cars, get people working close to home.

How do you work with the cities to actually develop and promote companies’ ability to make decisions to relocate and distribute? Zoning is a big part of it, taxation is a big part of it in terms of industrial/commercial businesses and how cities treat those types of industries. That’s just one example of a good climate policy that would help people get out of vehicles to minimize some of the impacts of using fossil fuels.

Another good climate policy is a focus on food security. We should be figuring out how we can enhance our agricultural sector, not damage it, so we can grow more food. B.C. is never going to grow bananas and oranges and things like that, but we should grow enough of our own food to support our people and export what we don’t need. That way, if we’re in a situation where society breaks down, which quite frankly I’m worried about in terms of what’s going on the world at the moment, we are more food independent. Even if the climate is changing we should be able to produce more agriculture products here in B.C. for our own use.

Climate Realists: Would you include energy security?

Rustad: That’s the third piece, after decentralization of cities and food security. We need to have energy security. B.C. imports somewhere between 40% to 60% of our fossil fuels—gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, and so on—from the United States, primarily, and some from Alberta. It’s absolutely crazy that we would be dependent upon other nations for this energy when we have so much of our own.

If what’s happening in Europe has shown anything, it’s that if there is a problem, guess what? Your neighbors aren’t going to say, we’ll share that problem. They’re going to say, yeah, maybe next year. And so we need to be energy independent in terms of meeting our own needs and this is also smart climate policy.

In addition, we should do everything we can to export our natural gas as a transition fuel for countries currently using coal; we can put enough extra gas into the market to help them move away from coal. Also, the revenue would be huge to help offset costs that we have in our society.

Climate is not voters’ number-One issue

Climate Realists: How do you believe the climate issue resonates with Liberal and NDP voters, especially with respect to issues like food security?

Rustad: I haven’t done any polling or any research on this, but I’m pretty sure climate is not the number-one issue people are thinking about. However, climate change still plays heavily on people’s minds in terms of where they think their vote should be at election time. And this comes down to kind of policies I support versus the carbon tax and reduction of fertilizer use and those kinds of things.

I support policies that make sense, that support people, versus policies that hurt people. But the next election isn’t going to fought on climate one way or the other. Climate is a divisive issue, but ultimately I think the biggest problem people are facing is affordability—whether they can afford the mortgage, whether they can afford the rent, whether they can afford to put food on the table. And so they will make a judgment call based on policies and approaches that actually speak to them and what they can relate to.

One thing I’ve heard more and more over the years, and it gets even louder, is that Liberals and NDP are all the same. There’s a growing lack of confidence in government and government institutions and a desire for something different. And I think a dose of honesty mixed with some good policy could change the mix.

Fighting Net Zero is a fight against policies that are going to drive up costs, make food more scarce, so it’s going to be harder for the average person just to carry on with daily life.

Climate Realists: How, practically, do we move people toward a more realistic position on climate?

Rustad: As I said, you’ve got to talk to people about things that impact them directly. Right now, because affordability is such a big problem, people are more open to messaging about the costs of climate-change policy. Are you, the citizen, aware that your life is going to be harder? This is what these anti-carbon policies mean. This policy is going to hurt you, make your life less affordable. Fighting Net Zero is a fight against policies that are going to drive up costs, make food more scarce, so it’s going to be harder for the average person just to carry on with daily life.

Electric vehicles are not practical or even possible for most people

For example, electric vehicles. I think electric vehicles are great and in the Lower Mainland for commuters, an electric vehicle with a range of about 100 or 150 kilometers, a nice cheap vehicle that you can plug in and use intermittently, makes a hell of a lot of sense. But for many people, particularly in the rural areas, electric vehicles are completely impractical.

Also, EVs actually produce more carbon in their lifespan than gas-driven cars, but nobody wants to hear that because they’re convinced that electric vehicles are saving the world. Another problem: we’ve got a lot of hydro power in British Columbia, but we shut down our hydro power and buy power from the United States at night, which is when you’ll be recharging your electric car.

The world produced just over four million electric vehicles last year, which sounds like a big number. But that’s just 4% of the total vehicles—100 million last year—that were manufactured, and there are 1½-billion vehicles in use. At four million vehicles a year it would take 400-plus years to replace all the existing gas-based vehicles.

The climate alarmists say, oh, we’ll just ramp up EV production. But 90 to 95% of the supply chain for EV batteries doesn’t exist today. You can’t do it; it’s not physically possible to do it, yet we have targets to have all electric vehicles by 2050.

The government is basically saying you’re not going to have a choice: you won’t be allowed to drive a gas-powered vehicle; you won’t be able to afford an electric vehicle if you can even get one; and you’re going also to have to pay the bill for expansion of the electrical grid needed for all these new electric vehicles.

If every passenger vehicle in B.C. were to be electric, you would need the power of two more Site-C dams. Plus, you’d have to enhance the grid, both transmission to the large communities as well as within communities and within the houses themselves. It’s a huge cost.

‘Clean’ energy is only 3% of global energy use

In the last decade, the world has spent $2.7-trillion on creating and promoting clean energy. That represents less than 3% of total energy use in the world. It’s nuts. And that’s the low-lying fruit—that’s the easy stuff. Germany has spent €600-billion on clean energy and clearly, as recent events there have shown, that policy has left them in the dark.

I like reading old stories and thinking about these clean-energy projects and how nobody ever looks at the unintended consequences. Here’s a story from 1306: the King of England was very concerned about air quality because at the time everybody was burning what was called sea coal, coal brought in by barge from across the sea. Everybody was heating their homes with sea coal and the air quality was just brutal in London. And so the king said, right, enough of that, we’re going to ban the use of sea coal. After a few years of massive deforestation, since everybody was cutting down all the trees for fuel, the king had to reverse the policy.

We need to focus on the unintended consequences because we’re seeing the same negative consequences now with these environment policies in Europe and in Canada as well. And those unintended consequences are getting people to open their eyes and start being little more vocal about, wait a second here, this isn’t working. So you’ve got to appeal to the emotional side, but you also have to present a rational argument as to why the emotional side is scientifically valid.

Tide of public opinion is turning

That said, I do believe the tide has turned. I believe there is a window. If I had stood up and said what I’m saying a decade ago, it would have gone nowhere. Even five years ago it would have gone nowhere. So what’s changed? People are facing hardship; now suddenly there’s interest and, wait a second, this is government policy! That’s a bigger government problem than climate and the public debt.

If you really think about it, it’s astonishing how quickly we have regressed to probably the 1600’s as a society, back to the period of putting Galileo in house arrest for the rest of his life because he dared to question church doctrine. And censorship—the current cancel culture—is part of the problem.

We’ve been the fatted cow and we’re worried about trivialities and are ignoring the important issues, like food and energy availability and affordability, because we just assume that we’re going to carry on as usual forever. If we don’t smarten up, I think the world is in for awful rude awakening over the next five to 10 years.

One thought on “Q&A with MLA John Rustad: Why I can’t support B.C. Liberal climate policies”

  1. Refreshing views expressed here. Leads one to support the idea of moving away from mainstream parties and again considering proportional representation.

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