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Climate Crossroads: Who will pay?

We have choices. Deteriorating infrastructure. Steep tax increases. Or Big Oil paying its fair share. ~ Robert Hackett

Consider these statements from City of Powell River in 2018:

“Like other communities…, we are increasingly concerned about the harmful effects that climate change will have ...” These include “increased fire risks, extended summer droughts and extreme winter rain events” impacting “our roads and stormwater management and increasing our costs as a local government.” Not to mention “rising sea-levels and coastal erosion.”

Those excerpts are from a letter to several major oil companies dated April 9 of that year.

Since then, we’ve experienced a storm devastating the sea walk in Westview in January 2022, atmospheric rivers flooding the Fraser Valley, smoke-filled, indoor-only days, and a deadly heat dome.

The cost to local taxpayers? Precise numbers are scarce, but here are some:

$5.3 billion – average annual investment Canada needs for municipal infrastructure and climate adaptation.

$2.98 million – qathet’s share of the above, if we paid Canada’s per person average.

$800,000 – Powell River’s 2023 budget for sea walk upgrading, including $400,000 from the Canada Community-Building Fund (gas tax) and $400,000 from the Powell River Community Forest Reserve, according to city documents.

60 per cent – municipal governments’ share of Canada’s public infrastructure (roads, police and fire services, parks, recreation centres, water supplies and management, et cetera). Most people value such community foundations, but understandably, we also dislike steep property tax increases.

So who’ll pay the bills for climate destruction?

Fossil fuels contribute over 75 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause climate disruption. The three largest oil corporations alone produce about 10 per cent of global GHG pollution. Oil companies make enormous profits (a record $219 billion in 2022, according to Reuters) partly because they offload the damage from producing, transporting and consuming their product – by treating our atmosphere as a private sewer.

Recently disclosed internal documents prove that the major oil companies knew, from their own scientific research, of their contributions to potential climate catastrophe, as early as the 1970s. But rather than lead a transition to a safer energy system, Big Oil covered up and deceived the public about what they knew, and undermined potential alternatives that could have avoided today's climate crisis. This is superbly documented by Geoff Dembicki in The Petroleum Papers (available through Powell River Public Library or Pocketbooks).

For such reasons, Powell River and other cities wrote in 2018 to some major oil companies asking them to pay their “fair share.”  The result? Zilch.

So in 2022, West Coast Environmental Law, a nonprofit society, suggested stronger legal muscle: get enough BC municipalities to set aside $1 per resident to file a class-action lawsuit. Following Vancouver’s in-then-out wavering, Gibsons’ council voted unanimously to join, in March, and the campaign continues.  

Meanwhile, legal action against Big Oil is ramping up in the United States (40 states and cities so far) and elsewhere.

American tobacco companies used similar deny-and-delay tactics to defend their own lethal products. But after legal battles, they agreed in 1998 to pay $206 billion to 46 states for public health costs. 

Powell River’s 2018 letter acknowledges that consumers and communities share responsibility. We could do more to halve GHG emissions by 2030 to avoid the worst climate scenarios. But greener alternatives are often unavailable or unaffordable to individuals.

We have choices. Deteriorating infrastructure. Steep tax increases. Or Big Oil paying its fair share. Let’s encourage our local governments to join the suit.

See the petition at

Robert Hackett is a board member of qathet Climate Alliance.