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Cutting emissions or hot air?

Posted in BC Votes 2009 Reality Check Posted by CBC News on April 23, 2009 02:55 PM |

It’s no surprise politicians on the campaign trail in B.C. are trying to be green this Earth Day. While the economy may have taken a front seat this election, the environment is an issue that has a lasting resonance with voters.

When Liberal leader Gordon Campbell announced, in honour of Earth Day, his team wouldn’t be flying anywhere for the day, it seemed like a green idea. But it was a political one too, as it was in contrast to NDP leader Carole James itinerary for Earth Day where she would be in the air over some of the controversial, “run of the river,” power projects.

Both leaders have been rattling off ways they are making their campaigns greener: the NDP has banned bottled water and provided refillable containers on their bus and say they are running a campaign which is as “paperless” as possible. The Liberals say their lawn signs are biodegradable and their planes are more fuel efficient than the last election.

That got our Reality Check team wondering how green the campaigns really are. We decided to focus on the leader’s travel, so that’s the plane and bus emissions so far, and see if their green promise is the reality.

Of course the greenest of all is the Green Party. Leader Jane Sterk has taken two float plane trips, and an Air Canada flight up North. She doesn't use a campaign bus, drives a hybrid while in her riding, and often rides her bike, or takes public transit, to her campaign events.

So who’s better between the NDP and the Liberals? We took a look at each itinerary to calculate the number of kilometers each campaign has traveled so far.

We took that information and gave it to Donovan Woollard, who is the Chief Operating Officer of Offsetters. Offsetters consults with companies to track carbon footprints, and develops projects to offset carbon emissions by investing in energy projects which prevent greenhouse gasses from being emitted. In other words, they are pros at crunching kilometers into CO2 emissions.

We didn’t tell Donovan which numbers belonged to which party, calling them just “A” and “B,” and keep in mind this is just so far, and the numbers will change as the campaign continues.

Both campaigns have pledged to buy carbon offsets at the end of the campaign, and while that’s a good step, Ian Bruce from the David Suzuki Foundation told us, it’s reducing your footprint in the first place that is best for the environment.

Up to the morning of Earth Day, the Liberal party, has traveled 3272.8 km by air, 5524.88 km by bus, for a total of 8798.68 km. The NDP has traveled 1675 km by air and 579.5 km by bus, for a total of 2254.5.

So as far as CO2 emissions go, the Liberal tour has produced the most - more than 19.2 tonnes of it. The NDP tour has produced 9 tonnes. The average North American car produces 5 tonnes a year.

That’s a pretty big difference, and partly that’s because the Liberals have campaigned in Northern and Interior ridings more in the start of the campaign, but it’s also because they are keeping the same bus for the whole election. It works like this: while the media fly up to Prince George, the bus driver is driving the empty bus up there to meet them, and then he drives it back. “Deadheading,” as it’s called, adds to the total kilometers in the Liberal bus calculation. The NDP has been staying closer to the Lower Mainland, and they hire a bus locally instead of “deadheading.”

The green is in the details: through all the photo ops and pledging that their party is the greenest, according to Ian Bruce, it’s not necessarily how the parties act on the campaign trail, but what they are going to do if they are elected.

“Ultimately the true test of environmental leadership is seeing strong laws and regulations being put forward by the political parties.”