British Columbia

Nechako Lakes MLA stands by his defence of atmospheric CO2 after legislative debate

John Rustad, B.C. Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes, is standing by his defence of carbon dioxide after Minister for Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman denounced the comments and questioned whether Rustad believes climate change is real.

John Rustad told his fellow legislators carbon dioxide shouldn't be called pollution

John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, is seen in a file photo from 2013. Rustad's comments in defence of carbon dioxide have been attacked by B.C.'s environment minister, who questioned whether Rustad believes climate change is real and caused by humans. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

John Rustad, B.C. Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes, is standing by his defence of carbon dioxide after Minister for Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman denounced the comments and questioned whether Rustad believes climate change is real.

Rustad's statement came during the throne speech debate in the legislature on Thursday. He took the opportunity to quibble with the use of the word "pollution" to describe CO2.

"Carbon dioxide is an essential component of life on this planet. It is not a pollution and that sort of misinformation out there is just ridiculous. It's ridiculous to do that, it doesn't serve anybody well," said Rustad.

"It doesn't serve the environmental movement well, it doesn't serve us as a province well, so poor choice of words and that's the raspberry," he continued.

Heyman posted the excerpt from the debate on social media, asking for the statement to be retracted.

"Deeply concerned to hear B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad say carbon dioxide isn't a pollutant. Increased levels of #CO2 are causing floods, fires and droughts right here in B.C.," said Heyman on Twitter.

"Rustad's denial raises real questions about his beliefs on climate change," he said. "This is the time to recognize our growing climate emergency."

Asked about his comments by CBC News, Rustad repeated the view that CO2 is essential for life.

"Virtually any scientist will tell you that carbon dioxide is an essential component to life, that you need to have about 130-150 parts per million [ppm] in the atmosphere for plant life to even survive," he said.

"If something is labelled as pollution, our goal should be to get rid of it, and if we get rid of it, we essentially kill life on this planet," said Rustad.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently about 412 ppm — much more than scientists consider a safe level for the planet. It hasn't been below 280 ppm since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Even reducing the amount of additional greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere by humans has been an enormous struggle for humankind.

"I'm not suggesting current levels are healthy. I don't know what's healthy — I'm not a scientist," said Rustad.

Asked directly if he believes climate change is real and caused by humans, the MLA declined to answer.

"I know you asked a very specific question, but at this point I'm not prepared to answer that question," he said, adding that that wasn't the issue he was addressing in his speech to the legislature.

"I'm talking about the language that was used in the throne speech, which I believe was erroneous," said Rustad.

The B.C. Liberals sent CBC News a statement from interim leader Shirley Bond, which didn't address Rustad's statement in the legislature, but acknowledged the threat posed by climate change:

"Our party has been recognized as a leader in global climate policy and we remain fully committed to actions that are necessary to battle climate change here in British Columbia and around the world."


Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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