As B.C. burns, realities of climate change hit home

Forests, water, salmon all are in crisis due to the negative effects of climate change

VICTORIA—As apocalyptic images of fires across the province and an ash haze over the lower mainland dominate the news, climate change is the common denominator of a number of growing crises in British Columbia, says Sierra Club BC.

“We can’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer—climate change is the driving force behind a number of extremely disturbing trends that threaten our homes, our health, our water, our food and our jobs,” says Sierra Club BC campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon. “Despite the emergency facing many B.C. communities today, our provincial government acts as if it’s business as usual, with exporting LNG top of the agenda.”

In the past five years, B.C. has had an average of 320 wildfires per year burning 12,744 hectares. With most of the summer still to come and no rain in sight, there have already been 843 fires, and 129,028 hectares burned. Climate and conservation scientists are predicting hotter, dryer conditions for British Columbia over the coming decades, with massive consequences for our forests.

“Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of B.C.’s workers, environment and economy requires real climate leadership, which is simply not compatible with any push to export LNG,” says Vernon. “Rather than reconvening the legislature to pass new laws promoting LNG, what if Premier Clark instead announced new climate legislation in light of the emergency facing B.C. communities?”

Virtually non-existent snowpack and record setting temperatures have driven the waters of  the Fraser River to temperatures that cause physiological stress to salmon returning to spawn. Water flows are low and temperatures higher than ever seen at this time of year. Even a slight increase from current temperature levels will cause disease outbreaks and salmon to die on their journey, threatening entire runs.

Studies have also shown that higher levels of CO2 in water, projected to occur as  more atmospheric CO2 gets absorbed into oceans, have profound effects on salmon, depriving them of their flight instinct and their sense of smell. Salmon use smell both to detect predators and to find their way to their spawning grounds.

Last year, a massive die-off of ten million scallops on Vancouver Island demonstrated the vulnerability of our shellfish aquaculture industry to ocean acidification. As CO2 is absorbed into ocean water, it becomes more acidic, making it harder for shellfish to form carbonate, the building block of their shells.

“The negative effects of climate change—increased drought and forest fires, and threats to salmon and shellfish—will only increase as our planet warms,” says Vernon. “The very basics of life, such as clean water and food, will be increasingly imperiled, while major sectors of our economy and the jobs that go with them will be hurt.

“In this context, it is completely irresponsible that our provincial government forges ahead with its plans to export fracked gas. Three LNG terminals would cause the release of 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, more than 50 per cent of B.C.’s entire official annual emissions.”

An unprecedented dry year also has Metro Vancouver reservoir levels at their lowest since 1987. The lower mainland has experienced the driest May and June period since records began in 1937, with precipitation at Vancouver Airport about 13 per cent of  average.  June was the driest month on record in most parts of the province. The Province has announced a level 4 drought rating for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, while angling has been suspended in streams and rivers throughout southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands due to ongoing low stream flows and warming water temperatures.

Climate solutions are known and achievable, but the Province needs to be bold in responding to the challenge. Sierra Club BC advocates a Climate Action Plan that:

·         Legislates a coherent 2030 B.C. emissions reduction target

·         Increases and expands B.C.’s carbon tax

·         Subjects fossil fuel exports to the carbon tax or an equivalent levy

·         Redirects fossil fuel subsidies to transition to the low carbon economy, including investments in renewable energy and forest management

·         Establishes a ‘climate test,’ a mandatory assessment of total greenhouse gas emissions, for energy infrastructure proposals including Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline

·         Designates permanent carbon sink reserves for ‘unburnable carbon.’

Submitted by Sierra Club BC