Drought, climate change and fire refugees

To the editor;

Who’s ready to become a forest-fire refugee? I’m not ready, are you?

A lot of opinion attributes the increased frequency and severity of B.C.’s forest fires to “climate change.” Although climate change can be linked to these fires, it’s more in a role as a catch-all explanation. However, global warming and drought are different. Drought is due to lack of water vapour in the atmosphere, whereas the cause of global warming is excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The B.C. government and its pet, the forest industry, have been doing everything possible to cause the present drought. More than 100 years of rapacious, clear cut logging is what’s done the job. Each tree normally emits into the atmosphere many hundreds of litres of water vapour per day. When the trees are cut, this no longer happens and the atmospheric water deficit begins.

Each block that’s clear cut now exposes its soil directly to sunlight. This soil warms up more than the surrounding forest and convection currents form in the lower atmosphere. Over the denuded landscape, the air rises and these currents now draw moist air from the surrounding forest, drying it out.

In the past, we may have retrieved some of this water vapour as rain, but today things are different. So much land has been logged and so much burned that the air aloft is dry. It’s so dry that the water vapour brought upward by these convection currents doesn’t come back as rain. So, the forest dries out, reducing the fitness of the remaining trees.

This is what’s happening to the red cedar on the coast.

With each massive forest fire, new areas of bare soil are exposed. These will further dry out the environment with the convection currents that arise.

The situation is dreadful, but isn’t hopeless. This drought hasn’t been made in China, made in the US or anywhere else. It’s been made in BC and with a huge effort, it can be corrected.

Clear cut logging needs to be stopped immediately. Then, armies of tree planters need to get to work replanting both the logged and burned areas. This could be a boost for forestry workers. For every job lost cutting trees, there should be 100 more jobs replanting them. For every trucking job lost, many more would be created growing and distributing seedlings.

The trees to be planted should follow nature’s preference for succession; broadleaf aspens, alders and birch. These trees grow quickly, emit more water vapour than conifers and would shade the forest floor, keeping it cool and reducing harmful convection currents.

In B.C., drought shouldn’t be explained solely by climate change. Drought is due to a lack of water vapour and our disappearing forests are the cause.

The Bank of Canada recently said that climate change, into which drought is now lumped, represents a severe financial risk. B.C.’s fire refugees know this too well. How long will it be before the politicians quit practising their silly walks and assume the action required?

Dave Simms,

Clearwater, B.C.

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