This summer, B.C.’s forest fire season arrived a month early—and with a ferocity not witnessed in our lifetime. While struggling to breathe the smoke-filled air in Metro Vancouver this week, I’ve been reminded of the predictions made by experts who say that climate change will make this “freak” situation the new normal.
We are disrupting weather systems, creating bone-dry conditions for months on end, by burning ever increasing amounts of coal, gas, and oil. To save ourselves from the worst impacts of climate disruption, it is critical that we quickly learn to adopt renewable energies like wind, geothermal, and solar. In the face of such urgency, it can be hard to remain optimistic.
But what if I told you there was a nation that is almost completely powered by solar energy? Would you think I was speaking of some imaginary society or a futuristic, more advanced version of our own?
The truth is, such a nation already exists, and it just happens to be located on Vancouver Island.
The T’Sou-ke First Nation has realized its vision of becoming Canada’s first aboriginal solar community. Sitting on the shores of the Salish Sea, which stretches from Puget Sound in Washington state to the north end of the Georgia Strait, the nation has demonstrated what the climate leadership of a relatively small group of people can create.
The T’Sou-ke Nation is one of a number of Salish Sea communities showing an inspiring willingness to embrace climate solutions. For instance, on Salt Spring Island, there are now four times as many electric car owners as there were a year ago. On Gabriola Island, a community-run energy initiative is showing how local power generation can be cooperatively owned, and how the entire island could be powered up on alternative energy.
Ironically, the Salish Sea could also become synonymous with some much dirtier forms of energy. There are 13 separate fossil fuel export projects currently under consideration along the shores of this beautiful waterway. Should all these projects proceed, their combined output of climate-changing greenhouse gases would be an astounding five times greater than the total output of the province of B.C. It is important to remember that carbon pollution created in Asia from the burning of our exported coal, gas, and oil still destabilizes our climate in British Columbia.
Kinder Morgan’s proposed tar sands pipeline is one of those 13 projects, and the company hopes to send more than six times as many oil tankers through the Salish Sea than it currently does. Combined with coal-carrying ships and LNG tankers, Kinder Morgan’s oil tankers would essentially create a fossil fuel armada along B.C.’s coastline.
That is, as long as Salish Sea communities don’t get in their way.
If the wall of opposition created by the region’s mayors is anything to go by, Kinder Morgan won’t have an easy time forcing its dirty tar sands project on our communities. The mayors of Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby, Victoria, North Vancouver, Squamish, and Bowen Island have together declared their opposition to the pipeline plan that threatens our way of life.
Elected representatives don’t come out publicly in opposition to a mega-project unless they know where their citizens stand on an issue. People living here have clearly stated their unwillingness to accept Kinder Morgan’s dangerous plan, and their municipal leaders have listened.
This summer I will be travelling the Kinder Morgan tanker route. Joining me will be Ben West, executive director of Tanker Free B.C., and local folk singer Luke Wallace. Our able captain, Simon Fawkes, will transport us along the Salish Sea on a solar-powered catamaran. We will be stopping in six different communities to talk about climate solutions and oil spills with those who stand tall in the face of an onslaught of fossil fuel shipments.
Together, we will celebrate the Salish Sea through discussion, music, and storytelling. We will showcase some of the alternative energy initiatives currently underway in the region, and discuss ways we can ensure that the interests of oil, gas, and coal companies do not slow the shift to a healthier world.
Globally, the tide is shifting against fossil fuels. Despite today’s low cost of oil, renewable energy is quickly becoming more competitive—and that’s without factoring in the enormous social and environmental costs that comes with the continued use of dirtier sources of energy.
Expanding the fossil fuel industry in B.C. holds back the innovation happening in our communities, and strips our children of the right to a stable climate. Joining us at one of the stops on the Salish Sea Tour is a declaration that you want to be part of the solution.