Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people took part in climate marches around the world, demanding action at the U.N. climate change summit in Paris. World leaders are being told, “there is no Planet B.” At last the obfuscation of denial seems to be fading, as the world wakes up to the reality that the climate is actually changing and that we have wasted decades because of the influence of powerful lobbyists in the energy industries.
Canada is returning to a more legitimate position at the table after years of anti-scientific denial. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada is ready to do more to tackle climate change, including supporting innovative technology on carbon capture and sequestration and banning coal-fired electricity generation. We are at a key point in time where there is a real prospect of meaningful solutions. Science must underscore decision making and rich countries must support the poorer nations of the world. Public support means increased opportunity for new economies to replace the outmoded dig and burn approach of the past.
Canada has the national wealth, education, and level of development to adapt. We just need everyone on board.
B.C. has traditionally had a natural resource economy and change is difficult for smaller communities dependent on industries such as mining, forestry and agriculture (the biggest sources of greenhouse gases). Yet many young people are well-educated, environmentally aware, and quick to adapt to new technologies.
With government incentives and opportunities, there are tremendous opportunities for B.C. to create wealth through employment in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and in strategies which lessen carbon dioxide emissions at source. B.C.’s provincial carbon tax is receiving commendations at Paris as it is one of the most efficient ways of changing behaviour, with everyone sharing the burden.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is considering raising the tax but is reported as waiting until “she has received input from residents”. While this sounds democratic, it may simply lead to lack of action, as not too many people vote to increase taxes. It is up to elected leaders to show leadership and choose the best course possible for the common good. Furthermore, Clark is strongly focusing on developing liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export, emphasizing how it could be used to replace coal for China’s electricity generation.
However, according to the Pembina Institute, “the potential carbon pollution from LNG facilities and associated shale gas extraction and processing would make the province’s climate targets unachievable.” Clark’s government should develop well thought out, long term strategies, not rush forward, like a bull in a china shop, on another polluting industry and a new set of problems.
Mitigation and prevention are two separate approaches to climate change threats and both are needed. There are key areas where action can immediately begin. Non-negotiable life necessities include fresh drinking water and the ability to grow our own food. Native fish and wildlife cannot exist without rivers and streams for habitat. Shrinking glaciers and hot summers are putting water resources at risk and their protection must be a provincial priority. Many streams and rivers are over-allocated for water-extraction so license systems need to be reviewed and amended. Groundwater aquifers must be more strongly protected. Efficiencies of water use and greater public awareness could go a long way towards preventing wasteful losses and pollution. Irrigation use for agriculture may need to be adapted by modifications of planting methods and crop mix.
Changes to home and industrial plumbing mechanisms and addition of water metres could improve conservation and allow for fairer allocation of water. Domestic water conservation technologies, such as dual flush toilets, low flow showerheads, and intelligent irrigation sprinkler systems, are readily available, and it only requires some education and encouragement, with a few regulatory incentives, to see them adopted.
During the drought this past summer, suburban lawn watering was rigorously restricted and people adapted their expectations of how a garden should look; sure enough, the lawns all greened up nicely once the fall rains came. People understand the value of water, which is why many are irate at the bottled water companies getting cheap access.
Less than five percent of B.C.’s land is suitable for growing arable crops, and much of that land is in the crowded southwest of the province. The provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was put in place in 1973 to preserve agricultural lands as a response to losses of thousands of hectares a year to non-farming uses. The ALR is well-supported by the public yet there are continual attempts to whittle away land from the reserve.
The Lower Mainland has rich delta soils and the best growing climate in Canada but short-sighted political decisions under remorseless pressure from land developers continue to see the loss of important farming areas to housing, shopping malls, and industrial developments. Even where agricultural fields remain, they are increasingly carved up by highways and powerlines, “in the provincial interest”. Utility and pipeline companies can insist on easements through a farmer’s field with little or no recourse by the landowner.
It is essential that we keep our remaining agricultural land for growing food. Central Valley, California, where a lot of our food comes from, is suffering from multi-year droughts, land erosion, and severely drawn-down aquifers. It is time for B.C. to think and act a lot more intelligently about the future of our food supply. Personal choices are also important; by switching to more vegetables and less meat in our diet and by avoiding food waste, we can help decrease our personal carbon footprint.
Transportation options is an area where B.C. has shown some leadership, particularly with the carbon tax, but there is always more that can be done. Electric cars are a green choice using B.C.’s hydroelectricity but are still in limited supply and somewhat expensive for the general consumer. Industry and politicians need to move the metaphorical roadblocks that are preventing this technology from being widely adopted. Meanwhile, car-pooling lanes could be made more abundant and efficient.
The City of Vancouver has been very pro-active in building cycling trails and good public transportation, but the networks need to be extended much more widely through suburban regions and smaller towns. Passengers avoid using public transport if they have to stand and wait more than 10 or 15 minutes for service. More foot passengers could ride B.C. ferries rather than taking their cars, for example, if better public transportation links were conveniently available at all docks. There are many examples of good public transportation models in other parts of the world that we can adapt for B.C. use.
The effects of climate change are becoming visible. Mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets are melting away. Sea levels are slowly rising. Ecosystems are showing signs of increased stress, with often unpredictable patterns. Millions of B.C. salmon somehow “disappeared” this fall: sockeye and pink salmon spawning runs up the Fraser were much lower than anticipated. Although the reason for the huge discrepancy between forecasts and actual run size is still unclear, it could be connected with high water temperatures experienced in the North Pacific. Crashing populations of starfish throughout Pacific Coast waters from California to Alaska, caused by a quickly spreading virus, and starving Cassin’s auklets washed ashore in huge numbers on the west coast, are other examples of ecosystems in crisis.
We share the planet with these wildlife and many more that are in deep trouble. What affects them will ultimately affect humans. We have to take action, and strong leaders are needed.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, transnational cooperation helped beat acid rain that was killing aquatic life and trees in northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. Cooperation also reversed the effects of the “ozone hole”—the depletion of the stratospheric layer of ozone that prevents harmful ultraviolet radiation reaching earth.
It is possible to protect our planet from our wanton self-destructiveness, but only if we work together and everyone does what they can. There are many examples of simple changes that can be made to reduce our personal and collective carbon footprint. One of the most important is to support politicians and leaders who drive the collective change that is needed around the world.