By Sage Birchwater –
Climate change touches all of us in different ways.
When I came to the Cariboo-Chilcotin in 1973, we had “real” winters. Temperatures would drop to forty or fifty below for days or weeks at a time, and this was considered normal.
Two decades later these extended periods of extreme cold happened less and less frequently. Today if the mercury drops to minus 25 degrees Celsius for a day or two, we call that a cold snap.
I’m not complaining, mind you, just observing how things have changed. Milder winters mean lower heating costs and less burning of carbon-dioxide-emitting fossil fuels to stay warm, but we must remember how everything is connected.
The mountain pine beetle epidemic that devastated millions of hectares of forest in British Columbia and Alberta is linked to these milder winters. So is the northward march of the spruce budworm that has impacted thousands of hectares of interior Douglas fir forests.
You don’t have to be an environmental scientist to realize we have to start taking better care of our planet. It’s only common sense.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Sir Isaac Newton said that a century before Alexander Mackenzie made his historic crossing of Canada. We have to treat our ecosystems as if they matter.
One of the fundamental problems in Canada is the illusion that our broad and expansive landscape is limitless and indestructible. Somehow, in the myopia of small thinking, we can trick ourselves into believing we are separate from the rest of the world and can do damn well as we please in our own backyard.
Climate change and melting arctic ice is a reminder that we have to look at the bigger picture.
Global warming is playing a hand in social upheavals around the world. Syria is a good example, where higher temperatures have led to drought, which is tied directly to the political turmoil. Droughts have displaced 1.5 million agricultural workers in Syria, and conditions there will continue to worsen as temperatures rise.
It’s a big slice for countries like Canada to make room for displaced people around the world. It is a challenge to protect what we value in our society and at the same time remain fluid enough to act responsibly to the needs of others.
We have our own domestic poverty and hardship, but making room for $25,000 Syrian refugees is just a drop in the bucket compared to what may lie ahead.
Despite its political and economic boundaries, the Earth is still a single living organism. We mustn’t lose sight of that.
So what tools do we have to act locally and think globally?
We need political policy that will enhance the intelligence of our citizens, not efforts to dumb down the public with secrecy and misinformation.
Locally the Cariboo has its own environmental frontlines. Over-harvesting forests without proper oversight by government is resulting in such things as trashed out ecosystems, deteriorating domestic water quality, and diminished forest diversity and sustainability. The province’s results-based forest policy places the public at arm’s length when it comes to meaningful input into managing forests and protecting public interests.
Lack of government oversight played a hand in the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster, too. While the breach of the mine’s tailings storage facility was a big embarrassment to the company and the mining industry as a whole, it was a questionable lack of government foresight that allowed the mine to go into production without an end-plan about where it would discharge mine-contaminated water into the receiving environment. The build-up of water led to the breach.
As citizens not versed in the intricacies of environmental science, we need openness and transparency from government to keep us informed so we can be confident the environment is being properly managed.
With the City of Williams Lake entertaining an application by Atlantic Power Corporation to burn creosote-laden railway ties in its bio-fuel electrical generation facility, the environmental impact cards need to be laid out on the table before the project is given the green light.
The public interest is paramount and the citizens need to be informed.
The company says contaminants in the smoke created by burning the ties will be within provincial government guidelines.
Questions remain: what are these guidelines; and what toxic accumulations will occur over time in an airshed frequently subject to temperature inversions?
Transparency is required if we are to have confidence in the trustworthiness of regulators.
These are exciting times.
We have to foster the qualities that make us uniquely Canadian: generosity, inclusiveness, fairness, and openness, to move forward in a responsible manner to deal with the challenges of a changing world.
What we do locally impacts everyone else globally.
We owe it to ourselves and future generations on our shrinking planet to do it right.
Sage Birchwater moved to the Cariboo-Chilcotin in 1973. He spends his time freelancing, authoring books, and with Caterina, hanging out with their dog and cat, gardening, and being part of the rich cultural life that is the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast.