As the saying goes “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” In 2017 over 1,300 fires smoked approximately 65,000 British Columbians out of their homes and burned more than 1.2 million hectares, costing the taxpayer $564 million in fire damage. The fires burned for 10 weeks, prompting the longest state of emergency in the province’s history. More than 4,700 fire fighters fought on the front lines, along with 1,200 fighters that had to be imported from across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the U.S. Afterwards professors from the University of British Columbia and Northern British Columbia, along with fire ecologists, published a letter warning that the 2017 fire season was the “new normal,” part and parcel of global warming.
Why such an increase in heat and drought on the west coast? A previous OpEd of mine in the Sun quoted global research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research clearly showing that the Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth, rapidly changing the course of the global jet stream. As far as B.C. is concerned, this creates a weak atmospheric circulation in the summer months all along the west coast, creating prolonged heat extremes. Four western states in the U.S. last summer also issued prolonged states of emergency due to drought. The belief in scientific circles now is that summer heat waves and drought on the Pacific Coast will show up on a consistent basis, as has happened in two of the past three years.
Circumstances are no different in Alberta. The final cost of the Ft. McMurray fire in Alberta has been tallied at $9.9-billion with 1,600 buildings destroyed. The June 2013 massive High River flooding in Alberta, caused by higher than normal temperatures leading to rapid snow melt, incurred more than $5 billion in economic losses. Similar severe flood events in Canada could lead to more than $13 billion in losses, with less than half of that amount covered by insurance, according to a report authored by reinsurance company Swiss Re.
Whether the heat wave in Europe of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010, the killer heat waves in the USA in 2011 and 2012, the 2017 heat and drought along the Pacific Coast, or the fire and flood damage in Alberta, such catastrophic events have huge economic consequences. Somehow these costs have been left out of the current argument about the economic benefits of the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline. Whether diluted bitumen is burned in Canada, Asia or elsewhere, it goes into the atmosphere and adds to the global total of carbon emissions. Unlike Las Vegas, “what happens in Asia doesn’t stay in Asia.” Everyone in the world shares a common atmosphere.
Let’s not forget the mountain pine beetle epidemic. By 2012, 53 percent of the merchantable pine forests in B.C. had been attacked. That epidemic killed a total of 723 million cubic metres or 18.3 million hectares, nearly 20 per cent of B.C.’s total land area. Current B.C. government projections are that by 2021 up to 57 per cent of merchantable timber from B.C. forests will have been infested.
The B.C. Ministry of Agriculture is trying to stop the spread of brown marmorated stink bugs to commercial crops after a number of those insects were recently found in the Okanagan Valley. The bug is an invasive pest that feasts on tree fruits, berries, grapes, vegetables, corn and ornamental plants. A native pest of Asia, thanks to increase of temperatures this species has spread through 30 eastern U.S. states and has recently moved west to California, Oregon and Washington, causing enormous economic damage to crops.
Thanks to rising temperatures, other voracious invasive insects like the Douglas-fir beetle and the western spruce budworm are causing defoliation, growth loss and mortality in Douglas-fir trees across the southern half of B.C. The spruce beetle is coming down from the Yukon and Alaska where it’s already caused mass tree deaths and is attacking British Columbian spruce.
Floods, droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, insect invasions and other weather disasters are happening all around the world on a daily basis, yet those numbers are not being factored into the so-called “bottom line.” Future income from fossil fuels in B.C. is being fantasized with no respect going towards adjoining expenses that may surpass any profits. There are huge costs associated with global warming that need to be included in the accounting process. Given that summer is right around the corner, and ongoing confrontations on Burnaby Mountain could get very hot indeed, perhaps the costs of the police, army, jailings, hospitals, courts and related issues should be factored into the equation as well.
The sustainable way forward for our energy sector