B.C. Flooding: Scenes of Suffering and Solidarity, As Climate Experts Warn of Bigger Picture

The following text is excerpted from an article originally published in the Energy Mix by Gaye Taylor. Read the full article here.

Heartbreak and heroism are everywhere in the unfolding story of the British Columbia floods, while those watching from near and far warn any policy-makers and public still unconvinced of the need for rapid, concerted climate action to think again, and quickly.

Staggering forward after being pummeled by an “atmospheric river” last week, British Columbia has now imposed both travel and gas restrictions throughout its southwest and coastal regions, reports CBC News. The former will ensure ease of passage for repair crews and emergency personnel, while the latter aims to prevent panic buying as fuel supplies grow tighter, with both the Trans Mountain and Enbridge Westcoast pipelines still offline.

As for the state of the highways connecting the Lower Mainland to the rest of the province, CBC writes that Highway 3 has opened to alternating single-lane traffic. The other highways remain closed to non-essential travel, the Trans Canada and the Coquihalla likely for months to come. 

Even as the flood waters began to recede in southern B.C., residents of the province’s North Coast were being warned to prepare for another atmospheric river coming ashore. Prince Rupert could receive as much as 150 millimetres of rain by Monday morning, while Haida Gwaii could see up to 60 millimetres, CBC reported Saturday.

As for the role that the climate crisis played in last weekend’s tragedy, B.C. Premier John Horgan did not mince words when he announced the state of emergency on Wednesday, Grist writes. “For those who understand and recognize that these events are increasing in regularity because of the effects of human-caused climate change, there is hope,” he said.

Crystal clear on the connection between the climate crisis and B.C.’s devastating year of wildfire and now flood is John Pomeroy, director of the global water futures program and Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan. In an op-ed for the Globe and Mail, Pomeroy points to the “dire need of federal leadership on water, because water is the medium through which climate change affects our economy, communities, and ecosystems.”

Affirming the climate crisis as a water crisis, he calls for “a national freshwater action plan”—guided by the latest research and “fully co-developed with our Indigenous communities”—and for funding to handle everything from flood and drought recovery to wetland and peatland restoration.

Widening his lens, he adds, “we need to support calls for a UN Year of Glacier Preservation and work with countries around the world to better understand the impacts of deglaciation.”

“We need national leadership on water, now, so that we can protect our ecosystems, communities, infrastructure, farms, and industries in a drier, hotter, stormier and more catastrophic future that—far faster than we anticipated—is becoming the dystopian present,” Pomeroy concludes.

Likewise urging readers of the Globe and Mail to focus on the reality of the climate crisis is author Arno Kopecky. While acknowledging the “dread-tinged grief” he feels as he contemplates B.C.’s place in the crosshairs of the climate crisis, Kopecky urges immediate, significant actions like a cap on fossil fuel production and forestry reform. Citing a 2019 study from the University of British Columbia, Kopecky flags how destabilizing clearcuts can be to the surrounding land: “Removing just 11% of a watershed’s trees doubles the frequency of floods, and increases the magnitude of those floods by 9 to 14%,” he writes, and “the implications go far beyond Merritt, or even B.C.”

While forest reform will no doubt be difficult, Kopecky adds, “surely it’s better to confront what can we do now than to stare at the sky and meekly wonder, what will happen to us next?

Read the full article here.