Connect the dots

Making the connection between forest fires and climate change

Well, round one is over. Are you ready for round two?

There was a fair amount of euphoria around this community on Monday when first the evacuation alerts were lifted for Clearwater, Blackpool and Upper Clearwater, and then BC Parks announced that it was re-opening Wells Gray Park.

Yes, it is time to celebrate, but we also need to remember that autumn is still a long ways away.

A week or two of hot, sunny weather will put the forest fire danger ranking back up into extreme and we could be right back on alert and the park closed – or worse.

This respite is a good chance to take stock of how things have gone so far and to try to make plans moving forward.

Yes, there is a connection

Inaccurate and inadequate.

Those are two of the more polite words your editor uses to describe recent comments attempting to deny a connection between climate change and the wildfire situation the southern Interior has been going through these past few weeks.

As of Monday there were 152 wildfires burning across the province, including 15 threatening communities. There were 44,000 people registered as evacuees.

If you are one of those who denies human-caused climate change, then the fire season of 2017 is just a minor aberration – the sort of extreme you can expect every few years, based on probability.

If you accept the science of climate change, then you believe that this fire season is just one of a series of years that will get progressively worse as times goes on.

Which will it be?

It’s kind of important to get the answer to that question right.

The lives and livelihoods of just about everyone living B.C.’s Interior depend on it.

The evidence that climate change is happening is pretty overwhelming.

According the report “Climate Change Indicators for British Columbia, 2016 Update” by the BC Ministry of Environment, average annual temperature across the province has warmed by 1.4ºC during the past century. It’s predicted to increase by another 1.7ºC to 4.5ºC by the end of this century.

As former premier Christy Clark said during the fire season of 2015, “Climate change has altered the terrain and it’s made us much more vulnerable to fire. The earth is very dry and I think that we have to be planning with the knowledge that this isn’t going to be an unusual year … these things are going to happen more often … we have to be more ready for that.”

Fixing the problem is not so simple. The longterm solution is going to have to include carbon fee-and-dividend – putting a price or fee on fossil fuels, then making that fee palatable by distributing the money collected as dividends to everyone.

Learning to adapt

In the meantime, how do we cope if every year we are faced with more and more severe wildfires, floods, windstorms and other natural disasters?

The first principle has got to be keep it local. The provncial government delegates responsibiltiy for disaster response to local governments, and that’s a good thing.

District of Clearwater and Thompson-Nicola Regional District have been doing an excellent job in responding to the wildfire crisis.

Some kind of civil defense organization seems to be needed to give the intial response to events such as forest fires, floods, windstorms and the other calamities that climate change is producing. I also believe we need to re-think this readiness to evacuate whole communities.

The people in the receiving communities have been wonderful but history has shown in other disasters that the welcome soon wears off.

If this is going to go on year after year – and get worse each year – then we are going to have to figure out how people can shelter near where they live.

To me, this would mean hardening buildings such as a the high school and the Sportsplex – providing them with things such as air filters so people could take shelter there for however long is needed.

And we need to do something about Wells Gray Park. Personally I would like to see restaurants that could double as shelters at Helmcken Falls and Clearwater Lake, but no doubt there are other ideas.