“We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. In the late 80s when I began to take climate change seriously, we referred to global warming as a ‘slow motion catastrophe’ one we expected to kick in perhaps generations later. Instead, the signs of change have accelerated alarmingly.” – David Suzuki
Ecologically speaking, the world as we know it will never be the same as it is now, in fact, the world hasn’t been the same for quite some time. Some of the disturbing affects of global warming and climate change can be seen and felt right in our own backyard. The devastation of BC forests by the parasitic pine beetle, summer droughts, more precipitation in the form of rain during the winter months, and glacial melting are only a precursor of what is to come. However for many of us, climate change is still an abstraction, an intangible theory that excites the pages of diagnostic books, plays and movies that seemingly border science fiction. Even though we may not see or feel the daily climatic change that is affecting our planet, while we continue to enjoy the warmth of our homes during fearsome winter storms, building snowmen in our gardens and taking chilly walks during frost season, climate change is nevertheless an existent, authentic, real-time process that will irrefutably reshape the social, economic, political and environmental landscapes of our planet in the not-so-distant future.
The harmonious functioning of our ecosystem, like all orders of life, is contingent and affecting. It exists the way it does, because something else exists the way it does, and something else exists the way it does, because our eco system exists the way it does. Although many contemporary theorists believe that the earth is undergoing its own natural cycle of climate change, as it has done since its accretion 4.54 billion years ago, the catalytic green house gas effect is exponentially speeding up the process, causing unnecessary damage to adaptation, the natural process of evolution and natural selection, global environments, natural resources, weather patterns, seasonal disturbances and more. In laymen’s terms, climate change is not just a sleeping giant. It is a waking, rousing, yawning, angry goliath, who’s ready to fee-fi-fo-fum its way to an ecological breakdown.
Here in British Columbia, the impact of climate change is just as real as it is anywhere else. In the Okanagan Valley for instance, mean winter temperatures are increasing alongside extreme minimum temperatures during our winter months, and we have seen a decline in snowpacks throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen over the past several decades. Even though average temperatures of our growing season and dormant season are only expected to experience modest change by 2100, the success of the agrifood industry impinges on many factors that include temperature, moisture, secure export markets and low-wage labor, all of which will be affected by future climate change. And while water resources in the Okanagan River Basin are undergoing continuous stress due to intensive regulation for irrigation and urban water supply, recent trends in climate change may see prolonged periods of drought and diminishing water resources. While warmer temperatures may seem attractive at the get-go, it’s important to understand that even the minutest changes in climate can have substantial ecological, social and economic consequences. Provincial regulations on greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions are now being adopted by new legislation that commits our region and other regional districts to identify GHG emissions reduction strategies. The projected target of these reduction strategies is for British Columbia to reduce emissions by 33% below the 2007 levels by 2020, and 80% below the 2007 levels by 2050. Land use, infrastructure, transportation and construction, all have major impacts on regional energy consumption and related GHG emissions. Communities like Penticton and those throughout the Okanagan and British Columbia must identify clear strategic paths where growth and development can occur, while encouraging sustainable options and protection of natural resources.
In order to postulate multiple scenarios of BC’s future climate change and the subsequent impact on our lives, we must first look to our historic environmental past. It is a fact that British Columbia’s climate has indeed changed over the last century. Our average annual temperature has warmed by 0.6 degrees C at the coast, 1.1°C in the interior and 1.7°C in the north between 1895 and 1995; precipitation increased in southern B.C. by 2 to 4 per cent per decade (between 1929 and 1998); sea surface temperature increased by 0.9 to 1.8°C between 1914 and 2001; snow depth and snow water content decreased in some parts of British Columbia between 1935 and 2000; and lakes and rivers throughout B.C. became free of ice earlier in the spring between 1945 and 1993. The expediency of these changes demonstrates a speeding up of the warming process, whereby the projected rate of global warming for the 21st century becomes significantly faster than observed vicissitudes during the 20th century and likely faster than at any time during the last 10,000 years. However, the actual rate of warming depends on how fast greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and how our environment responds. Significant evidence suggests that the affects of climate change in BC throughout the 21st century will involve a 2-5°C increase in average annual temperature, an increase in river flood risks in the spring and coastal flooding associated with storm surges; shifts in the geographical range of vegetation, (which includes economically vital forest species); reduced winter snow pack and earlier snowmelt, (affecting summer water supply); glacial retreat in the south; greater stress on species at risk; increased river temperatures traumatizing salmon breeding grounds, and reduced summer soil moisture, which will subsequently increase risk of forest fires. Whether we like to admit it or not, climate change does not mean a more warmer days basking in the sun with margaritas in hand. Climate change will inevitably impact our water, fish, forests and other natural resources, alongside our communities and ecosystems that invariably depend on them.
It would be nice to posit an, ‘in conclusion,’ to this very catastrophic viewpoint, but unfortunately there is no such conclusion to the epidemic that is global warming. At least no yet. Climate change is one of the most urgent issues affecting society today and it something we cannot continue to ignore. However apathy and ignorance among our populations mitigates the sense of urgency and stifles any immediate action in both the private and political sectors. The goal is to communicate the impact of our climate change to those whom climate science often fails to reach, and provoke our government into providing clear choices for feasible actions for all factions of society, not just as the national or global level, but also at the local level. We need to lobby our local government and its agencies into making the right choices that provide support for greener, more sustainable opportunities. We need to talk more about global climate change, and take the time to learn about our beautiful planet. The more we know the more we’ll care, and the more we care, the more we can make a difference.