Nature Wise columnist Bob Handfield

Column: Musing about environmental change

Random thoughts of a cynical environmentalist on a dreary February day

The IPCC (United Nations Climate gurus) says we have 12 years to save the earth. If they are correct, then we are doomed. As a geologist, I know the earth’s climate has undergone radical changes over many eons. Some were fairly sudden and others took millions of years. How do the current changes fit in? I wish I knew! I know respected geologists on both sides of the issue.

One of our problems I think is to blame global warming for nearly everything bad that happens. Two years of record forest fires might well be the result of global climate change but there is a fair chance that the enormity of the fires was due to 75 years of forest mismanagement practices (as documented by numerous studies) or possibly a combination of both. The worst fire year in BC was 2018, the second worst was 2017, the third worst was 1958. Said a different way: at the time, 1958 was a record fire year and it took 59 years to break that record.

Hurricanes cause more damage now because there are far more people living in the path of hurricanes and inflation has assured that a damaged house costs far more to repair than it did 50 years ago.

Related: Naturewise: Random Musings of a cynical environmentalist on a dreary January day

There are far too many people living on the planet. When I started teaching environmental geology in 1970 there were 3.7 billion people on earth or about 25 per sq kilometre. Now there are 7.7 billion or about 52 per sq km. The good news is that the rate of growth has dropped from 2 per cent per year to about 1 per cent, but that is still about 82 million new people to feed every year.

Loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats to the species of the earth—perhaps the greatest threat. If we have to turn every sq. inch of the earth’s surface into producing food for an ever-growing population, then most species are doomed. If you have no place to live, all the rest is irrelevant.

Pacific salmon are in dire straits but with everything we have done to them, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not only have we reduced their food supply by allowing the harvesting of herring roe for export (the fish are killed for their roe) but we also clear cut forests virtually to the rivers’ edges so streams were silted up and water temperatures increased. And then we added open-pen salmon farming along their migration routes. Probably of these, the herring harvest is most critical but the one least addressed.

Related: Nature Wise: Windows can be bad news for birds

The herring fishery is supposed to be sustainable but when you take 13,000 tonnes of herring away each year, that’s a lot of fish not available for salmon to eat. Put another way, fewer herring leads to fewer salmon leads to fewer Orcas. It’s a very simple food chain, folks!

To their credit, the B.C. government recently announced the phase out of all salmon farms from the Broughton Archipelago. Will that save our salmon?Probably not, but let’s hope it helps.

While we are on the subject of oil, it seems to me that the Energy East Pipeline was an economic and environmental “no-brainer.” Much of the pipeline already existed—it just needed to be pumped in the reverse direction; it would have replaced imported Saudi oil with domestic oil and it would have reduced tanker traffic on the east coast thus reducing adverse pressure on endangered east coast whales. Canadian (read Quebec) politics killed it.

Why are tankers not okay on the Pacific coast but seem okay on the east coast? Just asking.

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the club.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

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