Last week was a remarkable week, a watershed moment in the Canadian — and global — climate crisis.
The temperature anomalies that British Columbians experienced in those four days were greater than any anomalies ever witnessed by humans since temperatures have been recorded. The town of Lytton destroyed the Canadian all-time extreme temperature record three days running, then on the fourth day was itself destroyed in a wildfire that raged through the community in a matter of minutes.
Two people died in the Lytton fire and hundreds of lives were changed forever as homes and businesses were lost. The high temperatures sparked more fires, and the smoke clouds from those fires sparked an unprecedented barrage of thousands of lightning strikes across British Columbia. There are now more than 200 wildfires throughout the province.
Last week was a wake-up call for all of us who knew about climate change but thought of it as something in the future, something that wouldn’t really affect our own lives. For the first time, many of us now realize how climate change is affecting us right now.
As Lytton resident Gordon Murray said on CBC, “We are a small, rural, Indigenous, low-income community, and we are at the spearpoint of climate change. But it’s coming for everybody.”
I grew up in Penticton, and for the first time in my life, it was simply too hot to be outside for more than a few minutes at a time. Summers here used to be defined by the sounds of lawn sprinklers and cicadas, the smell of suntan lotion at the beach. Now almost every summer is dominated by the sounds of water bombers overhead and the smell of smoke.
And the impact of the heat dome was felt just as dramatically—in some ways more so—in the Lower Mainland. Hundreds of people died from the heat there. Let me repeat that—hundreds of people died.
Agricultural crops were impacted throughout BC—cherries and raspberries literally baked on the branches. Irrigation systems were maxed out as we tried to save our gardens and shade trees. Billions of mussels and other intertidal animals were literally cooked along the coast of British Columbia. Trees in the rainforests turned red.
Many people talk about this as the new normal. This is not a new normal, it’s a new baseline. Summers will not get cooler as we battle climate change. Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere stay there for centuries.Our challenge is to dramatically reduce and finally stop those emissions. IF we do that, we can minimize the additional damage we do to our climate, minimize future temperature increases and the frequency of catastrophic flooding and droughts.
I’m hoping that the silver lining in the black cloud of last week’s heat wave is a new sense of urgency, a new, deeper understanding of the critical importance of taking climate action seriously. The pandemic has shown us what we can accomplish quickly when faced with a clear crisis. We need to face climate change the same way and stop making only tentative moves to a clean energy economy.
Young people are deeply concerned about their future as climate change continues to impact our world. Workers are deeply concerned about their future as they see good jobs in the fossil fuel sector disappearing. We have to face these challenges and take bold measures to allay these concerns. To fight climate change like we mean it and create new jobs in a new energy sector at the same time. We can do this. We know what we have to do, but we need governments at all levels to show the will to do what is necessary.
Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan- West Kootenay.