By Greg Utzig, M.Sc., Nelson, BC
Like many people in the Columbia Basin, I recently received an invitation to comment on the Columbia Basin Trust’s Draft Strategic Plan 2020-2022. As a long-time resident and a scientist who’s worked on climate change-related projects in the Basin, some funded by CBT, I was stunned by what I read. And by what I didn’t read.
The words “climate change” do not even appear in the document. Clearly the pandemic is a major concern, but we also still face a climate crisis – a crisis that speaks to the core of CBT’s mission: “to support efforts by the people of the Basin to create a legacy of social, economic, and environmental well-being and to achieve greater self-sufficiency for present and future generations.”
It’s a scientific fact that the well-being of future generations depends on us reducing GHG emissions as rapidly as possible. At the same time, we must adapt to the climate disruption we’ve already set in motion. As an example, as I write this hundreds of people throughout the East and West Kootenays are on evacuation alert due to active wildfires intensified by emerging climate change heatwaves.
As a conservation ecologist I find it ironic that one of the priorities in the draft plan is Ecosystem Restoration. With advancing climate change, it is too late to think about ecosystem restoration. What we should be planning for is building ecosystem resilience for the massive disturbances that are ahead. We have already seen forest impacts from mountain pine beetle, Douglas-fir beetle, birch die-off and wildfires. These are only the beginning. Much of the lower elevations of the Columbia Basin, for example, is projected to shift from forests to grasslands in the coming decades. Restoration to ecosystems of the past is no longer an option.
Increasing local food production and affordable housing are laudable priorities – but only if they emphasize increasing community resilience, reducing GHG emissions and adapting to future extremes in climate. For example, new housing must be planned to be net zero in emissions and located to decrease dependency on fossil fuel travel.
Another priority in the plan is Support for Business Renewal. Any assistance for economic development should be carefully vetted though a climate change lens. Will the assistance decrease GHG emissions? Will it result in increased resiliency to climate change impacts? Now is the time to start building the economy of the future. For example, the coal mines in the East Kootenays produce almost half of all the GHG emissions in the Basin (not including emissions from burning the coal elsewhere). If climate change is taken seriously, those jobs will disappear, and we should be planning for economic alternatives for that workforce.
Another issue ignored in the draft plan is water. Climate change projections indicate increased frequency and intensity of flooding and landslides due to rapid snowmelt and high-intensity rainstorms. As well, we’ll see hotter and drier summers and associated low water flows and water shortages in the late summer and fall. These events have already affected Basin residents, and will continue to do so.
I call on the CBT to seriously consider the context in which we are presently living. The pandemic may impact many of us temporarily, but climate change will affect all of us for many generations. Anything short of addressing climate change, starting now, is merely moving the deck chairs for a better view of the destruction ahead.
CBT is asking for feedback until September 11. I encourage readers to go to www.ourtrust.org and complete the short survey, keeping the climate crisis as our short- and long-term priority.