Hot, smoky and flood-filled summers in the Okanagan aren’t going away. That was the take-away on Tuesday from a climate symposium in Kelowna.
The symposium, titled ‘Making the Links 2018: Climate Change, Community Health and Resilience,’ was a two-day event aimed at bringing together various groups from across the nation. The groups ranged from provincial, regional and local governments, professional associations, business members, First Nations and indigenous communities plus university and college researchers.
According to symposium organizers, “Making the Links will use B.C.’s Interior Region as a case study to draw out learnings and action opportunities for the rest of B.C. and beyond to build community resilience to climate change while increasing health and well-being.”
“We are, actually, in a remarkably vulnerable geographic area for climate change,” said Tim Takaro, a professor at Simon Fraser University who studies climate change and resulting health impacts. “One of those facts is played out here in the Okanagan; that is that central land masses are drying out over the long term.
“We’ve heard about the massive droughts in California, in the Middle East. But we have the same phenomenon here in the interior of the province, where rainfall comes at limited times per year, and those periods are getting shorter. The rainfall is coming in more intense pockets that are not as beneficial to groundwater recharge, to agriculture, as we’ve had in the past.
WATCH MORE: An extended interview with Tim Takaro, a professor with Simon Fraser University, and how B.C. is being affected by climate change.
“The forests were decimated by the mountain pine beetle, which was a climate change phenomenon – the proliferation of the pine beetle. That dead wood is now perfect for dry, hot conditions that promote forest fires, and that’s what we are experiencing. So, these things, unfortunately, are in our future.”
Asked if this is the new normal for the Okanagan, Takaro didn’t give a yes or no reply. Rather, he said people should use the past two smoke-filled summers as a sign to change their ways.
“I do resist the notion of calling it the new normal because normal is a complacent description. It means ‘Oh well, we just have to put up with this.’ People need to believe that they can affect change and change the future. In fact, of course, getting off our fossil fuel habit will be required to change the future. So I favour using these events as a way of waking people up to something they can change.”
He said if change isn’t made, Earth will be a much hotter place in the future.
“We know that there are certain aspects of global warming that are locked in, one of those being the fact that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for decades. So we know there is a certain degree of nothing we can do to change what’s already in the bank, in terms of greenhouse gases. But what we can change is what comes next. If you don’t turn off the spigot, you will never get change. And the change of 4 to 6 degrees warming is very different from 1.5 degrees warming. And so what we can change is whether that future is the catastrophic 4 to 6 degrees warmer or a manageable 1.5 degrees warmer.”