Last week Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman and I participated in a panel discussion at the B.C. municipalities convention, about local government responses to the threat of climate change. That same week Mayor Ackerman published 'Vilifying industry does not drive progress' (Alaska Highway News, Sept. 23, 2019).
Mayor Ackerman correctly points out that today’s economy is primarily dependent on fossil fuels, which have brought many improvements to our lives. The oil and gas industry is indeed a major job creator for Fort St. John and those workers justifiably take pride in their work.
Mayor Ackerman acknowledges climate change is a problem, yet seems to believe any response must include an ongoing oil and gas industry. This approach ignores the latest science, which explains how our climate is changing because burning oil, gas, and coal releases greenhouse gases which heat our atmosphere. The science makes clear we cannot build new fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to avoid further climate impacts. Exported gas is no different from gas burned here–we will all suffer the consequences wherever fossil fuels are burned.
A hotter atmosphere is causing extreme wildfires, water shortages and heatwaves, all of which are predicted to get worse. It’s threatening the food security, health and safety of our communities.
This is no longer an abstract problem for the future. Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world; northern communities even faster. Average winter low temperatures increased 5.3°C in Fort St John between 1951 and 2006. The Peace region has experienced four “100 year floods” in the 29 years between 1987 and 2016. Seasonal drought conditions are more frequent, as are multiyear droughts. Williston reservoir reached a record seasonal low after the dry summer of 2018.
Our everyday experience tells us our climate is changing rapidly. Farmers and neighbours are talking about it; things aren’t how they should be.
The only sure way to protect our communities and defend the people and places we love is to phase out fossil fuels and transition – rapidly – to an economy powered by renewable energy.
The Peace has some of the best locations for wind power generation in B.C., close to existing transmission lines. There are vast geothermal resources in the region.
Renewable energy can heat our homes and power our businesses and our transportation. This shift, along with improving our energy efficiency, can provide thousands of jobs. And far from moving backwards, this forward-looking clean economy can improve our quality of life, with reduced risk to drinking water and much less pollution.
The shift to rebuild our economy is happening fast, around the world. Will we get ahead of the curve, or will we be left behind, with stranded assets in a decarbonized economy?
Local governments are on the front lines, facing increasing threats of wildfires and drought. And in many places, local governments are leading the transition. Mayor Ackerman has been recognized for her passive house advocacy; building efficiency is a key part of the solution and it’s exciting to see what is possible in the north.
Yet for solutions to match the scale of the problem they must extend to the thorny question of how to transition our economy to renewable energy.
Through a clear vision and strong leadership, communities such as Fort St. John can demonstrate how a local economy dependent on fossil fuels can shift to renewable energy. Oil and gas workers and all those most impacted need to be front and centre in this transition, with nobody left behind.
The hard-working people of the Peace are resourceful and resilient. To build a clean, renewable energy economy shaped by northern communities is an opportunity to be embraced with pride, not shunned.
It will not be easy. But we all love our communities, want what’s best for them and want a healthy and safe future for our kids.
We can’t negotiate with physics – the climate is heating up because we burn fossil fuels. The way to defend our communities and reduce risks for our kids is to rebuild our economy, powered by clean, renewable energy.
The future is here, and it can be one in which Fort St. John and the Peace can prosper.
— Caitlyn Vernon, Campaigns Director, Sierra Club BC
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