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Editorial: Climate change has a sour side

Lemons are growing in North Saanich, and they are just a taste of some of the new crops that are popping up in B.C. as the temperature gets warmer.

Lemons are growing in North Saanich, and they are just a taste of some of the new crops that are popping up in B.C. as the temperature gets warmer. As average temperatures go up, farmers and gardeners are trying species that are usually found in subtropical or Mediterranean countries.

At Fruit Trees and More Nursery in North Saanich, Bob Duncan gets hundreds of lemons from his tree. Over on the Lower Mainland, Art Knapp nurseries have seen a 20 per cent increase in sales of species like olives and figs.

Global warming is often debated in the big picture, but the details of gradual changes around us bring the debate down to earth. The devastating march of the pine beetle is one effect of warmer temperatures that is clearly visible across vast areas of B.C.’s forests. New crops close to home are another sign of the change.

The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium expects that by the 2020s, the mean temperature in the capital region will rise by .9 degrees Celsius. That will increase the median number of frost-free days by eight. More than a week of extra frost-free days is a big difference.

Across the province, the mean temperature is predicted to rise by a full degree and frost-free days to rise by 10.

Over the longer term, by the 2080s, temperatures in the capital region are predicted to rise by 2.5 degrees and frost-free days by 20.

A climate like that opens new possibilities for crops that were once inconceivable here.

In the Cowichan Valley, Teafarm planted 200 tea plants of the same type found in India and Sri Lanka; all but one survived. Owners Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann plan to add more camellia sinensis this year, and hope to harvest their own tea in the next few years.

Across the water on Saturna Island, Michael Pierce’s Saturna Olive Consortium is a nursery that doesn’t sell olives but grows 12 varieties of olive trees for those who want to plant a bit of the Mediterranean in their corner of B.C. On the consortium’s website, he advises: “Growing olives in British Columbia should be seen as a grand and wacky experiment. It is not for the risk averse.”

Like Bob Duncan, however, some Islanders are taking risks, not only with lemons, but also oranges. Pineapple guavas are a smaller version of a tropical fruit that shows promise for our climate. And six kinds of figs will now grow here, where once only two types could survive, says Wim Vander Zalm of Art Knapp Nurseries.

If kicking back with a cup of Island tea while nibbling on Island oranges and guavas sounds like fun, consider the other side of the climate predictions.

By the 2020s, the climate consortium predicts eight per cent less precipitation in capital-region summers and 24 per cent less snow in capital-region winters. While overall precipitation is expected to rise three per cent, what will the changed distribution mean for farmers and everyone else who uses water?

Dealing with those changes is increasingly on the minds of local and provincial governments. They call it “adaptation,” adapting to life in a world that could be much different from the one we know. The B.C. Regional Adaptation Collaborative Program, run by the provincial ministry of the environment and the Fraser Basin Council and funded by the federal government, is a multi-phase plan to help the province adapt. Water is a big part of the program.

Growing lemons in North Saanich is an adaptation that sounds like fun. But as we sip our Vancouver Island lemonade, we will have to adapt to even more changes, some much more bitter.