Two weeks ago, I listened to a woman tell the terrifying story of how she escaped with her five-month-old son from the fire that engulfed Paradise, California. She described how the guardrails were burning on both sides of the road.
Since then, it has been heartbreaking to hear the numbers of dead rise, day after day.
It could so easily have been us. Paradise could be Penticton, Quesnel or Vanderhoof. We’ve had close calls before. Kelowna in 2003. Williams Lake in 2017.
Climate change is on the march, making wildfires larger, more intense and more unpredictable.
Whether we’re planning a summer camping trip or simply enjoying the comforts of home, wildfires, smoky skies and air pollution have become an increasingly real and terrifying threat.
If we don’t act, the predictions are clear. More frequent and worse wildfires. More droughts such as northern B.C. experienced this year, making it harder for salmon to spawn. More people forced to move as they lose their homes and livelihoods due to flooding, droughts, fire, or the human-induced conflicts that ensue when water and food become scarce.
What’s happening in California is a reminder that governments at all levels must make reducing carbon pollution a top priority.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we have only 12 years to radically overhaul our economy, from one based on fossil fuels to one based on clean renewable sources. The B.C. government recently announced measures to reduce our carbon pollution, in advance of releasing a new B.C. climate plan on Wednesday. It is launching programs to support housing retrofits and investment in electric vehicles and transportation. These are important, welcome moves.
Yet we need more. Much more.
Caring for the well-being of British Columbians and defending our communities requires bold action to cut carbon pollution massively.
Transforming our economy will create a tremendous demand for skilled labour, delivering good, well-paying jobs and a competitive advantage over other economies that are slower to act.
If the provincial government commits to such a plan — especially if it makes sure no one is left behind during the transition — Sierra Club B.C. will be the first to applaud.
The benefits of climate action — both for our climate and for the economy — will be huge.
But we cannot and will not support the continued use of inadequate targets for the reduction of carbon pollution. B.C.’s climate goals are not ambitious enough, it’s as simple as that.
That’s why the government’s continued boosterism for the liquefied-natural-gas industry is irresponsible. We cannot act to reduce carbon pollution with one hand, while the other hand expands fossil-fuel extraction. It’s like instructing one worker to dig a hole, while asking another to fill it: absurd. And dangerous.
After the Second World War, politicians had the wisdom and foresight to understand that the ruins of Europe needed a massive, revolutionary investment to rebuild its shattered economies and give its people a secure future. The Marshall Plan brought Europe back from the brink and set the stage for decades of prosperity.
We’re in a similar existential moment. Nothing less than a Green Marshall Plan for our planet is needed. And here in B.C., we can and must do our part.
Whether it’s wildfires, droughts or the increasing cost of food from California making it harder to make ends meet, things are getting real, fast.
We need courageous leadership. And we need to challenge even that which seems bold: If it doesn’t cut carbon pollution even further, it isn’t enough to save us. We are all in this together. Let’s build a new economy that works for us all, including our children and grandchildren.
Caitlyn Vernon is campaigns director for Sierra Club B.C.