B.C. burns while the government partners with Shell to research carbon capture technology

As British Columbia mourns over 800 lives lost in the June heat wave,  firefighters from Mexico and Quebec arrived to help fight the province’s raging forest fires , more than 400 people have been arrested protesting logging of Old Growth forests, and scientists have confirmed that oil and gas facilities in B.C. are producing 1.6 to 2.2 times more methane pollution than current estimates, it doesn’t take long to find strong and serious criticism of the B.C. government’s climate policies.  A few recent examples:

BC’s Climate Adaptation Plan won’t protect you from heat waves, or much else” by Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law  (July 9)

Subsidizing Climate Change 2021: How the Horgan government continues to sabotage BC’s climate plan with fossil fuel subsidies , a report by Stand.earth

B.C. is in a state of climate emergency with no emergency plan” by Seth Klein in (National Observer, July 19)

“Seven Big Warnings from the Killer Heat Wave” (The Tyee, July 19)

“Lytton Burned, People Died. Who Should Pay?” (The Tyee, July 13)

And on July 16,  to add insult to injury, the Premier announced the formation of a new B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy  to “help B.C.-based companies develop, scale up and launch new low-carbon energy technologies and will help establish B.C. as a global exporter of climate solutions.”  The province will partner with the federal government and Shell Canada to fund a new centre  whose first priorities include carbon capture, hydrogen production,  biofuels and battery technology.  Stand.earth reacted with:  “Partnership with Shell Canada sets country and province on the wrong path to address climate change”. 

Heat, fire, death in British Columbia show us the reality of climate change

The town of Lytton British Columbia became a real-world symbol of climate change for Canada, setting temperature records for three days, reaching 49.6 C (121.1 F) on June 29th — the highest ever recorded in Canada. The next day, the town was virtually destroyed by sudden, irresistible wildfire.  As humans and animals have died in unprecedented numbers across the North American West from the heat, other effects were also recorded – wildfires and their smoke, damage to roads and rail lines,  power outages, destruction of crops, deaths of shellfish, a shortage of emergency responders, and the stress of their work.

Here is a sampling from the cascade of news coverage:   

“For third straight day, B.C. village smashes record for highest Canadian temperature at 49.6 C” (CBC News, June 29)

“Deaths Spike as Heat Wave Broils Canada and the Pacific Northwest” ( New York Times, June 30)

Most homes in Lytton destroyed by catastrophic fire minister says” (CBC, July 1)

“B.C. still a tinderbox as firefighters arrive from other provinces” (National Observer, July 6) – stating that there were 199 active wildfires in B.C. as of July 5 –  13 of which are “wildfires of note”, 5 of which merited evacuation orders.

“Stories of bravery amid ‘unimaginable horror’ of Lytton wildfire” (National Observer, July 8)

“Canadian inferno: northern heat exceeds worst-case climate models” (The Guardian, July 2)

B.C.’s heat wave likely contributed to 719 sudden deaths in a week, coroner says — triple the usual number” (CBC News, July 2) – quoting the Chief Coroner that the province had previously experienced three heat-related deaths in the past three to five years before the heat wave. )

“More than a billion seashore animals may have cooked to death in B.C. heat wave, says UBC researcher” (CBC News, July 5,6)

“B.C. heat wave ‘cooks’ fruit crops on the branch in sweltering Okanagan and Fraser valleys” (CBC News, July 6)

“B.C. Wildfires damaged  key rail lines, backlogging Canada’s freight supply chain”(CBC News, July 8)

“North America has its hottest June on record” (NYTimes, July 7) – “average temperature was more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average from 1991-2020″  across North America”

Some Context and discussion:

“Just How Historic Was Western Canada’s Heat Wave? ‘Nothing Can Compare’” (The Tyee, July 3, reposted from Yale Climate Connections) 

“Hundreds died during B.C.’s heat dome. Who is responsible for deaths caused by extreme heat?” (CBC News, July 7) . The article cites a 9-page memorandum by the Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC) which makes recommendations to address heat and air quality concerns, with an emphasis on equity and housing concerns for the unhoused and poorly housed.  

“The Future of Fire in Canada” (The Tyee, July 5) by Ed Struzik, a fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University, author of Firestorm, How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future.     

BC’s Municipalities Are Not Economically Ready to Weather Disaster” ( The Tyee, July  7)  

“A Deadly Summer in the Pacific Northwest Augurs More Heat Waves, and More Deaths to Come” (Inside Climate News, July 1)

“The link between extreme weather and climate change” a media brief (June 28) in which Clean Energy Canada compiles links to studies on the topic.

The Limits of Livability (Climate and Health Alliance in Australia, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the WONCA Working Party for the Environment, June 2021) – a report on the smoke impacts on health from forest fires and climate change, with case studies of major recent fires in Australia, Canada and Brazil .

From a workers’ perspective:

“The case for a Youth Climate Corps in Canada” (National Observer, June 1) – Seth Klein includes disaster response as one of the tasks for his proposed Youth Climate Corps, to treat the climate disaster as an emergency.

“Heat wave shows that climate change is a workers rights issue” ( Portside,July 2)

“Heat wave, wildfires underline need for climate action” (NUPGE, July 8) – statement by the National Union for Public and General Employees, whose members are firefighters and disaster workers.

“Orange skies: Biden raising federal pay to fight wildfires”  (AP news, June 30) summarizes the White House press release, “Biden-Harris administration acts to address the growing wildfire threat” (June 30) – addresses a broad range of strategies including increasing firefighter pay (which currently has a start rate of $13US/hour), and converting many seasonal positions to permanent status, acknowledging that wildfires are now an ongoing threat.

 “Constant, compounding disasters are exhausting emergency response” (Circle of Blue, July 6)   referring to the international scene and a call from the United Nations secretary general

“Let the Birds Eat Them’: Crops Shrivel as Heat Wave Hits Washington” (New York Times, July 3) – anecdotal reports of heat experiences, including for farm workers

And from the recent past:

“Hundreds Of Firefighters. 20 Bulldozers. Intentional Burns: Inside Washington’s $328M Push To Break Cycle Of Disastrous Fires” (InvestigateWest, April 16, 2021)

A People’s Framework for Disaster Response: Rewriting the Rules of Recovery after Climate Disasters , a report written by Saket Soni and Andrea Cristina Mercado,  published by Resilience Force in January 2020, takes an environmental justice perspective on the Florida response to hurricanes, with recommendations for victims and exploited disaster recovery workers.

UFAW-Unifor proposals to save the Pacific salmon fishery not included in government announcement of closures

On June 29, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced the closure of 79 salmon fisheries on the Pacific coast. Along with the closures, the press release also announced a new Pacific Salmon Commercial Transition Program – described so far only as a voluntary program which offers harvesters the option to retire their licenses for fair market value, with the goal of permanently reducing the number of fishers and reducing the size of the industry. The government press release states: “Over the coming months DFO will be engaging with commercial salmon licence holders to work collaboratively on developing the program, assess the fair market value or their licences and confirm the design of the program.  All commercial salmon licence holders will have an opportunity to participate in this initiative.” This is part of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI)  announced on June 8, and falls under the “Harvest transformation pillar” of the strategy.

UFAWU-Unifor is the union representing commercial fishers. Their response to the closures is here (June 29), and reflects surprise and concern for the future. Further, it states: “While it’s widely agreed that a license retirement program is needed, it is only one part of what should be a multi-pronged approach to solving the issues in salmon fisheries… Pinniped reduction has to be part of the equation. We need habitat restoration and investments in hatcheries.”

The union, along with other commercial salmon harvesters, had proposed their own specific recommendations, addressing all of these aspects as well as the relationship with First Nations fishers in May 2021 in: The Report on the Future of B.C. Commercial Salmon Fishing .  As with the growing consensus amongst coal and fossil fuel workers, the UFAWU-Unifor report acknowledges the crisis and the need for change, stating: “The regular commercial salmon fishery is clearly in a state of crisis. This is a result of DFO policies and recent low salmon productivity, in part driven by higher predation and climate change, that have reduced harvests in regular commercial fisheries to the point where no one can survive.” (The report has strong criticism for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans on many fronts). Regarding the kind of licence retirement program that the government has announced, the report states: “This program must offer commercial salmon harvesters the ability to exit the industry with dignity and grace. For the future, it recommends all commercial salmon licences be held by harvesters or First Nations for active participation. A commercial salmon licence bank where licences from a buyout can be held will also allow for future re-entry into the industry. Licences must not be allowed to become investment paper or security for production for processors.”  Unlike the federal DFO, the union is not seeking to shrink the industry, and argues that their proposals will allow for a viable and profitable future. The subtitle of their report reflects this optimism:  An Active Fishermen’s Guide to a Viable, Vibrant, and Sustainable Commercial Fishery.   To date, the government has not responded to the union’s proposals.

B.C. consultation on climate adaptation open from June to August

On June 9, British Columbia released a new draft Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy,  to launch a consultation process which will run until August 12 on the government’s public engagement website . The Draft Strategy Paper highlights current actions for 2021-2022, and proposes actions for 2022-25 to address increasing wildfires, more frequent flooding, longer summer droughts and heatwaves, as well as adaptation to slower issues such as changes in growing seasons, ecosystem shifts and sea level rise.   This Strategy document is itself the result of a consultation process, documented here, all of which have been based on the substantive 2019 report, Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia.

New B.C. forest policy fails to defuse protests and journalists fight RCMP for access to Fairy Creek site

On June 1, the government of British Columbia released  Modernizing Forest Policy in British Columbia, an “Intentions Paper” which  attempts to address the intense protests in the province over logging of old growth forests.  The government press release includes several backgrounders, including highlights of how the policy addresses the Old Growth issue,  but environmentalists are not satisfied.  “Five ways B.C.’s new forestry plan sets the stage for more old-growth conflict” in The Narwhal explains. Stand.earth reacted with an immediate call for deferral of logging for all at-risk old growth forests, and on June 4, after company bulldozers breached protest blockades, Stand.earth repeated their call, in order to “to reduce tensions and the threat of violence or injury in Fairy Creek and keep old growth forests standing — while the province undertakes a paradigm shift for forestry rooted in Indigenous rights and consent, ecological values, and community stability.”

Protests and unions

Protests began in Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island in August 2020, explained in “The Fairy Creek blockaders: inside the complicated fight for B.C.’s last ancient forests”  (The Narwhal, March 2020) . Since then, protests have grown in size and intensity, with five people arrested on May 17, and 137 arrested by June 1.  “Three days in the theatre of Fairy Creek” in The Tyee offers a lengthly personal front line account, as does “Three weeks on the front line: The battle for Old Growth in B.C.” in Ricochet , filled with photos. The forestry workers tell their side of the bitter story, as reported by CBC, “Forestry workers and supporters from across Vancouver Island rally to denounce Fairy Creek blockades” on May 30.

 “BC’s Cynical Attack on Old-Growth Forests” in The Tyee (May 19) blames NDP Premier John Horgan for the prolonged dispute, and states that “John Horgan’s alliance with corporate and union logging interests is stalling protection for remaining ancient trees.”  The criticism stems from “A Strategy for B.C. Forests That Benefits All British Columbians”,  an article written jointly in April by Jeff Bromley, Chair of the  United Steelworkers’ Wood Council, and Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, defending the government’s  position. In contrast, in March 2021, co-authors Andrea Inness (a campaigner at the Ancient Forest Alliance) and Gary Fiege ( president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, formerly the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada) wrote a Vancouver Sun Opinion piece , calling on the government to live up to their promise to implement the recommendations of their own Strategic Review , and stating “We can protect old growth forests and forestry jobs at the same time”. 

Protests and freedom

Amidst the heated protests, RCMP have been criticized for blocking journalists from covering the protests.  In a May 26  press release, the Canadian Association of Journalists and a coalition of news organizations released a statement, demanding  that the RCMP immediately stop applying “exclusion zones” to journalists,  so that the media can freely access protest sites, and get  close enough to record video and sound, conduct interviews and take photographs. The statement continues: “Journalists must be allowed to move freely on site, as long as they do not interfere with the execution of RCMP activities. This means that journalists should not be corralled or forced to move as a group or with a police escort;  The equipment of journalists must not be seized or otherwise interfered with, and journalists should not be arrested or detained while trying to document protest events.”

Members of the journalists’ coalition are: the Canadian Association of Journalists, Ricochet Media, The Narwhal, Capital Daily, Canada’s National Observer, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, The Discourse and IndigiNews. The Narwhal explanation appears in  “Enough is enough: Canadian news organizations file legal action for press freedom at Fairy Creek” ; “The Other Fight at Fairy Creek: Press Freedom” appeared in The Tyee (May 27); and “We’re taking the RCMP to Court” appeared in Ricochet.