Connecting the dots, our everyday choices and actions directly and indirectly affect the world around us. We don’t live in a bubble. Our daily activities affect our neighbours and the natural world.
B.C. is in a state of emergency. For me, this has hit home both personally and professionally. My brother and his young family live in the Okanagan. In addition to fairly frequent boil water advisories, most of their summers are filled with varying degrees of smoke — and it’s getting worse.
This summer, the Rivershed Society of BC, with which I work and which has hosted the Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) for 13 summers, is having to alter, perhaps even cancel, this year’s program. Our community partners in Williams Lake, Soda Creek and environs are in survival mode.
Ironically, the SLLP’s curriculum is designed to engage the next generation of leaders in our pursuit of more sustainable living. Yet it is climate change and our relentless alteration of the landscape that has brought us to this dire state.
The mountain pine beetle, a native insect that was once kept in check by consistently cold (i.e., –30 C) winters in the Interior, is now wreaking havoc across our province. Together with our forest wildfire fighting practises that have prevented the natural cycle of lodgepole and ponderosa pine forest burns, we have created the perfect tinder box.
Even-aged stands of mature (80-plus years old) mountain pine forests are the ideal breeding grounds for the mountain pine beetle. Today, with our milder winters, this insect is experiencing ideal conditions to overtake not only the western range but has now climbed eastwards over the Rocky Mountains, once thought to be an impenetrable barrier.
Pine pitch is a perfect fire-starter. With our summers becoming drier, hotter and longer, B.C. is facing an ever-increasing risk of widespread forest fires like nothing we have experienced before. Compound this with an increasing population that wishes to retire and/or own summer vacation homes in wine country, where the natural shrub-steppe landscape of the Okanagan has been altered. With more wineries come more people and the tantalizing pressure to build more residential, commercial and recreational facilities, expanding the interface between us and wild nature.
Here is what you and I need to do to help:
• No ifs, ands or butts: If you smoke, 100% of your waste needs to be responsibly disposed of — every time.
• Zero impact camping: Campfires are unnecessary sources of air pollution and potential serious fire hazards during the summer season. Use well-maintained gas stoves to cook your food and recycle your fuel canisters responsibly.
• Sparks fly: Avoid potential spark-makers, including lawnmowers, ATVs and shiny objects that get carelessly tossed.
• Cut back: Eat less meat and dairy, and incorporate more vegan food into your diet. It’s not just what we drive or what light bulbs we use, it’s what we eat. Our food footprint remains our largest energy (carbon) and water footprint on the planet (earthsave.ca has all the details). Cattle require huge amounts of land and water. If factory-farmed, they are the leading source of water pollution worldwide.
• Take a walk: Demand complete walkable communities from your mayor and council. New neighbourhoods need to provide meaningful jobs for at least 60% of the forecasted population for that area. We continue to uphold the status quo at our peril, building “top-heavy” communities of condos and little else, forcing many to engage in long commutes.
• Think small: North Americans’ obsession with big vehicles and big houses means bigger roads, bigger parking lots and bigger garages — unnecessary extra demands on our shrinking natural resources.
Melissa Chaun of Port Moody is an ecologist with a passion for all things sustainable. She is events co-ordinator with the Rivershed Society of BC, volunteers on various city committees and co-ordinates the monthly meetings for Tri-City Greendrinks. Her column runs monthly.