By Ziena El-Gewely
British Columbians have been facing major natural disasters for years, the latest being a series of devastating flash floods. With many questions left unanswered about safety and the future - especially for low income and Indigenous communities at the forefront of the crisis - it is crucial to know the details.
In the wake of yet another natural disaster on Canada’s southwestern coast — this time a flood — thousands of British Columbians have been left devastated. As a result, highway and school closures unrelated to the global pandemic have been put into place since November 2021.
British Columbia has been the hotspot for Canada’s climate crisis. The most recent flash floods across the south of the province were caused by heavy and extended periods of rainfall. Extreme storms and rising sea levels, among other things, of course, are increasing the risk of floods across Canada. Individually the events have been catastrophic; however the effects have been amplified due to “compound effects.” Climate experts accredit the current extreme weather events in B.C. to cumulative effects of climate change, these effects being extreme heat and melting glaciers.
Currently, it is predicted that most regions of Canada will experience weather conditions similar to British Columbia’s if climate change continues to progress. More specifically, Canada will experience higher than average and extreme rainfall. Coastal provinces will experience more flooding, and possibly even hurricanes. Canada’s north will experience less snow and longer summers due to higher temperatures globally. These changes have been associated with high levels of greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In this case, British Columbia serves as a glimpse into the future.
British Columbia’s economy has, unsurprisingly, faced damage. According to the Insurance Council of British Columbia, experts say that the floods have been the most costly the province has ever seen, causing at least $450M in damage. Business damages, transportation closures and other effects of the floods are shutting down the economy.
Along with the economy, British Columbian communities have also faced the consequences of the floods. At least 12,000 citizens are currently displaced, and, at the peak of the panic, 15,000 were evacuated. Additionally, those displaced are only entitled to 2,000 dollars from the federal government, which is far from enough to support these people during a devastating and challenging time. The floods hit prime farming land, and over 612,500 livestock were killed as a result. Not just the livelihoods of the citizens have been affected; their health and safety are being risked due to the floods. For example, diseases that spread through contaminated and murky waters are increasingly prevalent, in addition to those who drowned trying to escape buildings. Vice-president of the Pacific Insurance Bureau, Aaron Sutherland, stated that the flood has disproportionately affected lower-income and more vulnerable communities. These communities include the homeless population, people of colour in British Columbia, and, most notably, Indigenous peoples in British Columbia.
Indigenous communities worldwide are at risk of losing their livelihoods, home, and communities, which is evident in the circumstances of First Nation communities in B.C. According to the Assembly of First Nations, up to 42 Indigenous communities were damaged and destroyed by the recent floods. However, Emergency Services report that number being closer to 60 or more. Due to many Indigenous people’s close relationships and dependency on the land, they are placed at the forefront of the consequences of natural disasters. The Indigenous community in Canada are some of the most active people in the climate crisis discussions for this very reason.
It is undeniable that climate change is the cause of economic and societal problems as well as environmental issues in Canada, so what is Canada’s plan? Canada has promised at summits to protect 25% of land and 25% of oceans. However, how they might do this remains unclear. Furthermore, Canada’s goal is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, but, again, it is unclear how they might do this. A Canadian organization, One Health, addresses diseases born from floods, and food safety, and is partially funded by the federal government. The government is implementing 248 flood reduction programs across B.C., but there are no plans similar to this nationwide. British Columbia’s government has pushed an emphasis on adapting to the climate crisis at hand. For example, requirements that infrastructure, such as highways, adjust to the future’s climate (e.g. higher sea levels) are being introduced. Guidance is available for coastal communities to help better prepare and protect their communities from further damage.
As for the opinions of Harbordites on the matter of Canada’s reaction to climate change, opinions vary. One student called Canada’s responses “bologna,” feeling that the summits and small promises are ignoring the real issues. The student cited the plastic straw movement, believing that Canada is doing the same thing, blaming the people and focusing on minor issues and ignoring the huge corporations that are truly at fault. Another student believes that Canada is doing at least something about climate change, giving the Net-Zero Accelerator Fund as an example of Canada’s participation in climate action. The student believes that, to a certain extent, Canada is acting to help end climate change.
Climate change is a fearsome and devastating truth for not only Canadians but the entire global community. If the human race is consistent with its treatment of the environment, Canada’s future will look like British Columbia in a matter of years.