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Pique n' your interest

Emergency without end

What next?

An unprecedented drought has led to unprecedented wildfires in the Interior of the province, and the widespread closure of crown land until Sept. 14. A carelessly discarded cigarette butt could consume Stanley Park in about an hour, say authorities, and Whistler is also at extreme risk. According to Fire Chief Bruce Hall, residents would only have a few minutes to evacuate their homes if the winds were against us.

More than 230 homes have been destroyed thus far, and evacuations have, at various times, left tens of thousands homeless and wondering. Some of the victims were insured and some will have to start over.

This is the second dry summer in B.C. in as many years, separated by a winter with below average snowpacks in many regions. River beds have dried up, and reservoirs are dwindling. Some salmon runs are too shallow for the fish to spawn this year, which will have repercussions on sport and commercial fishing years down the road.

Exacerbating the situation, the lingering pine beetle infestation is blanketing the province, killing trees and providing wildfires with ready fuel. It’s also impacting heavily on the logging industry’s operations.

All it would take to end the infestation for good would be a week-long cold snap of minus 20 degrees Celsius, something that hasn’t happened in B.C.’s Interior or the coast for several years.

Canada’s woes don’t stop at the B.C. boarder, either. The middle part of the country continues to suffer from a drought that is killing crops, and a Mad Cow scare that has rocked the beef industry.

Cases of West Nile virus are being reported in the prairie provinces as far west as Alberta.

Ontario is being hit from all sides – a SARS epidemic, West Nile virus, a blackout, Mad Cow disease, smog, heatwaves, you name it.

Quebec is still dealing with spring floods that swept away buildings and drowned livestock.

Meanwhile, the eastern part of the country is suffering through one of its wettest summers on record. According to a Globe and Mail article, the rain has killed the tourism industry, and has impacted on agriculture as well. Tomatoes and blueberries were rotting before they could be harvested, and heads of lettuce were swelling up and exploding.

At the same time, the cod stock has not come back, and other fish stocks are showing the strain as well.

Europe is currently suffering from a heatwave that has killed thousands and led to some of the worst forest and brush fires seen on that continent in hundreds of years.

Food production is down in Europe and North America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its forecast for this year’s grain harvest by 32 million tons. Europe expects to come up about 36 million tons short.

Canada and the world appear to be entering a state of endless emergency, with unpredictable and extreme weather systems wreaking havoc on the land we were supposed to have tamed.

Every one of these problems comes back to the same core issues – or non-issues, depending on what side of the fence you sit on: global warming, globalization and population.

According to a recent study, the earth is warmer now than it has been in the past 2,000 years. Professor Philip Jones of the University of East Anglia, one of the authors of the study, concluded that "You can’t explain this rapid warming of the late 20 th century in any other way. It’s a response to a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

The researchers examined the thickness of tree rings, and drilled core samples from the ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica to look at warming trends and concluded that the planet has warmed considerably since 1980.

Global warming has its skeptics, and even the true believers have differing opinions as to whether it’s natural, man-made or a product of both. It’s almost impossible to prove warming trends without a few more decades of data, so most of the political decisions on the issue are controversial.

It may be a natural cycle, but when you consider what’s happening in B.C. and around the world – you can argue causes but you can’t ignore the effects – can we take that chance?

If there’s a possibility that global warming is leading to insect infestations and wildfires in B.C., then shouldn’t the B.C. government take the long view on the issue and commit to Kyoto without demanding concessions?

Globalization makes it harder to enforce any actions on climate change, as countries like the U.S. bow out of Kyoto out of fear of losing their competitive edge in the marketplace.

Globalization also subtly pushes people to consume more water and energy, equating standard of living with creature comforts and the creation of wealth.

Free trade agreements and world trade bodies also make it harder for countries to protect their resources and environment, seeing these moves as protectionist and as barriers to trade.

The growing population is also an issue. More mouths to feed is at least partially responsible for the worldwide decline in fish stock, and is directly responsible for issues like deforestation and pollution. If the methane produced by cows is a significant greenhouse gas, then it stands to reason that simply meeting the growing demand with an ever greater supply of animals is going to have a negative effect.

More cars and more people consuming electricity increases our use of fossil fuels, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these emissions occur naturally – we do breathe out carbon dioxide – but any natural substance can be poisonous in high enough concentrations.

Next summer just might be better, and the summer after that could be so cold and wet that people are lured into believing that things are back to normal. But if the scientists crying "global warming" are correct, the overall trend for the planet is hotter temperatures and all the things that go with it – dry conditions, hurricanes and tornadoes, wildfires, crop destruction, the list goes on.

This summer we are being given an opportunity to see what the world might look like in another 50 or 100 years. How we use that opportunity is up to us.