By William Bird
As of today, July 23rd, we are experiencing the 37th consecutive day without rain in the Vancouver area. This means that we may end up seeing both the hottest temperatures and the longest dry spell in our recorded history in less than a month.
Although Vancouver has a history of having a pretty dry summer, we also endured one of the driest springs on record. With less than half of the average rainfall (103 mm compared to 267 mm) that we would expect to see in the spring months (March-May), we certainly have not had a typical start to the year.
The abnormalities wreaking havoc on us, and the plants and animals living alongside us, are made possible by the growing effects of climate change.
The Effect This Has on People
Lytton Hospital. Image: JuniperandBeads on Reddit
Wildfires are a natural way through which ecosystems change, but this year is shaping up to be much more fiery than usual. The drought conditions have turned our beautiful forests into what I can only describe as something out of a nightmare. What has happened to Lytton will only become more and more common if we do not take steps towards slowing and eventually reversing the impact we have on our climate. Although Vancouver has evaded the smoke thus far, changes to the direction of the wind or new fires could quickly change that.
You can find the GoFundMe campaigns looking to help the survivors from Lytton rebuild here.
Forest fires also pose a severe threat to our drinking water, as their chemical byproducts pose an issue during the treatment process.
Remains after a forest fire. Image: Landon Parenteau on Unsplash
Although forest fires are deadly in their own right, the heatwave at the end of June was more than a little spooky. Between June 25th and July 1st, there were somewhere around 600 heat-related deaths in B.C. These heatwaves will only get hotter, more frequent, and longer as climate change worsens.
In many areas of B.C., people are dependent on groundwater as their source of drinkable water. As drought conditions continue, we will see a decline in groundwater availability for these places.
In Vancouver we rely on our reservoirs, but the heat still poses an issue because these reservoirs recharge from rainfall in the summer and snowmelt in the winter. Recent evaluations would put Metro Vancouver in stage 3 or 4 of emergency water restrictions during our summer months by as early as 2036. To learn more about our current system, check out this blog detailing where our drinking water originates.
What This Means to Nature
Nature is facing death and water shortages, just like we are. During the heatwave, over 1 billion sea creatures, such as mussels, oysters, and sea stars, died due to the scorching temperatures. Looking at these numbers, experts are worried that the ecosystems reeling from this loss may never recover. With ocean temperatures rising globally, these types of events are going to be more widespread and potentially more deadly for our coastal species.
Mussel Colony. Image: Peter Secan on Unsplash
In the Interior of the province, smaller streams could completely dry out at the surface, streams not known to do so in the past. Sections of larger rivers might become disconnected from each other as they temporarily dry up. These pools make the wildlife within them much more vulnerable to predators, but that is only one of the lesser consequences. Smaller bodies of water, especially those that are not moving, heat up much faster, stressing the wildlife within, potentially to the point of death. Finally, adding to the heaping pile of stress is that there will likely be much less food available to them than there usually would be.
Brown Bear near a still waterbody. Image: Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash
Moving to the land, as we begin to see our groundwater storage dry up, trees become much more stressed trying to obtain water. Stressed trees are critically more susceptible to disease and parasites than they would be otherwise.
Our forest fire's increasing intensity and length is leading to some of our remaining glaciers becoming covered with black soot. Colour is important here as it speeds up the rate at which the glacier is melting because soot, which is black, absorbs more heat than a white glacier typically would.
What Can Be Done?
Unfortunately, there is no cover-all solution to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Here at Fraser Riverkeeper, we are committed to removing as much of the waste in our watersheds as possible before it reaches the open ocean. For more information about our work, check out our previous blog post or the Vancouver Plastic Cleanup project page.
Reducing your water usage and asking your local representatives to support climate legislation are excellent places to start. To see what this might look like, check out this article from our former digital content creator, Julia Pepler.
The good news is that, although there is no easy way to reduce the effects of climate change, we know what we have to do to reverse climate change. Reversing the pace at which we have been going downhill is possible by globally decreasing our carbon emissions and actively bolstering the ways in which we can remove carbon from our atmosphere.
The best way we have to remove carbon is by reinvigorating our forests and our oceans.
Our beautiful forests in Revelstoke, B.C. Image: William Bird
There are also so many ways we can move forward here, from transforming our systems responsible for producing and consuming power and food to reforesting our lands and preventing ocean and freshwater pollution.
The issue for people now is that the effects of climate change are directly impacting people's lives and that isn't a matter of opinion anymore.
We, as individuals, can make a difference to help our neighbours, friends and strangers alike. Your voice matters, your votes matter, and your actions matter! We can choose the future that we want to live in for the next 100 years and the key to shaping it is a commitment to living sustainably.
If you have some personal methods you use to live more sustainably, we would love to hear from you and possibly feature them and you on our social media! If you're interested, feel free to send me an email at [email protected] or DM us on our socials linked at the very top or bottom of the page!