Government Must Pivot to Focus on Wildfire Threat

With hope for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, government must now pivot attention to the looming climate change crisis and threats posed by highly destructive wildfires,” argue more than 50 scientists and experts in a white paper recently published by the Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences Department at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBC Okanagan).

These scientists and practitioners have applied decades of experience in climate change research, wildfires, and on-the-ground operations to describe the wildfire crisis we British Columbians face and suggest a feasible course of action to mitigate the negative consequences of wildfires in the future.

According to these specialists, the staggering annual statistics for western Canadians that will result from these “high severity” burns of increasingly large areas will include:

  • Hundreds to thousands of premature deaths due to smoke impacts on human health,
  • Tens to hundreds of million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions further complicating efforts to mitigate climate change,
  • Billions of dollars in increased suppression and indirect fire costs negatively impacting the social, cultural, and political fabric of the provinces.

This white paper should serve as a deep warning and call-to-action for government and public to act together without further delay to tackle this crisis, as we have tackled the pandemic.

Dr. Mathieu Bourbonnais of UBC Okanagan, and more than 50 other specialists argue that: “By 2050, years like 2017/2018 in BC and 2016/2019 in Alberta will be commonplace. The annual highly damaging fire seasons will be punctuated by increasingly extreme events as seen recently in eastern Australia, Siberia, and the west coast of the United States. Climate change and fire science experts insist on a limited window – the next decade – in which society can positively alter the crisis.

“Solving such a crisis requires matching our actions proportional to the scale of the crisis. Actions driven by a climate change emergency, guided by social justice, informed by holistic and inclusive policies, and supported by long-term sustainability. New collaborations are critical to solving a crisis impacting every segment of society; no one government agency or special interest has the ability or perspective to act in isolation. The solution requires an unprecedented level of international cooperation and collaboration; wildfires and their effects do not recognize administrative boundaries. These considerations and partnerships are not new or revolutionary because they mirror recent government efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic, the government demonstrated an ability to suspend the status quo economic paradigm to solve an existential crisis. We saw how informative and respectful communication with the public has been key to managing the COVID-19 turmoil and will be equally crucial in gaining the social license needed to implement climate change plans and strategies.”

It is noteworthy that B.C. Wildlife Federation’s Director of Fish and Wildlife Restoration, Jesse Zeman, is a contributor to the white paper. To read more details on the Bourbonnais white paper, click here.


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