Originally published as a column on Armchair Mayor News on July 2, 2021.
Note: The piece below was published a couple of weeks ago. Hundreds of wildfires are now burning across the province and the B.C. government has finally declared state of emergency as of today, July 20th.
I started writing this column with a different angle. It was about trees in urban settings and their vital role in helping us survive extreme summer temperatures. I’ll leave that for a future piece because there is something more pressing that needs to be said.
The town of Lytton is on fire as I write this. Literally. After three days of 49 degrees Celsius, which is ungodly in most people’s opinion, a large and fast-moving fire has forced everyone out of their homes. Some ran out of their homes while the roof was already on fire.
It’s heartbreaking though the word does not encompass everything there needs to be said about this. And it’s way past the time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. It has been said already and it is worth repeating: this is one of the horrible scenarios created by climate change.
To still call this summer (some do) and dismiss the present heat waves (and others to come) as normal is not right. Summer may soften the pavement, and it may send people to seek shade. It does not, however, kill them in hundreds, not does it fry an entire town to a crisp.
It does not create nightmares. Summer is fun, not deadly. Summer is when crops abound rather than getting scorched by a merciless sun. Yet the sun is not at fault. It just does its thing.
And heat waves don’t just happen; they are brought upon by the way human activity influences the environment. Yes, Kamloops and other places in the Interior have always been hot in the summer (this is a desert after all) but 47 or worse yet, 49 degrees Celsius, is no joke.
The impact on human life has been devastating and revealing of social inequalities. Also, let’s not forget that animals, whether wild critters, pets or farm animals are suffering alongside, many of them dying as we speak.
Climate change is not an invented concept that opposes progress, nor is it a contrarian view or some hippy agenda. It’s a horrifying reality that claims lives and destroys entire towns. It has to be acknowledged as such, because when we all do that, we bring ourselves together to a place where we can work together and rely on each other to change things or at least, as much as possible, mitigate the effect of this crisis. Because that’s what it is and one that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
The city of Kamloops has adopted the Community Climate Action Plan as of yesterday, which is set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our community by 80% by 2050. That is a much-needed step forward which has to have us all work together if we are to see all the changes happen.
Meanwhile, here we are, witnesses to human tragedy and it is not even the end of June. The air is thick with smoke and getting thicker by the hour, and there’s much helplessness as we think of the people who are being evacuated, many of whom will lose everything they have, and also of the firefighters who are just like the rest of us, immersed in a heat wave and, on top of it, fighting fast-growing, out-of-control fires.
Let’s not argue anymore over whether this is normal summer weather or not. It’s not. Arguing will not make the reality of climate change go away; it will only diminish our collective efforts in dealing with its effects, it will blot out empathy and it will ultimately prevent us from seeing the proverbial forest for the trees.
And we need to see, to acknowledge and then to implement change. Everything we are depends on it.