LETTER: Finding Nemo and climate change

When I was seven, my parents took our family camping on Lady Elliot Island, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. I remember holding my father’s hand as we snorkelled over the reef crest, watching turtles, reef sharks, and manta rays.

But mostly, I remember spending hours snorkelling by myself in a little lagoon on the reef flat, watching a clownfish dash in and out of its host anemone, just like the one in the movie Finding Nemo.

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I first learned about climate change when I was 11.

It was 1988. At the time, I thought “the adults” would take care of it, just like they had dealt with the hole in the ozone layer by signing the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

Ten years later, while I was studying at university, the first mass coral bleaching event occurred in 1998, which was unprecedented in both extent and severity. Most of the reef flat where I had spent hours snorkelling as a child bleached and died. I decided to specialize in marine science, and for my master’s thesis equivalent I studied the impacts of climate change on corals and published my first peer-reviewed paper.

Throughout my professional career, climate change has been a recurring theme in all of my work with government, industry, and universities around the world. We are facing a climate crisis, and we need to act with urgency.

For most people, it’s hard to understand the immediate threat of climate change until it affects them directly. Here in Squamish, it was easy to joke that warmer, sunnier summers are actually pretty nice.

But B.C. is on fire. 2018 is now the worst fire season on record, breaking the record set in 2017.

As Premier Horgan said in a recent CBC interview, we’ve gone “From flood to fire to flood and then again to fire. And we have had two states of emergency. That’s unprecedented.”

Unprecedented.

Scientists are warning that the Fraser River is now so warm that it may kill migrating sockeye salmon before they can spawn.

Doctors are warning about the health impacts of exposure to wildfire smoke, as well as the mental health impacts as most of B.C. has been shrouded in wildfire smoke for weeks.

The costs of climate change are becoming very real.

Here in Squamish, a 2016 report by Ian Picketts in collaboration with District staff identified immediate climate-related risks from sea level rise, increased forest fires, and extreme precipitation leading to coastal flooding. Longer term impacts from climate change include changes to river flows, water supply vulnerability, economic development, health, and food security.

The District has already developed policy and taken action on some of these issues, for example, to prepare for a one-metre rise in sea level by 2100 and a two-metre rise by 2200 the District is building a 7 km dike to protect existing infrastructure. Emergency plans are also being put in place for climate-change related disasters ranging from wildfire to coastal flooding.

Developing these plans and implementing these recommendations to help protect Squamish residents from climate harm carries real financial costs that are paid for by your municipal taxes.

BC taxpayers cannot afford to continue to pay 100 per cent of the costs of preparing for and dealing with wildfires, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, and other impacts made worse by climate change. Fossil fuel companies are not paying their fair share — and that has to change.

My Sea to Sky is working closely with West Coast Environmental Law and many other community groups across the province on their Climate Accountability campaign. We are asking communities to send climate accountability letters to 20 of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, who are responsible for nearly 30 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions and ask them to pay their fair share for climate costs incurred by each community.

We believe this is a unique opportunity for climate advocacy. By holding fossil fuel polluters accountable for their role in causing climate harm to our communities we can ensure that taxpayers are not the only ones on the hook for the costs of preparing for and rebuilding from the impacts of climate change. We can impact the global fossil fuel cartels that are contributing most to climate change and give them an incentive to move towards a more sustainable economy. And we can generate a conversation about the role of the fossil fuel economy in harming our communities.

Last week, both Squamish and Whistler signed on to the Climate Accountability campaign.

It’s been 30 years since I first learned about climate change when I was 11, and we are now the adults that need to deal with this climate crisis.

This campaign is a very simple first step to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate costs that are harming our communities.

- Tracey Saxby
Executive director of My Sea to Sky

 

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