Rachel Blaney, MP for North Island – Powell River, met with students and visitors at NISS on April 16th for a panel discussion and Q&A regarding the impact of climate change in our region.
Joining her were NISS student Adrian Van Gorkom, local biologist and forester Megan Hanacek, and “The Marine Detective”, Jackie Hildering.
The emphasis was on combating fear, finding solutions, and encouraging youth to look to their future prospects in a green economy. Opening the panel, 14 year old Van Gorkom discussed the science behind climate change and laid out the effects in clear terms.
Mentioning China as the top polluter in the world, he said Canada ranked in at 9th place, contributing 500 million metric tons of carbon per year. He also covered notable effects on wildlife, including desertification of habitat.
Having polled fellow NISS students, he said the greatest concerns expressed were forest fires at 28 per cent, with climate change itself accounting for 20 per cent of responses. Other concerns included flooding, extinction, and the fear that nothing will be done.
Turning toward potential solutions,Van Gorkom listed electric passenger vehicles and heavy-duty equipment (such as farm tractors) as important, as well as government policy to make such a transition mandatory. He also indicated a need for industries historically reliant on fossil fuels to adopt green initiatives or be left behind.
Hildering, a biology teacher, cold-water diver, photographer, and Humpback Whale researcher, spoke with a focus on the students, and expressed the importance of solutions rather than succumbing to fear, as well as the role the ocean plays for the environment as a whole. She discussed the potential climate change has for new job growth, stating that a green economy opens more doors for future generations. Insisting that “adult thinking” stems from fear, she pushed the students to be solution-oriented and considerate of their consumer habits. Innovations in technology are driven by changes in values, she argued, and that every consumer choice and every vote has an impact.
Megan Hanacek spoke from her experience in forestry about the significant role the North Island plays in the province. She said that today’s harvesting practices incorporate climate change science in the decision process and that an overwhelming majority of experts in the field agree on the effect it has in forest management, as well as a need to adapt sooner than later.
Discussing climate change’s effect on BC’s forests, she stated that since the early 90s, over a third of the province’s forests have been killed off by the mountain pine beetle’s spread, resulting in worsening forest fires and billions of dollars lost. Annually, tens of thousands of residents in the interior are evacuated from their homes due to forest fires and the number affected is projected to increase this year. Hanacek also mentioned the immediate impact on the North Island, including the dead salal throughout the region, which she has never seen in her career. Continuing the panel’s focus on youth engagement and action, she encouraged the students to consider careers in forest management and research, describing it as both dynamic and meaningful.
Rachel Blaney finished the presentation, saying that as we watch climate change happen, we don’t know what the future will hold. Focusing again on solutions over fear, she discussed the need to look at our transition to a green economy while ensuring smaller communities aren’t left behind. Acknowledging that many political platforms only look four years into the future, she said that Canada should be a leader and expressed a need for a non-partisan discussion moving forward. Pointing out that urban centres have much different challenges than rural communities, she also said that the North Island has more options than other more remote communities and that comes with greater responsibility.
As the North Island’s representative in Parliament, Blaney was asked what she thought the most important thing North Islanders can do as individuals to combat climate change.
“Well, I think that the most important thing that all of us can do is just be curious about what we can do,” noted Blaney. “And I don’t say that in a joking way. A lot of the speakers here talked about fear and I hear that from constituents, that it feels like it’s too big. How does my little contribution actually make a difference? So I think we have to be curious about it and not be afraid to ask questions and learn more… And there’s good things that are happening in this area. Today, I had lunch with the regional district here and they talked about how they’re lowering their carbon footprint…”
Discussing the outcome of their efforts, she said, “It’s good for them, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for their finances.”
– Chadwick Green article