We all have favourite spots, places close to our hearts that evoke our most profound memories. Many of mine are along B.C.’s coast. These places have welcomed and honoured me, their marine life has fed me and the beauty of their ecosystems has humbled me. Taking part in protests at Windy Bay on Haida Gwaii in the early 1980s brought me closer to the people and places of coastal B.C., shaping my understanding of the fundamental relationship between culture and nature.
I’m excited to visit some of my favourite locations in June, as I accompany filmmaker and University of Winnipeg professor Ian Mauro for screenings of his film about climate change in British Columbia. After earning a PhD from the University of Manitoba, Ian moved to the Arctic where he made a film with Inuit elders on climate change impacts they were experiencing. He then moved to Atlantic Canada and filmed fishers, hunters, First Nations leaders, farmers, municipal politicians and local businesses to show how climate change is already affecting their communities, economically and socially. As one businessman said, “If you don’t believe climate change is real, just look out the window.”
I joined Ian on a tour of Atlantic Canada to screen that film and was struck by the power of his message. I asked him to do one on B.C., where milder winters have led to a devastating outbreak of mountain pine beetles. When I talk to friends and family in Skidegate, Alert Bay and Bella Bella, they tell me about the changes they’re seeing from a warmer environment.
Scientists predict B.C. will warm by 2.4°C in summer and 2.9°C in winter by 2100. We’ve heard how global warming and ocean acidification are already affecting Vancouver Island shellfish. We know periods of lower summer water flows are taking their toll on agriculture, ecosystems, fish and natural resource industries. Warmer water in the Fraser and other rivers is harming migrating salmon. A sea level rise brings risks of coastal flooding, infrastructure damage and saltwater intrusion into groundwater.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve also witnessed other dramatic, but positive, changes in this region, including recognition of First Nations’ rights and title as evident in the Tsilhqot’in First Nations Supreme Court decision a year ago, moves to conserve the Great Bear Rainforest and blueprints for marine plans in the North Pacific Coast led by First Nations and the provincial government. Coastal communities are taking charge of their future. I’m encouraged that municipal leaders in Comox, Courtenay, Tofino, Ucluelet and Queen Charlotte have passed declarations supporting the right to a healthy environment, joining a cross-Canada movement to protect the people and places we love.
Canada needs a national vision to deal with a changing climate and mounting pressures on the environment and our economies. With more than 10,000 years of environmental stewardship to draw upon, West Coast communities can teach us a lot about recognizing healthy ecosystems as the foundation of long-term sustainability. We have to move beyond the false notion that a healthy environment and strong economy are incompatible. After all, clean technology is the fastest-growing sector in Canada, and alternative economic visions that include renewable energy are moving communities toward long-term sustainability.
I’m looking forward to hearing about your community’s vision, successes, challenges and ways of supporting each other. The stories we share will shape the future for our children and grandchildren.
This is a “coming home” tour for me, and I’m honoured to be a guest in your community.