Killer Heat in B.C.

by Gary Porter

Global warming has arrived here with a vengeance.  From June 25 through June 29, British Columbia suffered through a heat wave unlike anything ever seen in Canada.  On the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday all time B.C. records toppled, day after day.  Lytton, B.C. on the Fraser River about 150 km north-east of Vancouver reached 49.5 degrees Celsius (121 degrees Fahrenheit) — the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada.  On Vancouver Island, famous for its moderate Pacific climate, the average June daily high is 20 degrees Celsius. The high for the summer is about 28.  But on June 28 it was 41.

There was no breeze.  Night temperatures were 28 degrees in many places. Lying awake in hot rooms, covered in sweat, many people became exhausted. The heart beats faster at 35 degrees C.  There is no cooling effect from the sweat because it does not evaporate.  If you do not drink enough cool water or cool off with showers and your body temperature rises significantly, you are likely to die.  

In 2001, only 10 per cent of B.C. homes had air conditioners, hitherto simply not necessary. Now 34 per cent have air conditioners because, over the past 20 years, the summer heat has been climbing. There are no air conditioners in stores now in BC, not even fans.  According to the BC Coroner there were 320 deaths in five days attributed to the heat.  Many dogs, cats and horses died and there is no way of reckoning the toll of B.C.’s still abundant wildlife. I have ordered a heat pump installed in my home to fight the heat. But the backlog of orders means it will be installed in late fall or next spring.  The Weather Network predicted a hot summer for B.C.  It reminds us now that this monstrous heat may happen again and again this summer.  

But it gets worse. We are living in a drought with only 1/3 of normal rain so far this year.  Already over 170 wildfires have occurred.  Lytton, the village that set the record for heat in all of Canada on June 27, was almost completely destroyed by fire on July 2. Speculation is that sparks from a braking train rolling into Lytton sparked a fire in the tinder dry grass and it spread quickly in the largely wood-frame town. The fire burned quickly and with great intensity. People ran for their lives, leaving everything behind. Two people were found dead so far.  Most residents are homeless.

Why is this happening? Heat waves in the past have occurred, breaking records by half a degree or by 1 degree.  In this event records were smashed by 10 degrees Celsius — way beyond the normal range. A temperate ocean-based climate zone on the BC coast was suddenly hotter than Death Valley or the Sahara Desert.

Climate disruption caused chiefly by burning fossil fuels is ruining our climate.  76% of carbon added to the atmosphere comes from burning fossil fuels.  In spite of the clear and present danger posed by the fossil fuel cartel, governments across this capitalist country continue to support the building of petro infrastructure, still extend loans, tax credits and subsidies of all kinds.

Nor are fossil fuel profiteers made to clean up after themselves. A quick look north, using Google map’s satellite view, clearly shows some of the impacts on the landscape. Scattered along the banks of the Athabasca River are among the world’s largest collections of tailings waste ponds—able to fill more than 500,000 Olympic swimming pools. These are so toxic that efforts are made to prevent ducks and other birds from going near them. But these efforts have low priority and many birds die a slow, painful death.  

Estimates of the cost of a cleanup are a trillion dollars. If all the subsidies were removed and the waste had to be remediated by the companies (if that is even possible) the oil business would be a major money-losing operation. Alberta companies get billions in subsidies from workers’ taxes across Canada to produce an earth-killing product and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney complains about equalization payments taken by Ottawa.

Moreover, consider the massive, ongoing violation of indigenous rights.

The oil cartel has a tight grip on Ottawa, Edmonton and all the other governments across the Canadian state. They and their bankers should be nationalized, placed under workers’ control and oil production should be shut down as rapidly as possible, to be replaced by a grid of green, renewable, non-carbon producing energy. And it has to happen very, very soon. We have to fight the pipelines, fight the refineries, and oppose the extraction of the terrible black, toxic, dirty oil from the Earth.

The heat wave just ended, is a harbinger of worse to come. The huge and beautiful boreal forests, and the abundant wildlife that thrives in them, cannot long survive such heat. They will succumb to the searing sun and the drought.  The forests will become deserts and humans will not be able to live here.  But where will we go?