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Editorial: The value and the danger of “Climate Change Adaptation” programs

photo by Josh Barwick, via Unsplash

Readers may well wonder about the “danger” mentioned in this headline.  The value of climate change adaptation is obvious to the well-informed: it will help willing residents and their communities better survive the extremes that climate change is bringing.

Better water conservation can prepare communities for longer, more intense droughts.  “FireSmart” actions can protect homes and neighbourhoods from some of the increasing risk of wildfire.  Producing more locally-grown food can help protect us from the hazards of drought-or-flood-or-hailstorm-caused crop failures in other major agricultural regions that we have long depended upon to supply us with food.  Energy conservation can reduce demand for energy from carbon-intensive sources, and from other ecologically-damaging sources such as more dams for more hydro power, which is not as “clean” as BC Hydro would like us to think.*

So we applaud the climate change adaptation programs in our region, and we’re grateful for them.  They are necessary.

What, then, is the “danger” mentioned above?

The danger is that we will be distracted and comforted by our adaptation and (slight) mitigation activities.  The danger is that we will think they are enough.  The danger is that they will keep us from rising up to demand the drastic and radical changes needed to slow climate change enough.

The danger is that we will diddle around with small stuff and continue to avoid pressuring our government hard enough to force it to take effective action on the big stuff.  The danger is that we will not recognize the looming dangers, despite the plethora of urgent warnings from various branches of science.

The danger is that too many of us are too comfortable, and are not convinced. We are the frogs in the bucket of water being heated, who won’t recognize that we’re being cooked until it’s too late.

Why are governments, including our own, so resistant to calls for effective action on climate change?  Why are they not heeding the solid scientific consensus?  Why are they continuing to encourage things that effectively “shit on our future,” to quote young Greta Thunberg?  

Institutional inertia is part of the problem.  Our systems have been well-established to operate in a certain way, and that way does not easily accommodate drastic change – even when it’s desperately needed to address a crisis. The necessary mechanisms exist – but the political pressures against employing them are crushing.

Corporate capture is a larger part of the problem.  Corporations, including oil companies and mining companies, who have huge influence over our elected officials, don’t want drastic action.  It would cut into their profits.  It is they and their toadies in our governments who cry about the “costs” of addressing climate change – but they never talk very much about the much higher costs, to everyone on the planet,  of failing to address climate change effectively.

They, and several unions, moan about the jobs that will be “lost” if various fossil-fuel production and transport projects are stopped, but they don’t say a word about the jobs that would be created in a massive move toward a low-carbon economy, and away from our current carbon-intensive economy. And they don’t talk about the loss of life and the economic hardship to families, caused by emergencies fueled by climate change.   

Ken Caldeira, climatologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in California, says, “For me, the issue is that we are transforming (and simplifying!) our world for many thousands of years into the future with millennia of rising sea [levels], acidified oceans and intolerable tropical temperatures, just because we weren’t willing to pay the small differential between fossil-fuelled prosperity and prosperity fuelled by non-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy systems.”  This quote appears in an article in the Guardian, entitled The heat is on over the climate crisis. Only radical measures will work.

Doing the small stuff is essential too; I don’t mean to denigrate it.  I do urge everyone to conserve water and energy, and to  make their homes and neighbourhoods “FireSmart,” and to grow vegetables in our yards – instead of lawns.  And there are probably other actions envisioned in the coming programs to address the climate crisis, and to adapt and mitigate. 

(Please do read the press release below, which prompted this editorial.)  But please don’t be complacent. 

If we want our children, and their children, to have a place where they can live, we need to get radical about the climate crisis and force our governments to listen to the science and to take action on it.  

* Two articles pointing out the non-“green” aspects of large dams for power production:

  https://thetyee.ca/News/2018/01/24/Megadams-Not-Clean-Green/

  https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/nov/06/hydropower-hydroelectricity-methane-clean-climate-change-study

Press release:

Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute Selected to Help Nine Municipalities Adapt to Impacts of Climate Change

May 17, 2019 – Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute (RDI) at Selkirk College is proud to announce it will be working with nine municipalities in the Kootenay and Boundary region in their efforts to strengthen their resilience to the effects of climate change.

RDI has been chosen by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to help these communities in the areas of climate change assessment and capacity building in support of local climate change adaptation efforts. Municipalities are on the front lines of climate change, so it is important they are developing plans and implementing actions to become more resilient.

Through contemporary peer learning networks focused on climate change resilience activities and training specific to this region, the project will help local leaders to integrate climate change adaptation into new or existing plans and systems. Participating municipalities will work with their peers toward similar goals using innovative approaches and solutions to the challenges they face.

“In April 2019, the Board of Directors of the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) declared a climate action imperative in recognition of the global and local state of climate crisis,” says Sangita Sudan, RDCK’s General Manager of Development Services. “The opportunity to participate in this new collaborative partnership focused on increasing local government’s capacity to address key climate risks and impacts such as flood, wildfire and extreme weather couldn’t be more timely.”

The RDI has been supporting climate adaptation in the region since 2014 and is pleased to receive $239,000 in federal funding to continue this work.

“Selkirk College’s Applied Research and Innovation Centre, which houses the RDI, is pleased to continue to support climate adaptation efforts in the region through research and capacity building support,” says Dr. Terri MacDonald, Director of Applied Research and Innovation at Selkirk College. “These types of initiatives create valuable experiential learning opportunities for our students as they work alongside our community partners and faculty advisors to advance innovation in our region.”

The RDCK joins the City of Nelson, City of Cranbrook, Town of Golden, City of Kimberley, Village of Silverton, City of Rossland, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary and the Regional District of East Kootenay in addressing shared climate adaptation challenges through this project.

The work with these communities is funded through FCM’s Climate Adaptation Partner grants available through FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP). MCIP, delivered by FCM and funded by the Government of Canada, is a five-year, $75-million program designed to support and encourage Canadian municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.