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The end of God's country?

Glacial melt threatens B.C.'s beauty

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B.C. scientists examine decline in glacial thickness.


B.C. scientists examine decline in glacial thickness.

VANCOUVER -- British Columbia has always been blessed with excess water, especially when you factor in the 17,000 glaciers that majestically top the province's many rugged mountains.

Responsible for helping to shape much of the province since time immemorial, those exquisite glaciers are both a photographer's dream and one way of measuring the environmental health of B.C.

But they are rapidly shrinking, and the melting rate is expected to gather speed as the destructive effects of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels continues.

The glacial melt, discussed recently in an exhaustive U.S. report on climate change, is expected to eventually harm forests, animals, fisheries and B.C.'s well-known network of hydro dams.

"Most glaciers in Alaska and British Columbia are shrinking substantially. This trend is expected to continue and has implications for hydropower production, ocean circulation patterns, fisheries and global sea-level rise," said the National Climate Assessment report.

"The global decline in glacial and ice-sheet volume is predicted to be one of the largest contributors to global sea-level rise during this century," the report added.

Imagining what will happen when the last of the glaciers melt is more than frightening. B.C.'s stunning rivers will become a trickle of their former selves, relying only on rain, which in some areas of the province is also diminishing. B.C.'s many lakes, beautiful now beyond belief, could become stressed, toxic and die. One can only think that humans will as well.

Considering this potential catastrophe, one could logically expect provincial politicians based in Victoria to rise up together and finally, despite their ideological differences, agree to end their love affair with carbon-dioxide-producing coal, oil and gas.

But both the governing Liberals and opposition New Democrats appear to be frozen in a business-as-usual petrodollar time warp, a sort of ghoulish wax museum where the cackling bad guys, with their aggressively smiling public relations departments, always win.

Yet that bleakest of scenarios our grandchildren could have to deal with doesn't have to become reality. There is another proven way, as long as B.C.'s politicians are not too cowardly to say no to their fossil-fuel addiction and begin embracing a healthier future.

Two weeks ago, Germany showed B.C.'s politicians how renewable energies, mostly wind and solar power, can create a new, cleaner world order. Germany, the fourth-largest economy in the world, with a population of more than 80 million, one day saw almost 75 per cent of its electricity demand met by green energy.

According to a Bloomberg report, during the first quarter of 2014, solar and wind power met a record 27 per cent of electricity demand in the heavily industrialized nation. Germany also intends to increase its share of renewable energies to at least 80 per cent by 2050 to replace the last of its nuclear plants, scheduled to be closed by 2022, while continuing to reduce its use of fossil fuels.

Indeed, according to one poll, 69 per cent of Germans support Energiewende, their ambitious energy-transformation plan, because they believe the existing nuclear- and fossil-fuel-based energy system is no longer sustainable.

So if one of the most powerful, modern and wealthy nations in the world is efficiently demonstrating a path away from continued greenhouse gas emissions destructively heating our atmosphere and melting our glaciers, why can't politicians in B.C. also see the error of their ways?

True, it's not just elected officials here in "Beautiful B.C." who are remiss in their duties to future generations. But all British Columbians, including politicians, have been taught since birth that the province is one of the world's few remaining environmental gems, which include our mountains, our rivers, our glaciers.

Here, however, the elected officials in both major parties forget our environment when it comes to taking advantage of the potential bonanza B.C. could realize if it becomes a major exporter of liquefied natural gas to primarily energy-hungry Asian markets.

Although there are as many as 14 different LNG proposals for the province, none is currently in operation.

Leading the charge is Premier Christy Clark, who has promised a future tax on LNG could generate a minimum of $100 billion over 30 years, more than easily wiping out B.C.'s debt. Even new NDP Leader John Horgan is an avowed fan of an LNG industry, as it could create well-paying jobs for northern B.C.

Both leaders no doubt understand that even natural gas produces greenhouse gases, and I'm sure they are repeatedly told it is a "cleaner" alternative to oil and coal. But LNG emissions, however you rationalize them, will still contribute to a runaway climate-change train.

In Germany, politicians have decided to fight against climate change, which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says is the greatest threat to humankind.

In B.C., we are merrily fiddling while Rome burns. Our politicians seem to be enjoying a self-inflicted ride to ruin that will melt the province's glaciers. Denial is us.

Chris Rose is a Vancouver writer and the Winnipeg Free Press West Coast correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 0

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