Area E talks climate change and Official Community Plan

About 80 people came out June 22 for the Area E Town Hall Meeting on Climate Change hosted by area director Alison Nicholson. It was an opportunity to rethink land use through a climate change lens as we move forward in development of a new Cowichan/Koksilah Official Community Plan.

Guest speaker Dr. Andrew Weaver provided an overview of the science and the challenges, followed by a productive discussion with four additional panelists and many engaged members of our community.

Dr. Weaver is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, and that, based on the published literature, has consistently projected an increase in global warming from pre-industrial times of between 1.5 and 4.5 C from the humancaused release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Tens of thousands of scientific articles, 35 years of science, have left no ambiguity. We will see more extreme weather events, more flooding, drought, ice melt and forest fires.

“We do not need more science. It’s all political now,” he said.

What remains are ethical and moral questions that science cannot answer. The people making decisions right now will not be around to experience the consequences of those decisions. And with young people disengaged from the political process, they have no say in the direction their government is taking.

Projections into 2090 show that very different outcomes are possible if reduction in fossil fuel dependency is chosen over the business as usual option. Developed nations have the technology and the ability to adapt, but societal inertia has worked against investing in renewable energy and instituting cap and trade or carbon pricing.

“It is in every individual’s interest to do nothing,” Dr. Weaver said, because the cost of action is immediate and the cost of inaction is down the road, on the backs of future generations.

The immediate impacts are disproportionately experienced in developing countries and in natural ecosystems with alarming rates of species extinction. Several of the panelists and community members stressed the importance of a change in government in October’s federal election so that Canada can more appropriately respond to climate change.

Dr. Weaver reminded us of what many of us here on Vancouver Island already know – we are living in one of the best places on the planet for weathering the impact of climate change. That triggered a discussion about how we prepare for an influx of climate refugees. Fisheries biologist Tom Rutherford noted that the OCP is a road map for how we want our community to develop. If we are anticipating an influx of people then we must plan so we can manage the impacts, avoid the scattering of people throughout the region, zone for sustainability, such as the creation of community gardens, and continue with watershed planning.

Already in Cowichan there are numerous community responses to climate change, including the bulk solar panel purchase spearheaded by Peter Nix and the Cowichan Carbon Busters, the geothermal system at The Hub in Cowichan Station, the Cowichan Bio-diesel Co-op and One Cowichan’s solar campaign that is hosting the Cowichan Solar Tour of properties from Chemainus to Mill Bay that already have solar installations. Locally, we are lucky to have Lake Cowichan, but we have a water storage problem and much work to do on water conservation.

Dr. Weaver invited us to look toward Langford and be wary of the development pressures that change the dynamic of a community and lead to loss of farmland within and outside of the ALR, and that are destroying valuable countryside from Victoria to Campbell River.

“Cowichan has been the bread basket of Vancouver Island,” he said.

As forestry land is logged, subdivided and sold the current practice leads to the loss of countryside, as we have seen in Sooke, Malahat and Parksville. Shawnigan Lake’s Bruce Fraser stressed the need for a Shawnigan watershed management plan and discussions with the large forest companies. When the next industrial rotation becomes available in 30 to 40 years they won’t have the social licence to continue current practices so they should start now, he said, thinking of it as a community forest.

Several people made an argument for regional planning rather than the current piecemeal process of one electoral area at a time.

“We don’t have enough time for so many conversations,” said Duncan councillor Michelle Staples.

Environmental communications expert Cara Pike agreed, pointing to how planning on a larger regional level and making larger system decisions are necessary for good climate action planning. Kathleen Sheppard of Social Planning Cowichan said that high levels of poverty in the Cowichan Valley will worsen with climate change and that social cohesion is essential to ensuring that all are able to adapt. Designer and builder David Coulson encouraged people to pick something that interests them and get involved, and especially to make it interesting for youth. The final comment of the evening, from a woman in the audience, summed it up quite well. “We all know part of the answer,” she said. Collectively we bring a broad range of interest and expertise to the problem, and by getting involved we can mitigate the crisis.

Hilary Stead is alternate director for Area E and lives in Sahtlam.