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  • Atmospheric river disaster anniversary must spur fast and fair climate action

    Grt Vic Acting Together

    The climate crisis has shown its destructiveness in BC and the world over. Greater Victoria Acting Together urges government to stop making it worse.


    NOVEMBER 14 IS THE ANNIVERSARY of the atmospheric river that devastated much of BC. A year later we still have not fully recovered. Sections of the Malahat highway washed away, as did parts of all the highways from the coast to BC’s interior. In the Fraser Valley, farms necessary to feed us disappeared under water. Lives and livelihoods were lost. And more recently we had the reverse—months of drought that also jeopardized our food supply and more.

    The climate crisis is here and now, and there is no way we can successfully adapt if we keep making it worse. We must reduce our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions quickly and drastically, and we must draw down from the atmosphere by natural means some of the GHGs we have already sent there.

    Greater Victoria Acting Together (GVAT) is a coalition of member organizations representing tens of thousands of people. Our focus areas are affordable housing, mental health and addictions, and climate justice.

    GVAT’s Climate Justice Team has researched how to effectively reduce GHG pollution fairly. We asked the Capital Regional District (CRD) board to prioritize public transit, walking, rolling and cycling over highway expansion, and they voted unanimously to do so. If the new CRD board implements the transportation prioritization policy, and the provincial government respects the unanimous vote of our regional leaders, it will result in hundreds of millions of dollars invested in electric RapidBus lines, cycling routes, and sidewalks. This will not only result in lowered GHG emissions. We will also have cleaner air (think less childhood asthma), less noise, more vibrant cohesive communities (people won’t be isolated in their cars so much), more affordable transportation (cars and gas are expensive), more green space and housing (due to less space going to car lanes and parking),  and people will spend less time stuck in traffic.

    We asked municipalities and the provincial government to make sure people who use wheelchairs and mobility scooters are welcomed on all ages and abilities bike and roll routes. A year ago Victoria City council voted unanimously to do so, but implementation has been left to Mayor Alto and the newly elected council. Our communities must become more accessible for seniors and people with disabilities while we reduce car traffic 25% by 2030 as the provincial climate plan requires.

    Heat pumps both heat and cool, cost less to operate than conventional heating, and will save lives in future heat domes. New buildings must use heat pumps instead of gas heating, and older buildings need to be rapidly converted to save lives in extreme heat events and reduce GHG pollution.

    Our team researched how we can work with nature to solve climate change. Our Vancouver Island forests and agricultural lands are hugely important for this. Trees have the ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it within themselves and our coastal temperate rainforests are world class for this. Soil can also store huge amounts of carbon brought to it from the atmosphere via plant photosynthesis. Industrial forestry and industrial agriculture practices unfortunately do the opposite, releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere that could otherwise be stored in living trees and healthy soil. Forest protection and selective logging and regenerative agriculture practices capture and store carbon and employ more people too.  

    GVAT supports all the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review and wants the only allowable forestry practices to be those which preserve the natural ecological functions of forests. We want governments to provide support to workers and communities, including Indigenous communities, as they cease logging at-risk old growth, cease massive clearcutting, and transition to sustainable forestry practices and more diversified economies.

    Intact forests and food production are intertwined. Forests produce fertile soil and clean water.  They regulate the water cycle to prevent extremes of drought and flooding and the landslides and erosion of farmland that come with flooding and heavy rainfall. Old growth forests, and restorative forestry stands including deciduous trees, are also fire resistant whereas monoculture conifer tree plantations are highly flammable. 

    With Vancouver Island producing very little of its own food and supply chains fragile, we need to protect our forests and scale up our food production, including in cities (rooftop and boulevard gardens…). GVAT supports the CRD initiative to lease public lands to farmers so that high land prices are not a barrier.

    We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Let’s keep it that way. On the anniversary of each new year, many of us make new year’s resolutions. Let’s collectively make a resolution on this first anniversary of BC’s devastating 2021 atmospheric river. Let’s collectively resolve to care for our precious patch of Earth, protect nature so it can protect us and build and move about in climate friendly ways. Let’s push our governments to make Greater Victoria, and our whole province, an example of how to make climate action effective and fair.  

    Eric Doherty and Jane Welton are co-leads of Greater Victoria Acting Together’s Climate Justice Team.


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