A group of Cortes Islanders are taking it upon themselves to make sure the community is ready for the climate crisis.
They are also working to lower Cortes’ emissions in an effort to lessen the crisis’ impacts.
“We’re in a climate emergency and we need to do everything we can to actually mitigate the crisis and adapt to it,” said Ashley Zarbatany, a member of Climate Hope, the organization behind the Cortes Island Climate Adaptation Plan. “A few of us have come together to try and put together a plan for the island so that we can do our part to mitigate the crisis by identifying what our major greenhouse gas sources are on the island and ways to cut those greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also to identify the ways that we’re going to be impacted by climate change and what our unique climate risks are here on our island.”
Though the population of Cortes is small, Zarbatany said the per capita emissions are much higher than of other places in the world. Many homes on Cortes use wood-burning stoves for heat, which are a source of emissions. According to a 2007 report on greenhouse gas emissions, heating and electricity for buildings make up 18 per cent of the island’s total emissions, or roughly 2.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita. Higher still is the transportation sector, which makes up almost 50 per cent of the total. Since Cortes lacks a public transit system, most transportation is done by car.
Zarbatany said that one of the goals was to identify current data for those emissions sources and to work on reducing them.
“Some people say ‘well we’re a small island with a small population and what we do doesn’t matter.’ I completely disagree with that. I think we should be leaders and set an example for others to follow,” she said. “Just thinking about the implications world-wide like climate displacement and migration and the need for humanitarian aid in the future… if we do our part to reduce emissions and mitigate the crisis those needs will be less intense.”
The other part of the plan is adaptation. With the effects of climate change already becoming visible around the world including devastating wildfire seasons, high global average temperatures (according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2020 tied with 2016 for the hottest year on record), Zarbatany and Climate Hope are working to ensure that Cortes Island is ready for those impacts.
“We’re looking at areas that are going to be impacted by sea level rise, which parts of the island are more prone to wildfire risk, what we need to do to prepare for drought and what exactly the climate impacts will be and how we can adapt to and prepare for them,” she said.
After identifying risks and ways the mitigate them, the plan is to support initiatives that look at climate change response in a holistic way to ensure that benefits are extended to the majority of the community.
“If we don’t have a holistic approach to addressing climate change that takes into consideration a healthy economy, impacts on health, eliminating poverty, addressing social issues, preparing for migration and pressures on our borders, we’re just not going to be able to address the emergency,” Zarbatany said. “Scientists say that the next few years are the most important in our history. It’s time to act.”
The group is just finalizing their report, and will make it available to the public soon. From there they will get feedback from people in the community starting with Cortes-based First Nations and make any necessary amendments before bringing the plan to the Strathcona Regional District board.
“We are going to present this plan to the SRD in the hopes that it will adopt the plan and enact it,” she said. “We’re just trying to facilitate the process.”