A wildfire burns near the access road to Zeballos last August. It’s too early to say with certainty whether last year’s fires resulted from man-made climate change, but many wildfires and other extreme weather events are directly linked to climate change driven by human emissions, according to scientists. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Hot topic: Prof to speak about effects of human-induced climate change in Campbell River

Public meeting comes as city plans for dozens of potential effects linked to global warming

Increasingly dire warnings about the effects of a human-induced climate crisis continue to be dismissed by some members of the public.

A professor of geography who specializes in climate change research is inviting those people to an information session in Campbell River next week.

The public meeting is billed as a chance for residents to learn about climate change, its possible impacts on Island communities like Campbell River and what the city is doing to adapt.

“If people want to come out that have opposing views, that’s wonderful,” says Jeff Lewis, a professor of geography at Vancouver Island University.

Lewis and city staff will be fielding questions from the public during the drop-in event, organized jointly by the city and Strathcona Regional District (SRD).

The information session comes on the heels of several extreme weather events, including two of the worst wildfire seasons on record in B.C., 2017 and 2018.

It’s too early to say with certainty whether those fires resulted from man-made climate change, Lewis says. But scientists have found that many wildfires and other extreme events related to heat – including droughts and heat waves – are directly linked to climate change driven by human emissions.

“What they’ve found with a lot of these events is there’s almost no chance of some of these events happening, or at least not to the same severity or same length” without human-induced climate change, Lewis says.

Examples include the massive wildfires that hit Alaska in 2015. Climate change “just provided the really dry conditions that made the fires more severe,” Lewis says.

Global warming is currently on track to surpass the 1.5 C increase over pre-industrial levels that scientists have warned will lead to disaster. Amid the crisis, Lewis says he tries to focus on positive actions for the future.

“Even if we take small steps, we’re always able to avoid even more extreme climate change,” he says. “It will never get to the point where we just say it’s too late.”

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Students take part in a protest against climate change, in Aarhus, Denmark, Friday, March 15, 2019. Students in cities worldwide skipped classes in protest over their governments’ failure to act against global warming. Photo by Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix via AP 

A post about the upcoming information session prompted gripes on the Facebook group Campbell River Rant, Rave and Randomness this week. Commenters on the popular online forum dismissed climate change as a “cash grab” or a “cash cow… to force people into a carbon tax.”

The B.C. government introduced a carbon tax in 2008, and the federal government is currently implementing a nation-wide carbon pricing system aimed at provinces without a carbon tax.

The B.C. carbon tax currently stands at $35 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. It goes up to $40 per tonne on April 1 and is expected to increase annually until it reaches $50 per tonne in 2021.

Lewis says the federal system is revenue-neutral – meaning the government doesn’t take in additional funds – while the B.C. system was revenue neutral up to $30 per tonne. According to the B.C. government, new revenues from carbon tax increases will be go towards tax relief for low- and middle-income people and various programs meant to encourage green development.

Polls suggest that most Canadians accept that human-induced climate change is taking place, but there’s widespead distrust of government in dealing with the problem, Lewis says.

“I find that the best way to bridge that conversation is talking about things that we all have in common,” he says. “We all like to do things out in the environment, whether it’s fishing or hunting or whatever… We want to be able to raise our kids in that sense of environment and have them experience what we experience.”

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On the municipal level, the City of Campbell River is currently engaged in a two-year effort to identify climate-related risks and to develop an action plan to adapt to climate change, including the effects of sea level rise.

A preliminary impact statement posted on the city’s website lists dozens of potential impacts linked to climate change in Campbell River. Those effects include extreme rainfall, wildfires, droughts and rising sea levels. Climate change-linked extreme weather events could threaten buildings and infrastructure, including highways, bridges, ferries, and water and sanitary systems.

Next week’s information session comes in the wake of a dire warning from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last October. The IPCC said drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed before 2030 to avoid catastrophe.

The IPCC brings together thousands of experts from around the world to assess published literature about climate change and to provide information to governments.

Its most recent major synthesis report, published in 2014, states that unprecedented levels of greenhouse gas emissions and other human influences “are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The 2014 report also says there’s no doubt that global warming has taken place, resulting in many changes unprecedented over decades or millenia. Those changes include warmer atmosphere and ocean temperatures, diminished snow and ice, and higher sea levels.

The event Climate Change and Vancouver Island takes place Thursday, April 4, from 6 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in the Rotary Hall at the Maritime Heritage Centre, 621 Island Hwy. The drop-in event is free and light refreshments will be served, according to a notice on the SRD’s website.