A new series exploring the effects of climate change on Mayne and specific ways we can adapt.
The growing quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—because of all the fossil fuels we burn, forests we clear and fertilizers we use—are warming our world. This is leading to more extreme weather events around the world: floods, storms, droughts and fires. It also makes predicting the future more difficult because weather patterns are shifting, and the past is no longer a reasonable guide to what we can expect in the future.
Discussions about climate change frequently include the statement that mitigation—as in reducing the use of fossil fuel use—is global but all adaptation is local. So how might all this play out on Mayne Island, and what should we do about it?
Climate Change: Expect the Unexpected
The most obvious point about unpredictability is not to be surprised when unusual things happen. Bigger storms, more severe winds, perhaps more snowfalls in winter and longer droughts in summer are all likely, so being prepared for them is prudent. We will all need to be more alert to wildfire dangers in coming years if droughts get more severe, something that is probable if the West Coast of the continent dries out, as recent trends further south in California suggest it might. The Islands Trust climate change report published last year suggests just these kinds of changes: http://www.islandstrustconservancy.ca/media/84991/itc_climateprojectionsreport_final.pdf
While B.C. Hydro has worked harder in recent years to clear branches from near powerlines, we can all expect that storms will bring more power cuts, and perhaps more fires caused by live wires on vegetation. Careful clearing of trees can prevent disaster. Solar panels have become much cheaper over the last decade, and coupled with the dropping prices of big batteries, they too may be part of the solution for folks on Mayne, allowing at least essential items in our houses to be powered while we wait for Hydro to reconnect the power. The solar panels can top up the batteries while we wait. Daylight is what needed for most of them to work, although of course bright sun works best. Checking that roof materials on our buildings are solid matters too; windstorms are hazardous.
If the population on our Island continues to grow, and droughts in summer get more severe then adding storage capacity to our water systems, and upgrading them with meters to track leaks and curb waste will matter too. More rain barrels and water catchment for gardens too make sense, along with planting things that need less water. These are simple and practical adaptations that makes coping with more severe and unpredictable weather easier. Talking of water and storms, another simple practical thing to do: if downpipes aren’t going into water tanks then redirect them further away from houses. Check the grade to make sure water flows away from buildings.
Climate change is making things very difficult for traditional ways of doing conservation. Because weather patterns are changing species need to migrate to get to conditions that better suit them. Not just humans need to move out of harm’s way. No longer can we assume that ecosystems stay put so parks and ecological reserves have to plan for species migration.
On Mayne Island the invasive species of concern have been brought to the island by people, not natural movements. Gardens are the source of many invasive plants in our island ecosystem.
But in coming years we all have to think harder about which new species we think are desirable on the island and which ones are showing up because ecological conditions are making them migrate. At a rough guess this will be most obvious from which bird species come to our feeders, as well as what shows up on fish hooks when they come to the rich feeding grounds in Active Pass. But other critters too may yet surprise us in future years as their range shifts in ways that we will be hard pressed to anticipate.
In terms of climate change we all have to think about what kind of an Island we want, but also be sensible about what can grow where, and pay attention to larger political developments too. Rapidly reducing our use of fossil fuels is essential to slowing down climate change and making it easier to deal with the inevitable changes. That’s something we can all do in small ways, but changing the bigger decisions about what to invest in is crucial, and that requires constant agitation to get politicians to do sensible things for the future. If they are investing in things that involve burning stuff then they are making climate change worse!
Simon Dalby works in the disciplines of environmental security and critical geopolitics. He lives on Mayne Island part time.