Opinion: British Columbia must make a commitment to further protect its natural environment, before the damage becomes too great to be repaired


A motorist drives on a service road along the closed Trans-Canada Highway as floodwaters fill ditches beside the road and farmland in Abbotsford, British Columbia on December 1.DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

Kevin Barlow is the Executive Director of the Society for Nature and Parks of Canada in British Columbia and a member of the Mi’kmaw Nation.

I used to hear a prophecy from elders as a child, growing up in New Brunswick as a member of the Mi’kmaw Nation. I catch myself thinking about it now as I put my umbrella back on, against the atmospheric rivers and torrential rains of British Columbia.

The prophecy, of the Hopi people, declares that we would enter a period of great chaos, supposed to begin around 2030. It predicts tsunamis, major earthquakes and parts of North America underwater, or as a series of lakes and islands. The situation could only be stopped by people working together – people they called “Rainbow Warriors”. I believe we are seeing the beginnings of this prophecy now.

This is why I was pleased to hear last week’s Federal Throne Speech making the clear link between climate change and biodiversity loss, and asserting that loss contributes to the impact of climate change. It is a vicious cycle that we must stop.

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It’s not too soon. I’ve lived in British Columbia for a decade now and never imagined seeing climate change take hold here so quickly. But there it was – the dome of summer heat, which saw billions of cooked seashells alive on the shores, and over 800,000 hectares of forest destroyed during one of the worst fire seasons on record.

And now the floods: Displaced rivers and lakes are returning to their natural locations, and water is everywhere, making its own way. Mother Earth demands that we pay attention to it. These are the catastrophes that the ancients warned us against.

We need the government of British Columbia to follow the federal lead and commit to further protecting nature in the province before the damage becomes too great to be repaired.

Some initiatives are already in place. Last February, our federal and provincial governments committed to developing a nature accord, which will unite them bilaterally to conserve more of British Columbia’s biodiversity and protect species at risk, like the spotted owl. In August, the federal government pledged an additional $ 796 million for nature conservation and $ 340 million for Indigenous-led conservation.

It is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. British Columbia must use this money wisely and apply it to real goals. The federal government has promised to protect 30% of Canada’s land and water by 2030, but it’s clear that climate change is moving faster than we are.

A chimney is all that is left standing in a house that was destroyed by the White Rock Lake wildfire in Monte Lake, British Columbia, in August.DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

At this point, we need British Columbia to set an interim goal of protecting the province of 25% by 2025, to help protect these ecosystems and make them more resilient to a warming world.

Indigenous-led projects like Dene Kʼéh Kusān would put British Columbia on the right track to meet these goals. The Kaska Dena communities plan to protect an area in northeastern British Columbia that is larger than Vancouver Island. There are no clearcuts, no mines and no settlements. There are not even a road in these four million hectares of new protected land, rich in wildlife such as caribou, moose and mountain goats.

It is not too late to make changes. Setting aside more natural habitat and ensuring species at risk are not lost forever requires action at all levels. As citizens, elected officials, businesses and communities, together we must do more. I hope this commitment will be reflected in the British Columbia Speech from the Throne next spring.

The interweaving of indigenous and western knowledge can create the optimal responses we need to slow and reverse biodiversity loss. Remember that indigenous peoples practiced a sustainable way of life that has allowed them to survive for millennia.

We have the capacity to bridge all the social divisions that we have for the good of the generations which follow us. We can work together on this important call to action. Together we can be the rainbow warriors that the Hopi prophecy spoke of, who can heal Mother Earth and make her green again.

Officials provide update on B.C.’s flood response as the province braces for more storms, which are expected to sweep through areas of the province already struggling to recover from last week’s flooding .

The Canadian Press

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