B.C. VIEWS: When weather becomes climate

My summer road trip to the B.C. Interior began as soon as the Trans-Canada Highway reopened at Chilliwack. The crew had worked through the night to clear a mudslide studded with rocks the size of Smart cars, along with a couple of actual cars.

Highway 97 north of Prince George is undergoing major repairs after a rainstorm in late June forced closure in 16 places.

VICTORIA – My summer road trip to the B.C. Interior began as soon as the Trans-Canada Highway reopened at Chilliwack. The crew had worked through the night to clear a mudslide studded with rocks the size of Smart cars, along with a couple of actual cars.

We headed up the historic canyon route from Hope to Yale to Cache Creek, the Fraser River still surging a month after it should have settled back. At Ashcroft, river rafters bravely bobbed on the brown torrent.

The Williams Lake Stampede went ahead between rain showers, bull riders benefiting from soft conditions while barrel racers struggled.

We drove to Prince George and then Vanderhoof, the geographical centre of B.C., where the Nechako River looked ready to climb out of its banks. As we arrived news came that all this thundering water had done its work, toppling a hydroelectric tower at Surrey, briefly closing the Trans-Canada Highway again.

One family member was unable to come down from Chetwynd for a visit. He was cut off by a staggering 16 washouts of Highway 97 north of Prince George in the Pine Pass, which winds through the Hart Range. This stretch of road has long been a contender for the most extreme mountain conditions in B.C., but one night of torrential rain tore it up beyond anything seen in my lifetime.

This pass is the only road link from southern B.C. to the vast Northeast. The rains would keep coming around Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, disrupting farms, natural gas development, a coal mine and a wind farm with floods and washouts.

The transportation ministry and its contractors had a winding track open through the Pine Pass construction zone within days, an amazing effort to restore essential freight traffic into the region that has emerged as B.C.’s main economic engine. But reconstruction will likely take the rest of the summer.

We were back in Victoria by the time the Fraser River finally crested at the Mission gauge after six weeks of high water, its latest peak since 1920.

During the trip, gasoline prices reached a high of $1.31, nudged up slightly by the latest increase in the carbon tax as well as political turmoil overseas. This is B.C.’s largely symbolic nod to the concern that extreme weather events are accelerating due to huge consumption of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases.

I’ve been careful not to make any sweeping statements about the evolving science of climate change. But the sheer power of recent weather events, and the scars left by bark beetles and fires, are difficult to ignore.

Australia has just taken bolder steps than those of B.C., imposing a carbon tax on the country’s 500 largest carbon emitters. The government proposes to collect the revenues for three years and invest them in renewable energy, transition for coal and steel industries and tax cuts for consumers who will have industrial carbon taxes passed on to them in the price of goods.

Then the Australian carbon tax is supposed to convert to an emissions trading system designed to push industry into a cleaner future.

B.C.’s carbon tax doesn’t exempt industry as its critics sometimes claim. The tax is imposed on all fuels used in industry, but hasn’t been extended to industrial process emissions.

By far the largest greenhouse gas source in B.C. remains vehicles, at around 40 per cent of the total.

• Another highlight of the trip was the visible resurgence of the forest industry. May’s trade figures show B.C. lumber sales to China have surpassed the U.S. for the first time.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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