British Columbia

From forest fires to pipeline jobs, politics of climate hit home for northern B.C. residents

Northern British Columbia is projected to be one of the regions hardest hit by climate change in Canada, but it's also one of the areas most dependent on resource-based jobs.

Resource-heavy region projected to be heavily affected by warming temperatures

Prince George's faux-wood lumberjack mascot Mr. PG in the haze of the 2018 wildfires. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

While 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has the ears of Canadian political leaders and the United Nations on climate change, another teenaged Greta, living on Haida Gwaii off the north coast of British Columbia, has more modest ambitions.

"We're going to ask about starting a youth group with the village [of Queen Charlotte] office," Greta Romas, a Grade 11 student at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary School, told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"Some of the things we're planning on doing are starting community greenhouses, starting to use more renewable energy and having public transportation, because we don't have any of that currently."

Romas helped organize just one of the dozens of climate strikes that occurred across the country this week. But living on an archipelago in northern British Columbia, she is more likely to be negatively impacted by climate change than most Canadians.

Students from GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary School in the Village of Queen Charlotte lead a climate strike on Sept. 25, 2019. (David Archer)
Approximately 100 people gathered under Mr. PG in Prince George at the intersection of Highway 97 and Highway 16 for a climate strike on Sept. 27. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A 2019 report commissioned by Canada's Environment and Climate Change Department warns the country's oceans are rising between one millimetre and 4.5 millimetres each year, with a predicted rise of up to 50 centimetres over the next eight decades on B.C.'s North Coast.

The report also found that Canada's annual average temperature is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with the highest rates occurring in the North, the Prairies and northern British Columbia.

"That means a big shift in extremes," said Joseph Shea, an assistant professor of environmental geomatics at the University of Northern British Columbia. 

"It's going to affect our mountain snow packs, which deliver a lot of the water to the rivers in this region. It's going to affect things like forest fires, we're going to have more extreme fire weather conditions. And it will also change the way precipitation is delivered... which can cause more localized flooding."

Lila Mansour, an economics student at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, said the environment is her top priority in the 2019 election. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

For students like Lila Mansour, who is studying economics at the university, these kind of warnings make the need to act — and vote — with the environment in mind a top priority.

"We're very worried about our future," said Mansour, who is also volunteering for her local Green Party candidate. "We have the responsibility to do what we can."

But how best to go about that is the matter of political debate, and one that hits close to home for many residents of British Columbia's interior and north.

B.C.'s northeast is rich in oil and gas, while coastal communities such as Kitimat and Prince Rupert stand to benefit economically as new facilities and jobs are created to ship those products overseas.

A map shows the pipeline's northern route from Dawson Creek on the right to Kitimat, B.C., on B.C.'s North Coast on the left.
Final approval has been given for a $40-billion liquefied natural gas plant and pipeline for northern B.C. The 670-kilometre pipeline will run natural gas from Dawson Creek to the plant in Kitimat, which will liquefy and export the gas to Asia. (CBC News)

Kristi Leer, a small business owner in Fort Nelson, believes resource development and environmental action can go hand in hand.

"We're trying to get our LNG to market to help clean the environment," Leer said.

Her views align with federal Liberals and Conservatives and provincial NDP, which hold that shipping Canadian liquefied natural gas internationally can help reduce carbon emissions worldwide and be part of the country's overall climate strategy.

But Bobby Deepak, a labour lawyer and past candidate for the provincial NDP in Prince George, said that viewpoint has been disputed by climate scientists, as well as the federal Greens and NDP.

"[Pipelines] will increase net greenhouse gas emissions," Deepak said. "We really need to address these issues."

He said the implications of not acting on the environment have already affected jobs in the Prince George region, pointing to a series of mill shutdowns spurred in part because of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and back-to-back years of record-breaking forest fires.

A convoy of logging trucks drive through downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Both Deepak and Leer say any environmental policy must include a plan to help resource-based communities maintain jobs and residents, something Shea said should be possible with some forward-thinking policies.

"Promoting renewable energies and different ways of operating doesn't mean less jobs, it just means different jobs," he said.

"We are a resource-based economy in the north. But there's lots of opportunity."

Listen to the full discussion:

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Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at You can also send encrypted messages using Signal or iMessage to 250.552.2058.