Manitoba·Opinion

How many more homes must burn?

I’ve been watching footage of the raging forest fires in B.C., only a few months after homes flooded across Quebec and Ontario, only a year after Fort McMurray went up in flames. I have disaster fatigue.

We're drowning in evidence of climate change, Alex Paterson writes

Climate change will bring continued battles with natural disasters such as wildfires and floods, Alex Paterson writes. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

I've been watching footage of the raging forest fires in B.C., only a few months after homes flooded across Quebec and Ontario, only a year after Fort McMurray went up in flames, not even five years since downtown Calgary was submerged by floods.

I have disaster fatigue.

Did you remember that just two years ago Saskatchewan was on fire for almost a whole summer and B.C. was on fire with terrible drought and water levels at an all-time low? When I was in Tofino that summer, they were a month from losing water.

The Monte Lake wildfire has prompted evacuations in B.C. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
These images make me ask whether we are not just living with our heads in the sand. We seem to keep on forgetting the last disaster exacerbated by climate change. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists says we can expect climate change to exacerbate wildfires and lengthen the wildfire season.

"The economic costs of wildfires can be crippling. Between 2000 and 2009, the property damages from wildfires averaged $665 million per year" in the U.S., an article on the scientific organization's website says.

"We're going to have to understand that bracing for a 100-year storm is maybe going to happen every 10 years now, or every few years," our prime minister said after the floods in Ontario and Quebec. "And that means as we look to rebuild our communities, our homes, our infrastructure, we're going to have to think about what we can do to rebuild better."

The reality could end up being even worse than what our PM was willing to admit.

In New York Magazine, David Wallace Wells recently wrote a controversial article entitled "The Uninhabitable Earth." If climate change goes unchecked, we could face a world so hot it scalds us, air so toxic it suffocates us, and sea levels so high they drown out most of us, he says.

Even if we get halfway there, we are going to face a world refugee crisis that makes Syria pale in comparison to the droves of wretched victims of fossil fuels coming ashore. 

I think it's time as Manitobans and as Canadians that we ask some really hard questions about our future.

An aerial view shows wildfire destruction around Look Lake, B.C. (Thompson-Nicola Regional District)
How many more of our homes need to go up in flames before we recognize climate change is already here in the raging forest fires?

How many more homes need to flood before we realize climate change is drowning our hopes and dreams?

How many more families need to lose their homes before we get serious about climate change by leaving oilsands and pipeline expansion behind?

How many more refugees need to knock at our doors before we stare reality in the face? 

These are the questions we need to reckon with as a country. These are the questions we need to ask ourselves every single day as we put off shutting down the oilsands and look to break ground on building new pipelines this fall.

What is Trudeau's calculus on how many homes can be left charred before he lets go of the dream of making Canada a fossil-fuel superpower? That is the callous math of climate change and energy politics we live in today. Much like in a war, governments and corporations seem to be calculating acceptable losses. Oil companies need to profit from their resources and it appears as if they are willing to let our homes burn instead of strand their investments. 

Even with the federal government's new climate plan we are not on track to be carbon neutral by mid-century. Nonetheless, the federal Liberals continue to trumpet oil development and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, MP for Winnipeg South Centre, has already promised to use all of Canada's security services to protect pipeline construction from protestors.

Kinder Morgan is going to break ground this fall on their Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and behind them, Enbridge will soon begin work on their Line 3 expansion right here in Manitoba.

These pipelines could massively expand oilsands emissions. Every inch of that new pipe could contribute to someone's house going up in flames or being submerged in the rising floodwaters of climate change. Every one of those homes could be another family's lost memories and dreams. 

Climate change has a cost that is rising year by year. Home by home and dream by dream, the cost rises.

I hope you can decide when the cost is too heavy a debt to pay. How many homes must burn before we shut down the oilsands and keep it in the ground?

Brian Pallister better be asking himself these questions as he dithers on carbon pricing.


Alex Paterson is a freelance writer living in Winnipeg.

About the Author

Alex Paterson is a graduate student in Indigenous governance at the University of Winnipeg and a semi-retired campaigner for climate justice.