Research scientists report that additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the main culprit in the greenhouse effect, is stimulating forest growth at such a rate that carbon absorption is offsetting its release from beetle-killed B.C. forests. In fact, reports NASA, the entire planet has been “greening up.” That’s the good news.
Now for the bad news. If carbon dioxide stimulates forest growth, thus storing more carbon in green wood, the warming it triggers can cause dryer, hotter summers during which more forests may burn, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere. And if 2015 went into the books as the hottest year in recorded history, 2016 is already in the hunt for a new mark — last month was the hottest March on record and Arctic sea ice cover reached a low not seen before.
Here at home, we may be experiencing the advent of another stressful season of wildfires. In mid-April, no fewer than 49 temperature records were smashed across the province in a single day, and by Wednesday we had already had 168 wildfires across B.C., most of them in the northeastern region of the province.
Recent meteorological forecasts have been for a warmer than normal summer across the province. Let’s hope that doesn’t necessarily mean dryer, too, or we could be in for a repeat of last year’s “Summer of Smoke,” which brought beautiful sunsets to some places but drove tourists from Interior beaches in others.
There are other worrying indicators for both governments and taxpayers of what might lie ahead. Since 2005, wildfires have drained close to $1.9 billion from provincial government coffers — but $575 million of that went up in smoke over just the last two fire seasons. So if we are in for warmer, dryer summers with earlier, longer and more intense fire seasons, we should all steel ourselves for sharply rising costs and inconvenience. Even more troubling is the news that all but three of the first 163 wildfires reported in April were caused by humans.
All of which suggests taxpayers should expect to put up more money for firefighting and emergency response contingency funds. And that government should be striving to do a more effective job of educating the public on fire prevention both in personal activities during outdoor recreation and at work sites, but also regarding removal of potential fuel from around houses where forest encroaches.