Many Kelowna residents said they felt the reality of climate change weigh down on them last month, as a heavy blanket of smoke rolled over the valley.
A long, and unusually hot summer made a number of US and Canadian forests particularly vulnerable to fire.
And when a strong northerly wind stoked the flames of a Washington blaze, it carried a week’s worth of ash to the Okanagan.
The quantity of fine particulate matter in Kelowna’s sky was measured at 390 micrograms per cubic metre as August came to a close, said Tarek Ayache, an air quality specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment.
At the peak of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire, the reading only got as high as 300 micrograms per cubic metre.
Delhi, India, which is considered one of the dirtiest cities in the world, had cleaner skies than Kelowna did that week.
It was a phenomenon that significantly disrupted the flow of activity in the Okanagan.
In addition to health concerns among the elderly and children, tourism operators took a hit as beaches emptied and visitors headed for cleaner spaces.
Even Okanagan College reported a side effect, noting that their facility-running, solar batteries were drained as the sun’s rays were blocked.
For longtime Kelowna resident and environmental advocate Angela Nagy, the summer and its effects were far from a surprise.
That doesn’t mean, however, she took them in stride.
“I look around and I am disappointed,” she said.
“We had 30 years to figure it out. If we only listened to the scientists, we wouldn’t be in this position.
“Now, even if we stopped all emissions, scientists say it would take 50 years to go back to normal.”
Nagy, who is a former Kelowna city councillor and Green Party candidate is the CEO of GreenStep Solutions, a business aimed at helping others improve their environmental footprint.
And, thanks to training by former US vice-president Al Gore, David Suzuki, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists she’s qualified to speak on Climate Reality Project presentations to raise awareness on the issue.
“While you can’t point at a forest fire or storm and say, ‘That’s because of climate change,’ we know the incidence of these catastrophic events will increase,” Nagy said, pointing out that scientists say that more extreme weather events, and the subsequent fallout, are the new normal.
Locally, she said, those weather fluctuations are projected to cause the most issue by creating drought and forest fires.
“That will affect agriculture, tourism and forestry,” she said, adding that there are countless other economic spin-offs from these changes.
If the changes are already underway, however, what happens next?
“We need to do two things, first and foremost, we need to be mitigating climate change by meeting science-based emissions reductions targets and we need to invest in adaptations,” she said.
Unfortunately, she said, some emission producing industries have more influence on government policy than they should, and climate change targets are falling to the wayside.
The Harper government now says Canada will reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030—a commitment that’s been described as one of the least ambitious targets of any advanced industrial country.
It’s an opportunity lost in favour of short-term gain, said Nagy.
While it may offer smoggier industries profit in the meantime, there are economic opportunities being lost.
“There are emission reduction (activities) that could stimulate the economy and provide more predictability into the future,” Nagy said.
Government, however, may have to start prompting business to take those greener steps, she said. Leaning into her Green Party roots, Nagy pointed out that Elizabeth May and the party she leads have consistently shown the intention to address those needs on a national level.
“The Green Party is very focused on, ‘What does the science say?’ and upholding commitments on the national level, while not interfering with conversations at the international level,” she said. “The Stephen Harper government is known for getting in there and talking around the issue and avoiding action.”
NDP, Liberal and Conservative leaders have been discussing their environmental policy in dribs and drabs, when asked questions about pipelines and emissions.
The Green Party has released its platform in full.