You’ve probably seen the shocking and disturbing news. BC experienced a brutal heatwave which brought record-breaking high temperatures of nearly 50˚C. Hundreds of people died. More than a billion seashore animals may have been cooked to death. The extreme heat and resulting dry conditions fed raging wildfires which devastated whole communities. Lytton, BC was burned to the ground.

Did climate change play a role in this devastating disaster? 

Often it can be difficult to know how much extreme weather is due to climate change. In this case though, we have a clear answer: yes, this was a climate disaster.

A recent study from an international group of scientists found the heatwave could not have happened without climate change. They found climate change made this event 150 times more likely. This heatwave was caused by climate change.

This study adds to an extremely important and rapidly growing body of scientific research called ‘attribution science’ that is finding clear contributions of climate change to extreme weather events.

Other attribution studies have also concluded climate change contributed to major extreme weather events in Canada. One study of BC’s record-breaking 2017 wildfires found the fires were made 7-11 times larger because of climate change. Another study of heat extremes in the summer of 2018, which included a heatwave in Quebec estimated to have killed up to 70 people, found climate change played a central role. A 2017 study concluded the massive 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires, one of the most expensive disasters in Canadian history, costing over $3.5 billion in damages, were made 1.5-6 times more likely because of climate change.

Attribution science has not only studied extreme weather events in Canada but also all around the world, and hundreds of these studies have found climate change was responsible for specific extreme weather events.

Aerial photograph of Lytton, BC July 1, 2021

But who’s responsible for climate change?

The fossil fuel industry is overwhelmingly responsible. Their products are causing climate change and they are fighting tooth and nail to block policies that would end the burning of fossil fuels, reduce emissions and stop the planet from getting even hotter. They have been doing this for decades, and they are still doing it now.

The fossil fuel industry successfully lobbies governments not only to block climate policies, but also to shower them with billions in public subsidies and supports. A recent report found oil and gas pipelines received over $23 billion in support from provincial and federal governments in Canada over the past three years. Another report found BC’s NDP government doubled fossil fuel subsidies over the past two years to $1 billion.

However even these massive public subsidies are dwarfed by the money the fossil fuel industry gets from the Big Banks—TD, RBC, BMO, CIBC, and Scotiabank—who collectively have provided over $600 billion in financing for fossil fuels since 2016.

These climate disasters will keep happening and will keep getting worse until we confront the fossil fuel industry and successfully break the stranglehold they have over our politics and our society. Only then will the fossil fuel burning stop and the planet stop getting ever hotter.

Kayakers Protest against the Expansion of Preem’s Oil Refinery in Sweden. © Edward Beskow / Greenpeace
© Edward Beskow / Greenpeace

How can we stop climate disasters?

There’s no single action you can take as an individual which will completely fix this. The fossil fuel industry is too powerful for that. This will take all of us working together to get it done. But the good news is we CAN do it.

Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Support impacted communities. Already First Nations impacted in BC are saying they are being excluded from recovery plans. Be sure to support communities impacted by these climate disasters, and support community resilience for the disasters which are still to come.
  2. Join the movement and sign our petition calling on the Big Banks—TD, RBC, BMO, CIBC, and Scotiabank —to stop pouring financial fuel on the climate fire.
  3. Become a climate activist: ok this one is cheating a bit, because it’s not one action, it’s a bunch of actions bundled up in a lifestyle. But becoming a climate activist is the most important lifestyle choice you can make to stop the climate crisis. Every week, take a political action for climate: share an article, call your MP, volunteer for an environmental organization. The more you do it, the easier it will get, and the bigger impact you’ll have.

The bad news is more disasters like this will happen because the climate crisis is only just beginning. But the good news is we can stop the climate crisis because together we are more powerful than the fossil fuel industry. We can stop them, together.

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