Photo: Peter Welch
OP-ED November 19, 2021
Published in MACLEAN’S (November 18, 2021)
by By Nathan Sing
The BC and Washington floods are a mere hint of what climate change could do to the food supply
Closed gas stations and barren store shelves will refill, and farmers will rebound in the short term, says food security expert Lenore Newman. But the system just can’t take disaster after disaster.
Officials in Abbotsford, B.C. predicted the worst on Tuesday night, as a month’s worth of rain gushed over parts of the province in just days. Floodwater from the Nooksack River on the U.S. side of the border had poured onto Sumas Prairie, the rich agricultural land reclaimed from what was once known Sumas Lake. A vital pumping station was in danger, they warned, and if it failed, waters from the Fraser River would pour onto Sumas Prairie, too—an even greater catastrophe.
On Wednesday evening, officials announced the community had narrowly escaped that scenario, after hundreds of volunteers and city workers built a makeshift dam of sandbags around the pumping station, easing the strain on it.
Still, the area has been devastated, its dairy farms, egg farms and greenhouses swamped. Farmers were forced to abandon their farms, leaving thousands of animals left to drown.
It was part of a horrific weekend for B.C., which is now under a state of emergency due to the so-called “atmospheric river” that dumped unprecedented amounts of precipitation through much of the province. In an extreme weather event many are linking to climate change, entire communities were evacuated; homes and vehicles were submerged; landslides washed out roads and highways; raging rivers destabilized bridges.
Lenore Newman, the director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley, has long warned of the dire effects climate change has on food security and production. The floods in B.C., she says, are partly a consequence of inaction.
In a recent statement by Premier John Horgan who announced a state of emergency for BC, and the NDP’s platform that also commits to “Build back better”.
“The positive I’m going to take out of this is that it had shown British Columbians coming together supporting each other. This has been a terrible, terrible disaster but I know this: as British Columbians, as Canadians, we stick together. I want to come out of this. I’m going to build a stronger better province and a stronger and better country.”