Half of BC pines dead from fossil fuel pollution. Is it over?
Our earth is overheating at a rate unprecedented in geologic history. BC is overheating twice as fast. The decimation of our pine forests is one of the many eco-collapses emerging from our overheating landscape.
Half our pine trees have been eaten alive in just the last nine years. An area five times the size of Vancouver Island is being attacked by a killing plague of billions of native pine beetles. Nothing like this has ever been witnessed. A study published in the journal, Nature, concluded that "the current outbreak in British Columbia, Canada, is an order of magnitude larger in area and severity than all previous recorded outbreaks." One analyst calls the devastation "probably the biggest landscape-level change since the ice age."
The force that unleashed this wholesale collapse is simple -- humans chose dirty and deadly fossil fuels instead of cleaner, sustainable energy sources. Fortunately we have easy ways in BC to quickly switch much of our dirty energy to cleaner, hopeful alternatives that will never run out. But if we don't switch soon then such eco-collapses will broaden and accelerate, threatening our way of life, our economy and our security.
A recent government-NGO study of BC biodiversity bluntly states that if we continue the path we are on, "the rate of climate change will exceed the ability of most species to migrate and adjust."
For millennia, pine forests flourished in BC and across western North America in areas with deeply frozen winter nights.
But in the last decade, our fossil fuelled warming passed a tipping point in the pine forests preventing the long hard frosts of -40C that kill most of the native beetles.
Every corner of BC is heating up. Our winter nights are heating fastest of all. While the planet has warmed 0.6C in the last century, BC winters have overheated +1.7C along the southern coast to +4.5C in the north. In the heart of our pine strongholds winter heating is now rising +1.0C per decade.
The very coldest points of the year just aren't as cold as they used to be. For an ever growing chunk of our forests, the life-sustaining cold snaps are too rare to stop the ravaging hordes.
Our fossil fuelled beetle mania has clear cut more BC timber volume in the last seven years than human loggers.
Throughout the 1990s, BC forests removed an average of 30 megatonnes of CO2 from the air each year - a seven tonne CO2 reduction per BC resident per year. Despite a robust industrial logging industry, BC forests still sucked up more CO2 than they gave off. Our forest's carbon account was in the black.
Then in 2000, our winter nights warmed past a tipping point where pine beetles suddenly started surviving in much greater numbers. They also started breeding faster and maturing quicker in the longer growing seasons. The pine slaughter began.
By 2003, for the first time recorded, BC forests had shifted to net emitters of CO2.
By 2007 the beetle kill was on such an epic scale that our BC forests were hemorrhaging 50 megatonnes of CO2 - an CO2 increase of 19 tonnes per British Columbian per year, just from our forests.
Humans are no longer the only force dumping megatonnes of climate destabilizing CO2 into the air. We've inadvertently cooked up a new climate for BC in which a single species of beetle can kill 675 million cubic meters of mature forests and release an average of 70 megatonnes of CO2 year after year.
This is the kind of dangerous climate warming feedback loop that our earth has excelled at in the past. If enough feedback loops get started again, we humans will lose control of both the rate and the magnitude of climate destabilization.
The BC pine death toll is now up to 150 telephone poles of beetle killed pine per BC resident. Imagine a pile of 600 dead trees this size stacked in front of every family-of-four home. How big do we want this pile to get before we take the simple steps to cut our climate damaging pollution? The collective pile for Vancouver-area residents is an 150,000,000 tree heap. A logging truck would have to dump a new load every minute, 24/7, to keep up.
Fortunately there are easy ways to quickly switch our lives away from much of our fossil fuel pollution. We can make choices that replace climate-damaging pollution with local climate sustainable energy choices like efficiency, conservation, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and tidal.
When will the pine forest collapse end?
Experts expect the pine beetle slaughter to continue at a slowing rate until, by 2020, over two-thirds of our mature pines will be dead. That, they say, will be the end. Of the first wave.
By 2030, today's pine saplings will be mature enough to be pine beetle dinner. The projections then show a second wave of pine slaughter even more brutal than the current one. And then another. And another. Ad nauseam.
"Large-scale outbreaks of pests, such as mountain pine beetle and spruce bark beetle, are expected to persist and expand with continued warming. These pose an increasing threat. Future ecological changes will be complex and potentially rapid." - Natural Resources Canada
The heartless tragedy of this tale is that our fossil fuel pollution is not only killing most of today's pine trees, it is also destroying their sanctuary and future. By melting the icy fortress that protects the pine generations to come from the devouring marauders, we make the landscape unfit for pine forests.
We have started to cook several large scale BC ecosystems into collapse and we know much worse is coming until we stop burning fossil fuels. If we keep doing just the half measures we've tried so far, then today's kids can expect to see warming five to twenty times greater. They will witness most of BC ecosystems getting their bio-climate zone yanked from under them. Existing ecosystems will struggle and many will collapse.
Fortunately, in Vancouver there are some very easy, common actions we can take to dramatically switch our energy use from dirty and deadly fossil fuels to locally-produced, climate-safe energy sources that never run out.
Our city's number one source of climate damage comes from burning natural gas in our buildings. Think of natural gas heaters as chainsaws. Heating instead with much cleaner, local BC Hydro (ex: heat pump) will cut the climate damage by more than 80%. You will be throwing a lifeline to our forests and ecosystems.
It may be hard to imagine that the fate of our ecosystems, and even our economic, food and water security, hinges on the type of energy each of us chooses to heat, cook and get around with. But it does. Our climate will continue to shift faster than living things can adapt to until we stop burning fossil fuels.
Clean BC electricity is already being used to heat and cook in about half our homes and buildings. Not only that, but in the last 20 years, our growing Vancouverite population has chosen climate-sustainable BC electricity to supply all the new energy demand in buildings. The total use of climate-damaging natural gas has fallen 3%. We have started the race to a climate stable future. Now we need to focus on the finish line and accelerate our switch away from dirty fossil fuels.
If you still burn fossil fuels in your home or business, consider joining your many neighbours and local businesses that are already using only climate-safe BC electricity in their buildings.
Nobody would consider burning coal in their buildings any more, and for good reason. It is now time to make the switch away from all the other dirty and deadly fossil fuels we burn as well.
- BC government 2010 Current Outbreak Assessment
- BC government Pine Beetle FAQ
- 2007 beetle epidemic map
- Report on climate threats to biodiversity in BC
- Canada in a Changing Climate by National Resources Canada
- Nature article on climate feedback of beetle kill releasing more carbon than fires.