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British Columbia brands itself “Super, Natural” for its size and stunning beauty, but the climate crisis is ravaging its storied forests. When the federal government announced in late May that the outbreak of wildfires throughout the country had already tripled its 20-year average, British Columbians took notice.
Then, we did a double-take when the Arctic began burning this summer at unprecedented rates. We’d barely recovered from last summer’s record-setting firestorms in our province.
Scientists have linked the increasing number and ferocity of these fires to global heating, but you’d never know that if you depended on Canada’s corporate media.
In an open letter to his country’s news media, journalism professor Sean Holman at Mount Royal University recently released a study about coverage of last summer’s fires. He found that only 7.7 per cent noted the “demonstrable connection” between the wildfires and the crisis.
It’s not difficult to explain the relationship between the crisis and towering blazes: temperatures in Canada are increasing twice as fast as the global average, drying out its forests by sucking moisture from trees and soil — “tinderizing” our wild lands for catastrophic fires.
The climate emergency affects virtually every journalistic beat, especially violent crime. This staple of television news coverage — “if it bleeds, it leads” — increases as temperatures rise, according to a number of studies, including one published by the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, which estimates the climate emergency will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 rape cases and 1.2 million aggravated assaults by the end of the century in the U.S. alone.
Terrorism will also increase. According to Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, a temperature increase of more than 2 C will lead to a 14 per cent jump in attacks, while fatalities will disproportionately rise by 24 per cent.
Business reporting could also improve if it were refracted through the prism of global heating. After all, the collapse of the world economy would be the biggest economic story in history. The governor of the Bank of England, Canadian Mark Carney, has repeatedly warned that leaving most fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid a climate catastrophe could “strand” trillions of dollars worth of assets.
Canada is particularly vulnerable because the cost of mining bitumen for oil from Alberta’s tarsands is much higher than drilling in countries with easily accessible petroleum reserves.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to pony up $4.5 billion of public funds to buy and expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline will risk spills on both land and sea to pump the tarsands of Alberta to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia. This came one day after Trudeau’s government — irony alert — declared a “climate emergency.”
Death rates from respiratory diseases — another huge story — are sparked by higher temperatures.
The emergency’s effect on mental health is also emerging. In Sweden, where the term klimatångest — “climate angst” — was coined, upward of 150 Swedish psychologists and psychiatrists recently published an open letter to their government decrying the effects of climate change, especially on the mental health of children.
For Indigenous communities and others living in Canada’s wildfire country, the physical and mental-health effects can be devastating. When the Northwest Territories was smothered with smoke in 2014, hospitals saw a 42 per cent increase in visits for respiratory ailments. The Canadian Journal of Public Health reported that many residents also suffered stress, fear and uncertainty.
What is clear is that if Canada’s major media continue to deny the climate emergency by relegating critical coverage to their back pages — when they bother to report the crisis at all — anger and angst will only increase.
There will be no ignoring the climate crisis in the newsroom, then.
Mark Nykanen, a member of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island, is a four-time national Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and author whose past three novels have focused on the climate emergency.