There are many different types of environmental issues in British Columbia, which include air and water pollution, climate change, mining and logging, etc. In this article, we will discuss major environmental issues in British Columbia.
Environmental issues are disruptions in the usual function of ecosystems. These issues can be caused by humans (human impact on the environment) or they can be natural. These issues are considered serious when the ecosystem cannot recover in the present situation, and catastrophic if the ecosystem is projected to certainly collapse.
British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, the province has a diverse geography with rugged landscapes that include rocky coastlines, sandy beaches, forests, lakes, mountains, inland deserts, and grassy plains.
British Columbia borders the province of Alberta to the east, the territories of Yukon and the Northwest Territories to the north, Idaho and Montana to the south, and Alaska to the northwest.
It is Canada’s third-most populous province, with an estimated population of over 5.5 million people. The capital of British Columbia is Victoria, while the province’s largest city is Vancouver.
Over time, British Columbia has had several environmental issues posed before them as a region. This includes the pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs; global warming; deforestation; air pollution; climate change; the contamination of soil and water by toxic waste, etc.
As a result, a survey shows that 41% of British Columbians think the federal government is not paying enough attention to the environment. Hence, the federal government needs to do more to step up action on the environment.
However, we will have a quick discussion on the biggest environmental issues within the region and the extent the area has been impacted due to environmental issues.
Table of Contents
10 Major Environmental Issues in British Columbia
Listed and discussed below are major environmental issues in British Columbia.
- Climate Change
- Impact on Marine Ecosystem
- Loss of Wildlife
- Water Pollution and Release of Toxic Waste from Industrial Activity
- Air Pollution
- Shifts in Precipitation Patterns
- Plastic Pollution
- Global Warming
- Loss of Species
1. Climate change
Among countries that emit high levels of greenhouse gases, Canada is among the highest emitter of greenhouse gas and is known currently as the world’s 10th largest greenhouse gas emitter with British Columbia being a major contributor of emissions in the country.
Climate change in British Columbia has had a large impact on the country’s environment and landscapes. These events are likely to become even more frequent and severe in the future due to the continued release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The number of climate change-related events, such as the 2021 British Columbia Floods and an increasing number of forest fires, has become an increasing concern over time. The annual average temperature over land in Canada has warmed by 1.7 degrees Celsius since 1948. While the rate of warming is even higher in northern British Columbia,
Canada is currently working committedly to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.
Mario Canseco, president of Research Co., the company that surveyed climate change in the region, said a key takeaway from the poll is how climate change is becoming a more front-of-mind issue, with 63% of British Columbians saying it’s a personal concern.
2. Impact on Marine Ecosystem
Scientists across the world have already started to notice massive reductions in the country’s Arctic sea ice cover, particularly during the summertime. The shrinking of this ice results in disruptions in ocean circulation and changes in climate and weather around the world.
One impact of the changing climate is its effect on the sea ice making it thinner and also forming for much shorter periods of the year. And with less sea ice than the region usually gets now, wave seasons will become more intense. Atlantic Canada sees a relative rise in sea levels everywhere a rise which is estimated to be 75- 100 cm by the year 2100.
Scientists also predict that even if emissions decrease, a 20cm rise is expected to take place during the next 20 to 30 years.
As the ocean warms and subtropical waters move north, the ocean will become warmer and saltier, and since warmer water holds less oxygen than cooler water, marine ecosystems can suffer and become less sustainable because of this lower oxygen level.
3. Loss of Wildlife
Clearcutting of old-growth forests just outside Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park in British Columbia. The Rainforest Action Network and indigenous groups have campaigned to protect the boreal forest of Canada from logging and industrial activities which to a large extent has affected wildlife habitat.
As a result, this leads to a gradual decrease in wildlife and, with time, the outright extinction of species. In July 2008, the Ontario government announced plans to protect some of the area from all industrial activity.
4. Water Pollution and Release of Toxic Waste from Industrial Activity
Pollution of rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and drinking water and contamination of soil and water by toxic waste are the major concerns of the individuals living around B.C.
It’s no surprise that British Columbians particularly northern British Columbians care about water and the effects of industrial contamination.
In 2014, British Columbia made international headlines when the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine in the central interior broke and spilled 24 million cubic meters of contaminated waste into the surrounding water systems.
Since the disaster, the provincial government has done little to improve the laws and regulations to prevent similar disasters.
5. Air Pollution
Air pollution is the release of pollutants (a substance or energy introduced into the environment that has undesired effects) into the air that are detrimental to human health and the Earth. Industries in this region are a significant source of air pollution in Canada.
In Canada, air pollution is regulated by standards set by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), an inter-governmental body of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for the environment.
Air pollution in British Columbia is caused by metal smelting, coal burning for utilities, and vehicle emissions, which have resulted in acid rain and have severely impacted Canadian waterways, forest growth, and agricultural productivity.
Furthermore, transportation is one of the main sources of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. and is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gases.
Pollutants’ concentrations in the air can be influenced by many factors, such as the number of air pollutants, proximity to sources, and weather conditions.
The city’s population and economic growth increase the demand for the production and supply of services, transportation, and housing. The energy required to meet such demands comes partially from fossil fuels, which affect air quality.
6. Shifts in Precipitation Patterns
Generally, levels of precipitation have increased in the last seventy or so years. There has been a general increase across all provinces and climates.
British Columbia sees a great deal of snow in many regions. In some areas, snow will be consistent through the winter months, resulting in a significant spring melting period. It has been noted that the areas that historically would have been covered by snow come springtime, have been steadily decreasing.
This decrease has also been happening at a faster and faster rate across North America. This snow cover, and its resulting spring melt, directly affect water supplies in spring. As there is less snow to melt, the result is a lower volume of water in rivers, lakes, streams, and even the water table in warmer months.
7. Plastic Pollution
British Columbia is a major contributor of plastic in Canada. Thereby fostering more plastic pollution within the nation. In the year 2022, Canada announced a ban on producing and importing single-use plastic from December 2022.
The sale of those items will be banned from December 2023 and the export from 2025. The prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau pledged to ban single-use plastic in 2019. As for now in Canada “Up to 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used each year and approximately 16 million straws are used every day”
In British Columbia, forests cover over 55 million hectares, which is 57.9% of British Columbia’s 95 million hectares of land. The forests are mainly composed (over 80%) of coniferous trees, such as pines, spruces, and firs.
Deforestation has negative impacts on British Columbia’s environment and diversity even though it is necessary for population expansion and benefits for the Canadian economy.
During the periods of the past, deforestation in British Columbia has occurred at a heavy rate, however with new sustainable efforts and programs the rate of deforestation is decreasing in the province.
9. Global Warming
As a result of enormous industrial activities in B.C carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emission has been recorded at a high rate which has led to an increase in the region’s temperature as well as the global temperature.
Deforestation is also an important issue to look at with the increasing problem of global warming. Currently, about 4% of B.C.’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) yearly emissions are from deforestation, which is quite a low percentage compared to B.C.’s total GHG emissions, and works out to be about 6,200 hectares of forest land converted to non-forest use per year.
The B.C. forest sector has had a large reduction in the amount of GHG from the use of fossil fuels used in deforestation, going down from 4 million tons of carbon emissions in 1990 to 1.8 million tons in 2006.
The reduction in deforestation in B.C. over the years has been favorable to the reduction in carbon emissions, as forests clean the air by collecting both carbon and pollutants.
10. Loss of Species
Species diversity is an important ecological part of British Columbia’s forests. Due to the destruction of species’ habitats through deforestation, wildfires, etc., the population of biodiversity in British Columbia is significantly affected.
There are currently 116 species, which is approximately 10% of species in B.C., that are on the B.C Conservation Data Centre’s Red List, which are endangered species associated with the forest.
Deforestation events such as agriculture, the introduction of exotic species, and timber production threaten the species. After deforestation events, the replanting of trees also had a decrease in the diversity of the number of tree species per area due to being dominated by single tree species.
Currently, changes have been made in replanting strategies by planting different species in one area, which has reduced the problem of dominating species.
Environmental issues in British Columbia will continue to increase if left unattended. However, the government is doing its best to mitigate and address these issues. On the other hand, the solutions to these issues should not be left to the government alone; we, as individuals, should be part of the move to protect the environment.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.