Inconvenient truths about pine beetle

Was the latest beetle outbreak caused by human carbon emissions? Or is that just another one of those articles of climate faith?

Blaming human CO2 emissions for B.C.'s latest pine beetle epidemic made good politics for Gordon Campbell selling a carbon tax. Other factors include decades of aggressive forest fire suppression.

Blaming human CO2 emissions for B.C.'s latest pine beetle epidemic made good politics for Gordon Campbell selling a carbon tax. Other factors include decades of aggressive forest fire suppression.

VICTORIA – Last week’s column on Earth Day myths attracted a fair amount of criticism.

One tireless member of the “Alberta tar sands killing the planet” crowd scolded me for daring to mention that 60 per cent of the oil pollution in the oceans around North America comes from natural seeps. That’s eight times more than all pipeline and tanker spills combined, and it’s been going on 24 hours a day for the last 10,000 years or so.

This fact blows another hole in the carefully crafted narrative that only Canadian oil exports to Asia would destroy our delicate ecosystems.

That narrative is why the daily Alaska supertankers along the B.C. coast are ignored, as is the barbaric shale oil rush in North Dakota that can be seen from space. U.S. oil barons are flaring off the vast volume of natural gas that comes up with the more valuable light crude, while the U.S. environment lobby obsesses over the Keystone XL pipeline.

Here’s another one that may upset people indoctrinated by our school system, media and our supposedly green B.C. Liberal government.

B.C.’s recent pine beetle epidemic was caused by human carbon emissions, right? Everybody knows that. Gordon Campbell hammered the point home in speeches for years as he promoted his carbon tax.

In 2012 I participated in a B.C. forests ministry tour of facilities where hardy seedlings are grown for reforestation. Test plantings were also underway to see if the range of southern tree species is shifting northward due to climate change.

During the bus ride, I asked the province’s top forest scientists if Campbell was right. The answer? We don’t have enough evidence to conclude that. As for shifting tree habitat, those decades-long experiments are continuing.

The scientists confirmed what I already knew, which is that the most recent bark beetle epidemic is the latest of many. It’s the largest “on record,” but the record goes back less than a century.

In 2008 I interviewed Lorne Swanell on the occasion of his 100th birthday. A graduate of UBC’s school of forest engineering, Swanell began his career with the forests ministry in 1930. After a year as a ranger, he was assigned to the Kamloops region to help deal with a pine beetle epidemic.

Conventional wisdom on the latest outbreak holds that it spread so far because of a lack of cold winters, attributed to human carbon emissions.

I grew up in northern B.C., and my last two visits to the Peace country were both in January. In 2004 I recall changing planes on the tarmac of Prince George airport, moving briskly in the daytime temperature near -40 C. That night, and subsequent nights, the mercury dropped to -50 C.

In January 2013 I returned for some discussions on the Enbridge pipeline route, and experienced a relatively balmy -30 C in the daytime. So when I hear people talk about the end of cold winters in northern B.C. because of global warming, it’s difficult to square with personal experience.

I can hear the rebuttals already. It takes long periods of extreme cold to kill the pine beetle. How long? Longer than those ones, of course.

Similarly flexible theories are being advanced to explain the 17-year “pause” in Earth’s average surface temperature rise, the growing Antarctic ice sheet, and this past winter’s “polar vortex.”

If anyone has substantial evidence that CO2 from human activity was the trigger mechanism for the latest beetle outbreak in B.C., I’d like to see it. But please, spare me the affirmations of quasi-religious faith that often pass for climate change arguments today.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Black Press Media file)
Webinars help Greater Victoria residents affected by dementia prepare for the holidays

COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions can add additional challenges for people living with dementia

Masks are mandatory for passengers on board BC Transit buses and for those waiting at covered bus stops. (BC Transit/Facebook)
Masks now mandatory on BC Transit buses, at covered bus stops

Face shields no longer meet face-covering requirements per updated policy

Rose Ellis, 93, and her Shih Tzu, Zoey, have been clients of ElderDog Victoria since last summer. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Victoria ElderDog program seeking more seniors, pups to support

Service helps elderly people to care for their canine companions

Mona Strelaeff, a Metchosin resident, is the first non-terminally ill person in Canada to be allowed to use psilocybin assisted therapy. (Provided by Spencer Hawkswell)
Metchosin woman’s trauma treatment could be trendsetting

Experts say this could signal the broadening of who can access psilocybin therapy

Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop is changing owners with longtime owner Odean Long transferring ownership Dec. 1 to William Matthews. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Longtime owner of Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop closes chapter with sale

Odean Long and her late husband moved the business to Sidney in 1996

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Most Read