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.

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

 

Just Posted

Saanich swimmer has ribs removed, posts them on social media

Jill Yoneda makes light of rare surgery for ‘slipping rib syndrome’

Transplant caregiver starts website for financial, mental health support

Beth Campbell-Duke started Transplant Rouges after her husband’s double lung transplant

Victoria ranked as one of B.C.’s worst cities to work in

High living costs and low average incomes drop Victoria from the top 10

Cyclist without helmet thrown onto windshield in Victoria

Despite damage to bike, cyclist uninjured following accident

Annual UVic Xmas tree sale goes on despite loss of beloved tree farmer

Mike Fleming of Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm partnered with students for annual fundraiser for nearly 20 years

Lawyer for Chinese exec detained by Canada says it’s ‘inconceivable’ she would flee

Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport

Federal government plans examination of coerced sterilization

The Liberals have been pressed for a rapid response to recent reports on the sterilizations

Huitema, Cornelius named 2018 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

Huitema was captain of Canada’s fourth-place team at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Liberal Party moves Trudeau fundraiser from military base

The fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 19, with tickets costing up to $400

Pipeline protesters arrested at B.C. university

Three protesters were arrested after TRU property allegedly vandalized with red paint

Goodale to ‘examine’ transfer of Rafferty to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

‘Abhorrent’ condition of autistic B.C. boy shows flaws in care system: report

‘Charlie’ was underweight and ‘covered in feces’ when he was removed from his mom’s care

Minister appoints former CIRB chair to resolve Canada Post labour dispute

Postal workers engaged in weeks of rotating walkouts

Most Read