Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Serious planning needed to address climate change


So we’ve accepted that there is a climate emergency and we need to plan for the things that will change around here. What might those things be?

More extreme weather

• Fire: Burns combustible homes, electrical poles, and vast swaths of forest.

• Flooding:  Rains so heavy (two inches per hour) that nowhere is immune. This will result in extensive damage to homes, roads, and properties prone to slippage. Ganges Harbour and Fulford Harbour turn brown with the soil eroded from the island. Water supplies become contaminated.

• Wind: We’ve already had a precursor of what’s to come. Trees and power lines come down, sometimes on homes. Roads become impassable. Homes go without power and water for extended periods.

• Extreme temperatures — mostly hotter:  It was not long ago that air conditioning was unthinkable for Salt Spring Island.

• Rising ocean levels: At forecasted rise, the foreshore will be at ArtSpring and Windsor, thereby flooding most of downtown Ganges, including the sewage treatment plant, Centennial Park, and the road connecting north Salt Spring and south Salt Spring.

Less stable economies

• It will be harder to transport raw materials and finished goods around the world.

• It will be more difficult to manufacture goods when faced with climate disruptions.

• Buying something off-island will entail lots of complications. Supplies will be limited.

Less reliable ferries

• Our lifeline to off-island supplies of food, building supplies and agricultural products will become increasingly unreliable due to frequent cancellations due to weather. Ferry wharves may need to be rebuilt due to rising ocean levels. If the economy suffers enough, ferries to the Gulf Islands may no longer be considered essential.

Worse roads

• Isabella, North End, Stewart, Morningside and Walker’s Hook roads have all washed out in the last couple of decades. There will be more to come as rains get heavier, retention of water is less due to fewer trees, and culverts turn out to be undersized. The current inadequate maintenance of our roads shows that municipality or not, the appetite for maintaining roads that service few taxpayers is low. Long roads to remote areas will be less serviced.

Environmental refugees

• Tens of millions of Americans will need to relocate and none of them are heading south. They will be looking for gated communities that have plenty of water. Salt Spring fits the bill. The notion that we will be able to control how many people live here is unreasonable and not possible to execute. If this island remains desirable, they will come, and they will come in droves.

• If one accepts the fact that our population is likely to swell way beyond our forecast 20,000 people, then what can we do now to prepare for that influx?

Local political instability

• Consider that it costs far more to service remote lots than village lots, and yet we all pay the same for power, water, roads, ambulance, fire, police, telephone and cable. In the face of reductions and disruptions in service, that inequity will become pressing, and potentially divisive and volatile. As our villages get inundated with environmental refugees, our community’s inclusiveness character will be challenged. We are already seeing the beginning of this.

Possible solutions that we can begin to implement ASAP

• Housing: Require that all new housing be resilient to fire, flooding, high winds and extreme temperatures. We already have that technology. Not so hard, but it takes a Salt Spring governance that is able to implement/require such measures. Also begin to transition all remote homes to be self reliant.

• Water: More difficult is anticipating the vastly increased demand on our water. It is well understood that we don’t have a water supply problem, only a water storage problem.  So, we must begin to require water storage in all new buildings, and we must begin to decommission the long water lines with few customers like the Southey Point line.  (Those customers need to be supported in this transition to rainwater harvesting.) We have an urban water distribution model applied to a rural Salt Spring. In the city there is 33 feet of tax-paid common line between every home. On Salt Spring it can be 3,300 feet of common line between homes. Maintenance of such is beyond reasonable and is proving unworkable. The urban water distribution model needs to be phased out so that only our villages have it. Over time we support the complete transition of homes that are away from centralized water, to sovereign rainwater harvesting.

Electricity: Electrical distribution by overhead lines is the most difficult. Again, we need to decentralize so that only the villages have Hydro power, and that power is underground (like in Europe). Rural properties are on solar and wind. This will take time and public support, but what we end up with are island homes that are comfortable and resilient in the face of the changing weather.

We can also begin to tap Salt Spring micro-hydro potential. Water coming down from Maxwell Lake builds up such pressure in the pipes that frequent pressure reducing is required to dissipate the energy. Water coming down from Rosemurgie Lake has plenty of hydro potential, at least in winter. There are also several other potential microhydro locations. This is a hilly and rainy (in winter) island that has significant microhydro potential.

• Food: Food sovereignty will become increasingly important, as the ferries become less reliable and our traditional off-island food suppliers have difficulty producing sufficient food due to climate change.

• Refugees: A program whereby newcomers can contribute to creating food sovereignty or Seventh Generation (7G) infrastructure in exchange for very modest but healthy starter homes (e.g. 100 – 200 square feet in size).

• Governance: The scale of the climate emergency requires a response of matching scale. The necessary urgency of our response requires that we have a climate emergency person or body able to make climate solutions happen. This climate emergency person or body must be able to expedite and overcome all our current Salt Spring decentralized silo government objections. As Bill McKibben says: Winning the climate war slowly is the same as losing.

• Timing. We can wait until it is an all-consuming emergency, when other communities are also struggling due to their lack of preparedness, or we can begin the transition while we have a mostly intact infrastructure. Most important is to have a Salt Spring governance that can implement climate preparedness measures for without such, all we have is a wish list. The climate emergency response triage must have the improvement in our ability to govern ourselves at the top of the list.

P.S. For those who think being responsible for one’s own electricity, water and sewage is impossible, they need only look to the Living Building Challenge (LBC). SIREWALL ( has worked on both residential and commercial LBC projects. The most inspiring LBC project is the Bullitt Center ( in downtown Seattle. It is six stories tall and not connected to Seattle power, water or sewage. It is designed to last 200 years, has a mortgage, is making the payments and making a small profit.

The writer is the founder of SIREWALL Inc. and a longtime Salt Spring resident.

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