OPINION: We moved to Canada for a cooler climate. Now extreme heat is here

Tuesday, 6 July 2021 09:01 GMT

Ash Peplow Ball (R) and Fergus Kinnaird (L) stand in this undated handout photo courtesy of Climate Council via Thomson Reuters Foundation

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We left Melbourne for Vancouver to escape the heat. But in our 18 months in Canada, we've seen higher temperatures than we ever thought possible in this part of the world

By Ash Peplow Ball and Fergus Kinnaird, Australians from Melbourne, now living in Vancouver, Canada.

We moved from Melbourne to Vancouver, Canada in mid-January 2020, when Australia was in the grip of ‘Black Summer’—unbearable heat, uncontrollable bushfires all down the country’s east coast, and hazardous smoke choking our cities.

As Ash suffers from asthma, instead of spending our final weeks in Melbourne celebrating with friends and family, we were trapped in our share house with duct tape around every window and door, anxiously refreshing the air quality app.

Part of the reason we moved to Canada was to live in a cooler climate with mild summers and snowy winters. We have been lucky to experience some amazing adventures in the snow here, but in 18 months we have also lived through more extreme heat and wildfires than we ever thought possible in this part of the world. 

Just six months after we moved to Vancouver, smoke from the 2020 wildfires in the United States blew up to our region, forcing us back indoors for another summer of periodic sheltering and monitoring asthma triggers.

Ash Peplow Ball wears a mask during Black Summer in Australia in this undated handout photo courtesy of Climate Council via Thomson Reuters Foundation

Another year on, we have found ourselves at ‘ground zero’ of rising temperatures and bushfire risk again. Last week, returning from a trip north of Vancouver we drove through the town of Lytton which had broken Canada’s national temperature record in the three consecutive days prior. At its peak,the mercury hit 49.6°C (121°F).

Our car’s temperature sensors told us it was 47°C outside, and we could already see wildfires burning in the mountains surrounding the town and lapping at the side of the highway. 

Only a few hours later, the flames swept down the mountain, destroying the town almost entirely.

The heatwave has devastated the rest of the region too. Almost 500 people died last week in British Columbia alone, with dozens more deaths in the United States. 

When we got home to Vancouver, hot and exhausted, we tried to process the events we’d witnessed. And we realised a number of things. 

Firstly, it is clear that absolutely nowhere in the world is safe from climate change impacts. We didn’t expect to be facing scorching, anxiety-inducing summers like Australia’s halfway across the world, in a city known for rain and summer temperatures that rarely exceed 30 degrees. But the science is clear that climate change is making heatwaves hotter, longer, and more frequent. 

Climate change is also driving up bushfire danger and reducing rainfall in many parts of the world. 

Wildfires are pictured on a highway in Canada near Lytton in this undated handout photo courtesy of Climate Council via Thomson Reuters Foundation

We are not prepared for how fast climate change impacts are accelerating. This was very obvious in Vancouver, where the government, emergency services and residents were not prepared for the extreme weather. Very few people have fans or air conditioners, and are not practiced in staying safe and cool in such extreme heat.

This lack of preparedness has had deadly consequences, and we can’t afford to keep ignoring the speed at which climate change is accelerating.

We need to address greenhouse gas emissions, the root cause of the worsening climate crisis: something Canada is increasingly doing while Australia is not. 

Canada recently passed historic climate accountability legislation that enshrines a net zero target into law, and revises its climate targets every five years. This is in addition to other policies, like requiring all car and passenger truck sales to be zero-emissions by 2035. 

Canada’s climate policy still has a long way to go, and the country remains one of the world’s largest fossil fuel exporters. However, its willingness to at least recognize, and grapple with, its contribution to the problem stands in stark contrast to the reality in Australia.

Australia, against all scientific and economic sense, continues to spend taxpayer money on new coal and gas projects. The Federal Government still refuses to set a net zero target, let alone raise its dismal 2030 emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said that carbon emissions don’t have national accents, and that they don’t understand borders. On this one climate issue, we agree. 

And it is precisely why Australia, now owner of the world’s worst climate change policies, must start acting like a responsible global citizen.