After experiencing the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Canada, reaching a high of 49.6 degrees Celsius, the town of Lytton, B.C. was engulfed in flames on Wednesday June 30th. The deadly wildfire killed two residents and forced hundreds to flee their homes. Data released by the B.C. Coroners Services indicates that nearly 100 people in the Vancouver Island region died as a result of the provincial heat wave last week. 

In response to the devastating wildfires, B.C. Green leader, Sonia Furstenau is calling on the provincial government to be more proactive in their response to future climate emergencies. 

Preventing future climate disasters

In an interview with Global Green News, Furstenau outlined her disappointment with the B.C government’s response to the wildfires. She further explained what she believes the next steps should be for restoring Lytton, B.C. and preventing future disasters. 

Furstenau described her cautious optimism that the events in B.C. will sound the alarm to politicians that we are living in a climate emergency.

“What I’m observing so far is that the public and the media have very much responded to these fires and to the loss of the town of Lytton with the recognition that this is climate change. That in turn, I hope, is going to move politicians who have been reluctant to truly make this connection […] to a place of more action and more political will to actually address the climate emergency. However, I’m very cautiously optimistic about that at this moment.”

When it came to addressing the prevention of future climate emergencies in B.C., Furstenau emphasized the importance of working with Indigenous communities.

“I look back at the 2017 report that came out from George Abbot and Maureen Chapman about how to respond to […] the new normal and wildfire preparedness. The first recommendation they have is [to] work with Indigenous governments and communities” said Furstenau. “Establish Indigenous peoples as true partners and leaders in emergency management by including first nations from the beginning […] and what we saw and what played out in Lytton was not that. The chief of the Lytton First Nation has indicated that the communication was less than ideal”

The importance of protecting vulnerable communities

Furstenau also underscored that climate emergencies, such as the wildfires in Lytton, significantly impact marginalized communities. As such, she advocated for the government to take an equitable approach to addressing climate change

“These crises are affecting people unequally. The lense of equity has to be applied to how we are approaching our response to climate change, because the people who are being affected the most are racialized communities, Indigenous communities, and people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale and that is only going to get worse unless governments are proactively addressing inequality at the same time as they are addressing the climate emergency, and they are inextricably linked”

Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party

When asked what lessons the B.C. government could take away from the disaster, Furstenau reiterated the need to be proactive in protecting vulnerable communities. 

“The premier did a press conference and said the province is committed that Lytton, the town is rebuilt, and that it is rebuilt with a climate focus. My intake on that is that we shouldn’t be waiting for towns to burn down to do that. That’s the work we should be doing right now and it should be happening in every region of the province. We are not only approaching how our communities are adapting to climate change, but in those adaptations are themselves reducing emissions and acting as solutions to climate change” said Furstenau. 

Addressing climate change at a national level

On a macro scale, Furstenau explained that challenges in preventing climate emergencies are compounded by the Canadian government’s investment in oil and gas industries. 

“It’s hard to even understand what is the rationale for any government, and in particular the Canadian and British Columbia governments to be subsidizing the oil and gas industry. Everything we should be investing in should be about getting us off oil and gas, transitioning the economy and ensuring that we are creating liveable communities” said Furstenau.

As climate emergencies continue to occur at a quickening pace, Furstenau reaffirmed the importance of reacting to environmental disasters before they happen. The Green Leader of B.C. is pressing the provincial government to invest in building liveable communities for a climate change world.

Erika Mackenzie

Erika is working towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree from McGill University in Sociology with a double minor in International Development and Communications. Erika's passions include environmental protection, racial and gender equality, Indigenous rights, and affordability for all. Erika has also been published in the McGill Tribune and HuffPost Canada.

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