Climate change threatens remote and rural communities nationwide: report

The wildfire that destroyed Lytton, B.C. is just the latest vivid example of what rural communities across the country can expect as the planet continues to get hotter, the authors of a new report on climate change say.

“I’m extremely worried about the impacts that climate change is having and will have,” said Kelly Vodden, one of the authors of the new National Issues Report and a professor at Memorial University.

The report, spearheaded by Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), synthesizes the latest climate science. One of its sections explores the particular impact climate change will have on rural and remote communities.

It paints a picture of an Indigenous and small-town Canada that is both resilient and hollowed-out, as traditions become harder to maintain, resource jobs disappear, the cost of living rises and governments downsize and centralize critical services in big cities.

But it’s not just catastrophic wildfires and flash floods that could imperil the future of these communities. The spread of more passive but equally devastating environmental changes could affect the livelihoods of hunters, foresters, farmers and fishermen.

The report says that thawing permafrost, erosion, invasive species, sea-level rise and changes to water quality could destroy fish and wildlife habitats — eliminating traditional food sources for many communities — undermine the agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors and damage critical infrastructure like power grids, roads, railways and airports.

Not just a rural problem

The report’s authors say the ripple effects will be felt beyond Indigenous communities and small towns.

“The vulnerability of remote rural communities is a national economics issue,” said Brian Eddy, an NRCAN researcher and one of the authors. “Because the health of rural and remote Canada will affect the overall economic well-being of Canada.”

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground as a deer stands in a canola field near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Severe weather could disrupt food supplies in big Canadian cities and abroad. Wildfires can have an outsized effect on the national economy as well. When the 2016 wildfire tore through Fort McMurray, Alta., and neighbouring towns, mass community evacuations and shutdowns of oilsands sites took a toll on the Canadian economy.

The report says that before that wildfire was brought under control, the industry lost about 47 million barrels of production and $1.4 billion in revenue.

Eddy and Vodden said that remote and Indigenous communities have dealt with profound changes before, and can do so again — but not without investments from the private and public sectors to reduce emissions and help communities adapt.

“There is an incredible resilience in rural and remote communities,” Vodden said.

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