More Climate Change Lessons from the Okanagan

Problem: Petroleum Mucking up the Air?

Solution: De-muck it.

How: Plant a tree. The image below shows City of Vernon land used as a road to access a water pumping station. The road is used once a month or so. There is room for trees.

A Chinese elm will seed a thousand acres annually if given a little bare ground and some wind. It’s a bit messy and invasive, but it feeds migrating birds and is vital habitat for local ones.

Look at all the seeds, eh!

Problem: Water flowing all over the back yard and filling up the basement with yuck?

Solution:  Stop it in its tracks.

How: Plant that tree! The image below shows an aspen sucking up water like nobody’s business, building capacity in the soil not just by adding fibre to the soil and thereby holding soil in place but by lifting the water up into the air so there is room for more, and, hey, get this, the more water the more the tree grows.

And what happens to that water in the air? It blows away in the wind, because the air is dry, yet on hot days, when the air is really hot and the distant mountains draw the water right out of my skin with the lever of the sun, it builds thunderclouds, which bring rain to the hills, which moves back down through the cycle of the trees. We live off the excess. This cycle only works if there are enough trees, and enough grassland to create heating.

Alternately: Plant bunchgrass.

Why? It might be a popular Canadian myth that the hills are dry…

… and covered with weeds…

… and need to be grazed to be put in order …

… but that’s just racist. Really. This is Indian Country, after all. Mowing off indigenous grasses is equal to mowing off indigenous people. There’s no nice face for that. But if that’s too esoteric, remember that to apply a prairie grazing regime to bunchgrass gives you a field full of European weeds (above), with nary a bunchgrass in sight and the soil-building and seed-nurturing lichens cut by sharp hooves. If you want water to be shed off a hill and fill your basement in the spring, and fire to sweep off the hill and take off your porch in the summer, the animal above is your best tool. Moo.

Problem: Cows getting you down?

Solution: Plant a rock. Note below: bunchgrass, a living skin on the earth, and lichen fertilizing the whole lot by eating a rock away, turning snowmelt into nutrients and rainwater into, well, keeping the rainwater. No rain is going to escape this hill.

Don’t Eat the Grass!

Do plant that bunchgrass. Bunchgrass and sagebrush melt winter snow during the winter. The sage gives it to colonies of early spring plants and soil-building lichens, while the bunchgrass pumps it into its roots, to live on through the coming heat. The soil looks dry? It doesn’t matter. The water is there, and has not flowed away to flood your basement. For this reason, it is important to keep the grassland balance in favour of bunchgrass over sagebrush, but to keep the sagebrush from going extinct, to allow for the other plants and their roles in the green water cycle, including the feeding of deer and the subsequent transformation of surface water flows into deer paths, then into newly-seeded areas, all shifting across the land over the decades to even out flow patterns and prevent catastrophe.

Problem: Too much sagebrush?

Solution: Eat that cow, and then cut out the sagebrush. There isn’t any grazing potential on this hill anymore, because cattle created this excess sagebrush. Then plant grass.

Problem: Fire burning off your front porch?

Solution: Cut down that sagebrush. Fire is going to sweep down off that hill and take your house out like a blow of Global Warming’s Red Right Hand, effectively turning private negligence into a public liability, which is, ultimately, a subsidy. In other words, you are paying for your steak and a rancher’s big diesel pickup with your porch.


Problem: Species Going Extinct?

Solution: Plant a saskatoon instead of a tree. Lots for birds and deer to eat there.

And you.

You can even plant it by your front porch.

Saskatoons and humans evolved together on this landscape. Before humans and saskatoons came, there was rock. Then saskatoons and humans and birds and deer and bears came and there were saskatoons and humans and birds and bear and deer. Their relationship evolved in relation to water. The saskatoon below is not randomnly distributed. Birds placed its seed in this cracked rock. Then they fertilized it. The rock melted snow in the winter, and caught it. Lichens held it. The saskatoon drew it up into fruit. You ate the fruit. Good for you. You prevented a flood in your basement by paying attention.

Take one of the five away and the water is released from bondage. Take two away and it is released even more strongly from bondage. Take three away and climate change is off the map.

There’s lots of room for making this work. Here is the Grey Canal Trail in Vernon. Note the bounteous room for saskatoons, that is currently growing weeds, which are mown to look pretty. Sure.

Note: mowing is not pretty.

Problem:  Still want that steak?

The Parameters of the Solution: The Grey Canal Trail below has a few trees, with room for many more. It also passes through a sagebrush fire landscape; by cutting the slope it extracts water from the bunchgrass regime and turns it into alfalfa, which is mowed down and left to rot, because mowing and rotting are, somehow, weirdly, considered pretty.  Besides, people are afraid of snakes.

Solution: Mow the alfalfa and feed it to a cow. Eat the cow, if that’s your thing. A rabbit would likely be better.

Solution: A fear of snakes is no reason to create flood and fire. Sorry. Bring an ant.

Bullsnakes Have Their Own Problems

What is Climate Change Anyway? It is globally understood as the alteration of world weather patterns by the addition of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere, which trap sunlight and increase heat.

The Fine Print: In the Okanagan Valley, and in similar basalt seas to the north, in the Thompson, Cariboo and Chilcotin, and to the south, in the Okanogan, Methow, Washaptum, Yakima, Columbia, Snake and so on, we have been living in such a magnifying effect since the glaciers left. For us, the effect is created by the mountains on the Pacific Coast, and more specifically by their ability to translate storm on the Pacific into dry air, which pulls water from the soil and our skins. The amount increases the deeper the air falls into the old glacial troughs and inland fjords. Global climate change will not remove these effects. It will, however, both add and remove water from the system, and thus increase the effect of the mountains.

The solution: Obviously, fix the C02 and Methane crisis, but given that the culturally-compromised nature of the landscape’s ability to manage the water regime in this inverted climate, that will come to nought if the local problems are not repaired. All the C02 and Methane repair will not repair this landscape. Fire and flood will still ravage communities, productivity will still decrease, and, well, just look:

The image above is an image of both climate change and global warming. The upper middle class $1,000,000 homes are placed in a fire landscape of sagebrush, which is enjoyed as “nature”, while leaving the fire suppression (and any costs for damage) for the community as a whole to pay; the walking trail removes water from the subsoil environment, without using it to raise cattle, which can then be kept off the grasslands, which are needed to prevent flood. The image of a $500,000 house below shows a middling middle class view of the same issue. Here, nature is also reduced to a visual artifact, but in this case there is not even sagebrush. Due to a combination of a lack of interest in caring for a landscape and a misguided culture of preserving water because this is ostensibly a desert, this landowner is replacing his hillside with rock. Any snow or water that falls here will quickly flow through the storm sewers into the lake, where it will flood some upper class $3,000,000 beachfront home, placed there, again, for the view.

The damage will be paid for by the public purse. Climate change? It is nothing other than privatization of indigenous land and the refusal to take part in the processes of nature. That is called profit. The country of Canada is built on an economic system that fosters this behaviour. In this system, improvements to land are that set of things such as the rocks above or the houses themselves, which can be run through the bank system and simultaneously capitalized and depreciated. The way to make that work is to create more growth, which is to say more improvements, which is to say to remove more and more and more capacity from the land. That is climate change. Even CO2 smokestack emissions are only a consequence of that. We do have to deal with them, but we also need to make nonsense like this image below so costly that no one will ever do it again, because it is exactly that costly. In this case, a slope has been graded to allow for machine operation of tractors in a vineyard replacing the bunchgrass. The resulting berm has caught scotch thistles, which have been brutally poisoned (to no effect) because of environmental legislation protecting grazing land from species that reduce its value, although there shouldn’t be any grazing land here and the thistles are keeping vital grassland species alive, needed to revitalize the grasslands.

At the same time, this swath of land, around 20 hectares, is producing nothing. It is this depreciation of climate that should be taxed.


Tomorrow: the colonial history of this mess.

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