A picture of John Horgan superimposed over a forest fire with houses burning. His eyes are erased to show the flames behind him.

Photo Credit: VanIsle Staff

Too Much Smoke and Not Enough Mirrors — Horgan’s Government Hides Uncomfortable Truth About Forest Fires

BC forests used to be a carbon sink, but now they emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb

Raging forest fires now top fossil fuels as BC’s biggest source of heat-trapping pollution

Forest fires are now pumping more greenhouse gas (GHG) into the atmosphere than the burning of fossil fuels in BC.

Get your head around that — forest fires are causing more heat-trapping pollution than the almost four million cars in BC.

Most British Columbians have no clue about this. And the provincial government doesn’t want you to find out.

Historically, BC’s main source of climate pollution came from burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas. For example, cars and industry pumped out close to 60 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) every year.

BC Fires - 072721
Map of fires raging in BC Credit: BC Wildfire Dashboard

But this summer’s brutal wildfires have tipped the scale.

This summer is turning into a fire season like no other. More than 250 forest fires are burning in the province right now, and a third of them are out of control.

The same week that Lytton set an all-time Canadian heat record, their Fraser Canyon community of 250 people burned to the ground.

According to Barry Saxifrage, a climate reporter with The National Observer, in the 1990s, wildfires released 5 million MtCO2 per year. In the 2000s, that average tripled to 15 million MtCO2 per year.

A graph that compares the carbon emissions from forest fires to all of BC's carbon emissions.
Forest fires in BC now release as much carbon pollution as all other sources.

In the 2010s, it jumped to a whopping 56 million MtCO2 per year. That’s 10 times the amount from the 1990s.

It’s not even August, and already this year’s fires have released 60 million MtCO2.

60 million MtCO2! Just the fires! That’s the same amount of CO2 as everything else in the province combined. And there’s no end in sight.   

And here’s the kicker: when the province adds up all of its CO2 pollution at the end of the year, it doesn’t include any from the forest fires.

In 2007, BC pledged to cut heat-trapping pollution by 33% by 2020.

Now it’s 2021. The government missed that target, big time. And that’s before they include the wildfires.

Air temperatures across North America the day after Lytton recorded a Canadian record high temperature and the day before it burned down
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

They’re hiding the heat-trapping pollution from wildfires. Because if they include them, it shows that they’re doing even worse. But they aren’t fooling anybody.

BC forests used to be a carbon sink. That means our forests used to absorb carbon and clean up some of the heat-trapping pollution we released. But the huge increase in fires has flipped that situation. But now, BC forests emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

It’s time for our representatives in Victoria to come clean about BC’s forest fire problem. The fires are destroying people’s homes and farms, and orchards. And they’re messing up all our efforts to cut heat-trapping pollution.

And they’re getting worse every year.