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Letters: On the nature of 'unprecedented'


Everyone wants to be an environmentalist. But not everyone wants to be scientific about it. Last week’s letter (“Cumulative environment assessments needed”) refers to an “unprecedented year of forest fires, heat, and flooding.” 

For the record, here’s the data for 2021: 

Wildfires in BC torched 869,279 hectares. That was just twice the 10-year average, but far from “unprecedented.” Burns of well over a million hectares have occurred twice in the last 10 years. These massive burns alternate with years of minimal destruction, such as 2020 reporting less than 15,000 hectares burned. 

Rainfall in B.C. (at Vancouver) was 731 mm for the year, versus the 30-year average of 798 mm. So, once again, not “unprecedented” at all, although two daily rainfall records were set in the Fraser Valley in November. 

Temperatures, despite some scorching highs in July, were almost dead-on the historical average for the year. Vancouver reported an annual average temperature of 10.5 C in 2021 versus the historical average of 10.4. That’s well within the standard deviation of 0.6 degrees. So far, in 2022, we are 2 degrees Celsius below normal. 

Let’s keep in mind that we can’t look out the window and see climate. For that we have to examine the long-term data. Anything “unprecedented” will be there to see on the Environment Canada website. 

PJ Reece, Gibsons 

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