BY HEATHER BAITZ
I remember thinking ‘is this for real?’ when I heard about 50 high school students from our area being among the stranded in Tofino with the Highway 4 closure last month. As a parent, the idea of kids being stuck on the far side of a wildfire was horrifying. The impacts though were much broader – businesses in Tofino and Ucluelet lost $44 million over the 17-day closure due to the Cameron Lake fire. Across B.C., this year’s wildfires have burned more land than any previous year on record, and it’s not even the end of July. Globally, July 4-7 were the four hottest days ever recorded.
As the Earth heats up, we will see more extreme weather at home and abroad. The more fossil fuels we burn, the hotter it will get. It’s time we got serious about making changes. In Nanaimo, burning natural gas and oil to heat our buildings and hot water accounts for nearly one-third of our local greenhouse gas emissions. The new zero carbon step code is a key opportunity to reduce those emissions while improving the comfort and safety of our homes and cutting our household energy costs. Home owners save an average of 14 per cent per year on utility bills by having a heat pump compared to natural gas, according to a 2022 B.C. Hydro report.
The highest tier of the zero carbon step code would require all new buildings to use electric space and water heating, virtually eliminating carbon pollution from those buildings.
I retrofitted my home with an electric heat pump in 2020, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. My house stays cool even when I can’t open the windows because of poor outdoor air quality. With my electric stove and electric hot water heater, there is no need for any gas hookup.
Numerous studies have shown that gas appliances harm human health by producing nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter and methane leaks. Alarmingly, research has found possible links between childhood asthma and the use of gas stoves. Owners of all-electric homes will be healthier because of better indoor air quality and cooler temperatures in extreme heat events.
There are already builders and contractors who have years of experience with building all-electric homes in Nanaimo, across the Island and across the province. Saanich, Victoria, North Vancouver, North Vancouver and West Vancouver have recently adopted the zero carbon step code. All-electric homes will soon be the norm in B.C. home construction.
The zero carbon step code is not a burden, but an opportunity. An opportunity to make our homes more efficient, healthier and more comfortable. An opportunity to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change – and an opportunity to create a better future for ourselves and our children.
I urge city council to adopt the highest tier of the zero carbon step code as soon as possible. Together, we can make a difference for our Island, our province, and our planet.
Heather Baitz is chairperson of the Nanaimo Climate Action Hub.Follow @nanaimobulletin