Phrase of the year: Supply Chain

I’m picking supply chain as phrase of the year. While there were other strong candidates, the stark frailty of supply chains and its psychological backlash came as a complete surprise. Other contenders were: climate emergency, atmospheric river, and heat dome.

image: Global Supply Chain Institute -University of Tennessee

Supply chains were on Canadian’s minds even before the atmospheric river hit.  Google Trends shows “supply chain” peaking from October 17 to 23 as we worried about goods being stranded in ports and shelves being empty for Christmas.

After the torrential rains began falling, shoppers went on a panic shopping spree and emptied grocery stores of produce, milk, eggs, meat, and in echoes of the pandemic panic, even toilet paper.

After the rains, Google Trends showed “supply chain” reaching another peak from November 14 to 20.

The panic over supply chains was more visceral than rational. The real supply chains remained as Kamloops’ grocers are supplied from the East and South as well as from the lower mainland.

B.C. is exterior-centric. When I moved to Kamloops from Calgary, it struck me odd that I was moving to some place called “the interior.” It was obviously named by those from the coast who like to call the place where they live the “mainland.” We Interiorians would never name this place so.

The supply chains of our minds are more tenuous. The sense of being cut off from the mainland was part of the panic. The memories we have of before B.C. was a province are part of our cultural heritage. In the 1800s, we were dependent on the flow of goods from the ports on the coast. It’s imprinted in our collective psyches.

So, when supply chains from the coast were threatened, it seemed like we were doomed. But contrary to the perception, groceries quickly appeared on shelves even though routes from the coast were still cut off.

Who is cut off from whom is a matter of perspective. The Trans Mountain pipeline was shut down because of potential damage from the washouts. Gas was rationed on the coast while plentiful here. This prompted Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian to quip: “We are not cut off from the coast; the coast is cut off from us.”

If you live where food is produced, or where there are lots of groceries, supply chains present a different dilemma.

When water flowed into the Sumas Prairie, which is not really a prairie but a lake-bed only one metre above sea level, the family-run Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford, was open and fully stocked. Shiny mandarin oranges sat in wooden crates. There was milk and eggs in the coolers. A chalkboard sign announced the soup of the day: cabbage beef borscht.

The problem for the Lepp’s was not a shortage of food but that they now lived on an island. Charlotte Lepp mused: “We have food, but people can’t get to us.”

Supply chains will continue to occupy our conscious and subconscious minds in the New Year.

Real supply chains carry the bounty of globalization and the fragility of a network exposed by the climate emergency. Our mental supply chains carry our hopes of prosperity and the fears of our vulnerability.

When the frailty of real and mental supply chains meet, panic sets in.


Super, natural, takes on new meaning in the face of B.C.’s adversity

Super, Natural British Columbia has been our trademark for decades. B.C.’s natural beauty – our mountains, oceans, rivers- attract tourists from around the world. Our varied terrain spreads across a vast landscape from rainforests to prairies

image: 49 North Helicopters

How big is Beautiful British Columbia?  Big enough to hold one Japan and two New Zealands.

For over 35 years, Destination BC, a crown corporation, has branded B.C. as Super, Natural British Columbia® and inspired millions of people to visit B.C. On their website they say:

“Our brand essence is that we are wild at heart. And, our promise back to those that travel here is that BC’s powerful nature will transform and renew you, bringing out your better self. BC has a unique combination of refined civilization with raw wilderness, sophistication and exhilaration, and of urban areas immersed in natural environments.”

We’ve been marketed to world as place to be in awe of nature. Now our destructive wildfires, record heat waves, and torrential rains will require rebranding. Now we are the poster province of climate emergency.

That doesn’t mean we can’t still use the words super, natural, and awe for marketing but the meanings have to be expanded.

Super, from the root meaning in Latin, means “above, over, beyond.” Now nature is beyond benign. Mother Nature is angry at our abuse of the planet and she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Awe has been transformed into awful. From 1300 awful meant: “worthy of respect or fear, striking with awe; causing dread.” Now awful means “very bad or unpleasant.”

We have experienced the awe of heat waves, the terror of wildfires, the hardship of drought, and the despair of people evacuated from their homes.

However, marketing is about spinning the negative into something fascinating. Beyond the mayhem, there is a sense of exhilaration in the force of nature.

People are fascinated by the brute force of nature. During tropical storms, people are attracted to shorelines to marvel at the powerful waves.  Kite surfers harness the fury of the wind.

Even the seemingly placid side of nature can be ominous. Below the surface lurks an awesome power. Visitors can be drawn to a seething power that lurks below the surface.

I remember visiting Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia and being attracted to the rocks polished smooth by the waves. Despite signs warning of the danger, visitors stand on the slippery rocks, watching the seemingly calm waves, only to be swept to their death.

Destination B.C. should market the fury of the atmospheric river. This spectacular band of moisture-laden air brings heat and precipitation from the tropics to our coast. Atmospheric rivers can carry 25 times more water than the Mississippi River.

Then there is the world renowned heat dome. Watch the temperatures soar as they did in Lytton. That Fraser Canyon village hit almost50 degrees and then went up in flames. It was the world’s highest temperature ever recorded north of 45°N and is a record high for all of Canada.

Come to B.C. and experience climate change in all its fury. Beyond nature, beyond a sense of awe, a climate emergency in progress.