By Kate Goldstone
There’s a lot of talk about saving ‘the planet’ but planet earth will survive whatever we do to its climate. While the planet itself doesn’t need saving, we are fighting tooth and nail to save the human race and our fellow creatures, whether they happen to be furry, scaled, many-legged or feathered.
In Canada, like many other nations, anthropogenic climate change still isn’t being addressed seriously enough by the government, despite liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s impressive claims. So what’s going on in Canada right now as regards climate change? What effect is it having on the country, and do we still have time to stop the carnage in its tracks?
Canada’s problem? It’s ‘business as usual’
According to an article by CBC News (1) a ‘business as usual’ attitude can only mean disaster for Canada. At the same time the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2) has highlighted how warming is accelerating faster than ever. It gives us a 12 year deadline to call a halt to the human race’s continuing excesses, and it affects you whatever country you happen to live in.
So far this year Montreal alone has seen 70 human deaths from excess heat, with stifling temperatures regularly exceeding thirty degrees and high humidity that made it feel more like forty degrees. British Colombia encountered the worst wildfires since records began. Flooding brought Toronto to a standstill. And while some areas of the planet have ‘only’ warmed by one degree recently, some areas of Canada have seen dramatic temperature increases of four and a half degrees or more over the past seventy years, including the Northwestern Territories’ Mackenzie region.
It gets worse. As Canada’s senior climate expert David Phillips confirmed, some areas of the country have warmed twice as much as average in half the time. And unusually harsh climate events, which used to happen rarely, are set to become a lot more frequent as well as less predictable.
In general Canada’s summers have warmed by one degree, and its winters by almost one and a half. Some coastal communities in Canada are already battling with sea level rise, along with the associated land erosion and flooding. And eastern Canada is also suffering. Once thought to be less vulnerable to climate change, the past decade has seen dramatic change there, too.
The impact on human life
David Phillips and his team have run ‘business as usual’ computer models to predict Canada’s future climate. And it’s looking pretty grim. Toronto, for example, could experience more than 50 days of temperatures over 30C in the next 30 years, and that also means a 50-60% greater risk of the horrific freezing rain events that already cause such havoc. 2013’s ice storm, for example, cost the nation an eye-watering 106 million Canadian dollars.
While increasing temperatures deliver a longer growing season for farmers, a warmer climate means the land and vegetation dries out and there’s more likelihood of wildfires and widespread smoke pollution. Plus, of course, even more CO2 emissions. But flooding is the biggie for Canada. Flood damage already costs the country more money than any other kind of extreme weather.
The Weather Network website(3) provides more insight. The Arctic’s Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut are all heating up faster than the rest of Canada, not far short of twice the rate. Ice melt is a growing issue, contributing to rapid sea level rise. The albedo – the proportion of light or radiation reflected by the surface of the ice – plus fast-thawing permafrost, are already causing issues around food security and housing. Public health and people’s overall wealth are set to be hit particularly hard in the north of the country. Inuit and First Nations people, who tend to interact more intimately with the environment, will probably suffer most as shorelines erode, permafrost melts, and roads and buildings are destroyed.
Places like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador are seeing more storms than ever. There are more floods thanks to extreme rainfall and the coastline, where most people live, is the worst affected. Fast-melting Arctic ice is having an impact, with The Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut predicted to be amongst the worst hit by rapid Arctic warming. In a nutshell, things are looking about as bad as they could get.
Best and worst case scenarios
Canada has made efforts to improve things. It has signed the Paris Agreement promising to stop global temperatures shooting up more than two degrees this century, although it’s increasingly likely we’ll miss the target. But at the same time they’ve agreed a new oil pipeline, which sadly reveals how money and short term thinking still come first with the Canadian government despite the hopes raised by Trudeau.
Canada says it will lower its 2005 carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030. But in 2016 projections revealed the plan was extremely unlikely to succeed, with CO2 emissions targets likely to fail. If things don’t change the year 2030 – just 12 years away – will see Canada’s coastal communities having to move inland, a move that’ll cost the government a fortune. Poor food security will lead to high food prices and more imports. The weather will become increasingly extreme and unpredictable. And if anyone decides to extract the vast reserves of oil and gas that lie beneath the Beaufort Sea, global warming will only accelerate faster.
Imagine the cost if Nova Scotia, as predicted, becomes an island? Imagine the impact on fishing in Canadian waters if the climate warms enough to drive fish away to cooler waters? After all, if the seas warm four degrees, cold water fish will either move away or die out altogether. The usual one in a hundred year storms could happen once every 25 years by 2050. Atlantic Canada’s balsam fir and spruce trees, which dislike warm weather, will die off, and it’ll take decades or even hundreds of years for warm weather alternatives to replace them.
Can we stop it?
As a concerned individual human being, you’ve done everything you can to mitigate climate change. You’ve replaced your lightbulbs with energy-efficient ones. You’ve cut down on car use, or even sold your car in favour of public transport. You haven’t flown for a very long time. You buy less, consume less, warm your home a few degrees less in winter. You insulate, you make do and mend, you recycle and re-purpose. You’ve fitted solar panels, a wind turbine, a water wheel. It’s all good stuff. Actually it’s great stuff. But it still isn’t enough.
Unless the world’s governments act now, and act decisively, Canada will suffer more as time passes. As will the rest of the world’s people, and our fellow creatures. Are you willing to protest peacefully and even go to prison to give our children a future worth having? If so, join us. If not, maybe you can help in some other way? We’d love to hear from you.