FAQs about climate change

Questions

  1. Why should I be worried about climate change in Canada? – It’s cold here, and a little warming sounds good.
  2. What can I do to mitigate climate change?
  3. What can I do to adapt to climate change?
  4. Why is politics crucial for climate change mitigation and adaptation? What is Canada’s role internationally?
  5. Isn’t climate change part of Earth’s natural cycle?
  6. Isn’t it too expensive to mitigate climate change?
  7. How is severe weather related to climate change?
  8. What can my business do to adapt to and mitigate climate change?
  9. What laws and policies regarding climate change are currently in place?

Answers

1. Why should I be worried about climate change in Canada?

Climate change has and will have a large negative effect in Canada:

  • Global warming is impeding the recovery of the ozone layer because warming in the lower atmosphere has a chain effect that cools the stratosphere and makes conditions perfect for the chemical destruction of the ozone layer.  Therefore, the ozone hole in the north will be more pronounced each spring, possibly increasing the UV index for all Canadians.
  • Major cities such as Toronto and Montreal can expect more smog days in the summer, because higher temperatures increase reaction rates between the pollutants that make smog. Air quality will continue to get worse with the progression of climate change. There will also be more heat waves and humidity.
  • Canada can expect a larger-than-the-global-average temperature increase, especially at high latitudes. In northern communities buildings and roads built on permafrost are suffering structural damage as the permafrost melts and the ground becomes unstable. Wildlife up north (e.g. polar bears, caribou and reindeer) is being threatened by the reduced sea ice and the increase in summer insects.
  • Canada has about 38% of its population living within 20 km of a coast (either Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic or the Great Lakes). We can expect sea level rise of 30 cm on the west coast, and 70 cm on the east coast by 2050. Lakes and rivers in BC may flood, while the Great Lakes will experience lower water levels affecting the amount of cargo ships can bring in (A Guide to Climate Chang for SMEs).
  • Agriculture and forests in the prairies will suffer from droughts, making crops more vulnerable to pests and disease, and logging a non-sustainable industry. Droughts will also increase forest fires throughout Canada, affecting air quality in some areas.
  • Higher winter temperatures allow insect pests to survive and spread. An example of this is the Mountain Pine Beetle, which in one year destroyed 130,000 square kilometres of forest (close to the total area of England). By 2013 it is expected that 80% of B.C.’s pine forest will be wiped out.

 2.  What can I do to mitigate climate change?

If you are a business owner, please see the business opportunity  page. As an individual, there is still much you can to do mitigate climate change:

  • Talk to your political representatives to let them know you are concerned about global warming and will support policies that mitigate climate change.
  • Reduce your energy consumption by taking public transit, walking or biking for your transportation needs, using a more fuel-efficient vehicle, and living closer to where you work. Evaluate the energy needs of your household – turn lights off, update appliances to more energy efficient ones, set your thermostat a little cooler in the winter and a little warmer in the summer, subscribe to an environmentally friendly power company like Bull Frog Power (which uses wind and low-impact hydro-electric power). Make sure your home is well insulated. Figure A shows major sectors that cause GHG emissions. Knowing these may give you some more ideas on where you can cut back.

Figure A: Sources of GHGs (EDGAR). When we know the important sources, we can think about ways to cut back on emissions in our own lives.

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle! (In that order!). Reduce material consumption, and buy local organic food and consumer products. Buy used products when possible, and donate or sell unwanted goods instead of throwing them in the garbage. Compost and recycle materials when possible. Also reduce water use (shorter showers, fewer baths, efficient laundry and dishwashing appliances, etc.)
  • If you own your home, consider installing solar panels, or solar thermal water heating. Plant trees on your yard, and if possible add a rooftop garden.

 

3.  What can I do to adapt to climate change?

If you are a business owner, please see the business opportunity page. As an individual, you can adapt to climate change using many of the mitigation techniques (see above). For example insulating your home well will keep the heat out during very hot summer days allowing you to keep cool, and save money on air conditioning. Reducing your energy, food and transportation needs in any way will keep the financial effects of climate change from being a larger burden.

As a homeowner, you may also want to consider retrofitting your home to withstand severe storms. If you live near the coast you may consider what effect sea level rise can have on your area and consider moving further inland. Also consider adding solar panels to your home to reduce energy costs over the long term.

Unfortunately, the ability to adapt to climate change favours those with good health and wealth. Vulnerable individuals such as the chronically ill, the elderly, children, and the poor will be harder hit by the effects of climate change. For example, on very hot summer days, those without air conditioning or other facilities to cool down may suffer heat stroke. And those with asthma or other respiratory ailments will have their health further jeopardized by the increase in smog.

4.  Why is politics crucial for climate change mitigation and adaptation?

Political will can make the big, systemic changes needed to combat climate change. All levels of government are capable of enacting laws and policies that could punish polluters and reward green industries and behaviours.

At the municipal level, transportation and solid waste diversion policies can have a large effect. Cities can create excellent and affordable public transit options, and discourage bad behaviour by taxing vehicle ownership, adding road tolls and limiting urban sprawl (see blog post). Cities can also improve their recycling and compost options to reduce the need for additional raw materials and chemical fertilizers.

At the provincial/state level, governments usually play a large role in environmental assessment, monitoring and enforcement. For example the Alberta government is currently responsible for governing the tar sands practices, monitoring the amount of pollution that this industry emits, and enforcing environmental laws if their activities are in breech of them. Provinces have a larger income through taxes than cities do, and they also have a more reasonable scope to create climate change laws than the federal government does.  The problem however, is that provinces/states are competing with each one another to attract businesses. A province with more business will have more money from taxation. Therefore a province is not highly motivated to have strict environmental laws for businesses in fear that they may drive them away. This issue is called “a race to the bottom”.

The national governments have the ability to make policies that apply to all provinces/states, which can help solve the “race to the bottom” described above. Since climate change is a global problem, national governments also have the power to sign and enforce international treaties to fight climate change, such as the Kyoto protocol.

5.  Isn’t climate change part of Earth’s natural cycle?

The earth has a few natural cycles that cause an increase or decrease in temperature and CO2 concentrations. However, these cycles are self-regulating. For example, before humans had an influence on climate, when Earth’s temperature would warm up, there would be more vegetation growth that would remove more CO2 from the atmosphere. The removal of CO2 would reduce the greenhouse effect and cause the earth to cool. Hence, the planet naturally responded with a negative feedback. Similarly, when Earth’s temperature would cool, there would be less vegetation growth, even death of plants, and this would release CO2 back into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect, which warmed the earth back up. This cycle has gone up and down, up and down for thousands, even millions of years back in Earth’s history (Fig. B).

Figure B: CO2 concentrations on Earth in the past 420 000 years (R. Keeling, adapted from Petit et al., Nature 399, 429, 1999).

However, now that humans are both increasing the CO2 emissions from geologically stored carbon, and simultaneously removing forests to make room for agriculture, residences and industry, we are creating a positive feedback system that will increase Earth’s warming indefinitely. It’s also important to note that human emissions of carbon are about ten times greater than volcanic emissions, or any other natural source of carbon emissions.

6.  Isn’t it too expensive to mitigate climate change?

This is an argument put forth by some politicians who have vested interests in polluting businesses. It’s a common myth, which, by now, many believe to be true. However, mitigating climate change does not cost much money if at all. For example many of our suggestions under climate change mitigation above are free and will actually save you money. Some of our suggestions do require some initial expenses, however over the long-term they will either break even with or save money compared to business-as-usual practices. Another reason this myth exists is because climate change mitigation will cause a re-distribution of expense, even though overall our country will not lose money. For example, if climate mitigation were to go forward full steam ahead from all levels of government and all businesses on board, then Alberta would lose money overall, while other provinces who have different, less-polluting industries will profit.

7.  How is severe weather related to climate change?

With the increase of GHGs, we are trapping more of the suns energy in the earth-atmosphere system. This energy in the form of heat is a driving force for severe weather. For example, warm ocean waters cause hurricanes, tornadoes are caused by the convection of warm air, and unusual winter warming causes ice storms. Simply put, with more energy in the earth-atmosphere system, we get more storms.

Also some geographical regions will experience more severe drought and forest fires because of the increase in temperature, and additional dryness that is caused by more severe rainfall elsewhere.

8.  What laws and policies regarding climate change are currently in place?

Coming soon…