The results of human-induced climate change are apparent in the melting of Arctic ice and the increasing frequency of extreme climatic events.
For example, in 2004 in Peterborough there was a flood that would be expected to occur only once in three hundred years.
While no individual event can be attributed directly to climate change, statistical studies show the increasing frequency.
A baseline for climate in the United States from 1950 to 1999 established a norm that gave an equal number of hot and cold record temperatures for that period.
For the years 2000-2011, this shifted to twice as many hot records as cold records, and for the first half of 2012 hot records outweighed cold records ten to one.
Such changes are having wide-ranging effects on the world and its populations: from heat-induced health problems, to wide swings in food production, to changes in wildlife survivability.
So what is Canada doing about this global problem? Locally, the City and County of Peterborough (with all townships and the two First-Nations communities on board) approved in 2012 a Sustainability Peterborough plan.
This plan addresses the areas of economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability for the area, and sets goals in each area.
Several working groups are continuing to set specific targets. For example, through the Climate Change group (chaired by Professor Stephen Hill), the City and County have just received a $435,000 grant to develop a Climate Change Action Plan.
This study will develop an inventory and forecast of greenhouse gas emissions, an emissions reduction target, and a local action plan.
Provincially, the Ontario government has introduced a feed-in tariff to encourage the development of renewable-energy electricity from solar, wind and hydroelectric installations.
This tariff guarantees the developer a fixed return per unit of electricity that is above the current cost of about 10 cents per kwh (kilowatt-hour), because of the risk and expenses of a new technology.
The higher rate at least partially recognizes that Hydro One prices do not include the cost to health and the environment of our production of electricity.
The Wynne government has also eliminated coal-fired electricity generation. However, it has not yet followed BC’s lead of a revenue-neutral carbon tax (the money is returned to the taxpayers as tax credits), that has reduced CO2 emissions there by 16% without hurting the economy. The tax has a 64% voter approval.
Federally, the picture is not rosy. Canada makes up less than one half of one percent of the world’s population, but is the world’s eighth largest producer of greenhouse gases.
Furthermore, Canada has no coherent national policy to address climate change.
The world’s atmosphere is almost at the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) to cause a 2 degree Celsius increase in the average global temperature.
Beyond this point of “dangerous climate change”, higher temperatures, violent storms, and more serious droughts and flooding will occur.
Yet the known fossil-fuel reserves, much of it in Canada, would produce between three and five times the amount of CO2 required to reach this 2 degree Celsius critical point. We cannot allow the burning of this carbon!
This is why Sustainable Trent’s goal of having Trent divest its investments in fossil fuels must be supported. Divestment before fossil-fuel prices collapse also makes good business sense.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently released a report, entitled “Deflating the carbon bubble”.
“The study estimates Canada’s share of a global carbon budget and finds that at least 78% of Canada’s proven oil, bitumen, gas, and coal reserves, and 89% of proven-plus-probable reserves would need to remain underground.”
Canada has promised to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. However, forecasts show that, in 2020, Canada’s GHG emissions will be well above the 2005 level instead of 17 percent below.
The switch to more conservation and renewable energy must occur eventually, bringing with it a greener, healthier, less- pressured society, so why aren’t we moving more quickly towards this goal?
What can we do as individuals? Switching to low-energy lightbulbs is not enough. We need serious policy changes at all levels of government—and particularly the federal one—that will significantly reduce our carbon footprint over the next 20 years.
However, this will happen only if enough citizens tell all our politicians that we will vote only for those with a coherent plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Two things you can do now to make a difference are (1) sign the Peterborough Declaration on Climate Change and pass on the link to your friends, and (2) attend the Climate Change Rally on Sunday September 21, from 1:30 to 2:30 in Millennium Park (King St. at Water)
The rally will be fun, with local musicians and politicians’ answers on climate change. If everyone coming brings two friends, this will be the largest rally in the last 40 years in Peterborough.
The rally is part of the Purple Onion Festival promoting local food and culture, also at Millennium Park, 11am to 4pm.
Alan Slavin is Trent University’s Professor Emeritus in Physics and Astronomy. He is a member of the Climate Change Working Group, and For Our Grandchildren.