Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices

Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices

Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices
Hurricane Earl strikes Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, in 2010. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

David Suzuki Foundation supporters who live in Western Canada often have eyes riveted on Ottawa to see what the federal government’s next move will be when it comes to environmental issues. So we sometimes too easily overlook Canadians in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador – coastal regions, like ours, on the front lines of climate change.

As oceans warm, water expands and sea levels rise. Melting glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets add to the water volume. Scientists predict oceans could rise by more than a metre before the end of the century. They’re also increasingly convinced that escalating carbon emissions are linked to the risk of extreme weather events and intensified storms, such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or super storm Sandy in the U.S. in 2012. A key finding from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that Atlantic Canada faces similar risks if climate change is left unchecked, with more severe storms causing surging tides, flooding and widespread coastal erosion.

Climate change already affecting Atlantic Canada

For his captivating documentary, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, interviewed farmers, fishers, local residents, First Nations community members, scientists and business people from all around the Atlantic provinces. All say climate change is affecting their communities and livelihoods. They also agree something must be done and that the “business as usual” scenario is no longer an option.

Extreme energy, extreme weather

The heart of the problem is our seemingly unquenchable thirst for mainly fossil-fuel based energy resources. As our desire for comfort and efficiency grows, so does our energy consumption, prompting the search for sources increasingly difficult to extract. The words tar sands, shale gas, offshore drilling and fracking have only entered our vocabulary in just the past few decades – including in Atlantic communities, many of which now also rely on these fossil-based industries to fuel economic prosperity.

But with current talks about oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, shale gas fracking in New Brunswick, and moving tar sands bitumen from Alberta to the East Coast, we must ask if economic profit and prosperity for a few are worth the environmental and social risks to so many – especially when the latest IPCC report suggests that to avoid global catastrophic climate chaos, we must leave much of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.

Increased wealth ≠ improved health

In light of what the scientific community is telling us about the scope and impacts of climate change – largely a result of burning fossil fuels – we owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren to consider the implications of the choices we’re about to make in Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country. As former Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan reminded us before leaving his position earlier this year, Canada is not prepared for a major oil spill off the East Coast. And, as New Brunswick Chief Medical Health Officer Eilish Cleary points out regarding the economics of shale gas development:

[quote][We] cannot simply assume that more money equates to a healthier population.[/quote]

Oil and gas development threatens valuable tourism economy

Coastal regions such as Atlantic Canada have a long cultural history based largely on fishing, tourism and other marine activities. Although fossil-fuel activities have been in Atlantic Canada for decades, proposed new on- and offshore energy projects will likely put Atlantic Canada’s existing economy and way of life at risk, affecting tourism and fishing in the ocean and on rivers like New Brunswick’s famous Miramichi.

We have a choice

When it comes to climate change, our future will not be determined by chance but by choice. We can choose to ignore the science, or we can change our ways and reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s up to us and our leaders to consider and promote energy alternatives and other solutions that modernize our energy systems, provide a clean, healthy environment for our families and offer long-term economic prosperity.

I’ll be touring Atlantic Canada with local and national experts at the end of November, premiering Mauro’s film and holding conversations with Atlantic communities about climate change and energy issues. Please join us and be part of the solution!

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation-Quebec Science Project Manager Jean-Patrick Toussaint.


About Dr. David Suzuki

David Suzuki, Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way.

3 thoughts on “Atlantic Canada faces climate consequences for our energy choices

  1. The IPCC does not agree with you that there is no warming, and the IPCC has bee criticized for being too conservative, especially because they cut off the date for studies
    at 2010, but many important ones came out after that date .

    Incidentally, it requires a period of 30 years to determine climate change, not 17.
    this is what climate scientists use. Otherwise, you just have a short-term outlook on
    weather, which is far more variable than climate.

    Perhaps you see no change . My Inuit students see a lot, and I was shocked to see
    trees and large shrubs now growing wild in the Arctic in Manitoba– in the 1970s the
    soil and climate would not support trees and shrubs, and plants were very low to the ground. I also have see. considerable change in the Montreal climate, and yes, I have been there more than 30 years. What, exactly, are you using as a baseline? And over
    how long a period?

    1. Doris, The 1970s were among the coldest in the century. Typical of most people, your perception of history begins with the day you were born. Geologic timeframes are needed to look at warming, not individual lifetimes.
      Indeed, the arctic is the one place that has perceptibly warmed – and for you, with your reference starting point in the 1970s, you would see changes.

      Judy Cross isn’t using a ‘baseline’ … The RSS (satellite-based measurement) data set shows that, for seventeen years, nine months, the entire world has not warmed up one bit. If you look at RSS data for the current month, and compute the least-means-square backwards in time, and find how far back you can get, with no up tic (or downward trend) as a result. It is an arithmetic computation not subject to bias.

      I’ll grant you that the arctic has warmed during that period. The globe, however, has not (according to the RSS data set) [other data sets have other results]. The IPCC, however, HAS acknowledged “the pause” (as meaning, the “Global Warming” has paused – they think it will resume shortly)

  2. Let’s talk about just who is “ignoring the science”. We’ve had 17 years of no warming in spite of rising CO2. There is no longer a correlation between temperature and atmospheric CO2.

    Basic scientific and practical logic dictate that there can be “no causation without correlation”.

    Under normal circumstances, that would end the debate, so just what is going on so that logic no longer applies?
    Maybe CO2 caused Man-Made Climate Change is a diversion from the very real weather wars taking place.

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