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NEWS: Climate change seen this summer

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman recently wrote, “Our daily weather reports, cheerfully presented with flashy graphics and state-of-the-art animation, appear to relay more and more information. And yet, no matter how glitzy the presentation, a key fact is invariably omitted. Imagine if, after flashing the words ‘extreme weather’ to grab our attention, the reports flashed ‘global warming’. Then we would know not only to wear lighter clothes or carry an umbrella, but that we have to do something about climate change.”

The Associated Press reports that the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization says the “the weather-related cataclysms of July and August fit climate (change) predictions” though they “shy away from tying individual disasters directly to global warming.” The article notes that, “the U.N.’s network of climate scientists – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – has (also) long predicted that rising global temperatures would produce more frequent and intense heat waves and more intense rainfalls.”

“The World Meteorological Organization pointed out that this summer’s events fit the international scientists’ projections of ‘more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming.’ In fact, in key cases they’re a perfect fit…” This includes a heat wave in Russia and a severe drought that has “reduced the wheat harvest by more than one-third.” In Pakistan “the heaviest monsoon rains on record have sent rivers rampaging over huge swaths of countryside, flooding thousands of villages.” And “China is witnessing its worst floods in decades…” These devastating situations in Russia, Pakistan and China have already claimed thousands of lives and displaced thousands more.

As well, “Researchers last week spotted a 100-square-mile chunk of ice that calved off from the great Petermann Glacier in Greenland’s far northwest. It was the most massive ice island to break away in the Arctic in a half-century of observation. The huge iceberg appeared just five months after an international scientific team published a report saying ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet is expanding up its northwest coast from the south. Changes in the ice sheet “are happening fast, and we are definitely losing more ice mass than we had anticipated,” said NASA’s Isabella Velicogna. In the Arctic Ocean, satellite data show the ocean area covered by ice last month was the second-lowest ever recorded for July.”

How are we experiencing climate change in Canada, particularly with respect to water?

The Great Lakes

A major report by International Upper Great Lakes Study Board released in December 2009 found that climate change has already caused a discernible drop in the water levels of the Great Lakes. The report, that involved more than 100 scientists and engineers, estimates that Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have fallen about a quarter metre relative to Lake Erie over the last fifty years with 40-74 percent of that reduction due to climate change. The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s freshwater and supply one in three Canadians and one in seven Americans – forty five million people – with their daily water use.

The Canadian Press reported on July 10 that, “Normally frigid Lake Superior has warmed up faster than usual this summer due to a winter with little ice and a record-warm spring, according to researchers. …Surface temperatures are about 11 degrees Celsius higher than normal for this time of year and could be on their way to record highs, said researchers at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Large Lakes Observatory. …Climate change is responsible for the warming effect, the researchers said. ‘Lake Superior is responding to global climate shifts as clearly as anywhere on Earth,’ they said. …’There’s a climate momentum going on out there,’ (Steve) Colman (director of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Large Lakes Observatory) said.”

The pattern is, “The warmer the air and water, the less ice forms. The less ice, the warmer the water gets. Then less ice forms next winter.” It is unclear what effect the warmer water will have on the lake say the scientists. It could mean “a more fertile lake with more organisms that thrive in warmer conditions” or Colman says it could cause “cascading biological effects to fish and other species that we can surmise but haven’t confirmed as yet.”


Natural Resources Canada has stated that there will be “decreases in water availability resulting from increased intensity and frequency of drought, declining snowpack and glacier dimunition” in Canada. NRC says, “Canada’s glaciers hold /water resources equivalent to all of the water contained by our lakes and rivers. As a Nordic country, much of Canada’s freshwater is derived from seasonal and perennial snow and ice, which exerts important controls on the timing and magnitude of water fluxes.” And they note, “Glaciers play a role in recharging groundwater aquifers. This aspect of our hydrology is critical to understanding the variability of water supply under a changing climate…”

Less runoff into the rivers

For British Columbia, the Suzuki Foundation has noted that, “the health of this region is threatened by climate change. Warmer, drier winters mean lighter snowpacks in the mountains. Less snow means less runoff to the rivers that depend on melting mountain snow.” Additionally, the Edmonton Journal reported back in 2007 that, “The Athabasca glacier, where the (Athabasca) river originates, has shrunk significantly in the last 70 to 80 years.” That article says, “Research shows that some tributaries to the Athabasca River could dry up if Alberta warms up six degrees (which is expected to occur) over time.”

And although the article didn’t make a connection to climate change, the Globe and Mail reported last week that, “The winter’s sparse snowfall and the dry spring are posing challenges for hydroelectricity producers across Central Canada, drawing down Hydro-Quebec’s massive reservoirs, reducing Ontario Power Generation’s generation in the eastern and northern parts of the province, and hammering production and financial results of investor-owned power companies. …The dry conditions provide a warning for the Ontario government, which has ambitious plans to develop hydro facilities to power the province.”

Other impacts, as noted by the Suzuki Foundation, include, “Warmer temperatures also mean forests are drying out, becoming more vulnerable to fires and disease outbreaks.”

The Harper government

In April 2007, the Harper government announced it would pledge to cut the country’s emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020. In February 2010, in order to harmonize with US emission targets, the federal government stated it would cut emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. But when you compare that to the standard baseline of 1990, Harper’s target is actually 2.5 percent above 1990 levels. In May 2010, Conservative MPs voted against C-311, which calls for a 25 per cent cut below 1990 levels by 2020. The bill passed with the support of the opposition parties and is now in the second reading stage in the Senate. It should be remembered that Canada had previously pledged under the legally-binding Kyoto accord to a 6 per cent cut in emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. In reality, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by about 26 per cent between 1990 and 2007.

The Council of Canadians supports the target of a 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2013-17.

The full Associated Press article can be read at http://www.kansascity.com/2010/08/12/2146621/with-weather-extremes-there-is.html. Amy Goodman’s article is at http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100815/OPINION/8150326/-1/SITEMAP.