Tag

climate change

Browsing

Icy hot: Time to end the pain of climate change

 

Living in Toronto, it can be easy to tune out climate change because it still has not affected us nearly as much as it has other parts of the world, like the islands in the Pacific, which are literally sinking because of rising sea levels. Toronto does not have a hurricane season that has proven to be coming back worse and worse each year. However, the lack of an extreme weather event does not mean that the city is not affected. The first September long weekend being the most recent example with its record-breaking high temperatures.  It is important to realize that these severe and unpredictable weather events happening elsewhere will be on the city’s doorstep eventually. Turning a blind eye to the weather events caused around the world by climate change will only serve to harm Toronto.

Torontonians can look forward to much hotter and longer summers as well as more flooding. The city is already known for its at times unbearable humidity that makes 27 degrees Celsius feel like 35. The humidity will only continue to increase according to a climate change study done by SENES Consultants Limited. Every summer will get hotter and wetter. Torontonians are already used to a couple of heat waves during the summer, but eventually this will just become one long heat wave. Climate change is not just about increasing temperatures, hence the reason the term has evolved from global warming into climate change. Toronto will be affected in a number of ways beyond increasingly hotter and longer summers.

In the beginning of August, Toronto had some very dramatic rainfall, which in turn led to really bad flooding that even caused a power outage. This will become a much more regular occurrence according to the same climate change study predicting that Toronto will be getting hotter. Not only does flooding cause massive delays, it also does extensive damage to the city’s infrastructure, which ultimately means that climate change is going to be a very expensive problem falling on the taxpayers. There needs to be viable long-term solutions to the issue that the city is facing. Fewer cars and more bikes on the road would be a great place to start.

It is not only Toronto’s summers that are going to get worse. Even though the city’s winters are getting milder, the climate change study predicts that ice storms like the one in December 2013, which left half the city without power for days, will also increase. Ice storms are extremely damaging and scary, and anyone who experienced the one in 2013 in Toronto knows that well. The weight of climate change on the city and its resources is only going to get heavier. Erratic weather events will make it harder to lead normal lives. A severe ice storm  puts everything at a standstill and the city has to pour enormous resourses into mitigating the situation.

This past summer has provided direct empirical evidence of the damaging effects of climate change. From the record-breaking high temperatures to the flooding, there can be no denial that while Toronto is not suffering as much as other nations under the weight of climate change, the city is affected. Climate change is going to be a very expensive problem for the city to solve. The more  people are aware of how it will directly affect their lives, perhaps the more willing they will be in trying to do their own part to minimize their carbon footprint. In a city of almost three million people, everyone doing just a little bit would translate into a lot. What kind of city do the citizens of Toronto want to leave to future generations, a hot, smoggy, flooded one?

Premier Ford’s approach to sustainability: A call to social consciousness

 

On June 7, the province of Ontario held its provincial election which saw Kathleen Wynne lose to Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford. The Ontario Progressive Conservatives also managed to win a majority government. With the pendulum swinging from left to right in Ontario, it has left many people wondering how big the changes are going to be under Ford. While the issues are far ranging, the focus here is going to be on Premier Ford’s approach to sustainability. The earth is getting hotter every year with more and more extreme weather events. That is why sustainability and environmental protection are such a vital topic. Premier Ford has already axed a number of green programs. If there was any doubt before the election about Ford’s approach to the environment and sustainability, there isn’t now: the proof is in the actions he has already taken.

Let’s rewind to the Harper government and their approach to science. To say that there was a contentious relationship between the two would be an understatement. Under Prime Minister Harper, not only was funding to scientific research cut, but scientists were muzzled from reporting their findings supporting climate change and steps to prevent it. How relevant is scientific data in the face of massive development proposals that stand to make a few people very rich? Not very relevant to Harper and the PC. This highlights the PC Party’s willingness to ignore science and data in the face of profit. When Doug Ford was Toronto city council and his brother Rob Ford mayor, the dynamic duo was very outspoken about their preference for cars over bikes. After all, oil companies can only make money off of cars, not bikes.

During his campaign for Premier, Doug Ford made it obvious that environmental protection is not a priority. At one point, he proposed opening up Ontario’s protected green belt to developers, something he almost immediately flip-flopped on due to public backlash. That is a disturbing look into Ford’s mind and priorities: profit over sustainability. Of course, there was also the usual rhetoric about slashing gas prices, which is to be expected of Ford and the PC Party. The right wing refuses to give up their fossil fuels. Ford was also outspoken about wanting to get rid of the cap and trade program that has provided companies a financial incentive to reduce their carbon emissions. Because preserving the earth for future generations is not a good enough reason. Add to this, his general lack of platform in the final days of his campaign especially regarding environmental policy.

Over two months have passed since Ford was sworn in as Premier of Ontario and he is already making big waves. He has scrapped the GreenOn initiative. The program was meant to encourage people with financial rebates to make their homes more environmentally friendly. Gone already is the cap and trade program. Even though his actions do imply he is waging a war against green initiatives, there is hope and progress. The Trudeau government, which is dedicated to green causes, has poured money into research aimed to understand and mitigate climate change. This includes monitoring and protecting the oceans and creating greener technologies. So even though the Ontario government has taken steps backwards, the federal government is light years ahead of the previous Conservative government.

Even though the new provincial government is a far cry from what an environmentally conscious person would want in power, private citizens can make their voice heard keeping the public discussion open on social media channels and contributing to the reduction of carbon footprint. Driving a car in Toronto is already an unpleasant experience; therefore, it’s much easier to take the TTC or ride a bike. Just imagine every time you take your bike or the public transit you are sticking it to Doug Ford. Every time the premier slashes another green policy or implements a destructive one, citizens have to respond and take advantage of the fact that Canada is a country where the people can express their views. When the government fails to provide and protect, it falls onto the citizens to enact positive change.

Wildfire Thomas fifth largest in history of California

California’s wildfire, named Thomas, is still raging, becoming the worst of the five fires currently destroying the countryside. After spreading to more than 50,000 acres on Sunday, Thomas has set the record as the fifth largest wildfire in the history of the state. The fire is much more severe than those seen in Boston and New York in recent years.

To date, more than 230,000 acres have been destroyed by the fire and almost 5000 homes were issued evacuation orders after being placed in the latest danger zones. Due to unpredictable and shifting winds, combined with low humidity, this has caused the fire to burn uncontrollably for more than a week.

After a week not much has changed. The Governor of California, Rick Brown, issued a sombre statement, telling residents of Southern California this is the new normal. Close to 800 structures have been destroyed by the fire.

“With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up,” Brown said in a statement. ” So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests, in a place thats getting hotter.” Brown also told reporters that he sees extreme fire activity happening on a regular basis for decades to come.

More than 5700 firefighters, from 100 different crews, have been putting in their efforts to help contain and control the wildfires, But heavy winds are making the task extremely difficult. In the past week, firefighters were only able to contain 15 per cent of the vast fire and this number is expected to drop over the next week.

The fire started in Ventura County last Monday. Only one person has died so far — Virginia Pesola, 70, passed away at the scene of a car crash along the evacuation route. There is still a red flag warning in effect for most of Los Angeles.

So far, the state has spent more than $34 million in relief efforts in order to try and contain Thomas. Thousands of residential areas are without electricity and over 200,000  people have had to evacuate their home since last Monday.

The White House has approved additional funding  to combat Thomas and California will receive direct federal assistance. New evacuation orders have also been issued, as the fire threatens another 25,000 homes in the Santa Barbara county. The evacuation orders are for the area spanning Buena Vista Drive to Toro Canyon Road.

Back in October, fires destroyed parts of Northern Calofirnina, killing almost 40 people and destroying close to 9000 homes.

CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere at all-time high

Attention all climate change deniers — the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is at an all-time high, the highest in 800,000 years according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) have the potential to initiate unpredictable changes in the climate system, because of strong positive feedbacks, leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions,” the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin read.

Some of the factors that influenced the level of carbon dioxide is population growth, intensified agricultural practices, deforestation and land use, industrialization, and energy use from fossil fuels. A strong El Nino in 2015 and 2016 was also a strong contributor as it reduced the capacity of forests and oceans to absorb the gas.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, which means as levels increase, it becomes progressively more difficult to reduce them.

“Without rapid cuts in COand other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”

The last time the Earth had a similar concentration of carbon dioxide was three to five million years ago.

The conclusion of this report reaffirms what scientists have been saying for years. Climate change is drastically affecting people’s lives and it will only continue to get worse if society doesn’t stand up and do something about it.

Many developing and developed countries have pledged to help reduce greenhouse gasses, but progress is too slow to make a real difference.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed by 196 countries in December 2015 with the goal of lowering “the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” The United States withdrew from the agreement in June 2017.

The commitments made under the Paris Agreement — Canada promised to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and provincial support for cap and trade programs — will be impossible to reach if the world doesn’t act now. Sustainable development and the investment in renewable energy despite political and bureaucratic ties have never been more important.

“We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed. The last few years have seen enormous uptake of renewable energy, but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure these new low-carbon technologies are able to thrive,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

What does this mean? Government’s need to stop thinking about the cost of sustainable and carbon-free technologies and start to actually implement their plans. Every day citizens can also contribute by investing in renewable energy and green retrofits on their homes. If that seems like too much, start small by taking transit, reducing waste, and using reusable containers in your lunch.

It’s probably too late to make a difference for 2017, but if everyone aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, hopefully the Earth can be saved from an excruciating death.

Christiana Figueres to speak in Toronto about climate change and PPPs

After numerous hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean and insanely sporadic weather hit North America the last few months, talking about the connections between climate change and public infrastructure has never been more important.

On Oct. 11, Christiana Figueres, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will be speaking in Toronto about protecting public infrastructure in an era of global climate change. The event is being hosted by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) and is being called a “pre-conference keynote”.

Figueres is the Global Chair of Mayors for Climate and Energy and Convener of Mission 2020. Previously, she held the position of Executive Secretary of the United Natinosl Framework Convention on Climate Change. She also helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Agreement Her speech will address the implications and consequences of global climate change, while looking to the future and preparing for the public infrastructure needed to make cities sustainable.

Tickets to her keynote (12 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.) are available here.

The event is a prelude to the CCPPP’s 25th Annual Conference on Public-Private Partnerships, set to take place on Nov. 6-7 at the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto. To find out more information about the conference, go here.

Minister Murray resigns as Minister of Environment

On July 31, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has announced his resignation. Chris Ballard, former Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, will replace him in the cabinet.

Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, will be given the position of Minister of Housing.

Murray has dedicated most of his life to public service. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Unlike some politicians, Murray is genuinely passionate about the environment, working tirelessly to ensure the policies enacted by the provincial government followed sustainable practices. He is most known for his instrumental role in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May as well as Ontario’s Climate Chance Action Plan.

Murray announced his resignation Monday morning, saying that he will step down from cabinet immediately, but will remain an MPP until Sept 1.

“As part of the Ontario Liberal Government, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have always tried to bring a fresh and creative approach to public policy and government, making decisions that keep those that matter the most in mind.”

“I ultimately have made the difficult decision, with the support of my partner Rick, to transition from this chapter on to the next chapter of tirelessly working to mobilize to fight climate change at the national level.”

On Sept. 5, Murray will join the Pembina Institute as Executive Director. The Pembina Institute is a 30-year-old Canadian think tank that advocates for clean energy solutions and the overall reduction of fossil fuels.

“Glen is a renowned thought leader on social and environmental issues, with an impressive track record of policy leadership throughout his tenure in elected office,” said David Runnalls, president of the Pembina Institute. “On behalf of the board of directors, I am thrilled that Glen is joining our talented team and know he will propel the Pembina Institute to new heights as we work to solve today’s greatest energy challenges.”

It is unclear at this moment if this change will result in new priorities for the Liberal government, and if Ontario’s climate change plan will still be considered among them.

Six North Atlantic right whales found dead in St. Lawrence

Over the course of June, six North Atlantic right whales were found dead and floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a substantial loss for a species that is already on the endangered species list.

There are only 500 North Atlantic right whales in the wild, and with six dead so suddenly without apparent cause, it accounts for one per cent of the species wiped out in less than a month. If this was compared to humans, it would mean that over 75 million people would be wiped out. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Marine Animal Response Society, the Canadian Coast Guard, and other groups are working together to figure out how to get the whales ashore to find out what is happening to the species.

The whales were found in the area between New Brunswick’s Miscou Island, Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and Northern P.E.I. They are currently floating a considerable way from shore and the weather has been too severe to try to get the whales onto land to begin a necropsy, a forensic examination that would discover what happened. There is only a limited time to complete the assessment and the whales are already decomposing. It is paramount that marine biologists decipher what is going on with the species to develop a plan and prevent more of the endangered whales from dying unexpectedly.

There are many threats to whales that habituate close to port such as being struck by ships, contracting toxic infections, water contaminants, high levels of noise, and global warming. The North Atlantic right whales also feed on zooplankton, which are lowering in population due to the effects of climate change.  There are many reasons that the whales could be dying off so suddenly, and it is integral to the survival of the species to find out why. Hopefully, there is a chance of survival for this rare and beautiful species, one of many marine animals living under threat in the ocean today.

Canada remains dedicated to Paris Agreement despite U.S. decision

The Paris Agreement has been making headlines worldwide after the Trump administration removed themselves from the Paris Climate Agreement and ignited world-wide criticism. Though the United States seems to be doomed to a coal-filled future, where does Canada stand when it comes to Paris Agreement goals?

As it turns out, Canada has a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, but remains dedicated to the accord. When the U.S. dropped out of the Paris Agreement, not one other country followed suit and Prime Minister Trudeau went as far to release a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”

It appears the Canadian government understands climate change is an important issue, but is this country doing enough to combat the devastating effects of carbon emissions? The Columbia Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research and building sustainable communities, released a report card assessing the federal government’s climate change achievements and outlining which areas need improvement. According to the report, entitled Top Asks for Climate Action report,  as of 2015, Canada ranked 58 out of 61 countries for climate protection performance. The government has met certain climate change goals by implementing a national price on carbon, establishing a national transportation strategy, and offering dedicated funding to public transit in its municipalities. Alternatively, things Canada needs to work include setting greenhouse gas targets that would meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and moving towards renewable energy instead of locking the economy into a high carbon path.

The next step would be for Canada to adopt science-led and legally binding greenhouse reduction targets and follow best practices of countries like Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Mexico. As a part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) mandates nationally determined commitments by 2020. Canada’s current targets do not meet the Paris Agreement standards, and these new objectives would need to be set at 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 from the current standing goal of 30 per cent.

South of the border, the Trump government announced on June 1 the United States wouldn’t remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the accord as ‘unfair’. Ignoring the pleas of many U.S. stakeholders, Trump instead offered to renegotiate the terms. The European Union outright refused to engage in negotiations. Instead, the EU plans to bypass the federal government and work directly with U.S. businesses, governors, and mayors to keep up with the climate change commitments.

Though this decision is devastating from an environmental perspective, it opens up key opportunities for Canada. If the U.S. is solely dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, the clean technology sector is ripe for the taking and Canada has the option to become a leader in renewable energy. Since there are only three countries in the world that haven’t signed the Paris Agreement (Syria, Saudi Arabia, U.S.), there are a lot of stakeholders looking for ways to implement clean technology and the green economy will only grow from here.

Though the U.S. has made a critically bad decision to leave the Paris Agreement, Canada and the rest of the world remains dedicated to slowing climate change and saving planet earth. Trudeau is leading the country towards becoming one of the more sustainable places to live in the world, but a lot of work remains. If Canada does set concrete greenhouse reduction goals that match targets set in the Paris Agreement and then actually implements them, the country will be well on its way to trying to combat the inevitable pollution caused by our climate-change-denying-neighbour down south.

Woman of the Week: Karen Farbridge

Karen Farbridge is a straight-forward, confident, and extremely successful woman in Ontario’s sustainability community.  As a previous leader in municipal government, she is charismatic and focused on making the world a better place.

When the former Mayor of Guelph is asked about her proudest accomplishments from her 11 years on council, she is quick to bring it back to the importance of community engagement. “Advancing our practice around engagement and rethinking how local government is involved with sustainability is what I feel the most proud of,” Farbridge says. “People are looking for connections to place and community and they find them in different ways in their lives, and I found it in this way in my own life.”

Farbridge has been involved in the environmental and government non-profit and public sectors for over 20 years. Most recently, she established her consulting agency, Karen Farbridge and Associates after her final term as mayor in 2014.  “The key focus is to implement projects that accelerate growth to create low-carbon and resilient communities,” Farbridge says. “That can entail work with the public sector, [for example] with Natural Resources Canada and Municipal Affairs Ontario, and also in the private sector. It also includes work with Research institutions, such as University of Guelph and York University and the Columbia Institute out of B.C.”

Farbridge has several projects on the go and uses her extensive experience in the political realm to help various organizations with sustainability initiatives. She helped the Columbia Institute in B.C. write a report, Top Asks for Climate Change: Ramping up Low-Carbon Communities, that included a report card assessing climate change initiatives, labelling the successes and which areas needed improvements. The report was released on June 1 and focuses on how the federal government is progressing towards goals pertaining to the Paris Agreement.

Farbridge is also contributing to a collaborative project with the Ontario Climate Consortium and the University of Guelph via the Community Energy Knowledge Action Partnership. This project studies net zero and low-carbon developments across five different Ontario municipalities, taking into account testimonies from a number of urban planners, economic development officers, and community management officers.

Long before becoming mayor, Farbridge was involved in municipal politics. She became a city councillor in 1994 while also working for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Guelph at the same time. She obtained a PhD in biology and spent 10 years in academics at University of Guelph. Farbridge encouraged council to develop a group plan on climate change that focused on the Kyoto protocol. As her career progressed, she served her first term as mayor of Guelph in 2000-2003 and her second and third terms from 2006-2014.

In between her terms as mayor, Farbridge worked with the University of Guelph to develop a community energy plan that was later implemented. “I ran again for Mayor in 2006. That community energy plan was brought forward to the new council and it was adopted,” Farbridge says. “Since that time, I put a lot of time into promoting the community energy plan.”

Farbridge has received several awards including the City Builder Award from the Canadian Urban Institute in 2014 for her leadership in sustainability and community energy. She also received the Clean 50/Clean16 Award from Delta Management Group in 2014, which is awarded annually to 50 individual leaders who are advancing clean and sustainable development in Canada. In 2012, Farbridge was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada for her contributions and achievements to Canada. Farbridge was elected Guelph’s first female mayor in 1999.

Farbridge is passionate about mentoring women and plays an integral role in environmental charity Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative, which promotes women leaders involved in nature. The organization is currently creating a mentorship program where Farbridge and other notable women in the environmental sector help younger women forward their careers. She is also a part of a mentoring project to help women who have a start-up businesses in Guelph, and has a relationship with a woman in the city to help her build up her start-up.

When Farbridge is taking a break from combatting climate change, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and is looking forward to a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park this summer. She is clearly a nature lover and has made a considerable impact within the sustainable community in Ontario.

Did you enjoy this profile? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to have them delivered right to your mailbox!

B.C Green and NDP come to an environment-focused agreement

The B.C. Greens and NDP parties have reached an agreement that will allow them to create a minority government and remove Premier Christy Clark from her seat as head of the province. Both parties have made it clear the new agreement is not a coalition — the Green Party will still be able to support their own platforms, but will guarantee any support of an NDP budget or confidence motion.

Both parties signed a confidence agreement that set out specific requirements for both parties to work together in B.C. It is a dream come true for Green supporters across the country as the environment and climate change goals are put at the forefront for the first time in Canadian history. An entire section of the agreement focuses on reducing greenhouse emissions and calls for an increase in the carbon tax and a revitalization of the environmental assessment process in the province. The Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon will most likely cast a vote of no confidence to remove Christy Clark as Premier, though she has confirmed she will remain leader of the opposition.

The agreement takes a hard stance against the pipeline expansion of the Kinder Morgan project and promises to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the project. The Site C hydro dam, another controversial environmental project, will also be sent to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review of its economic viability. Kinder Morgan’s shares fell on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange due to the uncertainty of the Kinder Morgan project and the recent coalition government.

The electoral results and vote recount has cast doubt onto the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system and is bringing up the issue of reform. The first-past-the-post system allows people to elect representatives for their ward, and the political party with the most representative becomes the leader of the province. The agreement between the NDP and the Green includes the discussion of changing to proportional representation, which would cast a popular vote for the premier or prime minister in addition to a vote for the candidate in each riding. The plan is to have a referendum in 2018. The Federal Liberal government pushed for electoral reform in their campaign and once Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, they dropped the issue. The new government in B.C desires to bring that issue to the forefront.

The NDP-Green agreement marks a new relationship between two parties that have traditionally both been in disagreement. If the no confidence vote dethrones Clark and NDP leader John Horgan becomes Premier, it will be interesting to witness the environment become an issue of focus on a level never-before-seen in the province and across Canada.