FARMLAND LEGACIES

By Donald Sutherland

Something governments and industries find easy to forget, or convenient to brush aside, is that climate is changing everywhere in the world, not to the same degree, but at the same time. The earth and her atmosphere are biological systems. Whatever happens in one corner of the world will have an impact on all other parts of the earth.

An example of the ripple effect is that continual planet warming allows the mountain pine beetle to survive in forests at higher and higher latitudes. Millions of trees die, catch fire easily and burn vigorously. Imagine trying to breathe the air in Yellowknife this summer with forests burning nearby, belching smoke in all directions, even affecting visibility along No. 1 highway between Winnipeg and Regina, and soot, from the same fires, clinging to snow settling on Greenland. We should not be surprised when scientists studying Greenland ice and snow-melt tell us that with darker snow there is greater heat absorption and lower heat reflection. The result is earlier melt, more melt run-off, and later in the fall, freezing. There is no way, for even the wealthy, to escape to a pristine island, live happily ever after and let the rest of the world suffer in distress.

For the prairies, the bottom line is that in coming decades we are situated in an environmental framework that is destined to become drier and warmer. The online document Climate Change Impacts on Canada’s Prairie Provinces: A Summary of our State of Knowledge prepared by Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC — http://www.parc.ca/pdf/research_publications/summary_docs/SD2008-01.pdf) reported retreating glaciers and less water stored in ice and snow, which were once traditional reliable water sources, now resulting in lower amounts of water flowing through streams to fill lakes. At the same time, we should expect declining soil moisture. The new environmental framework calls for warmer and drier with greater frequencies of flooding, severe storms and unpredictable variability season to season and year to year. Long and severe droughts brought on by hot dry summers are an increasing threat to communities and industries, particularly agriculture.

We are already experiencing severe storms, such as the hailstorm and heavy rain that hit Airdrie, Alta., in the afternoon on Aug. 7th, 2014. Peter Brown, mayor of Airdrie, tweeted, “I have never seen anything like it. It was an unbelievable hailstorm. It feels like winter in August.” The amount of rain overwhelmed the city’s storm sewers. The Prairie Provinces, particularly in the last two decades, have experienced rain in cloudbursts, tending to run into low places and drown or seriously damage newly emerged crops. Old timers can probably look back three decades and recall the rather gentle three-day soakers that were common then.

As always it is the weak, elderly and poor who are the most vulnerable. Farmers, Aboriginal peoples and others whose livelihoods are directly connected to the land will be among the first and most affected by climate change, unless government and industries take immediate science-based action to reduce greenhouse gases and restore habitats.

Sutherland, MBA, is a personal coach and relationship builder in Winnipeg.

 
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