Extreme temperatures ahead

Climate Change

Polar Ice Cap

Climate change is the most urgent and important environmental issue in the world today. The warming of our planet's atmosphere is real, and it is directly linked to human emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide and methane.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects an increase of future average global surface temperature in the range of 1.1°C to 6.4°C by 2100.

Atmospheric CO2 data and trend

What does this mean for us?

The global average increase of 1 or 2 degrees Celsius doesn't seem like much. But when you consider that the last ice age was triggered by a global temperature change of about 5 degrees, the consequences of a 11.5 degree worst-case scenario seem dire. In addition, the climate disruption has already been seen to be stronger at the poles, so our northerly latitude means we are in store for greater change. The Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium concluded research in 2011 that projected "that the extreme warm day events that would be expected to recur about once in 25 years on average historically (based on the 1971-2000 climate) are projected to occur 2.4 to 10 times as often in the future (2050s). In general, we see a pattern of larger increases in extreme temperature for the southeastern portion of the basin."

Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium analysis of the Columbia Basin
Low, medium and high estimates of the ratio of 25-year record warm weather events in the future compared to since 1950. For example, a ratio of 2.0 means temperatures will see 25-year highs twice as often. 

In general, the forecast for our areas is hotter, drier summers and wetter, warmer winters. Depending on the degree of warming, we could see longer droughts and less snow at valley bottoms. According to LiveSmart BC, increased temperatures have already had major impacts across British Columbia, and will continue to affect BC residents:

  • Average annual temperatures have warmed by between 0.5-1.7 degrees Celsius in different regions of the province during the 20th century. In fact, parts of British Columbia have been warming at a rate more than twice the global average.
  • Over the last 50 - 100 years, B.C. has lost up to 50 per cent of its snow pack, and total annual precipitation has increased by about 20 per cent.
  • Faster melts and increased precipitation have resulted in floods in the Fraser Valley, Interior and throughout British Columbia.
  • Warmer winters have resulted in the mountain pine beetle  epidemic, which has destroyed an area of pine forest equivalent to four times the size of Vancouver Island.
  • The pine beetle has infested 13 million hectares of B.C.'s forests. By 2013, it is predicted that 80% of BC's pine forest will be "red and dead".
  • Communities have been experiencing longer summer droughts as weather patterns grow increasingly erratic.
  • Sea levels are expected to rise up to 30 cm on the north coast of British Columbia and up to 50 cm on the north Yukon coast by 2050.
  • Glacier reduction could affect the flow of rivers, impacting tourism, hydroelectric power, and fish habitat.

In summary, our natural and human systems will face significant changes including summer droughts, wildfires, flooding, and possible water and electricity shortages. In addition, global changes will have ripple effects. For example, a 6 degree rise in temperatures at the poles may increase sea level by as much as 5 meters, making refugees of coastal residents. Drought in the grain belt and the prairies may create food shortages and higher food prices.

What can we do?

There are two strategies for dealing with global climate disruption. First is mitigation, which means reducing our emissions of greenhouse gasses to reduce the amount of warming we must face. The second is adaptation, which means changes our plans and practices to reflect the changing ecosystem we live in. West Kootenay EcoSociety operates several programs intended to help mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Kootenay Rideshare is a website that allows travelers to find carpool partners. Every time someone drives a car with empty seats, there is a missed opportunity for a shared ride. In addition, the annual Commuter Challenge invites participants from throughout the region to commute car-free for a week. Our weekly markets, Cottonwood Community Market and Nelson Downtown Local Market, help customers connect with local food growers to reduce food miles. Climate Change adaptation in our region means reducing our communities' need for water and electricity (because so much of our electricity is generated by hydroelectric dams, long droughts may reduce generating potential). Click here for tips for reducing your energy and water needs.

Resources

Columbia Basin Climate change paper Murdock, T.Q. and A.T. Werner, 2011: Canadian Columbia Basin Climate Trends and Projections -- 2007-2010 Update Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, 43pp. Evidence for warmer interglacials in East Antarctic ice cores by Louise C. Sime, Eric W. Wolff, Kevin I. C. Oliver and Julia C. Tindall is published online this week in the journalNature. Letter from the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences to Prime Minister Harper (PDF)

Arctic Ice Cap image: http://io9.com/5919686/this-magnificent-view-of-the-arctic-could-be-your-last/