Five ways climate change is already affecting Canada

More fire and less food, The Nature of Things has told stories of how climate change is affecting all of us.

As the summer of 2021 is showing us, Canada is getting hotter, with multiple record-breaking high temperatures.

Forest fires are heating up

“A spark can light a raging inferno,” says University of Alberta wildfire expert Mike Flannigan. Fire has always been an essential part our ecosystem, but now they are becoming more dangerous. 2017 was devastating in western Canada; British Columbia experienced its worst fire on record, almost 900,000 hectares went up in smoke. In 2016, one of the most destructive fires in the country swept through Fort McMurray, destroying nearly 2,500 buildings forcing the evacuating of 90,000 citizens. It was the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

MORE: New Science tells Us Why Fire is a Growing Threat

Wetter winters mean more grass grows in the spring, and prolonged summers with higher temperatures intensify the fire season. Hot, dry weather turns the grass into a flammable fuel source turning our forests into a powder keg ready to burn. Flannigan describes what we’re facing, “The warmer we get, the more fire we have. The more fire we have, the more greenhouse gasses that are released. The more gasses that are released, the warmer we get. A vicious cycle.”

These fierce fires are burning deeper into the soil where most of the boreal’s carbon is locked. Jill Johnstone, University of Saskatchewan professor, says “These forests are part of the lungs of the planet. The boreal forest stores about 50% of the global carbon that is in the soil.” As fires become more intense, this carbon is released in a plume of smoke straight into the atmosphere continuing the warming cycle.

Sea ice is ‘an endangered species’

“Scientists suspect that the Arctic Ocean will be free of summer sea ice in my lifetime,” says explorer and extreme diver, Jill Heinerth. “And that inevitability may come sooner than we think. Each photo that I take [of ice] might one day be viewed in a gallery of mass extinctions.”

As the effects of global warming are felt around the world, nowhere is experiencing such drastic changes as the Far North — the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet.

In June 2018, Heinerth and the Under Thin Ice team arrived in Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay), 700 km north of the Arctic Circle, to find temperatures hovering around 8 C — too warm for late spring.

In order to reach their filming location, they had to weave their snowmobiles around breaks and leads in the ice, testing the surface at points to make sure they wouldn’t fall through.

Even their camp near the floe edge had to be moved twice due to ponds of meltwater flooding their tents. “Climate change is happening; it’s easy to see it in the North,” says Heinerth. “How we address and adapt to our changing climate in the next few years will determine the future of our civilization.”

More drought means less food to eat

California, the sunshine state, has been gripped by a multi-year drought. As winters have become shorter, the snowpack has shrunk. Less snow means that come spring; less water melts into the rivers and valleys where the farmland is located.

California’s agricultural industry has been devastated. Much of North America’s produce is grown here, and many of California’s citizens are complaining that they’re exporting their precious water to feed others. Geologist Nick Eyles predicts that in the future they’ll want water from their northern neighbours, in return for fresh produce. “Water for vegetables; it may come to that,” says Eyles.

Canada’s grey jay and other wildlife in trouble

Climate change is already impacting the wildlife that lives in the boreal forest across Canada. Here’s just one example of the many species that are in trouble.

The grey jay is a plucky little bird that stays here all winter long. It uses trees — like a refrigerator — to stash morsels of food for winter. But warm winters are spoiling their larders early. By spring there’s nothing left to feed their hungry chicks.

The grey jay is a plucky little bird that stays here all winter long. It uses trees — like a refrigerator — to stash morsels of food for winter. But warm winters are spoiling their larders early. By spring there’s nothing left to feed their hungry chicks.

We have reached a tipping point — and now is the perfect time to act

Hotter summers, ocean acidification, more frequent and more deadly forest fires, rising sea levels — our planet is in trouble.

Acclaimed journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot decries the environmental exploitation over the last few decades. “We’ve lost 30 years or more … during which we could affect a gradual transition out of the destructive, extractive economy into a far more benign one,” he says. “But now, we find ourselves at the cliff edge.”

But with the COVID-19 pandemic and economies shutting down around the world for months on end, we may have the perfect opportunity to act. If the global shutdown of economies has shown us anything, says Monbiot, it’s that we actually can adapt quickly and live with dramatic change.

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to build a new world, says Monbiot, “an economy which respects the lives of future generations and doesn’t sacrifice those lives for the wealth of current generations; an economy that can be sustained without trashing our life support systems.”

And it’s time we seize the moment. “As we come out of this pandemic, we can build on that mutual aid to create the better societies that we need.”