Just a half-degree would change N.L.'s climate, says MUN expert

The province could see more storms, wind and forest fires if the temperature rises by even a small amount.

Stormy weather, more forest fires and thinner sea ice ahead, warns geographer Norm Catto

Geography professor Norm Catto says even an increase of half a degree Celsius would change the climate in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Paula Gale/CBC)

The sort of temperature changes the United Nations is warning about would prompt major environmental changes in this province, according to a Memorial University professor.

Those changes could include stormier weather, higher winds, and more forest fires.

"We do see these changes and we do have to adapt," said Norm Catto, head of the university's geography department.

"We perhaps have to install larger culverts, or make sure that our search and rescue is up to snuff, make sure that we have provisions for food security."

On Monday, the UN released a dire report on the consequences of global warming. It urges world leaders to make dramatic policy changes in an attempt to hold warming at just half a degree.

"It is a significant increase," Catto said.

A warming climate could cause more forest fires like the one in 2013 that forced the evacuation of Wabush, Catto says. (Submitted by Neil Simmons)

"It's a rather finely balanced system, and an increase of half a degree, or degree-and-a-half that's being suggested by 2100, those are the sorts of changes that will make an impact on climate both globally and here in Newfoundland and Labrador."

Too late for prevention

Catto says even if governments and world leaders make major policy changes tomorrow, we would still have to deal with the consequences of the greenhouse gases already released into the environment.

Even if you don't necessarily believe that climate change is responsible for things like more flooding, or more forest fires or reduced amounts of sea ice, the problem's still there and you have to cope with it.- Norm Catto

That doesn't mean we shouldn't change our behaviours, Catto says, but change will have to happen on a grand scale in order to offset future greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are only 500,000 people so by ourselves, perhaps, we couldn't make a huge difference in terms of how much gas is produced," he said.

"You can make individual decisions. You can choose yourself to use less plastic or produce less greenhouse gas."

Sea change

Some of the biggest changes to our environment won't happen on land, but in the Atlantic Ocean, Catto said.

He says the ocean warms slower than land but the effects last longer.

Catto says Labradorians in particular will have to adapt to thinner, less reliable sea ice. (Trevor Bell/Submitted)

"If we do warm up then we end up with warmer ocean currents. We end up with fish species that are able to move further north," he said.

"Species that we might be used to, they're not here anymore. They're moving further north as well."

In Labrador, a warmer world could mean thinner sea ice — or inconsistent freezes. That's significant because many Labradorians who live on the coast travel by snowmobile over ice to go hunting or to cut wood.

While some people still don't accept the science around climate change, Catto said its effects are self-evident — and that society will have to adapt.

"Even if you don't necessarily believe that climate change is responsible for things like more flooding, or more forest fires or reduced amounts of sea ice, the problem's still there and you have to cope with it."

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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