Nfld. & Labrador

With sea levels around N.L. set to rise, some environmentalists are trying to turn the tide

On the heels of new reports detailing the impacts — current and future — of climate change on Newfoundland and Labrador, two experts weigh in on on how to move forward.

Atlantic Canada could see 1-metre rise by 2100

Jessica Puddister, left, and Melanie Doyle are climate change experts who work with municipalities and schoolchildren in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Sea levels around St. John's rising up to a metre by 2100. Four or five weeks shaved off the Newfoundland and Labrador winter. Nain's winters warming by seven degrees by 2050.

Those are just some of the stark projections laid out in two recent reports detailing possible impacts of climate change at both national and provincial levels.

That seems grim, but two environmental experts on the front lines of the fight in Newfoundland and Labrador say there are ways to mitigate the effects and make changes in the midst of an uncertain future.

Whether it be rivers flooding more often or increasing wildfires, climate change "looks a little bit different, everywhere you go in the province," said Jessica Puddister, Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador's municipal climate change advisor.

Waves and wind in Bonavista. Ninety per cent of this province's population live in coastal communities, according to the non-profit group that runs sealevelrise.ca. (Submitted by Tom Eagan)

Sea levels rising

Puddister is a climate change cartographer of sorts.

She tours the province, working with municipalities to identify infrastructure that's particularly susceptible to weather fluctuations. Local civil servants, first responders and even long-term residents gather around a table to spread out maps, mark out weak spots and plot resilient solutions.

"The biggest conversation is about infrastructure and how do we maintain that infrastructure, and replace it wisely, so that we're not going to incur a lot of damage," she said.

Damage that seems inevitable in the wake of the federal government's climate change report that earmarks parts of Atlantic Canada as possibly set to experience the highest sea level rise by the turn of the next century. The report projects areas of the Avalon Peninsula could see 75-centimetre to one-metre increases, and western Newfoundland 50 to 75 centimetres.

Canada's Changing Climate Report provides sea-level projections. (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

"We do know that the majority of our communities are on the coast, we know there's a lot of infrastructure on the coast, like roads, public buildings, privately owned buildings, homes, stages and wharfs," said Puddister.

"So we can definitely expect to see changes going forward and we're going to have to respond to that."

Climate change, and kids

While Puddister makes maps with municipalities, Melanie Doyle targets the next generation of decision-makers. She spends her working hours with schoolchildren from kindergarten to Grade 12, who she said both understand, and are overwhelmed by, climate change.

"The fear is really apparent. There's a lot of anxiety around it too. But they are so excited about the changes they can make," said Doyle, the education climate change coordinator with Conservation Corps.

"Everyone is so proud to talk about their composter at home, and I think it's that excitement that means we might have a more promising future than we might otherwise."

Hundreds of students protest at the Confederation Building in St. John's in March, demanding government action against climate change. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Besides composting, Doyle said recent classroom discussion has been dominated by reducing single-use plastics, shopping local to lower your carbon footprint, and electric vehicles — even though they're too young to drive.

"Kids can definitely have that dialogue with their parents and their family about transportation," added Puddister.

The transportation sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Canada overall — and a recent Statistics Canada report details how transportation emissions in this province are climbing.

Doing your part

The two environmentalists admit it can be frustrating to see a sluggish provincial government response in the face of such sobering facts. 

As long as we're collectively doing our best, that's all we can really hope for.- Melanie Doyle

"It's not necessarily just provincial government initiatives that are going to drive our response to climate change. Municipal government has quite a good reach, and often times they can be a bit more nimble," said Puddister, urging citizens to take up important conversations there.

She also pointed to the dragged-out debate on a provincial plastic bag ban as one area where individuals can take their own environmental action. Customers can refuse them, Puddister said, and businesses not stock them, pointing out that Costco fans happily shop there bagless.

Doyle similarly felt individual actions will add up. 

"I personally find it helpful just to remember that I am only one person. I can do what I can. And as long as we are collectively trying to do our best, that's all we can really hope for," Doyle said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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