Sudbury·THE NEXT 40

Northern Ontario in 2058—new trees, new birds and eating algae grown in a steel mill

We're maybe starting to see some signs of how our planet will behave differently in the future. In 40 years from now, in 2058, it's a safe bet the natural world around us will have definitely changed and changed a lot more than the weather.

The Next 40 is a series imagining northern Ontario in 2058, as part of CBC Sudbury's 40th anniversary

Kale plants grow on a wall beside hydroponic lights at Smart Green Sudbury, an example of vertical farming many say is the future of agriculture in northern Ontario. (Erik White/CBC )

It sounds like this isn't the first tour Indie Lanteigne has given of her family's vertical farm.

The five-year-old knows all the key points of growing kale on the walls of a shipping container, like the two that Smart Green Sudbury has on a rural lot in Blezard Valley.

Her father Stephane Lanteigne says he thinks of his daughter's future a lot when tending to the plants.

"More than what I'm worried about what she's eating, I want her to have the skill set that I have now. Because I think in terms of hydroponic farming, I think there's going to be huge demand. And if she can learn at five, she's going to be made," he says.

Smart Green Sudbury owner Stephane Lanteigne with his five-year-old daughter Indie. (Erik White)

Many are predicting that much of our food could be grown on the walls of metal containers, or inside old factories and warehouses, in the future.

Evan Fraser, the director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, says the warming climate could also make it easier to grow food outside in the north, but the longer farming season will also come with new pests and diseases.

"So it may not be as simple a matter as taking advantage of warmer conditions," he says. 

Experts say traditional agriculture in northern Ontario will get a boost from a warmer climate, but it will also come with new challenges. (Erik White/CBC)

Warmer conditions are also expected to make forests drier and more susceptible to wildfires.

Ed Struzik, the author of Firestorm: How Wildfires Will Shape Our Future, foresees a northern Ontario where cities hold evacuation fire drills, people regularly wear masks due to clouds of smoke and where a lot more money is spent dousing flames.

"This is an inevitable. That we're going to be spending a lot of money fighting fires down the road," he says

Smoke from forest fires, as seen here in Alban in July 2018, is predicted to be a regular part of the northern Ontario summer of the future. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

David Pearson is looking forward to a warmer northern Ontario that might include the songs of now rare birds and the bright fall foliage of trees you only find now in the south.

But the Laurentian University professor of environmental science fears a future where heat stress becomes a major health hazard and where heavy rains bring deadly flooding all times of the year.

"We need to be ready for that in spades. We really do and the longer we put our heads in the sand, the more likelihood of going through a disaster before we finally do something," says Pearson. 

"A new generation who have grown up aware of environmental issues will begin to make the decisions, certainly within 40 years, I hope within 15 years."

Laurentian University environmental science professor David Pearson says climate change will change many things about northern Ontario including which trees grow in our forests. (Erik White/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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