Cross Country Checkup

Three Canadians reflect on how climate change affects their livelihoods

A farmer, a former fisherman and a firefighter explain how climate change is creating challenges for them in their jobs and daily lives.

Higher seas and drier fields are bringing new challenges for fishermen and farmers

Climate change is causing sea bass to come closer to the coastline, says Victoria Co-op Fisheries manager Osborne Burke from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The sea bass are aggressive predators, which prey on young lobster and juvenile lobsters, he says. (Emma Davie/CBC)

From higher seas that damage fishing wharves, to drier fields with lower yields, Canadians from coast to coast are feeling the effects of climate change in their jobs.

This week, a new report on climate change from the Environment and Climate Change Department shows that, on average, Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. At the same time, the federal government's carbon tax came into force in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

During a discussion about climate change and the new carbon tax on Cross Country Checkup Sunday, a farmer, a former fisherman and a firefighter detailed how climate change has altered their work.

Here's what they said.

Todd Lewis, fourth-generation farmer near Regina, Sask.

Todd Lewis is a fourth-generation farmer and the president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan. (CBC)

"I think we just want, you know, politicians and the public to understand that farmers are [living] with climate change every day.  

"And you know we made adaptations every year. Every year you buy a new piece of equipment that is adapted to ... burn less fuel and do it more cleanly, and a lot of them are agronomic practices [to] save moisture in the soil and you know we manage water better than we ever have before. 

"Really, we're producing more bushels of grain and more pounds of meat with the ever-decreasing amount of carbon footprint and we've done that without a carbon tax.

"Even in my farming career, 1988 was an exceptionally dry year. 2017 [was] also exceptionally dry with even lower, lower rainfall than we had in 1988. With new technologies like direct seeding and better agronomic practices, we actually grew a crop in 2017, a very average crop.

"So we have adapted, we'll continue to adapt.

"I think we we need to have money in our pockets always so we can afford to invest in these technologies so that's why we're seeing the carbon tax rate now is actually a detriment to us if we're going to improve our carbon footprint and be able to manage climate change." 

Osborne Burke, general manager of Victoria Co-Op Fisheries in Cape Breton, N.S.

Osborne Burke is the president and general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries, based in Neils Harbour, Nova Scotia. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"As a former fisherman and with about 125 fishermen or so members of our co-op, we're seeing impacts over the years. And when I speak to even some of the fishermen that have been in it longer than I have, in the industry, we're seeing the intensity of the storms. We're seeing storm conditions combined with storm surge or a full moon, where existing fishing harbours the wharfs are underwater — literally not visible. When new harbours or new wharfs are being constructed in some of our communities, they're 18 inches or 24 inches higher to try to address that issue.

What we are seeing though is fish such as sea bass come moving in on the coastline and we never saw [them] before.- Osborne Burke, general manager of Victoria Co-Op Fisheries in Nova Scotia

"What we are seeing though is fish such as sea bass come moving in on the coastline and we never saw [them] before. And they're very aggressive predators which would have an impact on young lobster and larvae and juvenile lobsters. 

"But if you're into pelagics, which are mackerel or herring or even tuna, that are more temperature sensitive and they're more surface dwellers on the ocean, if you have a temperature change of a few degrees that certainly would make a difference [in] how close they would travel to the coastline or within reach of the harvesters. 

"We're seeing storms with 200 km/h winds recently along the Cape Breton coastline. Significant. Lasting much longer.

"We had such an excessive heat last year, local restaurants in our area, which is very tourism related as well, for the first time ever were shutting down for days because of the heat was so extreme the employees could not work. Or they were shutting ovens off and providing a reduced menu. I've never seen that before.

"We had to implement a heat policy ourselves, for our workers, because of extreme heat and the conditions. Never experienced that before in my life."

Nicholas O'Carroll, firefighter with the City of Whitehorse, Yukon

Whitehorse firefighters measure wind and humidity conditions before a test burn on April 2. Crews from the city and Yukon Wildland Fire Management are burning dried grasses that could fuel wildfires. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"What I've been seeing more and more is that there's a bigger emphasis on what we do tactically and a lot more importance being put on how to respond to the wildfire situation, or what we call the wildland-urban interface. And that's kind of telling me that a lot of the higher-ups are definitely taking it a ... lot more serious. And looking at Fort McMurray or Kelowna, it's not hard to see why.

"We've been very successful and had a lot of good, good outcomes in the last 60 to 100 years by fighting fires, forest fires around Whitehorse to the point that we've got an overgrowth forest. The fires that usually, normally, naturally clear them out, they haven't been allowed to do what they do. And then you combine that with the warming climate over the last 20 or 30 years, the moisture in the ground is not where it should be. And combining that with the overgrowth there's a lot of concern that we could be sitting in a perfect storm situation. 

"We've been working closely with [Yukon Wildland Fire Management] in trying to reduce the fuels like tall grass in areas where there's tall grass around the city, trying to work on different emergency measures like what to do basically when the scenario starts and training with the crews.

"Last year we started doing their morning briefings with Wildland Fire, just recognising that it is getting pretty, pretty scary out there. So we need to be on top of it when — if and or when, I guess it's a matter of when — something happens and encouraging as many citizens as possible.

"We can do as much as we can, but if you have a lot of fuel in and around you it's going to ... make things a lot tougher." 

These interviews have been edited for clarity and condensed.


  • An earlier version of this story quoted Todd Lewis as referring to economic practices. In fact, he was referring to agronomic practices.
    Apr 08, 2019 11:20 AM ET