Jul 262019
 

20th Annual Petroglyphs Butterfly Count: The compiling of the July 21st butterfly count is finally finished  and final results have been submitted to the North America Butterfly Association. A total of 55 species were recorded, slightly above the average for the last few years. The Indian Skipper found in the Park area was a new species for this count.  The slow arrival of spring was a factor. The number of Monarchs (472) was very encouraging. Although the number of Dun Skippers (1,459) was well below the 4900+ seen last year, according to count compiler Jerry Ball, it will still be a continental high. The ten most common species were: Dun Skippers (1,459), Monarchs (472), Northern Crescent (304), European Skipper (286), Broad-winged Skipper (165), Eyed-brown (86), Mulberry Wing Skipper (61), White Admiral (51), Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (23), and Acadian Hairstreak (23).  Martin Parker 

Full count results (1)

Full count results (2)

 

White Admiral – Robin Blake

European Skipper – Drew Monkman

 

 

Tiger Swallowtail – Robin Blake

Dun Skipper – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Dobsonfly: We have never see a bug this big in our lives !! It was enormous. It was stuck to the patio screen. I gently swept it off the patio screen and it landed on the patio. The wing cover was a sliver and blended well with the patio bricks. Any clue what this “ginormous” creature is? Gord Young, Armour Road, Peterborough

Note: Your visitor was a male Eastern Dobsonfly. They average about 12 cm (5 inches) long! In the larval stage, they’re called hellgrammites and are/used to be (?) a popular bait. The larvae live in water, so I suspect this adult would have emerged from the Otonabee River. The males can’t bite, but the females, who have only tiny pincers, apparently can.

Male Dobsonfly – July 26, 2019 – Armour Road, PTBO – Gord Young

 

 

Female Eastern Dobsonfly (Rick Kemp)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sora (Porzana carolina) (1)
– Reported Jul 23, 2019 11:30 by Dave Milsom
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Sora (rail) – Wikimeda

Clay-colored Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) (1)
– Reported Jul 22, 2019 12:35 by Kathryn Sheridan
– Lakefield Water Tower, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Continuing”

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) (2)
– Reported Jul 22, 2019 15:04 by Dan Chronowic
– Peterborough–Trent University Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Area, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Continuing. Adults. In wetland off blue trail. Seen together at top of snag.”

Red-headed Woodpecker – Greg Piatsetzki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20th Petroglyphs Butterfly Count: This year’s butterfly count, held on July 21st, produced 55 species. The average is 51 species. The big news, however, was the 472 Monarchs we found (vs. 249 in 2018 & just 65 in 2017). With no special searching, we also found 11 Monarch larvae. Many thanks to Martin Parker & Jerry Ball for organizing the event.  Drew Monkman

Monarchs on Joe-Pye Weed – August 2018 – Peter Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sightings from the Indian River, north of Warsaw: 

Today, July 25, I found a new caterpillar, a Hitched Arches Moth Caterpillar (Melanchra adjuncta) all curled up on a leaf of a flowering Common Bleeding Heart.

And while I was pruning a lilac bush I came across a tiny mystery creature about a centimeter long.  Unfortunately it fell to the ground while I was trying to photograph it, but it was easier to get a picture on the rough grass.  It is somewhat similar to a pseudoscorpion in both size and the presence of a pair of pincers but it also has two “tails” that  pseudoscorpions do not have.  Despite lengthy searches on the web, I cannot identify a name.  It is a lovely shade of dark blue.
On Monday, July 22, we found three tiny Monarch caterpillars on a lone Common Milkweed that had self-seeded among a jumble of vetch, umbellifers and Bird’s-foot Trefoil near the river. And yesterday, there was another one on a Milkweed in the graveled turning circle. Here’s hoping for a ‘bumper crop’.

We also spotted a Golden-rod Crab Spider, probably a female, on the flower head of a Queen Ann’s Lace. I’ve never been a spider enthusiast, but this one was so pretty. And I’ve discovered it has one remarkable characteristic. It can change colour from yellow to white and vice versa depending on the flower it’s on, though it may take from one day to twenty to make the change. Goldenrod flowers and milkweed are common hosts.

On June 30, an Eight-spotted Forester Moth (Alypia octomaculata) alighted on one of our windows facing the river. Clean windows mean bird strikes so the image isn’t as crisp as it might be. The moth feeds on Virginia Creeper and the grape vine and is often mistaken for a butterfly because it visits flowers during the day.

About this time our neighbours were having some roof work done and an Eastern Phoebe nest was removed from a window ledge that was thought to be empty as the young had already fledged. Sadly the nest contained a second clutch of eggs. With all the handling it was decided not to put it back. The construction of the nest is a wonder to behold.

We now have three protected Painted Turtle nests. At least 2 of these nests definitely have eggs as a skunk has been trying to dig round the chicken wire. And there was a fourth nest that had been dug out with eggs shells and 4 tiny dead Painted Turtles, all rather desiccated, lying near the hole. The next day the turtles were gone, presumably eaten by the skunk. This must have been a nest from last year.

We also have one protected Snapping Turtle nest. Hopefully her nest has eggs this time but she’s fooled us before, digging an obvious second nest to distract attention from a well-covered first nest that does contain her eggs.

Lastly we spotted a mall American Toad amongst leaf litter in a wooded area. We don’t see this toad very often.   Stephenie and Peter Armstrong, Warsaw

Eight-spotted Forester Moth – Stephenie Armstrong

Dead baby Painted Turtles in nest – June 2019 – Stephenie Armstrong

Nest of Eastern Phoebe – Stephenie Armstrong

Goldenrod Crab spider on Queen Anne’s Lace – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hitched Arches Moth Caterpillar – Stephenie Armstrong

Recently emerged Monarch caterpillar – July 2019 – Peter Armstrong

 

Mystery insect – July 2019 – Stephenie Armstrong

Leucistic Common Grackle: I took these photos of a leucistic Common Grackle feeding its fledgling in my backyard today, July 12. It hung around the feeder most of the day. I live on County Road 36. Sharon Watson, Lindsay.

Leucistic grackle feeding fledgling – Lindsay, ON – July 12, 2019 – Sharon Watson

Leucistic Common Grackle 2 – Lindsay, ON – July 12, 2019 – Sharon Watson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent photos from Mike Faught: I took the photos of the Great Blue Heron nest in the Trent Wildlife Sanctuary. The Merlins are using the tree just off our balcony on Reid Street in Peterborough to exchange prey that they’ve caught. We see them doing this five or six times a day! Mike Faught

Merlins exchanging food – July 2019 – Peterborough – Mike Faught

Merlin with prey – July 2019 – Peterborough – Mike Faught

Great Blue Herons on nest – Trent Wildlife Sanctuary – June 2019 – Mike Faught

Osprey carrying sucker – June 2019 – Mike Faught

Osprey feeding young – June 2019 – Mike Faught

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albino Raccoon:  Here are a couple of photos of an albino Raccoon that a Peterborough resident shared with me. It turned up in his neighbourhood near Little Lake in early July.

Albino Raccoon – July 2019 – Little Lake, Peterborough

Albino Raccoon near Little Lake – July 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) (1)
– Reported Jul 03, 2019 09:30 by Chris Ellingwood
– Highway 36, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “calling from private access lane-distinct western song, very loud and melodious whistle and warble call. Bird similar in physical appearance to eastern meadowlark in same field. Call notable.
Back off of Highway 36 on private property. May be hearable from road near Flynn’s Turn.”

Jul 192019
 

The Kawarthas is home to a fascinating variety of odonates

The buzz on our street this summer is not the usual gossip shared by neighbours. Rather, it’s the sound of mosquitoes. June’s warm, wet weather created perfect conditions for mosquito reproduction, and they took full advantage of it. Up until the last week or so, working outside was nearly impossible without some kind of bug protection. Few of us stop to think, however, that nature has its own mosquito control system – ancient flying machines that love nothing more than dining on these blood-sucking pests. Enter the odonates.

From gardeners to birders, and children to adults, dragonflies and damselflies intrigue us all. Known collectively as odonates (from the insect order Odonata), they also have evocative names like ebony jewelwing, Stygian shadowdragon and racket-tailed emerald. Odonates also keep civilized hours – most  don’t become active until mid-morning – and prefer warm, sunny weather.

When we look into their huge eyes, we are seeing life as it existed millions of years ago. They are as old as the first reptiles and far older than the first flowering plants. Their basic structure has hardly changed in all this time. Clearly, evolution mastered odonate design a long time ago.

Dragonflies and damselflies are easy to tell apart. Damselflies tend to be small – often only an inch or so in length – with a thin body. They are weak, tentative fliers and hold their wings closed or only partially spread when at rest. Dragonflies, on the other hand, are much larger with thick bodies. They are also strong fliers and keep their wings completely open when resting.

Odonates of the Kawarthas

Our knowledge of the dragonflies and damselflies of the Kawarthas dates to only 1993 when a small group of local naturalists began keeping detailed records of their sightings. Now, over 100 species have been recorded in Peterborough County alone, approximately one-third of which are damselflies.

Although dragonflies and damselflies are usually found around water – marshes, in particular – they also frequent fields, roadsides and gardens. All our local rail-trails provide great odonate-watching (also known as “oding”) opportunities, especially in sections that pass through wetlands. Jackson Park, GreenUP Ecology Park, and the Imagine the Marsh Conservation Area in Lakefield (off D’eyncourt St.) are also excellent destinations for seeing odonates. Watching from a kayak or canoe can be especially fun and productive.

Four-spotted Skimmer – June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake – Robin Blake

Like butterflies, different species fly at different times of the year. In July, some of the most common and easy-to-identify dragonflies are the “skimmers”, a group characterized by prominent wing patches and body markings. They include the painted, chalk-fronted, four-spotted, twelve-spotted, and widow skimmers as well as the Halloween pennant. Darners, too, are easy to find. The male common green darner is especially beautiful with its bright green thorax and blue abdomen. This species is migratory, with large numbers moving along the shore of Lake Ontario in early fall. By late summer, smaller dragonflies called meadowhawks become abundant. In most species, the males are red, while the females and immatures are yellow.

 

 

 

 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer- adult male -Drew Monkman -June-23 2014

As for damselflies, now is a good time to see ebony jewelwings, a species that often turns up in gardens. They are quite large and, at first glance, appear almost entirely black. In the proper light, however, they radiate a beautiful metallic green lustre. Other common damselflies on the wing right now include spreadwings, forktails and bluets. The latter are tiny, powder blue damselflies, which are often seen on marsh vegetation and around docks. They love to land on fishing rods.

 

 

Interesting behaviours

Odonates attract our attention in many different ways. For example, large numbers of the same species often emerge at the same time.  Black and white chalk-fronted skimmers are typical in this regard. In  early summer, hundreds often congregate along cottage roads. They fly up  each time a car passes and then immediately return to land on the road surface. Later in the summer, you’ll often see swarms of dragonflies feeding on flying ants. Dozens of ant-eating Canada darners entertained us for hours one summer as we sat on the dock at my brother’s cottage.

The rough-and-tumble world of odonate sex is especially fascinating. If you’ve ever seen a pair of mating dragonflies in the act, you probably have an idea of how much flexibility is required. First, the male bends his abdomen beneath him to transfer sperm from its production site near the tip of the abdomen to a slit in the penis, which is located near the junction of the abdomen and thorax. Next, he forms a tandem with the female by literally grabbing her behind the head with claspers, which are also located at the tip of his abdomen. The pair then alights and goes into the “wheel” position. To do so, the female  bends the tip of her abdomen around until her genitalia are brought into contact with the male’s penis. In this way, the couple forms a closed circle with their bodies.  Now, this is where things get even more interesting. The male will then use special “scoopers” to clear out any sperm that a previous male may have deposited in the female. This helps to assure that only his genes will be transferred to future generations. Having cleaned house, he injects his sperm into the female, and the wheel is broken. To keep rival suitors away, some males will actively guard their mate – or even retain her in their hold – until she has finished depositing her eggs in the water.

A pair of bluet damselflies in the wheel position – Rick Stankiewicz

 

Photography

Odonates are among the most photogenic of our insects. Many species also have the cooperative habit of returning to the same perch time and time again. You can therefore pre-focus on the perch and wait for the dragonfly or damselfly to land. All that’s required is some patience. Although a macro lens provides the best results, you can still get good pictures with a standard telephoto lens.

Try to take advantage of the softer, diffused light of cloudy days when odonates are less active and easier to approach. For species like darners that don’t often land, you can sometimes find them perched during the cool temperatures of early morning before their flight muscles warm up. You might even find a few covered in dew. Always focus on the eyes and take shots from different angles. Some of the most satisfying pictures can be achieved by shooting the dragonfly from the side with the camera’s sensor parallel to the insect’s body. Whenever possible, look for a background that contrasts with the colours of the dragonfly.

Taking a picture is also useful for identification purposes. Although most species are relatively easy to identify with a guidebook or website photo (see below), you can also upload the picture to iNaturalist.org where someone else will identify it for you.

Viewing and identifying

Almost everything that applies to butterfly-watching is also true for oding. Many species  can be readily identified with the naked eye. For the more skittish varieties, however, a pair of close-focusing binoculars is a must.

Immature meadowhawk dragonfly – Margo Hughes

Because some species rarely land, a butterfly net can also come in handy. A net is also fun to use, especially if you’re trying to catch a dragonfly in a swarm. Once you’ve caught it, transfer the insect to a  jar or Zip-lock bag for closeup viewing. Another option is to hold the dragonfly in your hand by placing your thumb and index finger on either side of the thorax and then gently move your fingers upwards. Pinch all four wings together over the body between your fingers.

I also recommend purchasing a copy of the “Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and the Surrounding Area”. It is an excellent resource and includes all the species found in the Kawarthas. The main author is Colin Jones, a local naturalist and biologist. The beautiful illustrations are by Peterborough native, Peter Burke. A great on-line resource can be found at www.odonatacentral.org. Start with the checklist feature to get a list of those species found in Ontario. You can then go on to browse the photographs. A checklist of Ontario Odonata is also available by contacting the Toronto Entomologists’ Association at www.ontarioinsects.org

Spend some time learning the key field marks and behaviours of each of the three families of damselflies and six families of damselflies. For example, are the eyes separated or connected? Are the wings clear or patterned? Does it fly high or low? Does it perch often and, if so, how and where? Remember, too, that the males and females of some species can look quite  different, as can some of the immatures.

Odonate-watching can become a fascinating hobby. You’ll soon be enamored by their jewel-like colours, their intriguing behaviours and the challenge of finding new species. As with butterflies, the odonates are yet another window onto the amazing biodiversity of the Kawarthas.

Chalk-fronted Skimmer – adult male – Drew Monkman

 

Climate Crisis News

Climate alarm bells just keep on ringing. Boosted by a historic heat wave in Europe with temperatures reaching 45.9 C in France, Earth just registered its warmest June ever. July is on track to set a new heat record as well. Unprecedented warming is also continuing unabated in the Arctic. This past Sunday, Canadian Forces Station Alert, located at the tip of Ellesmere Island, hit a record 21 C, which was warmer than Victoria, B.C.  The normal is 7 C. For a sobering overview of just how serious the climate crisis is – and what can be done about it –  pick up the August issue of MacLean’s magazine. It includes a 26-page section entitled “The Climate Crisis. And how to stop it.”
 

Jul 122019
 

July is a great time to get to know these beautiful insects.

My special affection for butterflies began as a classroom teacher. Each September, I would collect monarch caterpillars for my students to raise. They would watch and document each stage of metamorphosis with rapt attention. We were often able to see the caterpillars spin a silk mat from which to hang in a J-shape before shedding their skin for the last time, revealing the lime-green chrysalis. The kids’ excitement would only increase over the following days as the black, orange, and white wing patterns became visible through the chrysalis covering. Then, one morning at about 9 o’clock, some student would yell, “The monarch’s coming out of its chrysalis!” We would then watch with amazement as the wet, crumpled adult pumped hemolymph liquid through its small, crimped wings until they expanded to full-size. At the end of the school day, we would head outside and release the monarch to a chorus of, “Bon voyage. Have a great trip to Mexico!”

Students watching Monarch emerge from chrysalis -Drew Monkman

The Kawarthas is home to approximately 100 species of butterflies, which represents almost two-thirds of the species occurring in the entire province. Identifying and photographing them is a wonderful summer pastime. Not only are butterflies easy to observe, but they turn up almost everywhere. Unlike birding, which sometimes requires getting up at the crack of dawn and dealing with inclement weather, watching butterflies is a  more civilized affair.  These gentle insects are rarely on the wing before nine o’clock, and they are most active on warm, sunny days. Right now is a great time to get to know these insects. More species are active in July than at any other time of year.

This month, it should also be possible to see species that are usually more typical of June. According to local butterfly expert Jerry Ball,  the cold, wet spring we experienced has delayed the emergence of many species by about 10 days. He is encouraged, however, by the number of monarchs that returned this spring. These “grandchildren” of the monarchs that migrated to Mexico last fall have already laid eggs. We can therefore expect monarch sightings to increase substantially over the next couple of weeks when a new generation of adults will be flying. If the weather cooperates – warm, sunny days with an average amount of rain – we should have another good summer for this species at risk. The overwintering population in Mexico was 144% higher this past winter as compared to the winter of 2018.

Where to look

As we approach mid-July, our roadsides, fields, wetland borders, and gardens are increasingly lush with fragrant, colourful flowers. Many of these are important sources of nectar. Butterflies are especially attracted to common milkweed, swamp milkweed, spreading dogbane, viper’s-bugloss, purple vetch, wild bergamot and orange hawkweed. Later in the summer, plants like Joe-Pye-weed, goldenrods and asters are also butterfly magnets. In gardens, butterflies are particularly fond of purple coneflower, globe thistle, butterfly bush, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).

Butterflies, however, are not just attracted to flowers. Many species such as white admirals, mourning cloaks and eastern commas also like to bask on roads. By extending their wings, they absorb the sun’s warmth in order to elevate their  body temperature for more efficient flight.  You will also find butterflies congregating around the muddy edge of puddles or perched on animal dung. Both mud and dung serve as an important source of minerals, amino acids and nitrogen. A third place to look for butterflies is on tree trunks, especially if they are oozing sap. In fact, one species, the northern pearly-eye, is a shade lover and routinely lands on the trunks of forest trees.

White admiral -June 18-19, 2016 – Lower Buckhorn Lake (Robin Blake)

Although butterflies turn up nearly everywhere, some locations are routinely better than others. I asked Martin Parker, former president of the Peterborough Field Naturalists, to share some of his favourite butterfly-watching destinations. Martin recommends walking or cycling along any of our local rail-trails. He particularly likes the section of the Rotary-Greenway Trail from Trent University to Lakefield, the Trans-Canada Trail between Cameron Line and County Road 38, and the BEL Rotary Bridgenorth Trail from Seventh Line to Fifth Line. The mix of wetland, field and woodland habitats make these trails particularly rich in butterfly diversity. If you’re willing to travel a little further afield, he also recommends Petroglyph Provincial Park and both Jack Lake and Sandy Lake Roads. The latter is located off County Road 46, about 25 minutes north of Havelock. Sandy Lake Road is considered one of the best butterfly destinations in all of Ontario, especially because of its wide variety of skippers like the mulberry wing.

What’s flying now?      

Most butterfly species have a specific flight period, which is the time of year in which they fly. Two easy-to-identify species that are common right now are the eastern tiger swallowtail and the white admiral. The swallowtail’s large size and yellow wings striped in black make it hard to miss. The white admiral, too, is very distinctive. Watch for a black butterfly with a large white band across each of the four wings. Some other common species to watch for in mid-July are the cabbage white, clouded sulphur, northern crescent, common ringlet, summer azure, great-spangled fritillary, red admiral, European skipper, and Dun’s skipper. Skippers are tiny, grey and/or orange, moth-like butterflies.

Canada tiger swallowtail. The eastern tiger swallowtail is nearly identical. (Robin Blake)

A common ringlet. Note the small, black spot on the underside of the forewing. (Ben Wolfe)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the coming days and weeks, you should also watch for the giant swallowtail, Canada’s largest butterfly. Because of its size and weight, it’s usually unable to land on flowers and must hover as it feeds. These butterflies are new to the Kawarthas, having extended their range northward as a result of our warming climate.

Viewing tips

Here are some pointers to keep in mind to make the most of butterfly watching.

1.      The best way to approach a butterfly is from behind, being careful to avoid any sudden movements. As Parker says, “Be patient and don’t rush them. Let the butterfly settle in and start nectaring.” You should also try to avoid casting a shadow on the insect. Being sun-loving creatures, a shadow can cause them to fly away.

2.      Getting good looks at butterflies is easiest with a pair of close-focusing binoculars. For optimal viewing, you should be able to stand up and focus on your toes. A good pair of binoculars will allow you to identify nearly all the butterflies you’re likely to see.

3.      A butterfly net can be helpful when it comes to look-alike species like the skippers. Carefully transfer the butterfly from the net to a small jar or Zip-lock bag for close-up viewing.

A fiery skipper on autumn sedum. Skippers are challenging butterflies to identify. (Drew Monkman)

4.      A camera with a zoom lens also comes in handy. By taking a picture, you can identify the butterfly at your leisure. You can also upload the photo to iNaturalist.org where someone else will identify it for you.

5.      Pay special attention to the butterfly’s size, wing shape, colour and pattern­ing. The pattern on the underside of the wing, usually visible as the butterfly feeds, is especially important for identification purposes.

6.      Learn to identify the plants that attract butterflies, either for nectar or as “larval plants” on which to lay eggs. Monarchs, for example, only lay their eggs on milkweed.

7.      To find a given species, research the time of year it flies and its preferred habitat.

8.      You will also need a guidebook. Parker recommends “The Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Southern and Eastern Ontario”, by Rick Cavasin. You can pick up a copy of this this inexpensive, laminated fold-out at the Avant-Garden Shop at 165 Sherbrooke Street in Peterborough. For a more detailed guide, I recommend “The Butterflies of Ontario”. One of the co-authors is Colin Jones, a Peterborough naturalist and biologist.

Butterfly count

On July 20, local butterfly aficionados will be taking part in the 22nd annual Petroglyph Butterfly Count. Jerry Ball is the compiler and organizer. If you wish to participate, phone Martin Parker at 705-745-4750 or email him at mparker19@cogeco.ca. The count is a fun day in which beginners are paired with more experienced watchers. It will be interesting this year to see the effects – if any – of the cold, wet spring.  Like the Christmas Bird Count, butterfly counts provide a snapshot of butterfly numbers from one year to the next. In this way they are an important tool in documenting changes in populations. Numerous studies have shown that insect numbers are plummeting in many parts of the world. The “windshield phenomenon” provides anecdotal evidence of this alarming trend. Most anyone of a certain age can probably remember how windscreens would become covered in dead insects after just a short drive in the country. No longer is this the case. The threat of ecological disruption from declining insect numbers should be of concern to everyone.

Climate Crisis News

If you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, I highly recommend “The Overstory”, by Richard Powers. It won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and is being touted as the first great American ecological novel. In telling the story of people whose lives have been profoundly affected by trees, Powers incorporates the latest tree science. This includes how trees engage in social behaviours and communicate with one another. The Overstory also fits well within the growing genre of “climate fiction” by exploring the effects of humans’ impact on the Earth. As Powers writes, “Life will cook; the seas will rise. The planet’s lungs will be ripped out. And the law will let this happen, because harm was never imminent enough. Imminent, at the time of people, is too late. The law must judge imminent at the speed of trees.”

 

 

Jul 052019
 

An activist friend told me recently about an email she received doubting the urgency of addressing climate change. The person argued that if climate change was truly a crisis, our elected leaders and governments at all levels would be saying so, and, since relatively few  politicians seem truly alarmed, there really is no need to panic.

Although scientists are telling us we’re facing a Code Red climate catastrophe, most politicians have failed to communicate any true urgency for action. The complacency reminds me of the initial Soviet response to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion and meltdown – silence. In fact, citizens sat out on their balconies and watched the blue haze over the reactor throughout the first night and conducted their lives normally the next day. They later died. The Soviets were not used to sharing uncomfortable truths. However, when the truth was incontrovertible, and the emergency finally declared, Soviet citizens were heroic in risking their lives to contain what was left of the reactor. There was no mad panic but bravery and focus. They prevented the radioactive lava flow from leaching into the water table and contaminating the Black Sea. Many sacrificed their lives in doing so.

An infinitely worse catastrophe is brewing as we speak, albeit largely hidden from view in day to day life. Scientists from around the world are trying to warn us that climate change is on course to destroy civilization as we know it.

Now, at this, the 11th hour, a growing number of politicians – but tragically, almost no Conservatives – are acknowledging the dire science. They are assuming their leadership responsibility and telling their constituents the truth: we are facing a climate emergency. Nearly 40 Canadian cities, including Kingston, Hamilton, London, and Ottawa, have made climate emergency declarations. The federal government, too, has followed suit. Peterborough City Council needs to assume its leadership responsibility and do the same.

The science  

In October, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised the threat advisory of catastrophic climate change from orange to a pulsating scarlet red. If the planet warms by much more than 1.5-degrees Celsius (we are already at 1.1 C degrees of warming), the result will be soaring death rates, huge waves of climate refugees, devastating coastal flooding, and unprecedented planet-wide species extinction. The predicted economic cost is counted in the tens of trillions of dollars.

Canada is warming at twice the global average. Communities across the country are facing debilitating heat, wildfires, and severe flooding. The climate crisis is threatening our economy, our ecosystems, our infrastructure, and our health. As Peterborough’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Rosanna Salvaterra, stated recently, “Global warming has changed weather patterns to the point where weather-related emergencies have now become the leading threat to our safety.”

The IPCC report does provide a glimmer of hope, however: Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible. To get there, however, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, and then brought to zero by 2050. If mounting the necessary response in such a short time frame doesn’t represent an emergency, I don’t know what does.

Why a declaration?

Declaring a climate emergency is a critical first step to launching the comprehensive mobilization required to avoid the worst ravages of climate change. It would be no less than a call to action on the part of the entire community. Here’s why it’s necessary.

1. As someone who has been talking about climate change for years – and especially its impact on nature in the Kawarthas – I am still surprised by how few people, businesses or organizations in Peterborough are truly engaged with this issue or appear to understand the severity of what we’re up against. This even includes many young people who stand to be most affected. As Dr. Dianne Saxe, the former Ontario Environment Commissioner, says repeatedly, “The climate crisis is SO MUCH WORSE than people think.”

2. Because Council has a responsibility to keep the community safe and well, citizens need to know the truth if they’re to act in their own best interests. We need to be preparing our homes for the coming severe weather events like floods, severe droughts, and crippling summer heat. We are likely to be facing long-lasting blackouts and maybe even food shortages. Climate change also exacerbates inequalities, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable.

3. Addressing the climate crisis is something we must do together. We are well beyond the point where personal action can make the necessary difference. A declaration can help make collective action a reality and focus people’s attention ahead of the fall election. It would also provide “social license” for people to share their climate change concerns with others. Right now, talking about the climate crisis is almost a no-go zone for many.

4. The quickest path to meaningful action is at the local level. Cities and local governments have historically been the spark for progress, from minimum wage to civil rights. Local action will inspire other communities to follow and build a mandate for much-needed national mobilizations. As the owners and operators of most of Ontario’s infrastructure, municipalities are at the front line of climate damage and have the most to lose from climate inaction. According to Dr. Saxe, they are also much more vulnerable to liability lawsuits than senior levels of government.

5. A declaration would support the Greater Peterborough Climate Action Plan, which the City has endorsed. For example, the Community Sector of the plan recommends strategies such as  “fostering a culture of climate change awareness” and “encouraging civic engagement around climate change.” Actions include “Supporting Sustainable Peterborough in delivering ongoing education and outreach on climate change, hosting regular events focused on climate change, and developing a charter and guidelines to foster meaningful community engagement.

Arguments against

Despite these arguments, not everyone is convinced – including some councillors.

1. Some people may argue that these declarations are merely symbolic, empty gestures. However, climate emergency declarations don’t typically contain specific policy measures. They simply draw an important line in the sand. In an emergency, there is no room for backsliding. In this way, they are a symbol of a municipality’s commitment to fighting and communicating the dire threat of the climate crisis through future measures and serve as a guidepost to help cities focus on climate mitigation and adaptation when making decisions.

2. It’s true that Council needs to address other emergencies such as Peterborough’s opioid crisis and the shortage of affordable housing. Nowhere is it written, however, that emergencies don’t happen at the same time. We also need to remember that the climate crisis is a multiplier, which will make every other imaginable emergency even worse.

3. It can also be argued that Peterborough is already taking climate action through its Climate Change Action Plan, adopted in 2016. However, the city’s emissions targets and timelines are now outdated in light of the latest IPCC and other major reports.

4. Finally, there is the rationale that the City does not have the financial resources to take further climate action. However, no new spending is required, at least not initially. A declaration would serve primarily as an appeal to the community as a whole for greater awareness, engagement and action around climate change. Council may, of course, decide to allocate funds in a future budget.

Let’s not forget that the climate crisis is already emptying our collective pockets. In Ontario alone, insured losses from extreme weather events exceeded $1.3 billion in 2018. Uninsured losses may have been three times as high. And these figures only cover losses measured directly in money, omitting mental and physical health impacts and a wide range of ecological repercussions.

Going forward

Although Council itself should decide how best to exercise leadership, there are many potential avenues for action. Most importantly, a plan should be made to inform and engage the entire community. This could even include facilitating ward-based, small group conversations in which friends and neighbours come together to share their climate concerns and to consider possible steps forward.

The City could also form a Climate Change Task Force with representation from all sectors of the community. The task force would take advantage of local expertise and knowledge to formulate and deliver a plan to educate and engage the community around climate change and to find ways to reduce emissions.

As for the City of Peterborough itself, a declaration could mean that each city department and project must be looked at from a climate change perspective. For example, municipalities play a lead role in land-use planning. Land use is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario, because sprawl forces dependency on cars. Ontarians are driving more than ever. The City’s eventual goal should be no less than what the IPCC says is necessary: a 45% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

What can you do?

Please consider showing your support for a Peterborough Declaration of Climate Emergency by calling or emailing your councillor. Simply Google “Mayor and Council – City of Peterborough” for contact information. It is important that the declaration be made before October’s federal election so that climate change is first and foremost in peoples’ minds at the voting booth.

For a democracy to function, truth must be the foundation. If we understand the truth – and most of us don’t when it comes to climate change – we can make informed choices. The window for action has almost closed. This is why a climate emergency declaration is so important. It’s all about telling people the truth as revealed by science.